By Serge Lariviére
The New Year has just gone by and we are now entering the beginning of the selling season, the next step after the “catching season.” January marks the start of many big sales at international auctions, and the forecast calls for prices similar to last year’s level, with the strongest items again likely to be western coyotes, better bobcats with nice bellies, and marten. After the Fur Harvesters sale in January, North American Fur Auctions (www.nafa.ca), will hold their first wild fur sale at the end of February (February 26 to March 2) in Toronto, Canada. These first two auction sales will definitely set the tone and tell us where things are at in terms of wild fur. But right now, marketing experts from both auctions houses and many country buyers are relaying the same message: expect prices for this coming year to be very similar to those of last year.
Nothing much has changed in the industry since last year. Russia is starting to come back, ever so slowly, but not strongly enough to make a huge difference. Most auctions houses hope to clear inventory, selling what they get, to make sure not to accumulate goods so that when the market recovers, the old inventory does not stall the upswing in prices. Prices are not expected to jump up for any particular species, so companies will sell fur for what buyers are willing to pay. There is, at this point, still little sense in holding on to skins that likely will sell at the same price next year, so 100 percent clearance of goods is what is desired.
Last year’s averages were about $10 USD for a western skins, and $15 for an eastern skin. Eastern beaver typically are darker in color, and denser and thus bring better price. However, most would agree that $10-15 is below profitable for the trappers, and a lot of beavers will likely end up being killed outside of the fur season as problem animals. Trapping beavers for fur is hard work, and everything about beaver trapping is either hard, dangerous or takes time. For sure, if you trap beaver, make sure to take good care of the castoreum! With prices of $45-65 per pound, some beavers will give you more for the castors than for the skin! And if you can, explore the meat market: in some areas of Canada, we can sell beaver meat either for human consumption or to be used as bear bait, and the former may yield $10-30 per well-handled carcass clean enough for human consumption, whereas for bear bait, beaver carcasses sell from $3-5 apiece, a nice addition to your fur check. One thing is for sure, there is no forecast of change anytime soon when it comes to beaver fur prices: with low female ranch mink prices, almost everything that was once made with beaver is now made of mink fur which is cheaper to buy, and most importantly, easier to dress and work with.
Depending on where you trap, raccoons will again sell in the $5-12 range, with very few skins exceeding the $20-30 dollar mark. The largest and most prime skins may sell at levels that would have been good average prices a few years ago, so if you trap raccoons, wait as long as you can and catch cream-colored skin with thick fur and void of damage. Small, blueish skins or skins with damages will be hard to sell again this year.
Muskrats went wildly up a few years ago, and now are back to what “normal” always was at price of $2-4 per skin. Now of course, many trappers get upset when they see muskrats at less than $10 apiece, but they forget that this only happened a year or two and that most years, rats are closer to the $3-5 average. These past years, muskrats have struggled a bit because of declining mink prices. When female ranch mink skins sell at $10-15 apiece, and a buyer in China can get 30,000 skins practically identical, why mess around and buy muskrats which are all different with different defects and even different put-up? Uniformity is attractive to buyers, and may of the large-scale commercial retailers do not hire specialty furriers to make coats, they instead hire cheaper labor and rely on uniformity to skip the skin matching steps in the design. If you get 30,000 skins all identical, no need to pick and choose, you simply cut and sew. So if you want muskrat prices to go up, better hope that ranch mink pelts start climbing in value, only then will manufacturers turn back to muskrats as a cheaper alternative.
Wild mink do not stand a chance when compared to ranch mink: they are much smaller in size, have more variation in color, more natural defects, various trapper-inflicted defects, so with low ranch mink prices, wild mink is worth $5-8 for a female, and $8-15 for males. Forget getting rich by trapping wild mink again this year. The largest wild mink you will ever catch is still much smaller than the smallest sizes of ranch mink on the market, so the combined handicaps of small size and lack of uniformity will keep wild mink low until ranch mink prices soar again.
Otters have simply stalled at the $30 price range. Great fur, extremely durable, but another short-haired item that directly competes with low-priced ranch mink.
Marten will be in demand and easy to sell. Not many USA trappers have marten on their lines, but if you do, good year to go after them. In Canada, marten are the bread and butter on many northern traplines and this year, marten will be the key to a profitable trapline. Expect averages in the $60-120 range, with the usual sections of larger marten with darker fur bringing the highest prices, and the yellowish orange skins of southern marten which are also smaller in size bringing much less. Marten fur is light, clean, easy to dress, so many manufacturers are using it now as a high-end fur for high-end garments.
Good demand again for prime skins. Expect females to sell at higher prices, probably $60-70, whereas males (which have larger skins but much coarser fur) should be closer to $45-50.
Coyotes have dominated the trim trade in the past few years, and though there is fear that this fashion trend will end someday, it will not end this year! Western coyotes will still be hot and sell upwards of $100 apiece whereas Eastern coyotes will be in the $25-50 range. For all skins, Western is better than Eastern, pale is preferred to dark, soft preferred to coarse, and white bellies preferred to yellow or red bellies. Prime is a key factor, as anytime you take a strip of fur and roll it to cover the edge of a cuff or a parka, weaknesses in density will readily appear and require either more fur (a wider strip) or simply will not be usable. Thick, prime coyote pelts will sell well. Trappers out west will have another profitable year no doubt. And by the way, January is not too late to catch coyotes if you have them!
Expect averages in the $15-25 range. Better reds comes from the East where fur is darker and thicker. Cross and wild silver typically bring similar prices as reds, and they end up on as trim on coats.
Western bobcats with dense fur and clear bellies will sell at crazy-high prices again this year, but there is some talk of softening markets for the “off-colors.” Bellies and fur density is what drive bobcat prices, so if you have them, I sure hope you capitalized on what we can easily call the most valuable fur on the market right now! Top western cats will easily exceed $500 (last year’s top prices were around $1,500 per skin!) whereas eastern bobcats will be closer to $70-100.
Same as bobcats, larger skins with dense fur and clear bellies will sell well. Early skins with off colors will move at reduced levels. Expect averages in the $60-75 dollar range, with very good skins exceeding $100.