Market expected to drop 15 to 20 percent,
but trim items and prime fur could see smaller dip
This is probably the most nerve-racking report I have written since I was asked to replace the late Parker Dozhier for the “Fur Market Report” in March 2012. Honestly, writing this report has been fairly fun since I started. The market has been climbing steadily. I just had to report good news after good news. When I was wrong, it was simply that I had not been optimistic enough, and prices were better than I had forecasted. Nobody called me to complain!
Then, within one year, the market reached a level that had not been seen in years, and for many younger trappers, prices paid for wild fur in February and March 2013 were the highest they had ever seen. For old timers, such prices were a breath of fresh air, and it reminded us that we could make some money on our traplines. When trappers call to report averages on raccoon at more than $50, muskrats at more than $12 and foxes and coyotes at $60 or more, life is great. Those prices were truly lifetime highs for anyone who had not trapped or sold wild fur before 1990.
Then, prices cooled off ever so slightly in May 2013 but still remained so high that every trapper in the country just focused on getting geared up for a higher production line for Fall 2014. Canada and the United States experienced the same flurry of activity. Trap and supply sales went through the roof, lines were expanded, new trappers appeared at roadsides and old-timers dug out their stored traps to get back in the game. This new activity peaked when trapping seasons opened and trappers geared up for their most profitable year ever.
And those trappers were active. Reports have been unanimous from East to West and North to South: The word got out. Trappers were more numerous, and established trappers almost unanimously experienced a reduced catch. It has been said before: When prices climb, more trappers compete for the same number of animals, so the more numerous the trappers, the fewer animals are caught by each individual. The pie does not get bigger. There are simply more trappers reaching for their pieces, so everyone gets a smaller piece overall. And this is what happened.
Although most trappers reported a reduced catch, overall harvest of wild fur climbed. Many established longliners experienced competition like never before, and many saw traps in places where they had never seen them before. Trappers are active when they hear that fur is profitable.
But if the action of the trapline was intense, conditions overseas that affect fur prices were not what we could have best hoped for. China and Russia experienced mild winters, and an issue with Chinese import tariffs slowed the enthusiasm of Chinese fur buyers. Both of these factors immediately impacted the major fur fairs. These imperfect conditions all announced the end of glory days and a probable readjustment of fur prices.
Prices will be going down, everyone says, but how much is unknown. And although we are approaching the major wild fur auction sales, nothing is definite yet. Hence the nerve-racking part of this report.
We still swim in uncertainty. Some trappers wrote to me saying I feared calling a spade a spade, that the market was going to crash and that I should say so. The problem is I still receive mixed messages weekly; some bad news but also some positive.
Even as I write this in early February, just two weeks ahead of the North American Fur Auctions February sale scheduled for Feb. 17 to 23 in Toronto, Canada, no one knows for sure what will happen. Every industry expert I have talked to has provided the same mixture of positive and negative messages from the trade.