‘Gator season’ slow due to slow market for hides

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, September 1, 2009

NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — With little market for alligator hides, hunters aren’t heading into Louisiana’s swamps and marshes, collecting only about a quarter of the usual harvest the first week of the season.

About 1,700 alligators probably were taken, said Noel Kinler, head of the alligator program in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. A normal year would have resulted in 8,000 to 10,000 alligators, he said. Gators are averaging $8 or $9 a foot, compared to 2008’s $34 per foot, Kinler said.

The season begins Wednesday from the Atchafalaya River to the Texas state line, and all of the state north of Interstate 10. South of I-10 from the Atchafalaya River to the Mississippi state line, it began Aug. 26. The areas are divided by alligator population, with about as many in the southeastern part as the rest of the state.

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Kinler doesn’t expect any more action when the western season opens, not with prices about one-quarter normal. The season was divided at the request of processors, he said.

‘‘Everybody wants to go out the first few days of the season and get their limit. They were harvesting so many gators the first few days of the season, the processors were overwhelmed,’’ Kinler said.

In addition, it’s timed to start after all eggs hatch, and hatching ends a bit earlier in the southeast than the southwest, he said.

The season is tightly regulated; the department sells one tag for each alligator that may be taken. Last year, it issued 40,000; this year, 24,000. Probably fewer than 10,000 will be taken, compared with 35,000 last year, Kinler said.

Small-scale hunters probably make up the bulk of this year’s harvesters, he said. Those who usually take many alligators pay landowners a share of the take for the right to hunt on their land.

Kinler said this year’s hunters may have family-owned property near their homes where the state has determined that a few alligators can be taken, or may live near a boat launch rather than having to drive 20 to 30 miles to get their boats in the water, then motoring 10 or 15 miles more to the hunting grounds.

Some in the business worry that, with fewer alligators taken, those remaining are more likely to fight each other, marring hides that might be taken next year or whenever the market improves.

‘‘I don’t think we can say that,’’ Kinler said: One slow hunt isn’t likely to lead to the sort of dramatic overpopulation that would increase fighting.

He noted that there’s ‘‘no clear assessment’’ that alligators taken in densely populated wetlands have lower-quality hides than those taken where gators are fewer and farther between.