20 Years of Dying and Dead Turtles and Frogs Is Enough
American Tortoise Rescue spent years trying to get California Fish & Wildlife to stop importing non-native turtles and frogs into California for the Asian live food markets around the state, to no avail. Every time we were close, Asian politicians would storm the governor’s office or just go after the Fish &Game commissioners who would get cold feet. They claim it is a matter of tradition. So was binding feet and shark fin soup, both outlawed here. Here’s a summary written by my colleague at Action for Animals – Eric Mills. He, Madeline Bernstein at spcaLA and our nonprofit American Tortoise Rescue are the main entities that have been working against the practice for 20 years. When will it stop?
After 20 years of vigorous debate, in 2010 the Commission twice voted unanimously (5:0) to ban the importation of live frogs and turtles for human consumption, receiving more than 3,000 letters of support from various environmental and animal protection organizations and several state legislators. Former Secretary of Resources Huey Johnson wrote twice.
In a bizarre twist of politics and disregard for our natural resources, then-director of the Dept., John McCammon, announced that he would continue issuing the import permits on a month-to-month basis. Challenged by an irate Commission, then-DFW deputy director SonkeMastrup responded, "The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor." So much for the democratic process. Makes one wonder what the Governor's "pleasure" truly is. Here's an example of racial, cultural and financial politics at its worse, all at the expense of our native wildlife. The Department absolutely has the authority to stop this harmful commerce. That's why they are called permits .
California annually imports some two million non-native American bullfrogs for food. Most are commercially-raised in Taiwan. Plus an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 nonnative freshwater turtles, are all taken from the wild, depleting local populations in other states and Mexico: mostly red-eared sliders and various softshell species, some recommended for CITES Appendix II protection.
More than three dozen necropsies have shown that all the market frogs and turtles are diseased and/or parasitized, though it is illegal to sell such products for human consumption. Where's the Health Department? Fish & Wildlife's own rules (California Code 236) require that any such shipments be quarantined, destroyed or sent back to point-of-origin, all at the expense of the importer, not the department. There is near zero enforcement, not for lack of funding or manpower, but for lack of will.
Most anyone can readily buy these animals alive from the markets, though such sales are illegal. When released into local waters (also illegal), the exotics prey upon and displace the natives. Worse yet, the majority of the bullfrogs test positive for the deadly chytrid fungus, Batrachochytriumdendrobatidis (Bd), which has caused the extinction of 200+ frog and other amphibian species worldwide in recent years. The bullfrogs generally do not succumb to the disease, but they certainly do disperse it, putting our native wildlife in grave danger. Easy fix - stop the imports. The European Union allows the importation of only frozen frogs parts for human consumption. The U.S. should follow suit.
The Department issued its own "White Paper" in November 2014, suggesting that a total important ban was the most viable solution to the bullfrog problem, yet has failed to act. In that same year, with only three of the five members present, Commissioner Richard Rogers made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Jim Kellogg, that the issue be sent to the State Legislature for resolution, over the vehement protest of Commission president Mike Sutton. Reminds me of a quote from the late political pundit Molly Ivins: "For anyone to enjoy the state legislature, you need only a strong stomach and a complete insensitivity to the needs of the people." This problem is a matter for the Department, not the State Legislature.
American Tortoise Rescue is a nonprofit founded in 1990 for the protection of all species of turtles and tortoises. We have rescued more than 4,000 since our inception. Foundlings that cannot be adopted because of ill health remain in the care of ATR for the remainder of their lives. ATR acts as a clearinghouse for information about turtle care. We work to abolish “live market” slaughter of turtles in the US, the sale of reptiles on sites like Craig’s List and the cruel importation and exploitation of a variety of species. Celebrate World Turtle Day every year on May 23rd!
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