Choice of national dish leaves bad taste for some

| 19/03/2024 | 62 Comments
Cayman News Service
Turtles at the Cayman Turtle Centre

(CNS): Since CNS published an article last week about the additions to the list of national symbols, readers have been debating the Cayman Islands Government’s decision to make Turtle Stew the official national dish, and most of the 200+ comments on the story were about this choice. Many were surprised that an endangered species was selected, and it apparently left a bad taste in the mouths of those concerned about the message it sends regarding the endangered status of this iconic marine animal.

CNS has contacted the Cayman Turtle Centre (aka the turtle farm), the only place where turtle meat can be bought legally, as we understand there are difficulties with the meat supply due to problems with hatching eggs.

The turtle farm is heavily subsidised by the government, with an additional cash injection of more than $13.5 million over the next two years. However, we have not received a response to our request for comment on the meat shortage, which could tempt poachers into taking wild turtles illegally ahead of the start of the nesting season.

While there has been a decline in demand for turtle meat over the last few years, the decision to highlight the consumption of turtle and the part it has played in Cayman’s heritage could spur an increase in demand for it at restaurants where it’s still on the menu.

Although the Department of Environment rarely comments on the issue of turtle consumption, as its job is to protect wild animals, CNS received a comment about the choice of Turtle Stew as the national dish.

“Sea turtles have long been of cultural importance in the Cayman Islands, not just as a dish, but also because Cayman’s waters were once home to one of the most abundant green turtle nesting populations in the Caribbean,” a DoE spokesperson said. “Sadly, these populations came close to extinction due to over-fishing for both meat and shells. Today, wild populations are beginning to show signs of recovery but remain very vulnerable to illegal take. However, public education, robust legislation and access to legal meat have reduced instances of this.”

The DoE is asking the public to be aware of the source of their turtle meat as it is an offence under the National Conservation Act to possess any turtle meat or products taken from Cayman waters, even if done so unknowingly. “The Cayman Turtle Centre is the only location where turtle meat can be legally purchased for personal or restaurant use,” the DoE stated.

Over the years, the turtle farm has released numerous turtle hatchlings into the wild, which has undoubtedly added to the nesting pair numbers. However, the wild population remains endangered, and despite the record number of nests that volunteers monitored last season, the number of mating pairs remains very low.

The releases from the farm have slowed down significantly over the last decade as the farm has dealt with a catalogue of husbandry issues relating to the conditions in which the turtles are kept, such as outbreaks of E.coli and other diseases as well as inbreeding and deformities, which poses a problem for releasing hatchlings into the wild.

Although turtle farming continues to present many challenges, the supply of farmed meat has cut down on poaching. Nevertheless, poaching remains a major threat to turtle species’ survival in the wild, and if the farm is not able to meet an increase in demand, encouraging consumption by popularising the dish once again could have a long-term detrimental impact on the wild population.


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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (62)

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  1. Mariculture student says:

    In 1982 I came to the turtle farm then under the management of Dr’s Jim and Fern Wood who by the way, were world renowned experts on the biology of green sea turtles and contributed extensively to scientific journals and textbooks in marine biology, mariculture and a host of other subjects.

    Turtles were imported from Mexico, Surinam and a few other countries to diversify the breeding stock that in turn could be used to satisfy the local populations demand for turtle meat. The farm also continued periodic releases of indigenous green sea turtles

    Mariculture is used all over the world to protect a food source that may not just be totally endangered but threatened by commercial fishing.

    Mariculture is also an evolving science. There are farms in the ocean growing seafood and shellfish in kelp farms. Salmon, catfish, shrimp and many types of fish and mussels and oysters.

    After the term I spend and wrote my thesis for graduation I had a way more profound respect for the scientists I was fortunate enough to have worked with and I dont totally understand with such a unique and endangered species as the green turtle, we couldn’t attract more scientists to continue the work instead of tying to be more of a Sea World or amusement park. Such is life.

    I do not eat turtle and it is because I observed every aspect of the operation including slaughter and I can only liken it to if I worked in an industrial chicken farm, I doubt I would eat chicken either.

    One of the great Caymanian classic dishes to me (when in season) is conch weather marinated fresh from the catch, scalded or stewed – that to me is such a Caymanian culinary tradition.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The irony of this story, you have the foreigners telling us we eating an endangered specie yet they buying up all the beach front properties that is destroying their nesting grounds….. smh!

