In March of 2010, the State Fish & Game Commission directed the Department of Fish and Game 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.
Two months later, pressured by Chinatown market interests and a half-dozen legislators playing “the race card,” two commission members, President Jim Kellogg and Don Benninghoven (now departed) attempted unsuccessfully to reverse the new policy. Then, in September, department 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 non-native American bullfrogs and 300,000 freshwater turtles for the live markets. 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 percent of the market frogs necropsied tested positive for the chytrid fungus, which has caused the extinction of some 200 species of amphibians worldwide in recent years.
The mandate of both the commission and the department is to protect and enhance the state’s natural resources. They’ve dropped the ball on this one. In many states (Arizona, Washington, Oregon, etc.), the commission has the power to hire and fire the director of Fish and 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 did his predecessors. If not, legislation is in order.
Coordinator, Action for Animals