You heard it right and as much as I would love to jump into the topic of overfishing and share some thoughts regarding a book I just finished (Tuna: A Love Story), today it’s all about the frogs. I have commented on the plight of frogs in past postings and even made a video, but there is one piece of the troubling puzzle I have inadvertently avoided. To be honest it never really crossed my mind as frogs are not something I can frequently recall coming across on menus in California, but to qualify that statement I am by no means a regular in the so-called fine dining scene.
And since my days in college zoology and biology are quickly becoming a distant memory, the frog harvesting industry has managed to skid under my radar. That is until a publication hopped into the journal Conservation Biology and reveals a 20 year global trade pattern in frogs’ legs.
According to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, France, USA, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands imported more than $38 million dollars in frog’s legs in 2006, and Warkentin, et al, based on previous estimates, put “import of amphibians for food into the United States at 4000 tons from 1998 through 2002.” Which when compared to imports topping 6000 tons in 1990 and just under 10,000 tons in 1999 by the European Union , there is no doubt a cultural difference in US appetites and most certainly the reason why Californians such as myself may rarely come in contact with frogs’ legs on the menu.
Herein lies the problem. “The frogs’ legs market has shifted from seasonal harvest for local consumption to year-round global trade.” (Warkentin, et al 2009). And like tuna (I just couldn’t resist bringing overfishing up), the need to satisfy the ever hungry consumer has resulted in loss of domestic stocks by overexploitation. Because commercial stocks are no longer plentiful enough at home, countries like the US and France must outsource harvesting, and hence we enter an era of over-gigging, inhumane killing, loss of biodiversity, and a general breakdown in ecosystem functions that for example helped keep insect populations in balance. How can the parallels between fisheries and frogs’ legs not be drawn when we have already witnessed declining frog populations due to over harvesting, misidentifying species to preserve commercial profits, and removing up to 160 million frogs from the environment in Indonesia alone over a 10 year period ending in 1998 (Kusrini 2006), and importing 6 million Chinese Edible Frogs from Thailand into Hong Kong in a single year (Lau et al. 1997).
So besides contending with loss of habitat, pollution, disease, invasive species, and climate change, our earth’s co-inhabitants must weather an inexplicable human need to overexploit. What else can I say, but this is a gig they don’t want and the situation is truly sad.
“Frogs are the most threatened group of animals on Earth. Nearly one-third of the world’s 6,468 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, and at least 150 species have already completely disappeared in recent decades.” SAVE THE FROGS!
*To learn how you can help and get involved in protecting amphibians, check out the nonprofit organization SAVE THE FROGS!