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    • Hubert says:

      8:49, If Caymanians had not sold their beachfront properties to the foreigners there might be more turtles around for them to eat turtle stew.

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      • JOE Mebe says:

        But yet prior to Beach development who do you think ate up the Majority of Turtles (and Caimáns) as the History Books say?

        EUROPEANS!! Especially on their way back to the “Continent” as well as the Mother Country where Turtle was a Delicacy.

        The Old Timer Caymanians Settlers had to go to the Mosquito Cays and such to catch Turtles in any kind of quantity.

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        • anonymous says:

          And who do you think populated the Cayman Islands?????????? EUROPEANS! and others! All this bullsh.t about ‘generational Caymanians’, read history from where we came from. Read:

          The History of the Cayman Islands – Neville Williams (1970).

          Caribbean Story, 3’rd edition – William Claypole, John Robottom (2001).

          The Lawless Caymanas, Brian L. Kieran (1992).

          SO MANY POSTS HERE ARE UTTER RUBBISH FROM THOSE WHO DON’T HAVE A CLUE/OR EDUCATION FROM WHO WE HAVE COME FROM.

          Sorry for the caps, I got distracted!

          Caymanians have eagerly/willingly sold their country and soil, they have NO benefit to claim expats have dealt them an unfair draw.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    How sick of those who equate consumption of turtle with slavery! Better not express those sentiments in my earshot! Disgusting!

    The forefathers of people who think like that were very likely slave shippers who hunted and survived on the same turtle meat!

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  4. Anonymous says:

    20 @12.06pm – and you’re SURE you’re not mistaking turtle feed pellets for turtle “mess”?

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Absoplute thoughlessness by those who made this rediculous decision!

  6. Anonymous says:

    How were these symbols picked? I feel like the people should have had some say in it.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Probably the same way McBeater picked Status Grant recipients. He consulted everyone on his bobo’s list. So assuming the Utter Plonking Moron Party have such a list that’s most likely how it went down.

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    • Chamberlain says:

      1:30, The Cabinet sat around for a day and debated this important issue.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I will not eat it. Just the idea makes me sick. Has anyone seen the turtles swimming in their own mess at the turtle farm?

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  8. Animals Rights says:

    Celebrating the historical genocide of sea turtles! It’s a disgrace. It’s like condoning slavery. Cayman is the only place in the entire world that has failed to outlaw the consumption of this critically endangered species. Any tradition which causes harm should be consigned to the history books.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Genocide and slavery are topics in relation to human beings. This is a different type of state-funded species extermination. Also cruel, needless, costly, and wrong, but not those other words.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Fun Fact: Soy production kills more animals than farming turtles could in a millennia. Start from habitat destruction all the way to spraying harmful chemicals. You’re responsible for the death of countless frogs, rodents, insects ect.

      I hope you choke on your tofu.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Spare us the lazy John Dutton speech. What do you think Purina Turtle Chow is made of? Here is is: the corn rejected for human consumption, water, ground-up food processing waste (entrails beaks, and organ scrap), and soymeal. Only you’re eating an animal that has been fed this over and over, biomagnifying the pesticide use you yourself cite as harmful.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Why shame tofu? Do you eat frogs, rodents and insect pests?

    • Nautical-one345 says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but Cayman (CIG or NGO’s) have also said nothing at all about the genocide happening in Gaza. Though there was support evidenced for Ukraine (which there should be) nothing for Gaza….any suggestions as to why?

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  9. Cul-Cha says:

    We are witnessing the last spasms of the remnant original settler community. The true born/generational Caymanian is now a minority in his own land and on the way out. In less than a decade the official national dish will be curry goat. It pretty much already is.

    Sad to see how short sighted Caymanians have been and continue to be. But it is Caymanians who imported their own replacements.

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    • Agast says:

      I love curried goat,(and I’m not Jamaican – to clarify what you did not openly state); especially as it is not an endangered animal.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Caymanian coming up short as usual! their problem is they’re now the minority and they have too much to say.

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  11. Turtlemania Epidemic says:

    How much more will Caymanians take too greedy killing and eating their national symbol Turtles! I just says NO!

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Might be turtle in Grand but over here to the east it’s Solider Crab all day bobo!

