US and Japanese gourmands pay 50 dollars a kilogram (25 dollars a pound) for turtle flesh, and poor Mexicans provide it, killing 45,000 of the threatened animals each year.
Authorities in the Mexican Pacific state of Baja California turn their heads, environmentalists say, as poachers collect the eggs, the turtles and their shells.
On top of that, turtles are lost accidentally to shrimp nets and to the destruction of their habitat, said Javier Villavicencio, head of the "California Turtle Group."
One man on Mexico’s Pacific Coast has admitted that he alone had poached 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) of turtle meat each week. That works out to 500 turtles each week, Francisco Fisher Blanco said.
"For two decades, I was a poacher and for 13 years, I supplied the United States with nearly 20 tons a week," he said.
"Wildcoast" director Wallace Nichols said the top markets for turtle meat are the United States and Japan.
The prices paid in the wealthy countries attracts unemployed Mexicans to traffic in the amphibians.
Fisher Blanco was caught, spent some time in a halfway house and, after a talking-to from the California turtle group, decided to mend his ways.
However, he would not reveal his fences.
"That I can’t say because they would kill me.
"There’s a lot of money behind that, but I can say that officials at all levels of government are involved in trafficking and consuming turtles," he said.