HOUMA, La. -- The local alligator farming industry continues its comeback as demand and prices rise.
"In 2009, the market was slow because of the recession, and it was pretty rough. You know you never want to see that happen, but we planned for those types of things and we managed well. Since then, demand is back up, and prices look good. Everything is moving along like it has for the past 25 years," said Gerald Savoie Jr., owner of Savoie's Alligator Farm in Cut Off.
The average price for wild alligator skins this year is starting at $27 per foot, Savoie said.
That's not as good as in 2008 when the average was at $34.50 per foot, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. But it's better than the $7.50 per foot in 2009, $13 in 2010, $17 in 2011 and $23.50 in 2012.
"We are noticing things are pretty stable now and gradually creeping up," said Ruth Elsey, biologist manager for Wildlife and Fisheries. "Meat prices are also going good. For the meat, it's a supply and demand thing. The demand is very high right now and it supports the local economy and farmers. Plus it's a pretty healthy meat."
Tab Pitre, owner of Pitre Fur Co. and Alligators, said his business is going well.
"The last two to three years, we've had no problem selling. Even this year it looks like business will increase," Pitre said.
Pitre said the demand for alligator hides rides largely on the demand for certain products around the world. This year, Pitre noticed there is a growing demand for alligator watch bands.
In the U.S., Louisiana is the leader in alligator production.
The state has about 75 to 80 percent of the American alligator market, said Noel Kinler, alligator program manager for Wildlife and Fisheries.
The alligator industry is worth $60 million during a good year, Elsey said, with egg collection reaching heights of 350,000 to 500,000.
In 2009, farmers could not sell enough hides to justify collecting eggs.
"Farmers only collected 29,000 eggs that year compared to the 529,000 eggs collected in 2008. The farmers knew the market was bad and decided not to collect eggs to make it worse," Elsey said.
The egg collection program was started in 1986 as a way to save the eggs from flooding, getting eaten by animals or drying out. The state allows farmers to collect eggs from the wild to be hatched on farms and raised for skin and meat. One to two years into the program, farmers have to return 12 percent of their hatches back in to the wild.
Wildlife and Fisheries data show there has been a rebound since with 205,000 collected in 2010, 353,000 collected in 2011 and 413,000 collected in 2012.
Egg season will begin this year in June and Kinler said and the outlook is very promising.
"The demand for skins is good right now and you will see demand for eggs go up as well. Farmers will be looking to collect large numbers of eggs this summer," Kinler said.
Past weather conditions will also have a good effect on the upcoming egg season.
"Mother Nature was good to us. We didn't have to worry about any droughts or hurricanes. We've been getting good rains, and the water level is good. This year, all the elements are lining up," Savoie said.
Overall Kinler said he expects this year will yield a similar harvest as last year if prices are maintained.