Nutria heiligenhaus

from Daniel Wieczorek

Nutria are not native to Louisiana, and were brought here in the 1930s for fur production, but managed to escape their cages and now thrive in Louisiana’s wetlands where they wreak destruction on an already fragile ecosystem. Initially, the population was kept under control though trapping. In 1962, nutria was the most popular game animal in the state and in 1976 Louisiana trappers brought in more than 1.8 million nutria pelts, worth $15.7 million. However, by the 1980’s demand for the furs declined and trappers left the business for other less onerous professions. As Joe Herring, a former secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries notes, "Trapping's pretty tough. It's not a patsy job." In the absence of their biggest predator – man - the nutria thrived. Nutria reproduce very quickly: 20 nutria brought to Louisiana in the 1930s bred an estimated 20 million animals within two decades. All these teeth gnawing on the marsh roots put tremendous stress on its survival.

A 1997 state-funded program to encourage local nutria consumption failed miserably, as few Louisianians were tempted to eat the rat-like creatures. Poisoning is not an option, because it can kill other marsh life. In 2002, in order to combat the pests, state wildlife officials offered $5 a tail to trappers as incentive for killing them. Prior to that, trappers had sold the pelts for fur coats. As trapper Veron Naquin of Houma remarked, "There used to be good money in the furs, but those days are over," he said while skinning a nutria on a mud bank. "Who would have ever said, 'We're going to catch tails?' Who would have ever thought that?"

So far, the bounty program has been the most effective response and in 2007, 375,683 nutria tails were brought in. It has also been a boon to local trappers. Donald Ansardi, 71, the land manager of the Delacroix Land Corp. in St. Bernard Parish notes, “Everything costs us so much money, and this program is a blessing. It's just not feasible for anyone to go out and catch them without it."

Nutria seem to be the one animal running around Louisiana that few Louisianans will eat. This is a shame because it would be one efficient way to solve this problem. In response to an article the Times Picayune newspaper recently published about the nutria problem, several readers responded with comments about eating nutria. One reader stated the situation succinctly. “Our family are lifelong hunters and fishermen for sport. As a kid, I remember my father preparing nutria in a type of stew. It was very tasty, however, getting over the thought of eating an overgrown rat was a bit too much for us kids and mom to get over.”