Daniel Edgar’s story is of growing a flourishing fishing business from his humble origins in the Louisiana swamps, and emerging from personal and professional challenges as a proud champion of the fishing industry and his Creole heritage.
Visitors to the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana seek out one thing in particular when enjoying the American South: seafood. Perched at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the southern United States and boasting thousands of miles of coastline along the Gulf Coast, Louisiana is home to some of the freshest seafood you will find anywhere in the United States. It isn’t just the freshness of the seafood that makes dining in the state memorable, but also the use of Cajun and Creole recipes in preparing the food.
What most visitors to the Pelican State and the Big Easy don’t realize is the effort that goes into putting oysters, crabs, shrimps, crawfish, redfish, and countless other seafood delicacies on plates. Forget the daily shipping required to get food from docks to plates, someone has to be out in the bayous and waterways of the Atchafalaya Basin and the Gulf of Mexico plucking those delicacies from the sea. Daniel Edgar has not only built his life on the Blue Economy, but he has done so by carrying on his family traditions and passing those practices down to his own children.
Daniel Edgar is known to millions of reality show Swamp People viewers as the “gator hunter”, a steady presence who is cool and calm in the face of fierce alligators. He is a guiding light to sons Joey, Dwaine and grandson Dorien, who work alongside him. Hearing his story is like dipping into a historical journal – it’s a tale of resilience and triumph against the backdrop of a traditional Creole family. And once you start turning the pages, you’ll see that there’s much more to the gator hunter than meets the eye.
Daniel Edgar’s family history is deeply entrenched in the Acadian region of southern Louisiana, the area of the state where many of the displaced French Acadians from Canada resettled when the British took greater control of Canada from France.
Daniel was born to Rufus and Bertha Edgar in the countryside near Jeanerette, Louisiana, his father’s hometown. His mother, Bertha, was originally from Lawtell, near Opelousas, Louisiana. Jeanerette is known as the Sugar City after one of Louisiana’s most historically important industries.
It was here that Daniel was born into a family of six children. His siblings, in order of oldest to youngest, are his sister Bertha Ann, brother Albert, and younger siblings Cathelia, Rose, and Janice. Daniel recalls hearing his grandparents on both sides of the family speak fluent French growing up, a nod to the Francophone roots that are prevalent in the region as a whole. While the family is now well-known for its influence and participation in the seafood industry in the region, his family also has diversity.
“My parents were illiterate; they could not read or write,” recounts Daniel, although curiously, his grandparents could. “My dad went up to the third grade, and I never asked him why he quit,” says Daniel, “My mom never went to school at all… The problem with kids those days was that they lived so far away from school. They could walk to school, but if the school was 10 miles away, that didn’t last very long”.
Daniel’s paternal grandfather, Laurence Edgar was a quiet man who steeped himself in history books and preferred to read more than talk your ear off. Both grandmothers, Modest Frilot, on the father’s side and Ellenor Dise , on the mother’s side, took on the role of family caregivers raising all the children and lending a hand with grandchildren.
Daniel recalls his grandfather’s influence of instilling in him a love of country pursuits. The family would go fishing, Daniel pairing up with his grandfather, while his dad and brother would make an opposing team, competing against each other to catch the most fish. At that time, his grandfather grew sugarcane, did trapping, as well as keeping cattle, horses and mules.
“I learned that my grandfather was quite the character. He wasn’t highly educated, but he was a celebrity in my eyes… he was just one of my biggest mentors. I enjoyed working and being with him and to this day I miss him dearly.”
Daniel describes his family as large, loving and a little boisterous. His paternal grandparents Laurence and Modest had a big family, “There were eight children”, he says. His maternal grandmother, Ellenor, was a larger-than-life character. “I remember my grandmother very well. Her English was terrible, but she was a sweetheart. Sometimes she was a little rough with the kids, kind of firm, but at the same time always wanted to hug you and kiss you.”
Daniel speaks lovingly of his father, and it’s clear that he was a strong influence on him growing up, “My dad was a commercial fisherman and a carpenter. Together with his brother in law, Albert Gullory, who was a building contractor they built houses and apartment complexes. Although he was a carpenter, there never was a time when he wasn’t fishing, trapping or doing something in the wild.” Making a living from the wild is clearly in the genes, as is the adaptable Edgar spirit – always ready to try something new and diversify.
“My personality is somewhat like my dad. I joke, I really like to make people laugh, comfortable and happy. When it comes to working, I am not so tolerant. I push a little and that’s because the life is going to push on me.
“My dad was a man amongst men, trust me – he was solid. My dad never told any of us that he loved us. I never heard him say ‘I love anybody’. But I know he loved his family and he did everything by example”.
