Trappers see prices level off this year

Honeoye, N.Y. – A series of local and international factors helped shake up the worldwide fur market during the 2013-14 trapping season – a market that had previously been enjoying a growth spurt for three years running.

Still, New York trappers managed to produce good numbers of high-quality pelts, albeit largely at lesser pricing than in recent seasons.

Bob Hughes, lead auctioneer for the Genesee Valley Trappers Association (GVTA) and multiple other auctions around New York, believes this trapping season will be remembered for the sheer amount of challenges trappers in the state faced.

“Based on all of the feedback I’ve received from trappers, this year was just about as tough as I can recall from a competition standpoint,” he said. “When prices get strong like they have the past few years, many more people run traplines, and that has an impact for everyone.”

In addition to the increased competition, New York trappers had to navigate through the inclement fall and winter weather. Land trappers fought for the majority of the season to keep their traps working with the snow and icy conditions brought on by the extremely cold temperatures. Likewise, trappers targeting water furbearers were forced to ensure less than ideal trapping conditions.

“Water trapping was pretty tough, especially for muskrat season,” Hughes said. “There was only a seven- to 10-day window where there was no ice, and then it came in almost for the remainder of the season.

For most of the prime trapping period the ice was too thin to walk on and too thick to push a boat through.”

Price-wise, industry forecasts prior to the season called for more of the same growth that had encompassed the market for the past few years. But some unexpected events led to a bit of uncertainty for trappers, buyers, resellers, and manufacturers.

Internationally, Russia and China, two of the largest fur-buying nations, pressed the fur market for different reasons. Russia, unlike the polar-vortexed United States, experienced a slightly warmer than normal winter, providing a minor downturn in pelt demand.

China, on the other hand, has been a source of discussion among trappers and fur industry professionals alike. Heavy governmental oversight has led to situations where fur buyers within the country were subjected to tax evasion investigations. In some instances, furs were confiscated in significant volumes when the they were not declared and taxed appropriately.

“Reports within the industry have recently shown that taxes on the furs in China may reach as high as 30 percent and that the furs confiscated held a value of more than $2 billion U.S. dollars,” Hughes said.

Not unexpectedly, the taxation and confiscation stymied the fur market’s momentum, contributing to a pullback in pricing first witnessed at the international auctions. North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), the world’s biggest fur clearinghouse, initially predicted the impact just after the season opened, and by the time of their historically largest auction of the year in February pricing had shifted below last year’s levels.

Within New York, however, prices have not been as deeply discounted as the market impact remains uncertain and buyers are speculating the situation may not be long-lasting. The GVTA’s Feb. 16 auction attracted seven buyers and nearly 600 lots of fur from 35 sellers.

Leading the way was New York’s most prominent furbearer offering, muskrat, which fetched an average in the mid-$12s. Muskrat largely weathered the pricing downturn and is expected to continue bucking that trend due to Korean consumers who have found the fur to be en vogue for winter coat linings.

Canines also sold well as the trim trade continued to use the fur in volume. Coyotes garnered $21 each, with grey and red fox selling at levels of $23 and $36, respectively. “Canines are really in a supply and demand situation that isn’t being hit as hard with the China impact,” Hughes said. “The trim trade really likes the higher-end furs of coyotes and red fox at the moment.”

Mink, well off last year’s pricing in the mid $20s, attracted buyers at the $17 level. Notably, mink was one of the furs frequently mentioned among the Chinese buyers who were investigated and had pelts confiscated. As a result, pricing has been suffering from concerns over the processing of the fur by buyers who specialized in the furbearer and are now in legal trouble in China.

Raccoon pelts fell victim to the mink price drop, yet managed a respectable $12 average. Although off the prior year’s pricing of $14-$15, the average was propped up by the higher quality pelts used in garment trimming. Normal and low-grade raccoon pelts were lower due to the availability of mink furs at prices favorable to buyers and manufacturers. Beaver met the same fate as raccoon, averaging $26 per pelt. The full processing cost for a typical beaver pelt in Asia is around $35, whereas a finished mink costs processors somewhere in the $5-$7 range.

The GVTA’s final fur sale was held last month amid talk of the fur market going forward and how it may impact trappers in New York and across North America.

“I think the prices will determine the level of competition for next season, as it usually does,” Hughes said. “There may be a slight drop-off in trappers out there next year if the market stays the way it is, but I think trappers in New York will just be happy to have better weather and trapping conditions.”

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