TORONTO — A Scarborough, Ont. restaurateur has pleaded guilty and was heavily fined for illegally possessing spiny softshell turtles and listing them for sale on his menu.
The case, which was recently held in a Scarborough courtroom, heard Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) officials give evidence they found 31 at-risk turtles in a freezer at a Cantonese restaurant.
“The fact that he was brazen enough to put them on the menu … he must have a big ego, or didn’t understand the laws in Ontario,” said species-at-risk biologist Scott Gillingwater, MNR, referring to the restaurant’s owner.
Da Zhao Jian who owns Fortune Seafood Restaurant was handed $10,000 in fines and charged under the Endangered Species Act with possessing and selling the spiny softshell turtle.
Rick Andrews, the MNR’s lead investigating officer, said he’s aware of other cases where the threatened turtles were offered at Toronto restaurants. They occurred in 2011, when two separate establishments were each caught with four spiny softshell turtles intended for serving.
Spiny softshell turtles are a native species protected under the Endangered Species Act and listed as threatened. Under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act they’re listed as specially protected.
Andrews says he feels more infractions could be happening. In a Toronto Star story, Andrews said, “this may be a bigger issue than we’ve realized. It’s likely that a lot more is going on behind closed doors.”
Peter Paul Van Dijk, director of turtle conservation at the Wash.-based, Conservation International, explained turtle soup’s appeal to The Toronto Star. “It’s a delicacy that’s considered to have medicinal side benefits — kind of a part of healthy living,” he said. “It is a major factor in the decline of some species.”