Saskatchewan

Sask. trappers marketed fewest pelts on record last season

Trappers in Saskatchewan marketed their lowest amount of fur pelts ever last season, according to Saskatchewan Environment data, with some numbers now just a fraction of what they were a decade ago.

Northern Sask. trappers only marketed a third of what they did two years earlier

The numbers for some types of pelts marketed in Saskatchewan are now a fraction of what they were a decade ago. There were 17,125 beaver pelt marketed in 2011-12, but just 4,379 last season. (David P. Lewis/Shutterstock)

Trappers in Saskatchewan marketed the lowest amount of fur pelts ever last season, according to Saskatchewan Environment data, with some numbers now just a fraction of what they were a decade ago.

There were 46,994 pelts marketed in the province in 2020-21, the provincial ministry says. The previous low on record was in 2009-10, when 55,001 pelts were harvested and sold.

The drop was even more pronounced in the province's north, where trappers marketed a record low 5,402 pelts last season — down from the previous record low 9,992 the season before and from 14,548 in 2018-19.

Travis Williams, with Saskatchewan Environment's Fish, Wildlife and Lands branch, said he wasn't expecting the number of pelts marketed last season to be that low.

"I can't say I was surprised, but it was lower than I anticipated," he said.

It appears the record low harvest appears is tied to market value and how much trappers are getting for their pelts — not to wildlife populations, Williams said.

The ministry conducts a fur-bearer species abundance survey using year-to-year observations from trappers to help assess the populations, he said.

"We believe our populations are currently sustainable, and we don't think that we're experiencing any population reductions that would dictate a lower harvest."

However, the number of marten, muskrat and beaver pelts being marketed has plummeted from a decade ago.

In 2011-12, Saskatchewan trappers marketed 10,419 marten pelts. Last season, that number dropped to just 1,876.

Last season's marten pelt total was down 56 per cent from the previous season and down 71 per cent from two seasons before.

There were 17,125 beaver pelt marketed a decade ago, and just 4,379 last season. For muskrat pelts, the number dropped from 60,494 to 2,129.

The record low harvest comes even though the number of trapper licences bounced back to 4,603 last season — a number close to the previous five-year average — from the 3,290 sold the previous year, a development Williams called "encouraging."

"I expect to see a similar number of trappers out there [this season] and probably a similar number of pelts going to market," he said.

The president of the Saskatchewan Trappers Association said there may be a softening of the harvest numbers and market prices.

"I think the tried and true trappers, the ones that have been out there over the years through thick and thin, will still be out there now," said Wrangler Hamm.

"With the price of fuel, with the price of expenditures, it's getting tougher to justify why we're doing it. And a lot of the time it's because we want to be out there and because we love what we do."

Only 1 major auction house

There is now only one major fur auction house on the continent — North Bay, Ont.-based Fur Harvesters Auction, Inc. — after North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) was granted creditor protection in 2019.

"As far as the ability to market goods, I don't think it hit us as hard as we were anticipating," Hamm said. 

"I have to give credit to Fur Harvesters Auction for stepping up and doing what they've done. They've done a fantastic job of being the last standing auction house."

However, northern trappers have been impacted by the pandemic-related loss of their annual fur table in Prince Albert, Sask., the loss of NAFA and the fact that the North West Company has not been buying fur at its Northern stores, said Hamm.

In its 2022 market forecast issued in late October, Fur Harvesters Auction said it plans to hold in-person auctions in March and June, after two years during which buyers in the global fur trade couldn't attend live auctions.

In a Dec. 3 update, CEO Mark Downey said the coming season "seems to have certain country collectors … bowing out, offering much less, cherry picking and not wanting lower grades and or certain species."

That development was understandable, he said, considering what the industry has been through the past few years and the continued struggle in navigating the global pandemic.

Environmental issues

Hamm said there has also been a decline in prices and demand for fur — something trappers have seen in the past.

However, he believes environmental issues, and not necessarily the market, are the reason fewer pelts are being marketed in Saskatchewan.

When much larger numbers of beavers and muskrats were being harvested in 2014 and 2015, it was extremely wet in southern and central Saskatchewan — which created more habitat for both species, said Hamm.

The market price on those two types of pelts hasn't changed much since then, he said.

"It wasn't a dollar figure that made any change on this," he said. "It was essentially that there's just no habitat to provide the resources for the wildlife in those areas."

Environmental factors are also probably part of the reason there were almost 6,000 fewer coyotes marketed in the province last season compared to the season before, said Hamm.

"There were a lot of trappers throughout central, southern, and west Saskatchewan that got hit with tremendous snowstorms," he said.

The blowing, drifting snow that came in hindered some trappers' ability to go out and harvest, he said.

"It resulted in some trappers just having to shut it down for the season."

He also said there has been a significant amount of clear-cutting in the province's north, which leads to less habitat for some of the smaller species trappers harvest.

Worries about loss of Canada Goose as buyer

Looking ahead, Hamm is concerned about the impact of the decision by outerwear manufacturer Canada Goose to stop using coyote fur in its products after 2022.

Last season, coyote pelts accounted for 94 per cent of the $3.7 million Saskatchewan trappers received for their fur. They got an average of $106.49 per pelt — up 27 per cent from $83.56 the previous season.

Downey, the Fur Harvesters Auction CEO, said in his update that the company sold 95 per cent of its western coyote pelt inventory for strong prices in online auctions in April and July — noting that was after Canada Goose first announced it would end its practice of buying new fur.

Downey said his company does not depend on one buyer, and coyote pelts were shipped to manufacturers on three continents.

But Hamm said Canada Goose was a "large, large player" in the market.

"Canada Goose was huge, and the volume that they purchased and brought forward was lots," he said. "This will make an impact to trappers in Saskatchewan."

He said even though Saskatchewan has some of the world's finest coyote fur, the company's exit will still significantly impact secondary quality and off-colour goods, as well as pelts with slight damage.

"There will always be demand, but nothing like it was in the past," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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