By Gene Kira, March 18, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
When it comes to eating sea turtle meat, I just don't get it, and here's why:
One September, about 35 years ago, I was at Bahia de los Angeles, a small fishing village on the Baja California shore of Mexico's Sea of Cortez. We were hauling in yellowtail like there was no tomorrow. In the middle of that tremendous surface bite, there were moments when you could sit in a panga and not be able to see the horizon in any direction because of the boiling water all around you.
We stopped using lures and fished with bare hooks, getting hit, perhaps five feet beneath the panga, all day long, every day.
One day, we stopped fishing only because water actually began lapping in over the gunnels. (Obviously, this was back when we fishermen were real stoopid and didn't know any better.)
The point of this story is that all during that trip, the tiny, isolated village of "L.A. Bay" was buried up to its armpits in yellowtail, and people were sick of eating them. To relieve the monotony, Mamá Díaz raided the turtle shed down by the water, and she alternated meals: one meal yellowtail, one meal turtle, one meal yellowtail, one meal turtle...and so on.
Pretty soon, we were all sick of turtle too, but it kept coming and coming, a ghastly tidal wave of turtle, turtle and more turtle, washed down with tons of yellowtail. It was the culinary equivalent of Chinese water torture.
To this day, although I still love yellowtail, I get a little queasy at the thought of eating turtle meat.
Despite the fact that turtles don't taste that great (they are reptiles, you know, and have been substituted for on the black market by alligator meat), this Holy Week, many thousands of them will be eaten in Mexico in a sub rosa ritual sacrifice that goes back centuries.
In an effort to stop this slaughter, a press conference was held last week in Los Angeles by Wildcoast, a conservation group founded by Serge Dedina and Wallace J. Nichols, who contrived as the "news peg" for their event a letter sent to Pope John Paul II, asking that His Holiness declare turtle flesh to be "meat," not fish, and therefore unfit for consumption by Catholics during Lent.
Frankly, I thought that this and some of the other material presented at the conference seemed a bit of a stretch. The primary speakers were two fishermen, one from Abreojos and one from Magdalena Bay--and Homero Aridjis, the Mexican poet, novelist, and environmentalist, who plead the turtles' case, with some rather tenuous, emotional appeals.
One particularly questionable moment came when Aridjis claimed that turtle meat sells for up to $50 per pound on the black market, and then described how horrifying it was to watch fishermen cut off the turtles' flippers for wallet-making leather, and then throw the turtles themselves overboard to sink to the bottom and die "in agony."
I'm sure that has happened, but today, if any Mexican poacher throws away that much money, he's got my nomination for the Dumbest Panguero Of The Year Award, for life. Please! Let's let the facts speak for themselves.
The important fact is that sea turtles are protected in the U.S. and Mexico, and they really are in deep, deep trouble. According to Nichols, about 99 percent of them are already gone, and one type, the hawksbill, has now begun hybridizing with other species, because it cannot find mates of its own, a clear sign that the end is near for it.
The traditional and illegal consumption of turtle meat in Mexico kills an unconscionable 30,000 animals a year around Baja California, according to Nichols. This is a slaughter that has nothing to do with food, but with a passé cultural attitude that speaks of ignorance, and nothing more. It is no longer fashionable or acceptable to be stoopid, amigos. It is time for the people of Mexico to have mercy on these helpless animals, and let them live.
(Related Mexico articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Mexico information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Mexico area in "Mexico Fishing News.")