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Despite fur industry disruption, North Bay traders plan indoor auction

A fur house in North Bay is going ahead with an in-person fur auction at the end of the month, even though COVID-19 travel restrictions all but guarantee that there will be no international buyers.

Ups and downs in the fur industry aren’t stopping a North Bay auction house from doing business

Wolverine pelts with Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur tags are handled at the Fur Harvesters Inc. auction in 2018. (Submitted by Fur Harvesters Inc.)

A fur house in North Bay is going ahead with an in-person fur auction at the end of the month, even though COVID-19 travel restrictions all but guarantee that there will be no international buyers.

Mark Downey, chief executive officer of the Fur Harvesters Auction in North Bay, said there's still an appetite for fur on the international market.

"Trappers from all over North America ship their fur to us and we grade it, put in lots, put up samples, and appraise the goods," Downey said. 

"The world comes basically from all points of the globe, comes here to North Bay three or four times a year and bids on those lots," he said. 

When COVID-19 forced travel restrictions, it affected the fur trade, like other industries. Italy and Korea, two big markets for fur, were two of the earliest countries to close borders. 

That's when Downey set up an online fur auction.

"It worked better than I thought it would," he said. "I didn't think it was going to work at all, to be quite honest."

Downey said beaver sold well, as did muskrat, coyote and racoon. But more expensive items, like sable and lynx, didn't fare as well in the auction.

"People didn't feel comfortable if they can't physically look at it and touch it," Downey said. 

Busy days ahead for brokers

With the in-person auction resuming, Downey said many Candian fur brokers will be acting as intermediaries for buyers who can't be there.

"A lot of these brokers we have coming here, a lot of them are going to also capitalize on the fact that there's a lot of people that want to come, but can't come," Downey said.

"It's a big world but our industry is small," Downey added, noting that these brokers regularly visit places like Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Denmark, and Finland, making contacts with buyers and placing auction bids on their behalf.

"But worst case scenario, it'll just be Canadian brokers here. But again it's still better than having no brokers at all."

The life of a trapper is solitary. You're out in the bush, often alone, setting or checking traps. Then the preparation of the pelts is usually a one-person job. It's a good job to have during a pandemic, if you want to avoid contact with others. But then there's issue of selling the pelts. For most trappers, that happens in North Bay...at an auction house called Fur Harvesters Auction. We spoke with Mark Downey, chief executive officer with the organization. 6:34

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