A Cayman Islands business is processing iguanas for sale to local restaurants and seeking an export license to sell the food as a delicacy to clients in the United States.
Spinion Ltd., which was set up to cull, process and sell lionfish, is expanding to help efforts to eradicate another invasive species. By commercializing green iguanas as a food source, the business hopes to encourage sustained hunting of the reptiles.
The business is offering between $1.25 and $1.50 to contracted hunters for live iguanas to be ethically slaughtered and prepared for sale at its George Town processing plant.
Maria Yapelli, liaison officer for the business, acknowledged that the price per head is significantly less than the $5-per-iguana paid by the government in trial culls this year. But the venture needs to be commercially viable, she said.
“We had one guy that got 20 iguanas in an hour, so that is still pretty good change,” she added.
Spinion had applied, with the assistance of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, for a CITES license to import iguanas into the U.S. for sale, where the meat trades as a delicacy for significantly higher prices.
The license, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is required by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora because green iguanas are endangered in some countries and the trade is carefully regulated.
Ms. Yapelli said iguana meat sells for between $40 and $50 per pound in the U.S., mostly through online sales.
She said the payments to hunters in Cayman could increase once an export link, through Spinion’s U.S.-based distribution company Lion’s Den, is established. Currently the business is selling to East End restaurant Tukka.
Finding hunters to do the work has been the biggest hurdle, with many cullers waiting to see if government will offer a higher per-head fee for an organized national cull earlier this year.
Food safety guidelines require the iguanas to be brought live to the processing plant, meaning they have to be caught with a noose or a trap.
She said Spinion sold the finished product, legs and tails, processed and packaged, at $5 per pound to local restaurants. The business has to pay staff to slaughter the iguanas, package and deliver to the restaurants.
They are investigating the possibility of using the off-cuts of the iguana for a dog treat.
“Right now, we are trying to get a regular group of hunters and get into a routine with the employees so we have a well-oiled machine by the time we get licensed to export,” Ms. Yapelli said.
A Department of Environment report on two publicly funded test culls this year concluded that contract hunters would need to cull nearly 200,000 green iguanas per year, at an estimated cost of more than $1 million, to make an impact on the exponentially increasing population of the invasive species.
“The scale of the green iguana control challenge exceeds DoE’s current capacity, and requires government to consider options to resource this major undertaking,” Mr. Burton wrote in his report, released publicly in August.
The report cited earlier surveys that indicate the green iguana population is doubling every 1.5 years, “threatening a catastrophic impact on the natural environment and socially unacceptable problems for agriculture, infrastructure and residential areas.”
Since then, government has not indicated what it plans to do about the problem in the long term.