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March 29, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: Live animal food market update

Ohlone Humane Society: Live animal food market update

By Eric Mills, Ohlone Humane Society Community Relations Director

"The Director [John McCamman, Dept. of Fish & Game] acts at the pleasure of the Governor."
-Sonke Mastrup, Deputy Director, DFG

Someone recently sent me a short video taken at an Asian market in Milpitas, CA last September. It shows a large softshell turtle, with its entire upper shell sliced off, exposing heart, lungs and intestines. Amazingly (and appallingly), the turtle was still alive. The woman who filmed the scene complained to the manager, who refused to put the turtle out of its misery. A short time later another customer bought 25% of the turtle, which necessitated putting the animal out of its misery. (Available on YouTube. GOOGLE "mutilated turtle.") This is not an aberration. I've seen similar atrocities in the live markets in both San Francisco and Oakland. It has to stop, and you the reader can help make it happen.

As reported in a 4/27/10 column ("Thought for Food"), California's Chinatown live markets annually import two million American bullfrogs, plus an estimated 300,000-400,000 freshwater turtles, for human consumption. Most of the frogs are commercially raised in Taiwan; all the turtles are taken from the wild in states east of the Rockies, depleting local populations. None of these animals are native to California, and when released into local waters (a common though illegal practice), they prey upon and displace our native species. All are diseased and/or parasitized, posing serious risks to public health. Reportedly, 62% of market frogs also carry the dreaded chytrid fungus, a prime suspect in the extinction of nearly 200 amphibian species around the world in recent years.

After a 15-year campaign to ban the importation and sale of live frogs and turtles for human consumption, the State Fish and Game Commission voted 5:0 in February 2010 to adopt a policy instructing the Department of Fish and Game (a separate entity) to cease issuing import permits for these animals. Victory at last! Or so we thought. Only a few weeks later, DFG Director John McCamman announced that he would continue to issue the permits on a month-to-month basis. When challenged by the Commission, DFG Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup could only mutter, "The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor." TRANSLATION: The Dept. is going to do what the Dept. wants to do, the Commission and the public be hanged (NOTE: The Commission has received nearly 4,000 letters in support of the proposed ban).

Now here's where it gets interesting. On March 2, DFG Director McCamman sent the Commission a memo (copy available upon request) explaining his reasoning, prompting this remarkable rebuttal from Commissioner Dan Richards (a transcription from the Commission's 3/3/11 video archives):

"I'd be remiss if I didn't address Director McCamman's email to us on the frogs and turtles fiasco and misrepresentations that he provided to this commission at our last meeting. You'll recall that Director McCamman told us that he didn't have any latitude, that he was mandated by statute to issue permits, contrary to the direction that the Commission had previously given him. Previously we had told him in no uncertain terms to not issue any more permits. He took the position that he was mandated to do so. Since that time, I took the initiative to actually go back and read the statute, because I was dumbfounded that he didn't have any latitude. And, of course, the statue does NOT say that he's mandated to do so. And now he's written a memo to us that is more... poppycock, I'll call it; it's ridiculous. The structure is woefully broken. The Department of Fish & Game is supervised, managed and directed by the Fish & Game Commission, yet we don't supervise, manage, direct or discipline the Director. He takes his direction from the Governor... so the process is flawed... Director McCamman is taking the position that he's STILL correct, regardless of the facts. So anytime you want to know why we're dysfunctional, take a look at these kinds of memos and you'll understand it."

What you can do - Since the Director DOES "act at the pleasure of the Governor," please write to Gov. Jerry Brown and urge him to order the Department to cease issuing these permits immediately. And send a copy of your letter to John Laird, Secretary of Resources (1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814).

Please urge your own representatives to ask Governor Brown and Secretary Laird to order the Department of Fish & Game to stop the permits. Only such a move will adequately protect the environment, the public health, and the welfare of the animals. THE GOVERNOR AND ALL STATE LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814.

Thanks for caring.

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