Extreme High-Fashion Industry Drives Fur Markets

Question: As a longtime reader in Canada, I was recently surprised to learn how few pelts are being sold compared to the 1980s. The Canadian total then was 5.5 million pelts, and for the last few years it has been less than one million pelts. A huge decrease!
I then asked for the totals from the provinces British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, where many trappers live.

1980
BC – 300,000 pelts
Alberta – 1.8 million
NWT – 230,000

2005/2006
BC – 35,000 (Almost 90 percent decline)
Alberta – 96,000 (Almost 95 percent decline)
NWT – 24,000 (Almost 90 percent decline)

I was shocked that so many trappers apparently have hung up their traps because of low pelt prices, or is it because more and more people don’t want our product?
Is this huge decline common across the USA as well?
Shouldn’t we be told this by NTA or editors of trapping magazines?
When Parker Dozhier’s headline was “No Shortage of Buyers” (September 2008), he must be speaking of a different planet. — C.G., Vancouver, BC, Canada

Parker Dozhier Responds:

The number of trappers and hunters participating in the annual fur harvest has declined at an alarming rate since the mid ’80s.

There are many reasons for this decline, but one stands out in the data: The number of young people involved. Each year the average age of those selling fur goes up one year. In other words, the old timers stuck with it year after year, but newcomers are few and far between.

Video games, more employment opportunities, less leisure time, cost of starting out, few families living in a rural environment — who knows the reason. I suspect it is a combination of several reasons. Incidentally, the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold annually has also decreased dramatically.

As to people not wanting our products: That is hardly the case. Furs are in fashion, the demand is soaring and more consumers are coming into the market each year. Ahh, but these are a far different type of fur buyer than 30 years ago.

The extreme high-fashion industry, which is driving the markets for the heavy lynx-cats, fisher and marten, is doing quite well. The rich will always be with us. But the bulk of the wild fur taken will be going to people of limited means.

This newfound wealth we are seeing demonstrated in Russia and China is creating the lion’s share of our new customer base. No, these people can’t buy a home or possibly even an automobile, but they can certainly exhibit their new status by what they wear … as long as it’s not too expensive. In time, that is expected to change.

Since the fur markets, along with the sales of all luxury items, crashed in October 1987, the amount of fur taken in the U.S. and Canada has plummeted. Western Canada is certainly not unique. A few examples: Louisiana was once the largest single producer of wild furs. In ’86, Louisiana trappers took 143,538 muskrats, while in 2002, they marketed only 438. Closer to home, Alaska produced 27,407 marten in ’86, but even in light of stronger markets only 3,409 were taken in ’02.

Time and again, I have mentioned in the Market Report the dramatic decline in the fur harvest using our most important fur bearer — raccoons. Prior to the crash, the U.S. and Canada collectively harvested nearly 6 million raccoons a season. Today, that figure is somewhere around 1.5 million.

In closing, be assured I’m firmly grounded on planet Earth. Moreover, I don’t write the headlines for my column … never have. While there are far fewer country buyers and major regional collectors today than ever before, the number of buyers participating at the international auctions has skyrocketed.

When I was working with Hudson’s Bay Company in the early ’80s, we were thrilled to have 200 buyers, today 500 to 600 is the norm at most sales. Reasons: Fewer buying agents who may represent a dozen or more manufacturers, the increasing number of smaller independent makers in China, Russia, Greece and Turkey, and most importantly, the fresh new designers who are just beginning to discover the allure of fur. They are the future.

The Answer Men is your chance to ask an expert from the esteemed T&PC panel a question about any aspect of trapping, predator calling or fur handling. Send questions to: The Answer Men, 700 East State St., Iola WI 54990, or e-mail them to Jared.Blohm@fwpubs.com.



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