New hunting rodeo takes aim at invasive species

Published 1:05 am Thursday, November 24, 2011

Even for a state known for its hunting and fishing rodeos, this new rodeo is offbeat: Go catch invasive species like nutria — that South American water rodent scientists say are eating up south Louisiana’s fragile marshland — Asian carp, feral swine and coyotes.

Sassafras Louisiana, a coastal advocacy group founded by south Lafourche Parish teens after the BP oil spill, is hosting what it hopes will become an annual Nutria Rodeo on Dec. 3 in Golden Meadow.

Enrolled hunters and fishermen can compete to take down some of the area’s biggest invasive pests, take home prizes and help save the coast.

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The rodeo is the brainchild of South Lafourche High School student Aaron Guidry. He got together with other students to raise awareness about the issue in a unique way, said Sassafras Louisiana co-founder Alex Naquin.

“It’s a new way to bring attention to the problem,” Naquin said. “A fun idea to get people involved and not just sit on their hands. Everyone knows nutria are invasive. Even though their numbers are declining, they’re still a problem.”

The hunting categories include nutria, Asian carp, feral swine and coyote. Three of these species were picked because they’re invasive in Louisiana, and are damaging native habitats. Coyotes were also included because they have been prowling local communities and killing pets in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

There will be trophies and cash prizes. First, second and third place awards will be given out to the heaviest creature caught in each category, and the nutria with the most-orange teeth. The group also plans to have chefs on hand to demonstrate how to cook the invasive species, preparing recipes like nutria spaghetti. Local fur trader Tab Pitre will also be on hand shopping for pelts from hunters.

“We want to show people how to use these animals for food, and not just throw them away and waste them,” Naquin said.

Admission to the rodeo is free, but to have a catch weighed you must buy a ticket. Tickets are available on the group’s website,

Sassafras members said they picked the nutria to head up their rodeo because it’s probably the most notorious invasive species in Louisiana.

The South American rodent was introduced into Louisiana in the 1930s to be farmed for fur. It escaped into the wild where its population exploded, and since then the rodent had a drastic effect on wetlands. The nutria eat wetland roots, killing the plants. It is estimated that about 6,296 acres of wetlands have nutria damage today, according to the state’s Nutria Control Program.

The feral hog is another established invasive species, known as a pest to farmers because they destroy rice, corn and sugar cane crops.

The third invasive species, the Asian carp, has been rapidly migrating down the Mississippi River system and is now established in some Terrebonne and Lafourche waters. The massive fish commonly exceeds 20 pounds and is best known for its dramatic jumps. When startled by boat propellers, the fish leaps several feet out of the water, frequently hitting boats or people. Scientists are concerned because Asian carp are voracious eaters that can out-compete local fish for food.

Hunters and fishermen in the rodeo must follow all federal and state hunting laws.

The daily limit for nutria is five per person and nutria must be intact unless you’re enrolled in the state control program. There’s no posted limits for feral swine, Asian carp or coyotes. For more information, visits Sassafras Louisiana’s website,

The rodeo will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at Oak Ridge Community Park in Golden Meadow. Scales will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and awards will be given out from 4 to 5 p.m.