Furs industry in ‘turmoil’

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A series of events have caused Canada’s fur industry to take a big hit but the GNWT’s fur marketing manager says NWT furs may have a leg up when the dust settles.

“The industry’s been in a bit of turmoil,” said Francois Rossouw, “but I think cool heads will prevail.”

Most fur sales in the NWT are handled through the GNWT’s Genuine Mackenzie Valley Furs program, which gives advances to trappers on furs and gets them to market, with a mandate to protect them from market downturns like this.

“We knew it was going to be bad at the end of last season,” GNWT fur marketing manager Francois Rossouw said. “North American Fur Auctions was in trouble.” The North West Company has stopped buying NWT furs, but is working with a group called Fur Harvesters Auction to get those pelts to market elsewhere.
NNSL file photos

“The beauty of our program is that in good years, when everything is selling well, the trappers reap the rewards,” said Rossouw, “and in poorer years, when the sales aren’t what was expected, the trappers are protected.”

Rossouw says the GNWT is still finding markets for NWT wild furs, which have a reputation of being high quality, and he’s confident this will continue. The situation in the industry is complicated, but Rossouw sees some light at the end of the tunnel for NWT trappers.

“We knew it was going to be bad at the end of last season,” Rossouw said. “North American Fur Auctions was in trouble.”

Rossouw says the company had “bet the house” on farmed furs. Fur farmers require loans to raise their young and then to pelt them in the fall, and these two loans are repaid through the sales of furs.

Over the last few years, however, the company was hard-pressed to find buyers for the furs and when it did, it couldn’t get a good enough price to recoup costs.

Chinese, Russian buyers dry up

China typically buys close to 80 per cent of what Canada produces, says Rossouw, and sales there have slowed significantly. Russia is another major buyer and it too is buying less, which Rossouw believes may be due to sanctions and the low price of oil.

“The silver lining is that there’s going to be more demand for wild fur as the amount of farmed fur declines in the marketplace,” said Rossouw. “The ranch fur industry was running at about 30 million mink a year and that’s a tremendous amount of product to get rid of.”

Rossouw says he believes wild furs are a better product and the NWT’s are regarded as some of the best out there. The most lucrative pelt trappers harvests is marten – called Canadian sable on the market. The NWT’s is second in quality only to Russian sable.

Last week, the North West Company caused a stir when it came out that it had stopped buying furs due to the industry downturn. On Wednesday night, the company sent out a press release announcing it will be collaborating with Fur Harvesters Auction to bring Canadian furs to market.

“Recent changes to the fur industry resulted in a brief suspension of our fur buying, however this new arrangement will enable us to resume funding in the communities where we operate,” stated Alex Yeo, president of Canadian retail for the North West Company.

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