VENICE, La. (AP) – It’s been a bad weekend being a nutria in the South Plaquemines Ward.
Approximately 1,500 of the invasive, swamp-eating rodents were shot dead by a small army of hunters who came to Venice on February 26th and 27th for the community’s revitalized nutria rodeo.
“Let’s shoot some rats and save the environment,” said Gabe Macormic, the organizer of the rodeo, on February 26, as teams of hunters turned their airboats and took off into the vast swamplands at the mouth of the Mississippi.
The competition drew approximately 200 hunters from all over the Gulf Coast to Iowa. Cash prizes were awarded for most of the kills and the heaviest individual nutrients.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Jimmy Rimes of Biloxi, Mississippi. “We felt like we were doing our public service.”
Imported from South America nearly a century ago, nutria thrives in Louisiana at the expense of the state’s fragile coastal swamps. Nutria gnaws at the roots of the plants, leaving little to hold the landscape in place. More than 13,700 acres of coastal swamp were damaged by nutria last year, and more than 40 square miles of coastline was converted to open water in the past few decades, according to estimates by the State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Nutria is one of many factors contributing to rapid land loss along the Louisiana coast. Leading causes include oil and gas exploration, sea level rise, land subsidence and the loss of refill sediment since the Mississippi was brought under control by levees.
The state offers a $ 6 bounty for each coutria tail, but the total of 246,000 last year represents only about 1% of the state’s nutria population and nowhere near the number of kills used to curb the explosive growth of the Animal are required.
“We aim for a 400,000 crop, but we usually only get about half of that,” said Jennifer Hogue-Manuel, manager of the nutria control program at Wildlife and Fisheries.
The state has failed to revive interest in nutria fur. Efforts to promote nutria meat in New Orleans restaurants have also failed.
Macormic, a native of Mandeville who runs a medical cannabis farm in California, sees nutrient damage from frequent fishing and duck hunting trips throughout southern Plaquemines.
“They eat all the plants until there is no bank. Just a drop, ”he said. “That lets the salt water in and kills everything else.”
The closure of Mardi Gras celebrations and the lack of activity amid the coronavirus pandemic fueled the rodeo’s rebirth. The rodeo was an annual tradition in Venice until about 10 years ago.
“Myself and a couple of friends wanted something that was fun and started talking about the rodeo just to our group,” said Macormic. “And then it started to develop and grow.”
Macormic received $ 8,000 in prizes, t-shirts, and other event expenses. He agrees not to get much of his money back, but plans to seek sponsorship and other support next year.
By the early afternoon of February 27, only about 400 dead nutrients had accumulated on the Venice docks, causing Macormic a twinge of concern that his event might be a bit broke.
“But then they came in and really dumped, sometimes 200 nutria at a time,” he said. “It was something else.”
Most of the hunters worked in groups of four. Teams with airboats that can glide over water as well as swamp had a clear advantage over other ships.
A team led by a hunter from Venice who prefers to be known only as “Captain Stinky” received the $ 500 prize for the most kills. Her 200 nutria record was partly thanks to Stinky’s familiarity with the area.
“He’s a legend down here,” said Macormic.
The heaviest nutria, which won the $ 1,000 grand prize, weighed just over 20 pounds.
“She was definitely fat,” said Macormic.
The end of the event was an evening nutria litter. The participants took a carcass from a pile and let it fly. The winning throw cleared 93 feet.
Almost all nutria go to the Audubon Zoo, where they feed the alligators and other animals for a long time.
Macormic promised to organize the rodeo next year and could add some new events. A nutria meat cook-off is a likely future addition, he said.
Even if 1,500 nutrients stop hatching and eating in Southern Plaquemines, Hogue-Manuel said the rodeo’s body number does not sustainably affect the state’s ever-growing nutrient population. But, she added, the rodeo could have value if more people thought about the health of the coast.
“It’s a big problem that we need to address,” she said. “Hopefully such events will make people interested in the problem and understand the harm nutria is causing.”