From the early 1900s through the 1980s, Louisiana led the nation in the production of wild fur pelts. During the early 1900s the Louisiana fur industry involved over 20,000 trappers and 1,000 fur buyers and dealers. Muskrat populations exploded during that period with the harvest peaking at over 9 million pelts worth $12 million in 1945. This production was more than occurred in all the other states combined. A much larger rodent the nutria was placed in captivity in the State in the late 1930s and escaped and was released into the near perfect habitat of coastal Louisiana in the late 1930s. This South American native multiplied quickly and by 1962 surpassed the muskrat in numbers harvested. Between 1962 and 1982 coastal trappers averaged harvesting over 1.3 million nutria each year, representing over 64% of the total catch and 60% of the total value of the industry.
Louisiana produces 11 different species of furbearers (beaver, bobcat, coyote, grey fox, mink, muskrat, nutria, opossum, raccoon, red fox, river otter). During the past 10 years, the state has averaged producing nearly 195,362 pelts annually. The average annual production of nutria during the past 10 years has been 136,040 and raccoon 37,100. These two species alone provided nearly 75% of the value of an industry worth approximately million annually (10 year average) to Louisiana trappers. The annual fur harvest of all species has historically been valued as high as $25 million to the state´s 10,000 trappers.
At one time, Louisiana was the leading producer of mink and muskrat fur pelts in North America. Fur prices have dropped in recent years, making the time and effort required for trapping less productive and less lucrative. Many coastal resource users have been forced to seek employment in the oil and gas industry and elsewhere, and it is questionable whether they will ever return to trapping. During the 2001-2002 trapping season, fewer than 1,000 trapping licenses were sold statewide.
Louisiana´s history of trapping furbearers and alligators has played an important role in the state´s culture and economy. New Orleans in the 1720s was a major trading center on the Mississippi River and, as such, was hub for the fur trade. As muskrat trapping flourished in coastal Louisiana during the early 1900s, the fur industry started to grow. In fact, by 1912, trapping was so widespread in Louisiana that legislature imposed trapping season dates and required trappers to be licensed.
In the late 1940s, the most abundant fur produced in Louisiana was muskrat. However, that changed only a decade later when nutria surpassed muskrat both in numbers trapped and in pelt value.
European demand for nutria kept prices high through the mid -1950s. However, in 1955 supply overcame demand and prices for nutria pelts dropped. The sudden lack of demand resulted in an over-abundance of nutria, and their destructive effect on crops and marshland was quickly felt. In an effort to increase the demand for nutria once again, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries searched for new markets interested in nutria products. By the mid-1960s, the German fur market began importing more than one million pelts of nutria per year.
Nutria harvests peaked in 1976 at 1.8 million pelts worth $15.7 million to trappers. In 1981, the price per pelt reached an average of $8.19. But it was during this time that the international fur trade began to slow and prices dropped precipitously. A number of factors contribute to the fur industry´s decline and to the sudden drop in prices during the 1980s.
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