Officials warn what's left of P.E.I. mink industry to be wary of COVID-19 transmission
It’s not clear if there are any producers left to heed the warning
A spokesperson for the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture says government has reached out to the province's remaining mink farmers to advise them of the risks of transmitting the coronavirus between humans and mink.
But it's not clear how much of an industry is left to receive the message. According to the department, there are "fewer than five mink farms" remaining in P.E.I.
But one of those producers, Maritime Pet Foods in Breadalbane, told CBC the company was getting rid of its last few remaining animals Tuesday. The company said for the past year it's been the last remaining mink farm in the province.
A former farmer and industry spokesperson Peter Peters of Souris said he's been receiving the COVID-19 warnings from the Department of Agriculture, but said he retired in 2018.
A national spokesperson for the mink industry, Alan Herscovici, said he knew P.E.I. was getting down to its last few producers and said he wouldn't be surprised if the last one had decided to shut down.
"I knew people were having to make tough decisions because the prices have been low," he said. "A lot of people are holding on because there will be a correction and the price will start coming back.
"But with this pandemic and the world economy in the state that it's in, I think a lot of people realize it's going to take longer than they thought, and some people were not ready to wait it out … some people decided it's just too hard to keep going at this point."
COVID-19 is affecting the mink industry in two ways, Herscovici said: the faltering economy is further depressing prices, while cross-species infections between people and mink are requiring producers to introduce more safety precautions, or in at least one instance leading to the culling of millions of animals.
Outbreak in B.C.
Officials have declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at a mink farm in B.C.'s Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, after eight people with connections to the site tested positive for the disease.
Animals at the farm are now being tested for the virus over concerns it can be passed from humans to mink and back again.
The outbreak in B.C. follows a series of events in Denmark, which has a larger market for furs, after COVID-19 outbreaks at hundreds of its farms.
Last month, the Danish government ordered all farmed mink to be culled after finding that 12 people had been infected by a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, which passed from humans to mink and back to humans.
'Limit health risks,' P.E.I. tells producers
P.E.I. advised whatever mink farmers might be left in operation on Nov. 6 about "the ability for the [coronavirus] to pass between mink and humans" and to "emphasize the importance for you to continue to ensure measures to protect animal health and limit any potential human health risks."
Producers were told to "monitor mink daily for clinical signs of SARS-CoV-2 infections" and to "enhance biosecurity measures," allowing only essential staff wearing protective equipment to access mink housing.
Producers were also advised to "have an emergency plan in place so that their animals receive the necessary care in the event that [producers] are unable to care for them."
From 180 fox farms to 3
Foxes have been the traditional mainstay of the once-booming fur industry on P.E.I., which goes back more than a century.
In figures going back to 1971, Statistics Canada shows the number of fox farms on the Island peaked over that period at 180 in 1987. Over the same period the number of mink farms in the province peaked at 17 in 1982.
In 2018, the most recent year on record, Stats Can reported there were just three fox farms in the province and four mink farms.
Donny Thompson of Highvue Farm in Dunstaffnage said he still keeps some foxes but got rid of his last mink in 2018. He said the farm once had "a couple thousand" female mink for breeding.
"Prices are primarily the reason," Thompson said. "If you don't have any markets, it's hard to be there."
The P.E.I. mink industry experienced exponential growth in recent years before collapsing just as quickly.
The number of pelts produced in the province rose from 27,000 in 2005 to 148,000 in 2015 according to Statistics Canada.
Meanwhile the value of pelts from the Island rose from $1.9 million in 2006 to peak at $11.7 million in 2012.
In the last year on record, 2018, the value recorded was $246,611.
More from CBC P.E.I.
With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge