Cats and Western Coyotes Lead Market
Toronto auction confirms trends; Russians still not buying fur
By Serge Lariviére
Selling season is now over and most of us have been seeing the impact of lower fur prices at conventions we attend. Indeed, seems like there is more space in the aisles, less people piled up in front of vendors, and more empty spaces in the tailgater section. The real die-hards still show up, but there is no doubt that low fur prices affect the attendance at trapping conventions, and most dealers also see the impact on their sale of traps and trapping supplies. Years ago, it was common at big conventions to see trappers hauling several boxes of dogproof traps, and at this past NTA convention, I only saw one trapper hauling traps around, and those were coyote traps. Thank goodness we have a hot coyote market or else things would be real quiet.
The last wild fur sale of the year happened in Toronto, Canada, within the facilities of North American Fur Auctions. The sale carried along the same lines of what we had seen before, maybe a little weaker even, and the absence of active Russian participation was felt once again. Western coyotes did well ($40-90), although a little weaker than earlier in the year), the rest was tough, especially shorthaired species such as otter (average of $21), wild mink ($9) and muskrat ($3.25). Beaver ($10-13) and raccoon ($8-9) also were low, as were red foxes ($15) and grey foxes ($19-20). Even the fisher market softened up (average of $36), but the marten at $60 sold very decent. Simply put, western coyotes, western cats ($280-300) and marten is what sold well, but the market cooled off, some say simply because of the late timing of this sale and the fact that most manufacturers in need of skins had already bought what they needed by the time this sale occurred.
Now all this looking back is not helping much when it comes to planning next year’s trapping operation. What we hear and what we see so far is all pointing out to another tough year in the wild fur world.
Russia Still Absent
In August 2017, the United States also imposed some sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran, and this is not helping us at all. The Russians are the key to our market recovery, and without them at the table, all the core wild fur species struggle. The market for western coyotes is strong because of the international fashion trend for fur-trimmed parkas, and the international nature of this fashion trend has kept the market hot for coyote fur, but the garment species such as raccoons and beaver failed to improve much. Problem is, any political tensions involving Russia affects either their willingness and ability to engage in trade with us, or it affects their economy which in turns weakens their currency and then impairs their purchasing power and hence ability to buy. Folks who have travelled to Russia still see fur everywhere, the culture of wearing fur is still as strong as ever in Russia, but as it is now, very Russian buyers participate in the North American wild fur trade. As a side effect, when Russians do not buy fur, several countries who manufacture for Russian buyers also slow down, and this is the case of Greece and China, whose involvement with wild fur is typically one of a middleman; they buy fur, dress it, make the garments and turn to Russia for the final sale. Without Russia, our recovery will take time.
Reading such news at the beginning of September is not going to spark much enthusiasm into planning a long line. Our words of wisdom have not changed. Go west if you can and trap western coyotes and western cats if profit is your main drive, those markets will still be there come 2018. For northern trappers with access to marten, you can still do fine if you wait for fully prime pelts, and the odd fisher in your sets will sell fine as well. But for the vast majority of trappers targeting raccoon, rats, mink, or beaver; expect another tough year. Pay attention to the animals you harvest and be selective on what you spend your time handling. We have said it over and over again, but in difficult times, only the best skins sell, and anything with multiple damages or out of season is not worth handling. When the top raccoon sold for $75 a few years ago, even the low grades would sell for $5-8, but when the top coon sell for $25, a lot of the low grades have no commercial value. The same applies to all the species that struggle: beaver, mink, otter, or fox. Sell the best and accept, even if it is difficult, that some of the animals you catch simply have no commercial value. Do your best to wait until fur is fully prime, to reduce the percentage of lesser quality goods. But if you catch an animal with multiple damages and hardly any fur on it, do not bother skinning and handling it as it will not sell. Not every apple that comes out of an apple tree is fit for consumption, and the same goes for fur. Some animals simply have no value, and handling them is a waste of time and effort, and it does nothing to help our trade. Tough market years like the ones we live now provide perfect opportunity to improve your knowledge of fur grading so you can better understand this trade, and what is worth handling. Spend time with your local fur buyer, watch him grade, ask questions, and if you can, try to attend some fur grading seminars, or better yet, go visit an international fur auction. You will get some pointers that will help you improve your knowledge of the trade, and that investment will last you a lifetime.