Texas Man Catches Enormous Alligator Snapping Turtle, Throws It Back

A massive alligator snapping turtle, estimated to be around 200 pounds, has been caught by a fisherman on a trip at Lake Cherokee in East Texas.

Justin Broomhall, the fisherman who landed this beast, did not realize at first that it was a protected species in Texas and subsequently released it back into the lake.

Kirk Clendening, a Texas game warden for Rusk County, told CBS19: "It's considered a threatened species in Texas. Since it's protected, you cannot take or possess them."

alligator snapping turtle
Stock image: close-up of a snapping turtle. One such turtle, estimated to be around 200 pounds, has been caught by a fisherman in East Texas iStock / Getty Images Plus

According to a Facebook post by family friend Kristina Ritter, two Rusk county wardens came out to talk to them about their catch. They could not find out how heavy the turtle was, she said, as they did not have a way to weigh it at the time.

Alligator snapping turtles are native to freshwater lakes and rivers in the southeast U.S. Males are much larger than females. They can grow to up to 220 lbs but typically reach between 155 and 175 lbs. Their powerful jaws have a bite force of 1000 lbs, more than enough to cut off a human finger.

An estimated population of 360,000 exists across 12 states currently, but without protection, their numbers could fall to a mere 5 percent of that in 30 to 50 years, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Populations of alligator snapping turtles are now declining, mostly due to habitat degradation and overhunting for sport and food. They are a protected species in every state that they are found, but scientists have been pushing for the turtles to be officially classified as threatened.

In 2016, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity won a legal battle against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requiring them to determine by 2020 whether the alligator snapping turtle will receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. In late 2021 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the alligator snapping turtle under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. This proposal is still pending.

"Alligator snappers are some of the fiercest, wildest creatures in the Southeast, but overexploitation and habitat destruction have put their lives on the line," Elise Bennett, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release in November 2021. "These freshwater giants will get a real shot at survival and recovery with the help of the Endangered Species Act and its lifesaving protections."

After snapping some photos with the beast, Broomhall ensured that the turtle was free of all hooks and fishing gear before letting it swim free.

"I've seen a bunch of people leave hooks and rope in the water and see fish, snakes drown from them," Broomhall told CBS19.

"On TikTok and Facebook, everybody was saying it was photoshopped. I'm telling you God honest truth it was the biggest turtle I'd ever seen."

Newsweek has contacted Justin Broomhall's fiancée and Kristina Ritter.