History repeats: a demand-supply price case study of the 19th century Diamond-back terrapin population collapse
Increasing demand for turtles in the Chinese and Indonesian food markets is leading to severe decline in several Southeast Asian species and an accompanying increase in freshwater turtle imports from the US. The Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), a marine turtle that inhabits brackish riparian waters in the eastern U.S., is now state protected after years of high demand as a first-class delicacy during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this time the diamondback terrapin moved from being a food of the poor in the early 19th century to a high-priced delicacy by the 1880’s. By utilizing a variety of never-before examined data sources, including historical newspapers, periodicals, and restaurant menus, we have been able to quantify that a sharp growth in consumer demand led to a sharp increase in the wholesale value of diamondback terrapin from $20 (US$400 in 2010) per dozen in 1875 to an astonishing $120 (US$3158 in 2010) per dozen at its peak in 1897. Correspondingly, menu prices ranged from $0.75/dish (US$12.93) in 1863 to $4.50/dish (US$104.00) in 1907. Due to market demand, it is likely that over-harvesting of the diamondback terrapin led to its decline and disappearance as a high-priced menu item by the 1920s.