Traditions on the Swamp
Daniel and his siblings are all still residents of southern Louisiana. Daniel found himself following the trail blazed by his grandfather and father as a commercial fisherman. Commercial fishing lies at the heart of not just historic Louisiana, but its modern-day economy as well. One out of every 70 jobs in the state originates from the seafood industry and, as a whole, it contributes $2.4 billion to the annual state economy. As Daniel can attest, many of those jobs come from family-owned-and-operated businesses that are overseen by generations of individuals from the same family.
While Daniel’s father was working as a commercial fisherman, as a young man Daniel was also a commercial fisherman and a trapper. By the time he was 35, Daniel began to build a commercial fishing empire of his own that will no doubt be passed onto his sons and grandson as time passes by. Watching his elders work as commercial fishermen their whole lives, one can imagine that Daniel will give it all he has in pursuit of commercial fishing until he is no longer able to handle the rigours. For Daniel, those who came before him, and his sons, commercial fishing isn’t just a job.
One of the deeply-ingrained facets of life on the bayou is the ability to provide for your family. Like generations before him, he doesn’t have to go to the grocery store to ensure protein and good food hits the table for his family each day. He can go out the backdoor and let Mother Nature provide for him and his family. Admittedly, he loves the fact that he gets paid to go out and do a job year-round that he loves. Whether he’s catching fish, shrimp, crabs, crawfish or fishing alligators during the one-month season, Daniel gets to pursue something he actually enjoys doing on a daily basis. Combined with his love of recreational fishing and hunting, Daniel gets to pursue a dream most don’t.
Building a Family Legacy
Those who have seen the History Channel series “Swamp People” are familiar with the fact that Daniel owns St. Mary’s Seafood Incorporated, and is founder and partner of Louisiana Bait Products company that incorporates nationwide shipping. In short, his empire covers the commercial fishing industry in the state from start to finish. The bait products are used by commercial and recreational fishermen with the catch being processed at the Plant in Aberville, LA, on the Vermillion river, and ideally, shipped through his shipping brand.
If you think that just because Daniel is pursuing something, he enjoys on a daily basis that everything comes easy, you would be mistaken. When Daniel started the company, it was not uncommon to spend as many as 12 hours working every day of the week. He used to get up at 5 AM and work until the sun went down, but now he tries to cut himself off by 5:30 or 6:00 PM in the evening. Building any business brand, pursuing any goal comes with consequences. Daniel has lost relationships to his business, but he admits he might not do it any differently given the opportunity to try again.
“I fell in love with making money fishing”, Daniel recalls, “I fell in love with being able to get paid to catch a crawfish, a crab or a fish… As a kid, I always wanted to be on a boat with dad and my grandfather. I enjoy fishing and hunting recreationally, and I know that my kids enjoy it too”.
When he was just starting the company, Daniel was married to Juanita, a pretty Creole lady, the mother of his sons Joey and Dwaine. In order to provide for his family, Daniel worked around the clock, “I worked seven graveyards and I shrimped during the day. The only sleep that I got was to try to take a little cat-nap at work.” Sadly, the marriage to Juanita did not survive this punishing regime, and they split. Although the marriage eventually failed, the pair were able to maintain a positive relationship and impacted one another’s life in good ways for decades. Daniel recalled the sombre day when Juanita died, speaking fondly of her and how she eventually went on to marry a man he considers a good, solid gentleman.
Daniel’s second wife, Mandy, came from a Cajun family in the Lafayette area. Daniel and Mandy had one daughter together, Danielle, who still lives nearby in Lafayette and has children of her own. Daniel and Mandy were deeply in love and got along well, but again, Daniel’s long working hours took their toll. Daniel was building his seafood business and working hard to support his family. Although Mandy worked alongside Daniel in the business, she couldn’t understand his deep commitment to the job and the two eventually went their separate ways as well.
Daniel recalls, “Back then, we were open seven days a week. From five in the morning till eight at night. It was just too many hours… Mandy worked so hard for so many years and is somewhat responsible for helping me put all this together. She worked very hard, but it got to the point where she just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Even though things didn’t always work out for the best, Daniel kept a focus on two things: his kids and his business. He never missed a weekend picking up his boys to spend time with them. Though Joey works closely with his father today, and Dwaine to a lesser extent, Daniel has never mandated to either boy that they follow his footsteps. He believes each one should be free to pursue their own goals and desires in life.
Younger Edgars and the Family Business
As mentioned before, and evidenced in the “Swamp People” series, Daniel’s sons are involved in his seafood operations with St. Mary’s Seafood Incorporated. Joey has been working by his father’s side for decades now and was the first of the two boys to join him. Dwaine’s life has taken him in and out of Louisiana over the course of time. A gifted athlete, Dwaine spent time pursuing a career in professional baseball returning home from time to time to help out with the family business.
