First the Turtle Farm raised the price of turtle meat to increase its revenues and now it is lowering the price, presumably for the same reason. The thinking is that a projected increase in supply (made possible by better breeding management) will make turtle meat available to more people at a reduced price, and the resulting increase in sales volume will lead to increased profits for the farm.
Possible but not likely.
Additionally, environmentalists are hypothesizing that by lowering the price of turtle meat, poachers (not known for their reverence for laws, either statutory or economic) will be less tempted to engage in their illegal scavenging, preferring to “go straight” and purchase their wares at the reduced price, rather than at the 100 percent discount they have become accustomed to.
In truth, quibbling over a few dollars per pound for turtle meat is a mere drop in the ocean compared with the financial stew the Cayman Islands government has got itself into over the farm.
As readers will recall, the government spent approximately $60 million (which it didn’t have) to renovate and expand the old Turtle Farm and then, in a flash of seeming inspiration, renamed the farm “Boatswain’s Beach,” which hardly anyone could pronounce and even fewer could understand – in part because there was no beach.
Then, they renamed the previously renamed Boatswain’s Beach back to the Turtle Farm.
The constant in this sorry saga is that the Turtle Farm continues to lose approximately $10 million per year, a substantial sum even for a country that has a lot of money – which Cayman does not.
That’s a whole lotta turtle.
Traditionalists will no doubt fight for their right to keep on eating what even environmental watchdogs describe as a “culturally significant” dish.
In the context of Cayman’s history, it’s a tradition that made sense. For our ancestors, turtles were a valuable resource and an important subsistence food at a time when sea turtles were so abundant, you couldn’t step into the shallows without treading on one.
That’s not the case anymore. This is an endangered species worldwide and the public’s taste for turtle, which may well be overstated by those with a product to peddle, is beginning to look like an “elite meat,” indulged by a few, paid for by the many.
Every man, woman and child in the Cayman Islands kicks in $200-a-year toward the cost of keeping the Turtle Farm open.
There may or may not be a scaled-down role for the Turtle Farm to play, as the World Society for the Protection of Animals points out, in supplementing the DoE’s work as a conservation and rehabilitation center.
But the traditionalists need to forget about the idea that eating turtle is a cultural imperative that should be protected by the Bill of Rights and subsidized by the government.
Farming and selling meat for profit should be the province of the private sector. If the appetite is there, then surely an entrepreneur would seize that opportunity to make a profit.