Beaver castors being bought for $65 'long overdue' addition to N.W.T. fur program

The N.W.T. government has expanded the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program to include beaver castors, which are found in both male and female beavers. They produce castoreum, used in flavouring and perfume.

Castoreum is 'highly prized' in flavours, perfumes, says N.W.T. government

In addition to receving a guaranteed $25 for a beaver pelt, hunters and trappers can now get a $65 advance for a pound of beaver castors. Found in both male and female beavers, the castors produce castoreum, which is used in flavouring and as an ingredient in perfume. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Hunters and trappers in the N.W.T. are able to make more money harvesting beavers, after the territorial government added beaver castors to the list of things it'll pay advances for. 

Male and female beavers have a pair of castor sacs located under the skin, between the pelvis and the base of their tail, which produce castoreum. The scent is used to mark the animals' territory and according to a press release issued Monday, it's also "highly prized" as a flavour and an ingredient in perfumes.

Now, a pound of dried castors will fetch an advance of $65. 

"We are pleased to help hunters and trappers by expanding what is accepted under the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program and by bringing N.W.T. beaver castors to the market," said Shane Thompson, the territory's minister of environment and natural resources, in the release. 

Harvesters will be paid more if castors, just like pelts, are sold for more money on the fur market than the amount they were advanced.

Funding for castors 'long overdue'

Thompson said the government is always looking for new ways to support traditional and sustainable livelihoods. One trapper in Fort Simpson said he welcomes the change, while another says it does little to make trapping a sustainable way to live. 

"You need to bring up the price of pelts, like everything else," said Bob Norwegian, an elder who describes the trapping he does as more of a hobby than a way to make money. 

Under the fur program, a trapper is guaranteed $25 for a pelt. 

About eight castors are needed to make a pound, and that means between the pelts and the castors — a trapper is only guaranteed $165 for four beavers, Norwegian pointed out. He said beavers take about 2 hours to skin, and pelts need to be worth $200 and $300 to make the hard work of catching and skinning worthwhile. 

"I don't mind it but some people think it's a hardship, a hard way of making a living," he said. 

An illustration from a government pamphlet showing how to locate and harvest beaver castors. (GNWT)

Wilbert Antoine, another Fort Simpson elder who traps, said an advance for beaver castors is "long overdue." 

"A lot of the people younger than us just throw it away," he said, noting that he and Norwegian were taught in the 50s that every part of the animal has value to it. Castors, they both said, are a valuable tool that can be used to lure other animals into traps.

Antoine said any increase to the price of beaver will "do a lot" to boost hunting and trapping, which is something he'd like to see. He said people 50 and under, and especially young people, are not being taken out on the land like he was. 

He'd also like to see the Department of Environment and Natural Resource organize a forum where experienced harvesters can brainstorm ways to get more young people involved in hunting and trapping.

The department said training about how to remove and dry castor sacs would be available upon request. It has also created a reference sheet to show people what to do. A good quality castor, it says, must not have any tears, must be dried between 15 and 21 C for seven days, and must be stored in a paper or onion bag. 

Castoreum has been used in the past to flavour ice cream, pop and candy and is currently used in many perfumes including ​​​​​​Shalimar, Givenchy III and Chanel Antaeus, the department noted.


Liny Lamberink


Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She can be reached at