As Daniel has gotten older, his older son Joey has taken on more and more responsibility in the daily operation of the company. The two still fish commercially together, which is a good thing given the diversity of seafood the company catches and processes. The LA Bait Co. company’s main boat is capable of catching a maximum of one million pounds of fish in a day, but the goal is to catch around 400,000 to 500,000 pounds a day. The processing plant is capable of processing 400,000 pounds per day of IQF fish (Individually Quick Frozen), which equals to 10 tracktor trailor loads.
In addition to fishing for seasonal catches like crawfish, crabs and fish, Daniel and also Joey have 500 acres of crawfish ponds in which they farm thousands of pounds of crawfish annually. Beyond their own fishing, the Edgars are wholesale distributors of the crawfish and other seafood catch for the local fisherman in the region as well. The Edgar’s bait company also sells 18 to 20 million pounds of bait throughout the year. There are also endeavours in crabbing and shrimping, not to mention the family’s participation in collecting Alligator eggs and a month long alligator hunting season in the state that runs from late August through September annually.
As the alligator and other traditional hunting and fishing industries face tough challenges, Daniel has had to diversify to offer this wide array of products, demonstrating his resilience and adaptability to changing times. Modestly, Daniel says, “We’ve struggled – like any business it’s not always good, but we’ve always managed to pay the bills and keep the kids fat. I guess that’s all you can do.”
His son Joey explains why they have diversified into bait supply: “When we started this company over 30 years ago we could buy bait to catch crabs and crawfish and fish all over the US. In recent times the numbers have gone down. People started eating all the fish that we had bought for bait. So, bait suppliers dwindled and the last bait company in Louisiana went out of business. For our survival we started our own bait company”.
Experience with Reality-TV
In 2010, the History Channel launched a new reality TV series that took viewers deep into the heart of Cajun country in Louisiana to follow the lifestyle of the men and women who fish alligators for a living each year. The state has long had an established month-long alligator fishing season. The show sought to showcase authenticity by getting some of the region’s well-known fishermen who participate in the alligator season to come on the show. At first, Daniel resisted joining the cast of the show.
Throughout the early seasons, Daniel’s son Joey had to forcibly protect the family’s interests. The alligator season is defined by the use of tags to control the hunting and killing of alligators. Each hunter must purchase tags from a landowner in order to participate in the hunt. It is illegal to hunt and kill alligators without a tag to place on the tail after the kill, and hunting cannot take place between sundown each night and sunrise the next day.
In 2014, Daniel and Joey decided to participate in the show. Today, the duo is one of the most-respected fan favourites in the franchise.
Daniel recalls how this has changed their lives to a bit. While they still work hard at St. Mary’s Seafood inside and outside of the alligator season, Daniel now has a connection of his own to one of his favourite stories from his own childhood. He can recall a time when he went to the grocery store as a young man with his father, who was so well-known around town as a fisherman, that everyone treated him like a celebrity. Daniel admits that he and Joey now get recognized with greater frequency when they are out and about around town.
Daniel is a natural TV star as he is seen doing what comes naturally, “Joey and I have been catching big alligator for a long time, It’s a dangerous sport. You can only see the surface of the water. But alligators can see through the water – even if it’s murky, so the alligator can be there looking at me, but I can’t see him.” The element of danger combined with Daniel’s steadfast demeanour makes Swamp People compulsive viewing.
It’s also a platform for the Edgars to share some of their Creole traditions. Joey explains, “We grew up cooking like this, seafood is a large part of our diet. Cooking outside, that’s how old people used to do it. They didn’t have air conditioning in their homes and in the summertime it was too hot to cook a meal inside, so they cooked under the shade tree with an old black pot. It was always about stories and family. The entertainment was always about old people talking about their past and struggles. Some stories would just fascinate you, for example about how they hunted big alligators, it was very exciting, you wanted to be like them.”
Daniel is grateful for the contribution that History Channel made for promoting Creole and Cajun cultures in Louisiana, “The impact of “Swamp People” on our industry is colossal. The Creole and Cajun cultures are now known throughout the world. The demand in alligator meat has skyrocketed, and that keeps the aligators farmers in business and at the same time immensely contributed to the sale of wild alligator meat. That helps keeping the wild alligator numbers steady. I feel, that, without the show the wild alligator management plan would be in a disarray.”
