About 33,000 alligators are forecast to be harvested during the alligator season that has started in southern Louisiana, said Noel Kinler, the alligator program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in New Iberia.
The season east of the Atchafalaya River had been scheduled to open Aug. 28 but was delayed due to Hurricane Isaac and began on Sept. 1. The season west of the river opened Wednesday. Each season lasts for 30 days.
Each killed and captured alligator must have a department-issued, serially-numbered tag, and Kinler said that nearly 34,000 tags were issued this year. Each tag is for a specific property where alligator hunting is allowed, he said.
“In order to hunt alligator on private wetlands, an individual has to submit an application signed by the property owner, accompanied by proof of ownership and a description of the property, and they can’t cross tags from one property to the other,” Kinler said.
“Our staff does a review of whether the land meets a wetland habitat, and how many tags the property qualifies for,” he said.
Kinler said that the department annually assesses the “alligator harvest quota.”
Tags are issued to “about 2,500 commercial alligator hunting licenses, both hunters and helpers,” he said.
Most alligator hunters prearrange sales of their yet-to-be-caught alligators before embarking on a hunt, he said.
“We certainly recommend they know who their buyer is,” he said.
Alligator dealers usually send refrigerated trucks to various locations to meet hunters and conduct the transaction so that the amount of time that the dead alligator is exposed to the warm weather is minimized, he said. The dealer will then bring the alligators to a processor to sell them.
“The tag stays on the skin,” Kinler said.
“We inspect the hides when they get shipped out of the United States,” he said, adding that about 98 percent of hides are exported. The inspections are done at the licensed processing facilities.
“That won’t happen until later on in September or October.”
Kinler said that the skin is the most valuable part of the alligator, but the meat is an important component of the value of the alligator.
“We certainly encourage full utilization of the animal,” he said. “The meat is more domestically consumed.”
Tags for alligators caught on public land are “usually allocated through some type of bid or lottery system,” he said.
The alligator industry as a whole — including alligator ranching — has a value of about $55 million annually, he said.
“There’s nobody actually skinning gators in St. Mary Parish,” he said.
“We have always harvested alligators in September,” he said. “That coincides with completion of their annual breeding and hatching season.”
The September season targets the adult males because “females would more likely be at the nest at this time of the year,” Kinler said.
About 70 percent of harvested alligators are males, he said.