HOUMA, La. — Alligator season is underway in Louisiana, and with meat prices high, industry insiders are expecting a good year.
Alligators bring in an estimated $250 million to the state annually, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Fur prices have fallen due to a glut, but meat prices have risen, industry officials say.
Wild alligator skins sold for $7.50 a foot last year and brought in $780,900 in Louisiana, state data show. Farmed alligators are sold by the centimeter and fetched significantly more at $6.50 per centimeter for a total of $66.29 million.
The meat alone brings in more than $10 million a year in Louisiana, said Jeb Linscomb, alligator program manager for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Last year, 1.1 million pounds of farm-raised alligator meat was sold in Louisiana for a total of $7.8 million, according to the agency’s 2020-21 annual report. Hunters who caught wild alligators sold 315,100 pounds of meat for a total of $2.2 million.
For hunters, it’s both profitable and fun.
“I drove 2,000 miles for it,” said Larry Casler, 72, of Ontario, Canada. He caught and shot two of the three alligators hauled in Sept. 2 in Terrebonne Parish during a trip with Houma hunting guides Nicholas Cocke and Joshua Bridges.
Randy Rochelle and his son Randy Rochelle Jr. of Gibson were tagged for hunting and killing 25 alligators this season, which began Aug. 31 and runs through Oct. 31. The duo caught four gators on Sept. 2, and Rochelle said there were about four tags left. This is their first year of alligator hunting and they expect to make a total of $2,000.
“It was good for us,” Rochelle Sr. said. “It’s not much, but it pays you back and gives you something new.”
Linscombe predicts that without any storms throwing off the season, 20,000 to 25,000 wild alligators will be caught statewide.
Yvette Pitre is a local alligator processor in Cutoff who buys from both hunters and farms. Tab Pitre, her husband, took over the business, Louisiana Bayou Bites, in 2002 from his father. The Peters say that since the History Channel show “Swamp People” started in 2010, people’s palates have become more adventurous and demand for alligator meat has risen.
“We were able to raise the market by $1.50 to $2 and we passed it on directly to the fishermen, because without them we don’t have a job,” said Yvette Pitre, adding that many fishermen have lost homes or jobs because of Hurricane Ida.
The company sells its alligator in small pouches filled with red or white meat. White meat sells for about $12 to $14 a pound at the grocery store, and red meat is $7 or $8 a pound, Tab Pitre said.
Linscombe said the increase in demand and prices are in line with what he’s seeing in the state.
A typical alligator Pitres gets is about 7 feet long, sells for roughly $100, and yields 20-30 pounds of meat. Pitres are open year-round, but approximately 75% of their business is during gator season. She said the season is crazy and people are working day and night processing the catch by hand.
Al Mahler, owner of Big Al’s Seafood in Houma, buys and sells alligators for his restaurant and expects a good season. He also received tags for harvesting 13 alligators per acreage he owns. Mahler said the season has been slow since Sept. 2, but he expects to get busier quickly because of the Labor Day holiday.
Linscomb said state regulation and management of wild alligators has brought them back from a once-threatened status.
Louisiana’s wild alligator population has increased from fewer than 100,000 to more than 2 million over the past 50 years, state officials said. Additionally, nearly 1 million alligators are on farms in Louisiana.
The tag system incentivizes landowners to protect alligators, Linscomb said. The number of tags issued each year is based on how well the alligators can reproduce.
“Because it’s a commercial crop, essentially my predecessors created a program that was financially beneficial to the landowners, so what it did was give a financial incentive to protect the resource, and that’s why they’ve recovered so dramatically,” said he.
This method of regulation has been so successful, Linscombe said, that other countries are beginning to imitate it.
“We have a healthier alligator population than we’ve had in 100 years,” he said. “So you have other, say, African countries that have endangered crocodile species, and instead of trying to make it illegal to harvest them, what they’re trying to do is come up with a harvesting program so that these native cultures to have value for this crocodile instead of just seeing it as a dangerous animal and killing them all.