By Serge Lariviére
This is the last report of speculation before the big fur sales start. Indeed, January is already going to see some fur selling, and starting January 9, 2017, Kopenhagen Furs will start selling ranch mink over in Denmark. Then, the first wild fur sales of the year will be at Fur Harvesters Auctions in Helsinki, Finland on January 16, 2017, and then at North American Fur Auctions in Toronto on February 9-14, 2017. The first sales may set the tone, but it is predicted that prices will be climbing during the selling season so the later sales of March and May should really be the best sales of the year when it comes to wild fur. So as advice, no need to rush your skins out the door as most buyers, local or international, will likely be paying more as season progresses.
But until the games begin, what do we know about the latest predictions? If you allow me to venture out on a limb, I predict a 5-10 percent increase in prices compared to the last fur sales of last year. There is indeed a slight wind of optimism that is hitting the fur community right now. Weather conditions have been fairly cold in China, prices are so low on most items that almost anyone can afford a fur coat, and last but not least, the Russian ruble, although still weak, is on an upswing and recently broke the 60 to 1 barrier, which is a peak in strength over the last few years. Some even say that the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and his apparent good relations with Putin in Russia helped create some optimism in Russia over their economy.
Almost everyone agrees now that the fur market will start its recovery in 2017. The market will, or I should say “should” start on a slowly increasing trend. Most industry leaders think this will happen slow at first, and likely will not happen until the ranch mink sales set the tone. There is a reduced offering of ranch mink this year, and still great movement and demand for the product in China, and as soon as ranch mink starts to climb (a 5-10 percent climb is expected), some manufacturers will turn their attention to cheaper alternatives and wild fur then gets attention. First will be muskrats, often termed the “poor man’s mink,” and rats should, by this spring, increase by upwards of 50 percent! Now be careful, a 50 percent increase on a rat that sells for $2-3 only means it should now reach $3-4.50, but at this point, any increase is an increase and we will gladly take it. The interest in raccoon should also revive slowly, and though I will not predict much of an increase, it is possible that we see a 5 percent increase in coon prices which still is terribly weak, but a trend that is better than the one we have experienced last few years. A 5 percent increase on a $5 coon only gives you a quarter more, but the main point is that most everyone believes the tide is turning.
There are still many factors at play. Offering of fresh skins will be much reduced. As you probably noticed, with yourself or with your friends, is that many trappers reduced their activities this past fall, and in northern parts of Canada, the early, heavy and frequent snowfall impeded both travel and harvest. Without the financial incentive of profit, many longliners slowed down, some abandoned the less profitable species such as raccoon and beaver, and some simply stayed home, so the offering of fresh skins is much lesser this year. To illustrate how reduced it is, it is expected that overall raccoon catch will be 20-40 percent of what it is in a normal year; beaver and fox harvest about 50 perecent of normal; muskrats about 75 percent, and species that did better in prices (fisher, cats, marten) will reduce to 90-95 percent of normal catch. The only predicted increase in numbers of skins will be for coyotes, because the great prices on western coyotes last few years has made this species especially profitable and attractive to trappers.
What is interesting, is that even species that sell well see reduced harvest when overall prices are low. You all know that mink trappers often catch muskrats and raccoon as incidentals. Raccoon trappers catch fisher as incidental, fisher trappers catch raccoons and often cats as incidentals, beaver trappers catch otters, etc. When trapping effort on one species is reduced, often the harvest of 1-2 other species also goes down.
Pricewise, coyotes, fisher and bobcats remain hot items, and one should be happy with prices for these species. Muskrats should increase significantly, and this could also happen to marten where a rise of 25-30 percent is predicted. Raccoon and foxes may improve a little, but wild mink and beaver will remain around $6-8 a skin, much below what trappers consider reasonable for these species. If you skin a beaver that has several holes in it, it will be tough to sell or will sell at very low price. You may wish to reconsider the value of trying to skin, flesh and stretch small or damaged skins, and many will simply have no commercial value to speak of.
The market may be improving slowly, but it is still struggling overall, and likely will for a few more years. Which brings me to my final point. During years when everything sells well, often we get great prices even on lesser quality skins, simply because the market is overly hungry for fur. We enter what is probably year 2 of a streak of 4-5 difficult years for wild fur. During these tough years, we must deliver the best goods possible, and even be selective in what we harvest, selective in what we prepare for the market, and accept that some skins simply have no commercial value. Yes, the value will eventually come back up, and if you want, you can store some of these lesser skins and wait, or you can adjust your practices and send only what has a market value. In summary, you can expect these ballpark averages:
Beaver, raccoon, wild mink: $7-10
Marten and fisher: $40-50
Canada lynx: $45-60
Coyote: $40-60 (Western over $80, Eastern below $40)
Bobcat: $100-200 (Western more, Eastern less)
This is the Fur Market Report from the February 2017 issue of Trapper & Predator Caller magazine.
You can pick up a copy of the digital issue on www.ShopDeerHunting.com.