The Turtle Trade of the West Indies

W. G. Fitz Gerald
1906 Scientific American  
There are few rrwre curious or profitable industries than that of catching and exporting the edible turtle for the benefit of the gourmets of the world, who love turtle soup, not to me!lltion invalids and our weaker brethren generally, whose lives may be saved by this Turtles on Board Ship. peculiar delicacy, which appears to possess nutritive properties of a very high order. These appear to be due to the easily assimilable form in which the nitrogenous and gelatinous con· stituents exist in
more » ... fl esh of the turtle. The trade itself is unique. Its headquarters are at Kingston in Jamaica, but most of the fishing is done on the coral reefs lying to the north of the island. Twelve or fifteen small schooners are employed, and upward of 120 men. These fishers of strange "fish" (the turtle's technical name) stretch nets of twine from rock to rock, and the moment the turtle feels itself entangled, it clings tenaciously to the meshes. The schooners in due time return to Kingston with from eighty to a hundred and fifty of these queer "fish," which are promptly deposited in palisaded inclosures fl ooded by the sea, and here they are fed upon a certain kind of herbage known as turtle grass, and taken as required. The true Ohelonia Mydas is quite a small turtle of rarely more than 180 pounds, and the market is regulated artificially. For example, the one London dealer in whose hands the entire British Scientific AIIlericat\ trade is, instructs his agents in Kingston not to send more than a hundred turtles once a fortnight by the mail steamer arriving at Southampton. Everything about these creatures appears to be abo normal. For example, they have three hearts, and the appearance of four. Moreover, bringing them over seas is as delicate a business as the case would be but incredible. In one well-authenticated instance a turtle whose head had been cut off, and which had been hung upside down for upward of twenty·four hours, actually knocked down one of the men cooks with a spasmodic blow of its fin. Naturally, chefs have tried many curious experiments· with this strange creature; and a turtle's head has been known to bite Appraising Live Turtles. with a cargo of giraffes, and frequently 105 splendid turtles out of 120 have died en route, in spite of the most elaborate precautions, such as the constant spraying of salt water daily on board the mail steam er, and the use of luxurious foot warmers for the turtles in the wagons conveying them from the termi nal railroad station to the dealer's warehouse. Most of the "fish" are sold in advance to restaurateurs of savagely at a piece of wood many hours after decapi tation. The fl esh is divided into what are known as calipee, calipash, and fins. The fl esh is said to be colored green by the peculiar grass that grows on the coral reefs where the turtles feed. The winter season is naturally the busiest for the turtle trade, and. the parts used in the famous soup are the membranes Laid on Their Backs the Turtles Are Helpless. of the stomach and back-shell. The shell itself of the green turtle is worth very little, but the hawksbill turtle yields what is popularly known as tortoise shell, and the armored covering of a good specimen may be worth $45. Of course, turtle range in size up to 60 0 pounds, but the fl esh of very large specimens is too coarse and has no commercial value. A great quantity of the finest turtle are now caught in the Mexican Gulf, and beyond all question the fl esh has been regarded as a very great delicacy from the remotest times of an tiquity. As far back as the days of Pliny himself, we read of the shell being made into dishes, to say noth ing of hair-combs for the Roman ladies.
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican11171906-365 fatcat:ptouuiwnh5autiokoukrxflufq