The biggest bulk of the fur in North America is harvested in November and December, but most commercial fur seasons usually run into January and February. But, November and December are the biggest months, so by now you can say that most of what will hit the market in 2021 is already in fur sheds on stretchers or in freezers.
Most trappers were aware of the tough market conditions before setting their first trap this fall, and the great uncertainty caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has impaired our ability to sell goods to international buyers, and is making a lot of the steps in the industry more difficult, from sales to manufacturing to even retail. The economy is still decent in some places, but the uncertainty is making buyers cautious, and as I often say, uncertainty reduces our appetite for luxury. And the news we keep getting about our trade seems only to go from bad to worse when it comes to fur prices.
After the falling of North American Fur Auctions in Toronto, Canada, last year, all eyes in the trade turned to Fur Harvesters Auctions in North Bay, but then the pandemic started and the travel bans impaired the ability of the wild fur auction house, the only one left in North America, to hold a “normal” sale. Auction sales work best when numerous buyers attend, lots of demand, big orders, pockets full of money and competitive buyers fighting to fill their own respective orders.
With the travel restrictions, fewer buyers were able to attend the auction sale, competition was reduced, and so were prices overall. Even the very hot coyote market started to cool off, the first indications being on the lesser quality pelts of Eastern coyotes. When an item cools off price-wise, the first decreases appear in the lesser quality goods — and in the coyote world, Eastern coyotes are of lesser quality than Western coyotes. Western skins have paler back, shorter and softer fur, and whiter bellies compared to the darker and more coarse Eastern coyotes.
So when the trade wants fewer coyotes overall, the buyers feed on the top pelts first, and if the demand is filled, then lesser skins stay unsold — or sell at reduced price. This is what seems to start happening with coyotes, and this year, you can expect this to continue. So if you have Western coyotes in your fur shed, sell quick — we may well be entering a falling market. Sure, I don’t expect this market to crash, but the cooling off seems to have started. Prime pelts will sell easy, but lesser goods will get less traction.
Western bobcats also started cooling off, likely simply because there are fewer international buyers to fight for them. This is one item a person could consider sitting on — if you have very good skins, you may well be offered more cautious prices, simply because the buyers cannot get to North America to buy them.
For the rest, expect no big surprises. Check out the website of Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. (www.furharvesters.com) for updated sale dates and information. Everyone is hoping for the travel ban to Canada to be lifted before another sale.
In the field, private buyers will be more cautious, so expect prices on all items to remain stable at best, or experience slight declines. Castoreum will continue to sell very well, so if you are a beaver trapper — handle them well. In today’s market, you likely may make more money from castor glands than from the beaver pelt.
Talking about water species, things will continue to be tough. The ranch mink world is also being hit with its own series of challenges, with proposed fur bans in key countries like Poland, and coronavirus infections in mink on farms in Denmark, leading to massive culling of mink on big farms. Even the biggest auction house for ranch mink in the world, Kopenhagen Furs in Denmark, has had challenges to sell its offering, and “unsold” skins are now a fact of life for every rancher in Canada, the United States and abroad. Tough times on ranch mink means cheap prices on the lesser goods, and this greatly influences the market for our muskrats, wild mink and river otters. Cheap ranch mink also affects the price for martens and fishers, so these two species will remain tough to sell this year.
Raccoons and red foxes will also struggle; expect to sell the best skins at reduced prices, and have a tough time to sell the lower grades. It will be tough to sell any raccoon over the $20 mark, and most will fetch $3 to $5 at best. With such prices, buyers may not even buy them “green” or in the carcass, as the put-up probably costs more than what the pelt is worth. One private buyer told me to expect a 30% dip in red fox prices, simply because right now this item is extremely difficult to move. Exotic species that sell as wallhangers for the tourist trade and in speciality shops will sell well, but very few trappers live off of the specialty skins of wolves, wolverines or badgers.
The world is in a very bizarre state right now, and travel bans imposed by the pandemic have had disastrous effects on fur prices. We can only hope that things get better soon so we can start the path to a long recovery. In the meantime, make sure you continue trapping for all the benefits it provides other than profit.