Freeport, Ill. — The state’s new river otter trapping season has breathed new life into trapping, said John Wilson, the Freeport-based receiving agent for North American Fur Auctions.
Along with river otters, which command big dollars on the fur market, prices were up in general for a number of species, Wilson said, thanks to developing markets for fur in China and Russia.
“It’s a good fur market and I hope everybody gets out and participates,” Wilson said, who said his bigger concern is if the NAFA can meet the demands of the burgeoning overseas markets. “We have only touched one coast of China. I encourage everybody to get out there. There were so many people that gave up these sports because the fur wasn’t worth anything, but now it’s back.”
And in Illinois, which opened a river otter trapping season last year for the first time since 1929, has just given trappers one more reason to put in trapping effort. An estimated 2,002 river otters were killed
in Illinois in the inaugural trapping season.
“I recall several of my customers getting their first fur check with an otter on it and saying, ‘Holy mackerel, we’ve got to do more of this,’” Wilson said.
At NAFA’s two fur auctions in February and May, held in Toronto, 100 percent of the river otter pelts were sold. In February, the pelts averaged $112 with a high price of $260 and in May, the average was $95.60, with a top price of $330, Wilson said.
Those types of prices have caused some trappers to focus on river otters, rather than just allowing the occasional river otter to show up in their beaver sets, as has become more common in recent years.
In June, Bob Bluett, DNR’s wildlife diversity program manager estimated that the otter population was at about 20,000. The species, which was listed on the state endangered species list in 1989, was delisted in 2004.
“There’s a lot of landowners and fish farmers that are excited that we can keep them, too,” said Wilson, who suspects that the rise of river otters may be partly responsible for a decline in muskrats in the state, despite a widely-held belief that the culprit is the use of pesticides.
For that matter, muskrats have been doing exceptional on the fur markets this year, Wilson said, with several trappers getting $16 to $19 a piece for pelts that they were getting $3 or $4 for in the recent past.
“One fellow from Morris had 350 muskrats and over 60 sold for $25 a piece,” Wilson said. “He was ecstatic. He said, ‘I don’t believe I heard you right.’”
Coyotes also seem to be doing better on the market recently, Wilson said.
“The fact that these coyotes are finally worth something could be a godsend for sportsmen in Illinois,” Wilson said, referring to coyote populations that has gotten out of control throughout the country, responsible for decimating wildlife lower on the food chain.
But Wilson noted at the auctions earlier this year, coyote pelts rated semi-heavy that had previously commanded $8 to $12 on average were regularly fetching $60, with a top of $116. “Now there’s incentive for people to go after them.”
Wilson, who picks up furs from trappers all over the state for NAFA, said he’ll have a better idea of how the trapping season is going once he starts his routes after Thanksgiving, but so far, the reports have sounded good.