Editorial for August 30: The Turtle Farm's 'head in the shell' business strategy

So let’s see if we’ve got this right:

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.


  1. Well said Ed.,

    OK, so looking at the averages over the last few years they are harvesting around a thousand turtles a year…

    So a 10 Million subsidy means each turtle is subsidised to the tune of 10,000 dollars.

    I don’t think they have the time to allow turtles to mature to the 300 to 400 pound specimens we see in the wild, 20 years plus, but even if they are slaughtered at say 200 to 250 pounds live weight, there will be less than 150 pounds of meat per carcass. (I stand to be corrected here, but am assuming the guts, shell skin and bones make a significant percentage of the weight).

    I have no breakdown of ratio Steak:Stew meat so best I can do is average…

    Every pound of turtle meat is subsidised to the tune of 67 dollars.

    Real world prices should be in the 90 KYD for Steak and 80 for stew meat (though a market economy might adjust those to make the steak more like 150 and stew at 75)

    Maybe the government could buy in Caviar at 200 US and sell it at 30? And lets not forget the cultural significance of a postprandial Cognac and Cigar which could equally recieve an 80% subsidy – its truly ridiculous (or perhaps Turtally Stew-pid).

    With the national trust heading for bankruptcy, Prisons with porous fences, kids going to school hungry, airports needing upgrades, cruise terminals to be built…
    You can’t throw a rock without it hitting something MORE deserving of funding.

    But if you stop the meat part of the business, the Turtle farm could metamorphasize into a real conservation effort, it could indeed be a world heritage site, apply for charitable status and raise money by donations (Seashepard raises 80 million a year on an anti-whaling ticket). As the turtles were not being raised for meat, but for release, they would not need to mature for many years but could be released at a smaller size so hundreds of thousands could end up in the wild. After a few years wild caught turtle could even be back on the menu! The turtle farm itself would become much more palatable to tourists, and cease to be a costly white elephant for an impoverished government.

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