Green iguana meat exports to begin

Benjamin Bodden and Maria Yapelli process iguana at Spinion’s plant in George Town. – PHOTO: GRAZIELA PORTELA

A Cayman Islands company will begin exporting green iguana meat to be sold to consumers in the United States from August.

After a lengthy vetting process, Spinion Ltd. has obtained the necessary permits to process both lionfish and iguana at its George Town processing plant for export to the U.S.

The business hopes it can help provide a commercial solution to the exploding populations of both invasive species.

The company has established an online store in the U.S. and will ship 200 lbs of Cayman-caught iguana – equivalent to around 100 iguanas – to its distribution center in Illinois at the end of July. Ultimately, it aims to export an average of 500 lbs of iguana a month.

Maria Yapelli, one of the founders of the business, said the company had switched from its initial focus on lionfish in an effort to help deal with the green iguana crisis. At last count, environment officials estimated Cayman’s green iguana population at just over one million, warning that unless it is brought under control, the species could cause major ecosystem change.

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Spinion is in the final stages of setting up an online store to sell iguana meat direct to homes in the U.S.

Ms. Yapelli said there was a strong and underserved market for the product in the U.S., particularly from immigrants used to eating iguana meat in their home countries. The meat can also be processed and turned into pet food.

Spinion has two people, one employee and one contractor, who catch iguanas for them on a regular basis. The iguanas have to be caught live and processed under strict health and safety conditions at their plant.

Holding pens are being set up in North Side, West Bay, Bodden Town and Prospect for short-term storage, and the company plans to supplement its catch by paying $2 per head for iguanas.

Ms. Yapelli said it had been a slow and at times frustrating process to get the necessary permissions to establish both aspects of its business.

It has been nearly two years since the company first sought endorsement from the Department of Environmental Health to process both lionfish and iguana at the same site. Approval was finally granted earlier this month.

The company had already been granted approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to export both species for sale in the U.S.

The lionfish aspect of the business is still a work in progress. Part of the problem has been that the lionfish invasion has been partially brought under control by cullers in the Cayman Islands, meaning it is difficult to catch enough fish to pay full-time staff.

Spinion plans to use subcontractors in Honduras to supplement its yield, processing the fish in Cayman for export and sale in the U.S. They plan to make their first export at the end of September.

Ms. Yapelli said it was satisfying to have reached the point where both species could be exported.

“That first shipment is going to mean so much, because it has taken us a long time to get there,” she said.

“There has been one roadblock after another but you have to get through all the ‘nos’ until you get to a ‘yes.’”

Contractors interested in supplying iguana to Spinion can call 925-8779 or email [email protected]

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  1. I have to applaud Ms. Yapelli for all her hard work and efforts for wanting to do something about the two invasive species. Maybe she should capitalize on local market instead of export .
    I have to believe that she has more ‘nos’ than ‘yes’ for it to be a success .
    (1) $2.0 per head for a live iguana, that’s a worse offer than the government’s offer of $2.50 per head dead .
    (2) supplement part from Honduras might breach with the US FDA , then that might be a serious ‘nos’ .
    (3) how is exporting 500 pounds of iguana meat per month , and at what price per pound , is going to be profitable?
    (4) I see more ‘nos’ than ‘yes’ , but something needs to be done . I wish her good luck in the venture.