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Weather, politics lower fur prices.

The trapping season comes to an official end Wednesday as beaver season closes. Though foreign trappers that harvest timber wolf, wolverine, lynx, Arctic fox, and Russian sable can expect to be rewarded fairly for their efforts this year, local trappers should expect very low prices at this year's auctions. Vogue magazine pushing guilt-free faux-fur and fleece this past fall didn't help build demand. But, even more significantly, a perfect storm of global influences has converged to bring fur prices down 30-70 percent from last year.

The geographical source of furs makes a huge difference in their value. Our region's furs can be good, but they don't compare to other regions that bring top dollar. While Maine bobcats, for example, brought $90 at the December Maine Trappers Association Fur Auction, more northern and western bobcats can bring over $500. In Maine, raccoon sold for a shockingly low $7, but very big Wisconsin raccoons may well bring triple those prices. Though we have good coyote pelts, the higher demand is for the smaller, paler western pelts. Although Canada's lynx are beautiful, highest demand is for the whitest furs, and those are harvested in Russia.

The following were average prices for pelts at the Maine auction: coyote, $22; ermine, $2.75; male fisher, $42; female fisher, $50; gray fox, $25; marten, $22; mink, $10.75; muskrat, $2.92; otter, $52; red fox, $29.75; beaver, $13.90; beaver castor, $31.50/pound. These very low and disappointing prices were reflective of a trend that will likely continue through 2015. The world auctions in May and June bear watching. Trappers holding on to their pelts hoping for a future surge in demand may be waiting in futility.

Most projections are that the largest beaver from the best sources might bring $20, and XXXL muskrat might command up to $11. XXXL raccoon should bring $12. XL mink could go up to $18. The $3 for skunk pelts and $2 paid for opossum don't compensate trappers enough to make them worthwhile at all. No one is talking about squirrel and ermine.

Why are prices so bad? Look no further than China and Russia, which enormously influence the international fur market. With severe winters, they are the big spenders that the industry most depends on, but earlier mild weather failed to motivate buyers. They're actually not buying anywhere near the volume of luxury goods now that they did a year ago.

Though China now has more millionaires than every other country in the world except the United States, suppressed demand for luxury items there has been imposed by a government trying to deal with a tradition of lavish gift-giving and rampant corruption. Until recently, Chinese buyers were surprisingly responsible for purchasing about a third of the world's luxury goods. Shop in Paris and New York or any other big market city and you will see numbers of Chinese tourists flocking to the likes of Tiffany, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Rolex, and Louis Vuitton, all of which have lost sales because of steep taxes on luxury items in China.

Meanwhile in Russia, buying power has plummeted with the fall of oil prices and the devaluation of the ruble. Money is leaving the country by the billions. Sanctions from their misadventures in the Ukraine have further contributed to their economic weakening.

There's much inventory left over in China and Russia because both countries -- and Europe -- experienced a relatively mild winter last year that suppressed fur coat sales.

Not all pelt sales have suffered. With its incomparably long, luxurious, dense under-fur and light weight, the most expensive fur in the world continues to be the Russian sable. The recent December Sojuzpushnina International Fur Auction in St. Petersburg, Russia, saw superior sable pelts fetch $1,700.

Long-haired, heavy coats like your grandmother's incomparably warm raccoon are not in vogue here, though. Furs by Michael in Worcester continues to satisfy a steady demand for sheared mink jackets, which are sporty and casual. They've remained popular for some time and can be easily dyed for versatile expressions. Their retail prices should continue to be bargains as pelt prices go down, but expect to still pay up to $20,000 a designer label.

There's much talk of female versus male pelts and market differences for them. Male pelts are typically heavier, coarser and less desirable than females, which are much smaller, silkier, and noticeably lighter in weight -- the latter feature so important in a full-length mink coat. The same can be said of fisher, with female pelts being most sought after for full-length coats and male pelts being much prized for trim.

It's anticipated that sheared beaver will be low, offering a good bargain. While 2013 retail prices for fur garments escalated along with pelt prices, fur garments this year can be expected to be significantly more affordable. About 75 percent of the manufacturing cost of a coat comes from pelt prices.

Western coyote pelt prices did not decline appreciably as fancy furriers in both North America and Europe used them often in trim. Muskrat prices have been kept decent by particularly strong demands from Korea and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which uses muskrat in their hats.

To check on future fur sales, go to the North American Fur Auction's website: And if you're a local trapper, contact the Mass Trappers Association at -- and hope for very cold winters and more moderate politics and taxation in China and Russia.

Contact Mark Blazis

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Apr 14, 2015
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