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January 10, 2012 > It's not easy being green... life animal food markets

It's not easy being green... life animal food markets

By Eric Mills, OHS Community Relations Director and Legislative Liaison

"This is about a cultural practice, and the Department of Fish & Game
Doesn't like getting in the middle of those things."
--Sonke Mastrup, Executive Director of the California Fish &
Game Commission (Los Angeles TIMES, 11/21/11)

In early 2009, culminating a 15-year effort by a small band of dedicated activists, the California Fish & Game Commission unanimously instructed the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) to cease issuing import permits for frogs and turtles for human consumption. The Commission received more than 3,500 letters and emails in support of the proposed ban, from environmental and sportsmen's groups, from animal welfarists and the general public. State Senators Sheila Kuehl and Byron Sher wrote in support of the ban, as did former Resources Secretary Huey Johnson (twice). The Department's response? "The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor," and the Department continues to issue the permits on a month-to-month basis. So much for the democratic process and public opinion. Not to mention a thumbing of the nose at environmental protection, all in the name of "political correctness."

Conflicts of interest: The Director of the Department and the five Fish & Game Commissioners are all appointed by the Governor. There are no specific requirements or qualifications for the job-it's a political plum. The Commission gets its meager funding from the Department, as well as all its scientific data. Yet the Commission is merely an advisory body, with no real authority over the Department unlike Nevada and other states where the Commission has the power to hire and fire the DFG Director. The general public is unaware of these facts.

In truth, the Commission is in large part a Good Ol' Boys' hunting club - all members are either hunters or fishermen, or both. The bulk of their efforts is focused on increasing hunting and fishing opportunities, though they're mandated to protect and enhance ALL of the state's wildlife and natural resources for ALL Californians, not just the hook 'n' bullet crowd.

Not surprisingly, in the Commission's 130 years, there have been only two women members. One of them, Cindy Gustafson was forced to resign for political reasons only two years ago, as was another good Commissioner, Judd Hanna, at about the same time. Mr. Hanna's crime? He had the temerity to speak out publicly about the dangers of lead shot in the environment. Ironically, both these people were supportive of the market frog/turtle ban.

And here's the rub: The Department's Mission Statement says, "The Mission of the Department of Fish and Game is to manage California's diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public." Its been made abundantly clear that the Department has no intention of following its mandate to protect the State's natural resources, insofar as the market frogs and turtles are concerned. And the reasons are political, not scientific, as the Commission's Executive Director noted above.

Not acceptable!

California annually imports two million American bullfrogs and 300,000-400,000 freshwater turtles for live food markets, found mostly in various "Chinatowns" throughout the state in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, etc. Frogs are commercially-raised, mostly in Taiwan. The turtles (mostly red-eared sliders and spiny softshells) are all taken from the wild in states east of the Rockies, depleting local populations. None of these animals are native to California.

When released into local waters, they prey upon and displace our native species, including the endangered red-legged frog and western pond turtle. These releases, though illegal, are commonplace, and often done by well-meaning but misguided "do-gooders," or by certain religious sects in "animal liberation" ceremonies. Cultural diversity is to be encouraged, of course, but resource protection should always be given priority.

All market frogs and turtles are diseased and parasitized, posing serious threats to human health. Recent necropsies have disclosed rampant cases of E. coli, salmonella, pasturella (all potentially fatal in humans), blood parasites, giardia, and even one case of malaria. Worse still, a 2009 study in Biological Conservation documented that 62% of the market frogs tested positive for the dreaded chytrid fungus, cause of the extinctions of some 100 amphibian species worldwide in recent years.

Many of the market animals are butchered while fully conscious.

But there's cause for hope. Dr. Kerry Kriger's Santa Cruz-based organization, SAVE THE FROGS!, is making great strides. Dr. Kriger has convinced the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors of the dangers to our environment and native wildlife posed by the non-native bullfrogs, and the Board has agendized the issue for their February 28, 2012 meeting, a proposal to ban the importation and/or possession of American bullfrogs. The proposal also has the support of the county's advisory fish & game commission.

If the ban is adopted, it should inspire other counties to adopt similar ordinances, and ultimately a statewide ban. Any such bans should also include the market turtles.

Adding to the optimism is the fact that our Secretary of Resources, John Laird, has a strong environmental record. Secretary Laird is a former Santa Cruz Assemblyman, who earned a consistent "A" vote on the annual Paw PAC voting chart. And Governor Jerry Brown has a far greener record than did his predecessor. We also have a new Director of Fish & Game, Charlton "Chuck" Bonham, with good environmental credentials. Here's hoping these three will fix the problem.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Write to Resources Secretary John Laird, and DFG Director Chuck Bonham, asking them to stop the import permits for non-native turtles and frogs for the live food markets. Both may be written c/o 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

EMAIL ADDRESSES: secretary@resources.ca.gov; director@dfg.ca.gov

Thanks for caring. Happy New Year, all!

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