Jeremiah Was a Political Liability: Frogs' Legs Are the Next Sharks' Fins

On a single block of Stockton Street in San Francisco's Chinatown, no fewer than three markets sell bullfrogs. Continue wandering through the alleyways and you'll find scads more, piled in plastic tubs or hidden beneath goldfish aquariums. Signs in the windows say that all animals have to be killed on site, and a store clerk demonstrates how it's done: Smiling, he pantomimes an executioner's ax with his hand. "We cut the heads!" he says.

From there, the frogs go to restaurant platters and dinner plates throughout the city — breaded, stewed, or thrown in soups, and occasionally fried. A staple of Asian cuisine, frogs simmer on many stoves in San Francisco, where Asian-Americans comprise roughly a third of the city's polyglot culture.

They also constitute a huge threat to the local environment, according to Michael Starkey, a staunch Oakland-based conservationist and adviser to the amphibian advocacy group, Save the Frogs! "These guys are ambush predators," Starkey says, noting that the breed commonly found in Chinatown eateries — the American bullfrog — will eat everything from bats to house sparrows to 33-inch garter snakes. Though native to the East Coast, it's more commonly shipped from factory farms in Brazil or Taiwan, sometimes carrying a virulent, water-born fungus that coats its entire skin.

"With globalization," Starkey says, "people have transported this fungus all over the world." While innocuous to humans, the disease spreads rapidly among amphibians, and could drive many local species to extinction.

For two-and-a-half years, Starkey and other ecologists have campaigned for an embargo in California, hoping American bullfrogs will go the way of shark fins and foie gras. They've spoken in classrooms, delivered newsletters, and confronted politicians who see the frogs as an important cultural totem in San Francisco. When the California Department of Fish and Wildlife enacted a similar ban in 2010, it faced opposition from Assemblyman Paul Fong and Sen. Leland Yee, among others. Many of their constituents live in the neighborhoods where frogs are sold and consumed.

"It was narrowly imposed on live-food markets, and it unfairly targeted the Asian-American community," a spokeswoman from Fong's office says, acknowledging that Fish and Wildlife repealed the rule after just a few months. She's unsure how Fong would react if a similar rule were introduced next year, but "it would have to be closely examined."

Undeterred, Starkey is circulating an online petition for yet another bullfrog fatwah. He hopes it will quietly plow through the Legislature and wind up on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, where it has a good chance of getting signed — especially in light of this year's shark-fin ban. Frogs might be the next political battle in San Francisco, Starkey says. One if by land, two if by sea.

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Here’s how you can help: The eradication of bullfrogs from critical amphibian habitat is an integral part of the management plans for many threatened amphibian species in the western USA. However, efforts to eradicate bullfrogs will be futile in the long-term so long as bullfrogs are still being imported into the states to which they do not belong, as the frogs inevitably escape into the wild or are intentionally set free. Thus the continued importation of American Bullfrogs into California runs contrary to state and federal Endangered Species Acts and is in the worst interest of western states’ ecosystems and native wildlife.

–Visit the SAVE THE FROGS! website and learn about the problem with eating frog legs and how these invasive species upset the balance of native ecosystems. Read more about the issue here:

–The trade of the American Bullfrog is what causes the spread of disease and invasive species. Do not support the trade of amphibians.

–SAVE THE FROGS! supports a ban on the importation, sale, release and possession of American Bullfrogs into and within areas to which they do not belong, i.e. anywhere outside eastern North America. SAVE THE FROGS! requests that teachers and pet seekers not purchase American Bullfrogs or their tadpoles, as either you or the biological supplier has a high chance of being located outside the frogs’ native range.

Sign the petition to ban the import of American Bullfrogs into the state of California:

Your signature will help convey the importance of this matter to California’s politicians, who to date have been slow to adopt measures to protect California’s native amphibian populations, many of which are endangered. Sign this petition and share it with your friends, family and family. We need your help to stop the inhumane and cruel trade of amphibians that is wiping out native species in California. This is a winnable campaign and together we can save the frogs!


This is a no brainer and I hope Gov. Brown's office picks up on this. 

1. No one particular culture's culinary preferences should be allowed to threaten California's ecosystems!

2. To avoid any political missteps or charges of rascism, do what they do in Ontario Canada, where a huge Asian population exists. Allow in frog legs BUT only as frozen product where any parasites present in frogs are contained and have no risk of being released into the natural environment.


I have seen frogs in deplorable conditions in Chinatown. Frogs piled on top of each other in disgusting water, helplessly climbing the smooth walls of the tanks frantically trying to escape. Others looked so sick they were near death. These animals are in no less need of our compassion or protection than any other animal. We need a ban on the sale of live animals in California.


California annually imports some TWO MILLION non-native American bullfrogs for human consumption, plus an estimated half-million turtles, also non-native.  As noted, the frogs are commercially-raised.  Not so the turtles, which are mostly taken from the wild in states east of the Rockies, depleting local populations.

More than 35 recent necropsies on the market frogs and turtles have shown them all to be diseased and/or parasitized:  E. coli, salmonella, pasturella (all potentially fatal in humans), plus giardia, blood parasites, even one case of malaria.  Bon appetit!  It is ILLEGAL to sell such products, but the commerce continues unabated.  Worth mentioning that many are butchered while fully conscious, and kept in horrendous conditions--all illegally.  Lack of enforcement of current law is a major problem.

These animals are often purchased alive, then released into local waters (often by "do-gooders," or Buddhist groups), where they prey upon and displace our native wildlife, while spreading diseases.  Most troubling of all, perhaps, is the fact that the majority of the bullfrogs carry the dreaded CHYTRID FUNGUS (Bd), thought to be responsible for the extinctions of hundreds of frog and other amphibian species worldwide in recent years.  This issue alone is enough reason to shut down this commerce.  Indeed, the E.U. and Australia now allow the importation of only FROZEN frog parts for food.  California and the U.S. should follow suit.

In 2010, after constant haranguing, the State Fish & Game Commission (not the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife) twice voted unanimously to stop the import permits, and so instructed the DFW.  Two weeks later the then-Director (John McCammon, now head of the USFWS condor recovery) announced that he would continue issuing the permits on a month-to-month basis.  He was immediately challenged by an irate Commissioner Dan Richards (yeah, the guy who legally shot the mountain lion in Idaho, and was then railroaded off the commission, one of the better commissioners we've ever had).  

The response from then-Deputy Director Sonke Matrup:  "The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor."  Outrageous!  So what are we, chopped liver?  If that's the case, then all these hearings are a joke and a waste of the public's time.  The Commission and DFW have received more than 3,000 letters in support of the ban from sporting and environmental organizations, & the general public.   Senators Sheila Kuehl and Byron Sher sent letters.  Huey Johnson, former Resources Secretary (which oversees the DFW) wrote twice.  All to no avail.  And why not, you ask?  Try money and cultural/racial politics, the environment be damned.

The problem could be easily resolved if the DFG would simply enforce California Code of Regulations 236.  They have the power; indeed DUTY.  The code says, in part, that any diseased or parasitized shipment of the market animals must be destroyed or returned to the point of origin, the expenses to be paid by the importer.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:  Write to Resources Secretary John Laird, and DFW Director Chuck Bonham, both c/o 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA  95814.

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Fish & Game Commission - same address.

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   Email - Sonke Mastrup, Exec. Director -

ALL LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA  95814.  If in doubt, see the "Government" pages in the front of your phone book for names and contact info.  NOW'S THE TIME.  THE NEW SESSION BEGINS JANUARY 6, 2014.


Eric Mills, coordinator



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