Laws, Economy Turn Hunters into Hobbyist; Gator Market Pays Little for Meat, Hide

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Skidmore, Times-Union staff writer

Florida has never suffered a shortage of Gator fans. But for the first time ever it's lacking in gator hunters.

Every year, the state holds a lottery to determine who will get hunting permits. The season lasts five weeks, and invariably, there have been more applicants than tags. Would-be hunters often asked their friends and family to apply as well to increase their odds of winning a tag.

But this year for the first time, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has not issued all the available permits.

A weak gator market and changing regulations may be the cause, experts say.

The commission increased the number of available tags from 1,500 to 2,317 and more than doubled the number of hunting areas this year.

These changes have reduced some of the benefits of gator hunting.

"We have a core constituency who have been part of this since the start of the program and are accustomed to making a little money or at least pay expenses," said Steve Stiegler, assistant leader of the alligator management sector of the commission.

The commission began regulating the hunting season in 1986, but the rules have evolved. Initially, hunters could bring in at least 15 gators per hunt; eventually that limit dropped to five and more recently, to two.

With fewer gators to sell, there is less money to be made. And a decline in the value of alligator hide and meat makes it even more difficult to make a profit.

"It ceased being a quasi-commercial endeavor and [became] more of a recreational activity," Stiegler said. …