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Importation of live turtles & frogs: Something fishy at Fish & Game?

By Gary Bogue
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 at 7:20 am in Fish and Game, Frogs, Turtles.

Bullfrog. Photo by Flickr user John-Morgan used under a Creative Commons License
bullfrog John-Morgan

In March of 2010, in a move to protect the state’s natural resources, The California State Fish & Game Commission voted unanimously to direct the California Department of F&G to cease issuing permits for the importation of live frogs and turtles for human consumption, the culmination of a 15-year struggle. The Commission received nearly 4,000 letters supporting the ban, from conservation and sporting organizations and the general public. Former Resources Secretary Huey Johnson wrote twice.

Softshell turtle. Photo by Flickr user alex_lee2001 used under a Creative Commons License
softshell alex_lee2001

Two months later, pressured by Chinatown market interests and a half-dozen legislators playing “the race card,” two Commission members, Jim Kellogg and Don Benninghoven (since departed), attempted unsuccessfully to reverse the new policy.  To their credit, Commissioners Mike Sutton, Richard Rogers and Dan Richards held firm. Then, in September, DFG Director John McCamman announced that the Department would continue to issue the permits on a month-to-month basis.  When challenged by an irate Commissioner Dan Richards, Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup could only mutter, “The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor.”  So much for the democratic process … .

California annually imports some two MILLION American bullfrogs and an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 freshwater turtles for the live markets.  The frogs are commercially-raised in Taiwan. The turtles are taken from the wild in states east of the Rockies, depleting local populations. All are diseased and/or parasitized (though it is illegal to sell such products for human consumption).  Worse, when released into the wild, these exotics prey upon and displace our native wildlife.  According to one 2010 study, 62% of the market frogs necropsied tested positive for the chytrid fungus, which has caused the extinction of some 200 species of amphibians worldwide in the past 15 years.

The mandate of both the Commission and the Department is to protect and enhance California’s natural resources.  On this issue, they are doing neither.  In many states (Arizona, Washington, Oregon, etc.), the Commission has the power to hire and fire the Director of the Department of Fish & Game.  Not so in California, and our wildlife suffers accordingly. Time for a change.

Hopefully, incoming Governor Jerry Brown will take this matter more seriously than have Governor Schwarzenegger and his appointees. If not, legislation is in order.
Eric Mills, coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS, P.O. Box 20184, Oakland, CA  94620; 510-652-5603; e-mail:

I know you’ve been fighting this battle for years and it has been a difficult struggle. Think positive, my friend. It’s the beginning of a new year, and we — you — are closer to resolving this mess than ever before. The sale of these imported reptiles and amphibians must stop. Hopefully, this is the year it will finally end. Even more hopefully, I hope our native reptiles and amphibians will be able to recover from years of accumulated damage. /Gary

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5 Responses to “Importation of live turtles & frogs: Something fishy at Fish & Game?”

  1. luvanimals Says:

    In my opinion, one can argue that the Asian consumption of wild animals is to blame for a lot of the endangered spieces on our planet. If they feel the need to consume bear gall bladder, cobra bile, powdered rhino horn, etc., try raising/farming them and not taking, poaching them from their natural habitat, wich is shrinking quickly as it is.

  2. Camilla Fox Says:

    Thanks for all of your efforts on this, Eric. As you say- hopefully Gov Jerry Brown will see the light on this and leg. won’t be necessary. Keep up the fight my friend.

  3. Michelle Tsai Says:

    Almost immediately after the vote to stop issuing those permits, the live-markets published a front-page article in the most widely-read Chinese newspaper, calling the Commissioners nothing but racist, and without mentioning the real issues. It was meant to rile up the Chinese community, including those who do not eat turtles, which is the majority of them. The live market businessmen should be sued for libel. There are well-documented incidents and investigations showing that people have been consistently breaking the laws, for over two decades, despite what the markets claim or have been promising even today. Is the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) implying that the former governor Schwarzenegger told them to issue permits for diseased, invasive, wild turtles? The DFG needs to behave like the Department of Agriculture, who knows what pests are and what a mandate is. Now the DFG is falsely claiming they cannot stop issuing those permits because they need to undergo a costly CEQA. Ceasing inappropriate permits should not require a CEQA. Not only is it not a “project,” the “impact” on the environment would be ZERO. The DFG should not be misinforming the public, in order to shirk the Commissioners’ vote. They never had the proper right to issue those permits in the first place, since it all started two decades ago with an arbitrary decision made internally, without CEQA. Last but not least, I am an immigrant Chinese, and I swear that most of us have never heard of eating turtles. My parents and friends, also immigrants from many parts of China and Hong Kong, all gasped upon hearing of the practice. It is preposterous of the markets to claim they represent the Chinese culture.

  4. eric mills Says:

    After 15 years of constant work on this issue, it seems abundantly clear that only legislation will resolve this simple issue. Sadly, politics and “cultural political correctness” continue to trump the well-being of our natural resources and the public health. Not to mention the horrendous animal cruelty rampant in these markets.

    We need a permanent, state-wide ban on the importation, possession and sale of all non-native species intended for human consumption.


    John McCamman, Director of the Dept. of Fish & Game, may be emailed at

    The Fish & Game Commission (Jim Kellogg, President) may emailed at

    Both entities may be written to c/o 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

  5. kaaren Smith Says:

    Question: After reading Michelle Tsai’s comment – the majority of Chinese don’t eat them, then why are they sold abundantly in San Francisco’s Chinatown and have been for years? I remember seeing the poor turtles piled up in crates years ago as a child in the 40’s and 50’s and feeling horrified. I have never wanted to go back. I don’t see them in local regular markets and on the streets anywhere else in the bay area. I am not a traveler. Obviously, I could research more and probably will. Gary, I appreciate your comment and support you always. Thank you for doing so much for so many causes.

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