Frog Debate Continues In California

Should potentially harmful foreign frogs and turtles be allowed into the country? That’s the question the California Fish & Game Commission can’t seem to answer with any finality.

Defenders worked hard last year with our conservation colleagues to put a ban in place on imported frogs and turtles, arguing that these invasive species threaten public health and biodiversity. But less than a year later, the Commission has made an about face and will again allow these non-native animals to be imported.

The American bullfrog is considered invasive on the West Coast and has a negative impact on native species.

In early February, the California Fish & Game Commission voted to repeal a ban on imports of non-native frogs and turtles that would have helped control the spread of disease and protect native wildlife populations. After listening to testimony (watch a video of the hearing here, jump to 3:45:00 of the February 3rd meeting), the Commission decided to rescind its own decision directing the state Department of Fish & Game to stop issuing permits for the importation of these animals.

The debate has now become mired unnecessarily in the politics of a growing exotic pet trade industry and cultural traditions practiced by a small minority who eat frogs and turtles. Some importers claim that the ban is an assault on their cultural heritage, while others see it as a threat to their business.

The Department of Fish & Game tried taking another tack, however, saying that importation posed no real threat to the state’s natural resources.  However, research has shown that more than five million amphibians are imported each year and that many of these species are a clear threat to native endangered populations. Many of the imported animals are captured in the wild and sold as exotic pets, putting tremendous pressure on dwindling frog and turtle populations around the world. Others come from unregulated captive breeding facilities that can spread virulent forms of disease such as the deadly chytrid fungus and Rana virus.

California imports a very large percentage of the amphibians and turtles that come into the United States, so it’s critical that the state take a lead role in addressing ongoing threats from the import of non-native species. One third of amphibians, in particular, are at  risk of extinction as worldwide populations are in severe decline. Bringing large numbers of these animals into the country every year without tight controls only jeopardizes the future of our own native species.

The state should be focused on protecting its natural resources for all its citizens, not just preserving the rights of a few Californians to enjoy a culinary delicacy or defending the profits of the exotic pet industry.

Thanks to Laura Goldman at for bringing the latest decision to our attention.

Categories: Amphibians, California, Frogs

2 Responses to “Frog Debate Continues In California”

  1. Eric Mills

    A small group of us have been working on this issue for 15 years.

    California annually imports TWO MILLION American bullfrogs (commercially raised in Taiwan), plus an estimated 300,000-400,000 freshwater turtles for human consumption, usually sold in the state’s many “Chinatown” live food markets (San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Jose, etc.). Only two turtle species are permitted by the Dept. of Fish & Game: the red-eared slider, and the spiny softshell. All are taken from the wild in states east of the Rockies, depleting local populations. None of these animals are native to California, and when released into local waters (a common though illegal practice, often in Buddhist “animal liberation” ceremonies), they cause environmental havoc, preying upon and displacing our native species.

    Worse, all these non-natives are diseased and parasitized, as shown by some 25 necropsies on frogs and turtles from throughout the state. Worse still, a 2009 study in BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION documented that 62% of the market bullfrogs tested positive for the dreaded chytrid fungus, a prime suspect in the extinctions of some 200 amphibian species in recent years. Yet the Department of F&G continues to disregard its mandate to protect our native resources.

    HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: Shortly after the CA Fish & Game Commission instructed the Dept. to stop issuing the import permits, the Department announced that they would continue to the permits on a month-to-month basis. When challenged by an irate Commission, the Dept. could only reply, “The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor.” Well, folks, there’s a new Governor in town, and his name is Jerry Brown, a REAL environmentalist, unlike his predecessor.

    WHAT YOU CAN DO: Please write to Gov. Brown and urge him to order the Department of Fish & Game to cease issuing the permits. He could do it with a phone call, reportedly.

    WRITE: Governor Jerry Brown, The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814. FAX: 916/558-3160; TELEPHONE: 916/445-2841.

    And encourage your state senator and assemblymember to do likewise, before we eat two entire orders of animals into extinction.

    I would appreciate copies of any letters you send. Thanks for caring.

    Eric Mills, coordinator
    P.O. Box 20184
    Oakland, CA 94620
    email –

  2. Robert Hii

    I am surprised the importation has not been banned. Don’t the legislators watch the news? Hawaii is spending millions of dollars in a losing fight against imported pets and food animals that are threatening to wipe out its native species.Guam has given up the fight and surrendered its own native species to the invasive ones.Closer to home, one need only look at the snakehead and Asian carp,imported fish that will change the ecosystems in North American lakes and rivers forever.

    All this from direct physical assaults from imported species to native ones.In the case of frogs, if the chytrid virus which is known to be present on imported frogs gets into the native population, you may as well say goodbye to the local frog populations because this same virus is killing off massive numbers of frogs worldwide.

    For those people who want to continue eating their cultural dishes including frogs and turtles,may I politely suggest they make culinary trips to those countries where these dishes are common.

    Ban the importation of live frogs and turtles!

You May also be interested in