Louisiana gators thrive, so farmers’ return quota may drop

Oct 16, 2021, 7:47 PM | Updated: Oct 17, 2021, 7:55 am
FILE - An alligator swims in the Maurepas Swamp, thirty miles outside New Orleans, in Ruddock, La.,...

FILE - An alligator swims in the Maurepas Swamp, thirty miles outside New Orleans, in Ruddock, La., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Once-endangered alligators are thriving in the wild, so Louisiana authorities are proposing another cut in the percentage that farmers must return to marshes where their eggs were laid. The big armored reptiles don't breed well in captivity, so farmers are allowed to collect eggs from wild nests, as long as they return a percentage as youngsters too big for most other animals to eat. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Once-endangered alligators are thriving in the wild, so Louisiana authorities are proposing a deep cut in the percentage that farmers must return to marshes where their eggs were laid.

“Over the past 50 years, alligator nest surveys have increased from an estimate of less than 10,000 in the 1970s and 1980s to well over 60,000 nests in recent years,” the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission said in a notice published Wednesday. “This increase in nesting has produced a population that can now be sustained with a much lower farm return rate.”

The commission is taking comments until Jan. 4 on a proposal to cut that rate from 10% to 5%.

The big armored reptiles don’t breed well in captivity, so farmers are allowed to collect eggs from nests as long as they return a percentage to the same area as youngsters big enough to foil predators other than people and much bigger alligators.

Alligator hides are made into luxury leather for products including watchbands, boots and purses. The meat is used in sausages; companies also sell roasts, steaks, ribs, nuggets, jerky and even whole skinned alligators. Forelegs are marketed as “alligator wings.”

About 1.2 million have been returned since alligator farming was approved in 1986, Jeb Linscombe, head of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ alligator program, said Thursday.

The return percentage was first set at 17%, based on estimates that about 83% die in the egg or before they’re 4 feet (1.2 meters) long. A wild-hatched gator that size would be about 4 years old, but readily available food lets farmed alligators grow much faster.

Raccoons, other predators and floods destroy about one-third of all nests. The black and yellow hatchlings are about 8.5 inches (22 centimeters) long and weigh only 2 ounces (57 grams). That makes them easy prey for bigger gators, wading birds, otters and fish even though mother alligators stay with their babies for about a year.

Uncontrolled hunting nearly wiped out American alligators before Louisiana barred all hunting in 1962. Alligator mississippiensis was among the first species federally listed as endangered in 1967, after Congress passed the precursor to the Endangered Species Act.

“The primary reason the species recovered is .. elimination of the black market,” Linscombe said.

Louisiana allowed small, highly regulated hunts in 1972 and 1973, opening a statewide season in 1981. Two years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the species had recovered over most of its range, and it was “de-listed” entirely in 1987.

Since 1972, more than 1.1 million wild alligators have been killed, over 11 million alligator eggs have been collected, and nearly 7.3 million farm raised alligators have been sold, according to the state management program’s 2019-2020 annual report.

Surveyors who flew over coastal marshes during the summer of 2019 estimated the number of alligator nests at a record, nearly 68,000. This year’s estimate was a few thousand below that, Linscombe said.

A change in weather patterns is one reason for the big numbers, he said. There are far fewer nests during droughts, when the water is low — and there were regular droughts over the first 40 years of state nest surveys. But there haven’t been any droughts over the past decade.

Hunters took 23,828 alligators during the wild season in 2019. It was the second straight increase “but harvest remains depressed due to an oversupply of crocodilian skins worldwide,” the report said.

Harvest numbers this year and last have been depressed by Hurricanes Ida, Laura and Delta, and by COVID-19 restrictions, Linscombe said.

Farmers’ return rate has been reduced several times over the years.

Current regulations require farmers to return 10% of hatchlings within two years — with a sliding scale based on average lengths of 36 to 60 inches (0.9 to 1.5 meters). Higher average lengths bring the percentage down.

Nearly 387,000 eggs were collected in 2017. resulting in about 39,000 farm-raised alligators two years later that were measured, tail-notched, tagged and released. Their sex was also determined, since biologists want at least half to be females.

About 450,000 eggs were collected this summer, Linscombe said.

The effects of a change from 10% to 5% may not show up for 10, 15, even 20 years, he said.

“The key to everything is to monitor it and make sure the action you took is going to have the result you thought it would,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


In this photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Princess Aiko, daughter of Empero...
Associated Press

Japan emperor’s daughter Aiko turns 20, throne not in sight

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Princess Aiko, the daughter of Emperor Naruhito, on Wednesday turned 20, ready for a debut as a new adult member to take a share of official duties for the royal family whose population continues to shrink under the male-only succession law. Aiko is the only child of Naruhito and Empress Masako, […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Tuesday’s Scores

BOYS PREP BASKETBALL= Auburn 94, Auburn Mountainview 36 Bellingham 58, Meridian 54 Bothell 78, Edmonds-Woodway 57 Centralia 73, Orting 47 Ferris 65, Mead 59 Foss 84, Lakes 52 Hazen 76, Kentlake 65 Kelso 62, Aberdeen 31 Kettle Falls 42, Davenport 27 Lake City, Idaho 76, Mt. Spokane 62 Mountain View 73, Fort Vancouver 46 North […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Tuesday’s Scores

GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL= Bellingham 35, Friday Harbor 15 Cascade Christian Academy 63, Waterville-Mansfield 18 Central Kitsap 44, South Kitsap 37 Clarkston 65, Lewis and Clark 40 Ellensburg 78, Wenatchee 15 Freeman 53, Pullman 40 Goldendale 54, Columbia (White Salmon) 42 Kiona-Benton 46, River View 43 Lynnwood 59, Jackson 51 North Creek 64, Kentlake 21 Othello […]
23 hours ago
Afghan girls listen their teacher at Tajrobawai Girls High School, in Herat, Afghanistan, Thursday,...
Associated Press

Unique effort reopens girls’ schools in an Afghan province

HERAT, Afghanistan (AP) — High school girls are sitting at home almost everywhere in Afghanistan, forbidden to attend class by the Taliban rulers. But there’s one major exception. For weeks, girls in the western province of Herat have been back in high school classrooms — the fruit of a unique, concerted effort by teachers and […]
23 hours ago
Allen Siders, an anti-abortion activist, preaches outside of the Jackson Women's Health Organizatio...
Associated Press

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As the U.S. Supreme Court hears a Mississippi case that could topple abortion rights nationwide, the state’s only abortion clinic is busier than ever: Volunteers continue to escort patients into the bright pink building while protesters outside beseech women not to end their pregnancies. In recent years, Jackson Women’s Health Organization […]
23 hours ago
In this photo released by Tourism Fiji, guests receive a traditional Fijian welcome as they arrive ...
Associated Press

Fiji welcomes back tourists despite omicron threat

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji welcomed back its first tourists in more than 600 days on Wednesday after pushing ahead with reopening plans despite the threat posed by the newly detected omicron variant of the coronavirus. The Pacific nation is famed for its idyllic white-sand beaches and relaxed, welcoming attitude. And it depends on […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Louisiana gators thrive, so farmers’ return quota may drop