The operator of a longtime small-town meat market in west-central Minnesota, his nephew and another man have been charged with ­taking snapping turtles out of season.

Seized by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from Ketter's Meats and Locker Plant in Frazee were nearly 1½ tons of turtle meat, 243 shells and 23 live snapping turtles.

"We don't see this amount very often," DNR Capt. Stacey Sharp, head of enforcement for the agency in that part of the state, said Monday. "This would be a significant amount."

The next task for investigators, Sharp said, is to determine how much of what was seized was actually from ­turtles taken out of season.

Charged by citation with misdemeanors were Kevin R. Ketter, 54, the market's owner, his nephew, 21-year-old Jordan M. Ketter, and market employee Darwin D. Bartel, 54. All live in Frazee.

Kevin Ketter is accused of buying turtles and possessing them in June. In the citation, the DNR officer wrote, "Ketter acknowledged he purchased turtles and was in possession of snapping turtles during June, during the closed season."

The season for taking snapping turtles is July 1 through April 30, with a limit of three, and a state license is required. They are often taken with traps or nets.

Jordan Ketter's citation alleged that he "was observed on surveillance, unloading several turtles from the back of a vehicle."

Bartel's citation read that he "admitted to possessing the snapping turtle during the closed season. He brought it to the market to clean for his personal use."

The meat, live turtles and shells were seized on June 29 from the market, which has been in business for more than 90 years. The meat was in 291 10-pound packs. The live turtles have been returned to the wild, the DNR said.

"They had customers in the Twin Cities, commercial customers, restaurants and whatever," Sharp said.

The shells, Sharp said, often are "dried out and hung up on walls."

Kevin and Jordan Ketter were not immediately available for comment. Bartel also was not available for comment, but his wife, Susan, said, "he's just paying a fine [of $185]."

Sharp said the turtles can range in weight from 10 to 35 pounds. They are found throughout Minnesota but were listed by the state as a "special concern species" in 1984, with the major factor being "the unknown and possibly detrimental effects of commercial harvest on local populations," according to a DNR profile of the reptile.