Our nation’s turtle farming industry recently received some rather unwanted attention, courtesy of Operation Shellshock. The multistate investigation uncovered a clandestine network of reptile smugglers, whose dastardly deeds included the peddling of rare turtles to both collectors and Chinese diners. The scheme was allegedly abetted with “the help of a corrupt Louisiana turtle farm,” which hid endangered specimens amidst its more ordinary residents. (A meat processor on Maryland’s Eastern Shore may also be in legal hot water).
That news is sure to upset 60-plus legitimate turtle farmers, who’ve put up with plenty over the years. In 1975, due to a salmonella scare, the Feds banned the interstate transport of turtles whose shells measure less than four inches in diameter. Since then, there’s been virtually no domestic market for turtles; the Louisiana farmers export virtually everything to Asia, particularly the turtle-loving coastal regions of China. The farmers have tried myriad times to get the U.S. ban lifted, pointing out salmonella has mostly been eradicated thanks to the scientific efforts of Ronald Siebling, a professor of immunology at Lousiana State University. (Siebling’s method involves the injection of antibiotics into early-stage eggs.) But Uncle Sam has turned a deaf ear, and the Louisiana industry consequently remains just a blip—its 10 million turtles are estimated to have a total value of just $5 million.
More on Louisiana’s efforts to reopen the domestic turtle market here. The state’s biggest operation is Concordia Turtle Farms, run by “Uncle” Jesse Evans (who competes for the title of “The Turtle Man” with this guy).
There’s also a big turtle farming industry in China. Naturalists are none too happy with its callousness, it seems.