Thompson Fish House, Turtle Cannery and Kraals

The Thompson Fish House, Turtle Cannery and Kraals are one of the historic attractions in Key West, Florida, situated at 200 Margaret Street. The U.S. National Register of Historic Places added this site to its list on June 23, 1994. The City of Key West owns this building at present and maintains it as a museum.

Key West was the major center from the middle of 1800s for turtle processing and canning. Turtle soup was a highly appreciated delicacy in several parts of the U.S. but even more so in Europe. Thompson Fish House and several other fishing organizations as well as individuals caught turtles throughout the Caribbean and Florida Keys regions. They brought all these turtles to Key West alive by placing these turtles on their backs. This was a cruel process but those who were interested in making money by catching turtles and selling them had no compassion for the turtles, only interested in how much they earned.

When the turtles arrived in Key West, organizations running Turtle cannery units caged the turtles in enclosures, known as ‘kraals’, by the docks of Key West. The turtles remained in the kraals until those in possession of the turtles slaughtered them in their canneries to extract turtle soup. They canned the turtle soup and shipped them to various parts of the United States and also exported them to different countries in Europe.

However, the continuous catching of turtles for more than two hundred years and the pollution of the seas resulted in serious devastation of the population of turtles. People throw plastic and other synthetic materials into the rivers and sea without any compunction. Turtles consume such materials inadvertently but they are unable to digest them. Eventually, they die of starvation. This significant amount of death of the turtle population and continuous catching of them by turtle canneries has resulted in dwindling population of turtles.

This resulted in all the turtle canneries going out of business in the 1970s. Further, to protect the turtle population, the government also passed the ‘Endangered Species Act’ in 1971, prohibiting turtle trade. The Thompson Fish House, Turtle Cannery and Kraals has become a museum. It is now concentrating on rehabilitating the sea turtles and educating the public about the past dangers and present risks that turtles face in their battle for survival as a species.