Basically the entire world of fur sales has stalled for the last several months because of COVID-19 pandemic. No big international fur auctions have been held yet in 2020, and the entire world is too busy fighting the pandemic and adjusting operations. Business in almost all fields has been more difficult, laborers have to be spaced from their coworkers, more sanitary measures and hardly any international travel, so fur sales are on hold.
For the average trapper and fur producer, the impact can be summed up easily: If you sold your goods already — good for you — wise move. If not, you are awaiting the post-COVID resurrection of the fur market, and at this point, no one can tell when or how that will happen. One thing is for sure, the positive signs are tough to find, and predictions are that the already low markets could drop even more.
This would be explained by reduced consumption (no one buys fur coats when stores are closed or when jobs are at risk), depressed economies, reduced traffic in shopping malls and overall reduced consumption, reduced travel, etc. If consumers cannot get to the stores, retailers can’t sell coats, and thus have no money to place new orders. Less tourism also means less retail of tourism-related items (wallhangers, fur mitts, purses, etc.). Importations are much more difficult, processing slower and more expensive with the new sanitation guidelines.
To be blunt, it is tough to be optimistic right now. We simply have slipped from bad to worse, with the end not yet in sight. Maybe the best positive news for trappers right now is the price for castor glands, which now can sell at over $100 a pound for the top grades! This is in great part explained by the very reduced number of beavers being harvested for their skins, and thus the reduced offering in castor glands. If you trap beavers, you may just make more money from the castor glands than you will from the fur.
In the ranch mink world, things are even worse. Farmers need liquidity to operate their businesses, and loans eventually have to be paid back. Selling at cost is bad business, but not selling at all is even worse, as the cash is not there to pay debt, nor to pay current employees and costs. This waiting game has been financially deadly for numerous mink farms throughout the world, and many were forced to “pelt out,” a slang term meaning killing and selling all remaining mink, including the breeding stock. End of the business is what it really means.
But pelting out has an additional result — it adds even more mink skins to an already depressed market. If the world cannot find buyers for all of the mink skins currently available, adding more skins to the pile is not going to help. Thus, the downward spiral is making things even worse than they are, and the oversupply will simply delay any eventual recovery even more. If you are a trapper and you think your life is bad because of the fur market — just remember it could be worse — you could be a mink rancher. There are even some ranch mink that tested positive for coronavirus in the Netherlands and Denmark. Authorities are struggling to see how this happened and monitoring closely, but regardless, none of this is helping the fur industry.
So what is going to happen next? Who knows. The next big sale of wild fur was announced by Fur Harvesters Auction for August 2020, but it is hard to tell if the travel guidelines in place by then will allow a fair attendance to compete for the goods. Everyone hopes for the best, but most expect a lot of fur to remain unsold, simply because of the tough market conditions. Recent private ranch mink sales have shown anywhere from 5% to 20% decline in prices, depending on color or section. You can almost expect that wild fur will also dip in price with all of the uncertainty that floats around the entire world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I spoke in my last report about how uncertainty kills luxury, and wild fur being a luxury likely means that prices are going to suffer as a consequence of all impacts linked to the pandemic.
You can say that 2020 will be unforgettable for many reasons, and the challenges that the fur world faces seem to be nonstop. All remaining players in the fur world face great challenges caused by the pandemic, and I fear we have not seen the worst of it yet. Manufacturers are for the most part — hand laborers. Keeping items sanitized, staff spaced appropriate distances, etc., will likely all add cost to the creation of fur garments. That cost will end up on the price tag for a consumer base that will be more uncertain about the economy, and maybe more prudent or tight with their buying habits.
In the woods and forests, animals will continue to reproduce, and fur trapping will continue to remain the most cost-effective way for society to manage furbearer populations.
I just hope the economic incentive in the value of wild fur remains strong enough for us to get out of bed and go do our job of managing wildlife, and providing the world with nature’s most valuable and luxurious fabric. But, the conditions we face all suggest that we must strive to find our pay in fun, adventure, healthy outdoor activities and constant learning about nature. I suspect that for the coming trapping season, the money, if any, will have to be considered a bonus.
The Wolf’s Place in Wildlife Management