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    • JD says:

      This is by far the worst joke ever, coming from a generational Caymanian and born Bracka. We like whelks – we do not eat soldier crabs who claim the shells after.

      If I hear any Caymanian bold enough to say this in front of my face I going box you straight in ya mouth. Try do something about it after if you brave too. The only time I let this foolishness slip is because a coworker said it at work.

      Absolutely sickening that you find humor in degrading another Caymanian, and blasphemous if you aren’t one.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    I’m a born and bred boomer Caymanian who doesn’t eat turtle (never eaten turtle stew) but I respect the Caymanian tradition attached to the eating of turtle, and the vibrant trade which it supported at one time.

    I’ve never found myself questioning or criticizing Inuit tradition of eating seal or whale blubber, or prairie traditions of eating buffalo testicles, or a Brit’s love for black pudding, or even some steak lovers traditions of eating a rare, blood-dripping steak….as examples!

    So, whether you live here or worse, just trolling from abroad, leave our Caymanian traditions alone! Most have already been decimated by “progress” and “outsider influences”, so if it’s decided to formalize what has been a centuries-old tradition so be it!

    BTW, historical records show without question that it was European sailors who first hunted turtles in our area for food – long before Cayman was inhabited!

    As for the argument that consuming turtle meat promotes decimation of a protected species – that is the purpose of the Turtle Farm (yes farm), which has proven to been beneficial to the return of the wild turtle in Cayman’s waters.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Well said and totally endorsed. We have had turtle as our national dish forever and time immemorial. It is indeed a pity that the “Johnny come latelies” try to do and say otherwise. Kudos to the government for now enshrining our dish we so enjoy and wish I could have some for lunch today!!

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      • Anonymous says:

        “Try to do otherwise”…succeed more like. We’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. The turtle farm is a corrupt greenwashing sham costing Cayman billions in foregone social opportunities, repelling tourists, and international conservation organisations that know better. All of that effort to employ a handful of West Bayers just to have them turn around and embezzle more wasted funds. Residents don’t need to contribute to any part of species eradication, or the institutionalised theft. Time immemorial is a time horizon of about 3 months in Cayman.

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    • Anonymous says:

      “So, whether you live here or worse, just trolling from abroad, leave our Caymanian traditions alone!”

      I have little doubt that similar sentiments were expressed by Caymanians of the day when abolition of slavery was being discussed.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Where all these idiots come from that trying to compare slavery to eating turtle meat?!?! I tell you what when the turtles can put one of their own forward to give an impassioned speech about dreams for the future I’ll set them all free myself. Same people talking foolishness bout turtle meat is the same ones that was going down to swim with the dolphins. Morons.

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    • Animals Rights says:

      The Inuits didn’t cause a genocide and steak and black pudding are the produce of a domesticated species. Farmed sea turtles are not domesticated and are a critically endangered species.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Thought our “National Dish” was “Mutton Snapper Stew-down with coconut”…ate it every Sunday after church.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    The photo! Animals abuse the extreme!

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  16. Anonymous says:

    The photo! My Gosh! A Diseased blind turtle “swimming” in filth, excrements and artificial feed. 🤦‍♀️

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    • Anonymous says:

      Our adult children visited here from America and were disgusted and saddened to see these majestic crratures corralled in filthy murky waters climbing over each other for food.

      Most zoos in the states, except Miami would never allow these things.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    The conditions the turtles are kept in at the Turtle Farm are awful. It’s no wonder they are having problems with disease and birth defects. Respecting and cherishing our heritage also means having the wisdom to know when these wonderful creatures went from being a source of sustenance to species that need to be respected and cherished themselves.

    And that poor crocodile! She should have been released back into the wild. Can you imagine having known nothing but open oceans, and the freedom to go wherever she needed to go, and then being harpooned and put in that tiny concrete enclosure. We are awful.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Whereas I do not eat turtle but I know it is a dish that is unique to Cayman Islands as most of the original Caymanian inhabitants depended on turtle fishing for a livelihood, I see nothing wrong in choosing it as a national dish.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Why these white foreigners feel they have the right to tell us Caymaians what our national dish should be? We Caymanians sick o unna!

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    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not unique to Cayman, there are a few other jurisdictions where turtle, tortoises and terrapins are traditionally eaten however some of these species are not on the endangered list. And although in Cayman’s history turtling was an industry and staple meat source, carrying on today doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the responsible thing to do. Like whaling which, eventually will become a thing of the past.

