Shrinking economy causes rise in alligator population, loss in skin prices

Tobie Blanchard, Shirley, Mark G.  |  9/22/2009 8:48:41 PM

News Release Distributed 09/22/09

HENRY, La. – Workers at Vermilion Gator Farm are busy curing the skins of some of the 80,000 alligators the farm raises. But next year the skinning and curing sheds will sit mostly empty.

The Sagrera family has operated the farm for more than 25 years, but they’ve never seen a year this bad. In June, they didn’t collect any alligator eggs and won’t raise a crop of alligators in 2010.

“With the market like it is, we’re still not finished being paid for our alligators from last year, and we’re killing this crop and shipping it overseas right now. It doesn’t make any sense to pick eggs and raise another crop,” Raphael Sagrera said.

The price for alligator skins has plummeted from around $45 a foot for a seven-foot alligator several years ago to around $10 a foot this year. Luxury alligator products are not selling in this economy, which has led to an oversupply of skins.

“Our tannery in Singapore used to sell 10,000 skins a month, and he got to the point in the winter where he was selling zero,” Sagrera said.

The Sagreras will send this year’s skins to a tannery overseas, but Sagrera is not sure if he will get any money for them.

“He’s tanning it for us and holding it for us, and hopefully, eventually, in the movement, we’ll get paid for it.”

The wild alligator season runs from September to the end of October. Louisiana allows up to 35,000 alligators to be harvested per year, but an LSU AgCenter aquaculture agent expects few hunters will harvest wild alligators.

“For the most part the commercial harvest this year is non-existent,” Mark Shirley said.

Louisiana has a healthy alligator population, and with hunting and egg collection down, Shirley suspects this could lead to nuisance problems.

“The more alligators you have, eventually they’re going to get in people’s backyards and show up in places where alligators shouldn’t,” Shirley said.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike disrupted nesting this year, but next year the nesting should be up, Shirley said. Nesting was similarly affected after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“The summer immediately following those hurricanes, nesting or egg production was way down, but those animals compensated by a lot more than usual nesting two summers after,” Shirley said.

Tobie Blanchard

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