The state of Florida moved to ban the commercial catch of freshwater turtles Friday, after reports that vast numbers were being exported to China and other East Asian countries.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced a draft rule that would end a trade carried on in the canals of South Florida, along the shores of Lake Okeechobee and in the lakes and rivers to the north. Catchers lay lines with hundreds of baited hooks and sold their catch to exporters. A law enforcement bulletin by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimated in March that 1,600 to 3,000 pounds of turtles were shipped to Asia every week from each of the airports of Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

"Few places in North America have the rich diversity of turtles that we have here in Florida," said Tim Breault, the commission's director of habitat and species conservation. "And this proposed rule ensures their long-term survival."

The commission, a seven-member board appointed by the governor, will consider the draft rule at its April 15 meeting.

Matt Aresco, a turtle expert who directs Nokuse Plantation, a private wildlife refuge in the Florida Panhandle, praised the commission's plan.

"The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has drafted a rule that will provide excellent protection for Florida's wild turtles," he said in a written statement. "Scientists who study Florida's turtles believe this rule, ending commercial hunting of wild turtles and closing loopholes in the protection of listed species, will solve the serious problem of overexploitation. The FWC and Gov. Charlie Crist, who asked the commission to ban wild turtle hunting, are showing true stewardship for Florida's natural resources."