Daniel Edgar’s Life Today and Impact on the Seafood Industry
Daniel Edgar might come from a humble Creole family in southern Louisiana, but don’t assume he hasn’t seen his fair share of the world. Like his grandfather who had a love of history and a sharp intellect, Daniel is a curious man himself. This humble man from Jeanerette, Louisiana, has travelled more places in the world than the average individual. Though he comes from his own culturally rich corner of the United States, Daniel has a passion for experiencing other cultures and has travelled to destinations including Canada, France, Egypt, Japan, China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Belize, Guatemala and Vietnam.
Daniel is also a man who is concerned for the future of the Cajun and Creole way of life in southern Louisiana, particularly commercial fishermen. The growing demand for Gulf seafood is greater for business and great for those looking to experience new tastes and cultures, but it puts pressure on a supply that is not infinite. Daniel is quick to point out that the seafood industry is a tough one to be in because Mother Nature is often the enemy.
Mother Nature not only controls the supply, but she throws challenges at the fishermen in terms of heavy rains and flooding that negatively impact seafood beds in the bayous and estuaries along the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes and other tropical systems not only threaten to disrupt the balance in local waterways, but also threaten the very infrastructure that makes shrimping, crabbing, and other forms of fishing possible. If the land and local waterways aren’t treated with respect and cared for, the future generations might not have a St. Mary’s Seafood to work for anymore.
Daniel is involved in various local community organizations and groups that oversee the handling of the seafood industry in southern Louisiana. He has spent time in the past in the legislature of the state, trying to ensure that fisheries are protected from overfishing so that supply chains and fish populations remain sustainable, for the future. To that end, he had previously come up with escape rings in crab traps. Now in use throughout the state, these crab rings allow smaller, younger crabs to escape the traps, so the population remains stable and only the larger, more valuable crabs are harvested each time out.
“I have just been appointed to the Finfish Task Force. In the past, I sat on the Seefood Promotion and Marketing Board, Coastal Recreation Board, advisory councils and Save Our Bays to name a few. Just about every board and commission over the past 25 years, I have probably been on most of the committees and boards related to the seafood industry!” Daniel informs Kreol.
“One of the issue facing, the wild alligator hunting business right now is the shortage of the demand for the wild skins. We should kill 35,000 wild allgators per year to keep the numbers in control. The meat is in demand, but, no one wants to buy their skins, as there is plenty of skin supply from the farms, where the skins are clean and have no scars. The price for wild alligators dropped from $10 to $1 per foot! The female alligator can lay around 20 eggs a year that sell for $15-29 each. So, there is no logic for landowners to kill an alligator for $5-8 when the same alligator can make them $500 each year!”
This is a serious issue at the moment that has the government, landowners and the hunters at the headlock. But Daniel has an idea how to resolve it, “Making alligator skins available to the public directly is the way forward. I am working on it right now.”
If you were to take a ride through the local bayous and waterways around St. Mary Parish and Iberia Parish, you are likely to run into Daniel out on the water pursuing what he loves and making sure that business gets done each day at St. Mary’s Seafood and LA Bait Co. With the help of his sons Joey and Dwaine, his daughter Danielle and grandson Dorian, the Edgar family is likely to continue playing a big role in the commercial fishing industry in southern Louisiana.
Daniel is very happy of the support he receives from his family, “My grandson Cole and granddaughter Kallie, take care of the soft shell crab system at the night shifts. My granddaughters Caylin and Kaurie both help in the office. We have three generations of Edgars working together”
With any luck, the measures that Daniel has long advocated to protect the population of various species in the region will result in a robust and healthy seafood industry for the region as well.
The family man
Above all, Daniel is a family man, and this is the most important thing to him, “Raising my family and trying to be a responsible father and grandfather, it is more important than anything else.”
When asked what he would wish for if he had 3 wishes, Daniel replied: “I would have to say probably the most important thing for me is… for my children… to take care of each other. And then that goes down to their kids, just to protect their family unit. Number two is that they will all be successful… I guess third would be health… if you are healthy then you can be there to take care of the younger ones because if you’re not healthy you can’t help anyone.
“I have very good friends, but your strength is in your family and always remember where you come from. Your strength is in your name, always take the name that was given to you, make it a point to keep it clean. When I got my name, it was clean with a good reputation. Protecting your name and passing that down is important… and being aware of that, that your name is something that’s precious which you hold from your family.”
Joey echoes his words by listing his hopes for the future as, “Long life, prosperity, and for the family that will be as close as I and dad are, or in other words just as life goes on for the family to be that close. Even though we all work together, just be close.”
This is a fitting tribute to the success of the Edgar family and their achievements in the fishing business and their commitment to safeguarding it for the future. It’s clear that Daniel, the family’s patriarch, is more than the level-headed gator hunter dear to so many viewers, and that his legacy will continue for generations to come.