Frogs’ legs are a delicacy often associated with France and other northern European countries, such as Belgium. However the dish is also enjoyed in the United States and over the last 20 years it has become a feature of haute cuisine menus around the world. Somewhere between 200 million and one billion frogs are thought to be eaten by humans every year.
However researchers are concerned that the popularity of the dish, and lack of good management in harvesting the animals is putting whole species of frog under risk of extinction.
Corey Bradshaw, associate professor at the University of Adelaide, says that in the past the frogs’ legs market was served by local, seasonal harvesting but over time, overexploitation led to loss or decline of commercial stocks. Since the 1950s, Asian markets – which also have a frog eating culture of their own – have stepped in to supply demand in Europe and North America with frozen frog meat all throughout the year.
However Bradshaw fears that the frog harvesting could fall foul of the same problems that fishing has encountered: there has been a knock-on effect in fishery collapse around the world caused by over-fishing – then moving on to the next location of abundance.
While there is now more awareness of the need for sustainable use of marine resources, leading to certification programmes such as the Marine Stewardship Council, similar sorts of initiatives could be required for frogs.
Bradshaw and his team have recently completed a study on global frogs’ leg trade and practices, a paper of which has been accepted for publication in the journal Conservation Biology.
The researchers suggest a mandatory certification process for wild harvested frogs’ legs. They say the monitoring and identification would need to take place at processing plants prior to skinning.
While such a system would be costly to implement, the moral duty and responsibility, they say, rests with importing counties. Many frog-exporting countries do not have the internal infrastructure or resources to put such a programme in place.
Bradshaw calls for better monitoring and management of the situation to aid conservation and ensure stable livelihood and food supply for local harvesters and their communities. A first step is better species identification.
Although the frog species most commonly exported from Indonesia are the crab-eating frog (Fejervarya cancrivora), the giant Javan frog (Limmonectes macrodan) and the farmed American bullfrog (Rana caresbeiana).
However there are fears that the similarities between these and other species of frog mean they are often misidentified. Moreover, the fact that they are skinned before export and only the legs are shipped adds another complex layer to the accounting question.