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  19. Anonymous says:

    In a bold culinary declaration that might make geography teachers and conservationists do a double-take, the Cayman Islands have crowned the endangered sea turtle as their “national” dish. This decision seems to have been simmered up by the same folks who might believe Florida can claim alligator as its national treasure on a plate—grammatically adventurous and ecologically daring. Of course, the minor oversight that the Cayman Islands, much like a condo owned by a distant relative who wears a crown, isn’t quite a nation but rather a British Overseas Territory, adds an extra dash of humor to the mix. It’s a gastronomic gaffe akin to serving up sovereignty on a silver platter, proving that while you can lead a turtle to water, you might get a bit lost on the way.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Dear oh dear: there’s a bit of over-labored humour if ever I saw it.

      Don’t leave your day job, pal.

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    • Anonymous says:

      What a silly failed quasi humorous attempt at a post, 4:27. Just one comment about it….did Floridians ever eat alligator as a main dish in the way early Caymanians did?

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    • Anonymous says:

      Enjoyed reading this! You need a guest column on CNS!

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  20. Anonymous says:

    If everything that offended someone was abolished there would be nothing left in this world. EAT TUTLE MEAT and screw the tree huggers.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    Turtle meat!!! All day long! If you don’t like it don’t eat it. More for me.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    Pretty sure Caymanians would appreciate that 13.5 mil going to help qualified Caymanians secure a home instead of farming turtles.

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    • Anonymous says:

      What is a ‘Qualified’ Caymanian ?
      I’ll assume all generationally born here with ties.
      Course.. to include those that hold a passport that says ‘Caymanian’.

    • Anonymous says:

      This. The lifetime social impairment cost to the people of the Cayman Islands of running this sham is in the billions now, even as the unfunded pension and healthcare balance sheet liabilities threaten the future continuity of the financial centre. Choices.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    This whole thing is so hypocritical. On the one hand, people complain about disrupting turtle nesting sites, turtle friendly lighting etc (only 1 in 10,000 sea turtles that make it to water actually survive to adulthood). Yet, we make the eating of adult sea turtles our national dish.

    It would be like supporting the Humane Society but serving dog meat at restaurants.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Literally Turtle Burgers on the menu at Turtle Center. There is almost no credible stewardship mission anymore.

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  24. Anonymous says:

    I used to prefer my turtle poached but due to its scarcity and long cooking time I had to resort to stewed. Quite different in taste from the poached variety I was not enthused about partaking in this aquatic delicacy anymore. Then after visiting the Turtle Farm a few times I chose to abstain since seeing these poor poxy creatures swimming in a cesspool like soup of detritus.
    What a pathetic existence these creatures endure whilst being reared as breeding stock, no wonder their eggs won’t hatch, their meat is likely full of antibiotics, but that’s another dirty little secret.
    Time to end this backwards, inhumane environmentally and economically unsustainable slaughter now.
    If anyone wants to see a real Turtle sanctuary and not a turtle abattoir and one that positively benefit the region’s ecosystem visit the Riviera Maya in Mexico. The waters these turtles swim in there are naturally fed by a crystal clear cenote.

    Our so called turtle centre is little more than a poorly run, squalid zoo for turtles and we should be very embarrassed by it’s notoriety and now irresponsibly proclaimed a national dish.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    We don’t need a turtle farm or a national dish.
    We as Caymanians have way bigger problems to worry about than saving the turtles.

    Shits a mess and this is a distraction so gov can spend more of the people’s money while not helping the people.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Lighten up Bobo, it’s just a local dish enjoyed by generations and now recognized as a part of Cayman’s culinary history.
      Your forefathers didn’t have supermarkets , and even I, as a foreigner, can respect my adopted home’s traditions.
      If you really are a Caymanian, your post is especially pitiful.

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      • Anonymous says:

        But they did have slaves or were slaves.
        We moved on just as you should.

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      • Anonymous says:

        It’s the typical attitude of the wishy washy whiners that are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the iron men in wooden ships.

        People who came here had to respect those people. Now their watered down progeny are a bunch of moping pushovers. One drop of adversity and they are in full crisis mode.

        I’m eating my legally farmed turtle and enjoying every last bite with pride for my culture as a born Caymanian.

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