Turtle meat price tripling

top-lead

The price of farmed turtle meat is
tripling, which might make it a rarity in Cayman kitchens and restaurants.

The announcement came Friday
afternoon in a press release issued on behalf of the Boatswain’s Beach/Cayman
Turtle Farm Board of Directors and new Managing Director Tim Adam.

Effective today, the price of
turtle stew will rise from CI$5.40 per pound to CI$16 per pound, while the
price of the turtle steak will rise from CI$9 to CI$27 per pound.

The price of the turtle menavelin
(small cuts of meat, fat, skin, heart, kidney and spleen) will rise from CI$4
to CI$12 per pound and the price of the turtle bone will rise from CI$2 to CI$6
per pound.

Premier McKeeva Bush said he was
made aware of the price increase early Friday, but said he wasn’t going to get
involved in the matter.

“I’ll leave the board and
management to do what they have to do to make the Turtle Farm viable,” he said.

Turtle Farm Chairman of the Board
Ken Hydes said that over the coming weeks and months the board will be making
many difficult decisions about the operations at Boatswains Beach and the
Turtle Farm. 

“I can assure the public that these
decisions are being made with the long-term best interest of the shareholders,
the Caymanian people,” he said.

“This is the reason the Board felt
it was essential to bring in someone with Tim’s experience and
capabilities.  We are extremely confident
that he is the right man to turn things around at Boatswains Beach and he has
the full support of the board and senior management team.”

Mr. Adam said the price that was
being charged for turtle meat was far below the cost to produce it, and the
facility was constantly losing money on that portion of the business. 

As a result, Mr. Adam says the
business now needs to raise the selling price on turtle meat to reflect the
true cost of production and maintenance of the turtle meat products and the
Cayman Turtle Farm facilities.

 “One of my first priorities after taking this
job was to begin a process of closely examining every aspect of our operations
to determine if they were being run efficiently and were commercially viable,”
he said.  

“Looking closely at the farm
operations, it was immediately clear that the price being charged for turtle
meat would not allow the proper operation of the farm,” he continued.

“The supply of turtle meat in
Cayman is in jeopardy and could dry up in the very near future without
significant re-investment in the turtles, their feeding and care or even the
farm facilities.”

The effects of the price increase
will likely be seen in Cayman’s restaurants.

“Restaurants that sell meat
products understand they are commodities that have prices that fluctuate,” said
Mr. Adam.“The price will now reflect the value of the meat.”

He noted restaurants have become
used to turtle being a certain price and make a decision on their pricing in
relation to that.

Mr. Adam compared the price of
lobster, which is sold with a heavy shell, to the higher turtle prices.

“You can get lobster virtually
anywhere, but there is only one country where you can buy farmed green sea
turtle meat, and that is right here in Cayman,” he said.

“If you look at the price lobster
meat is selling for, by comparison, turtle meat is not such a big issue.”

Martin Richter, general manager of
Grand Old House, a fine-dining restaurant that caters to a lot of tourists,
will continue to offer turtle.

“Why not, if someone is willing to
pay for it?” he said, adding that turtle really isn’t a big seller at the
restaurant. “It’s more of a curiosity, but I think there will still be people
who will want to try it.”

However, Mr. Richter said the new
price for turtle steak might make the restaurant rethink the way it serves it.

“We might have to do smaller portions
or an appetizer instead,” he said. “If we find the demand is not there,
obviously we’ll have to drop it.”

William Watson owner of the Country
and Western restaurant said he did not think customers would be interested in
paying triple for turtle.

“It would be a bad thing for us, at
that price that means you’d pay at least $20 for a plate of turtle meat,” he
said.

“We have good customers for turtle
meat now, but they probably won’t pay that much.”

Since Hurricane Michelle in 2001,
when much of the Farm’s breeding herd disappeared and much of the breeding
facility was rendered unusable, the farm has struggled to improve its breeding
programme and reverse the issue of declining turtle stock. 

Mr Adam emphasized that setting a
reasonable pricing structure was the first step in being able to properly
re-invest in the farm and reverse this trend.

He said the pricing is based on
analysis done on the cost to produce the meat products weighted to the
proportion of each kind of meat a turtle produces, and the prices rounded up or
down to the nearest dollar for simplicity.

Although the decision is bound to
be unpopular with some people, Mr. Adam said it was an absolutely essential
move for the operation to make in order to remain sustainable.

“We have a responsibility to ensure
that future generations of Caymanians can enjoy the traditions of our islands
and turtles are an important part of that,” he said.

Department of Environment Director
Gina Ebanks-Petrie said putting the price up may cause people to think twice
about buying turtle meat as frequently as they do.

“An increase in price on the demand
side has the potential to buy some time for the farm to address the very
serious issue of the low hatching rates and survival of the hatchlings,” she
said.

“These two issues have been
occurring for some time, and solutions to the problem need to be found if the
farm is to be sustainable in the long term.”

Responding to the concern that an
increase in price may lead to thefts of turtles from the farm, Mr. Adam said
security was definitely a concern.

“We certainly take security at the
farm quite seriously. Given that the value of the turtles and harvested meat
has gone up, we have taken that into consideration. Of course, we hope theft is
not the response we get,” he said.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie said an increase
in the price of farmed turtle would be a concern for the Department as it might
lead to the potential increase in the illegal taking of turtles.  Both Mr. Adam and Premier Bush are counting on
the Department of Environment to combat an increase in poaching.

 “Turtle meat is still available for sale,” Mr.
Adam said. “We hope and trust the authorities responsible for poaching will
respond to this decision accordingly.”

Mr. Bush agreed.

 “If that is so, and I’m not sure it will be,
the Department of Environment will have to do their job.”

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said the
Department’s enforcement team will certainly have to keep a very vigilant eye
out for such activity.

 “However these days the team is already stretched,”
she said.

Compass journalist Alan Markoff also contributed to this article.

top-story

Mr. Adam
File