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Trappers concerned after Northern stores stop buying fur, blaming ‘unprecedented market conditions’


Wolverine pelts are handled at a 2018 Fur Harvesters Inc. auction in North Bay, Ont. The North West Company says ‘unprecedented market conditions’ are behind its decision to stop buying furs. (Submitted by Fur Harvesters Inc.)

A mainstay of the trapping industry has announced its plans to immediately stop buying fur.

The North West Company, which owns Northern stores across the country, said the prices it’s been getting for fur have been dropping from 50 to 70 per cent in some cases, making it impossible to continue in the fur trade.

“Due to unprecedented market conditions at this time — including historical lows for prices at auction and the high inventories that we have still available, we made the difficult decision to suspend purchases,” said Derek Reimer, director of business development for the North West Company.

The move could be devastating for trappers in remote locations. In many communities, Northern stores are the only places to sell pelts and sometimes the only location to buy supplies.

“Northern stores are really important, especially if it’s a community without a road,” said Mark Studer, a longtime trapper in La Ronge, Sask.

“They have no way of driving to sell their furs or no accessibility to leave their town or community and travel south.”

The modern North West Company got its start in 1987, when the northern trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company were sold to a group of employees.

The company has historically bought furs from trappers in remote areas and sold them to large international buyers.

“We have a history with the fur trade going back hundreds of years in terms of the routes with our company,” said Reimer.

The company said part of its decision had to do with the decline of major purchaser North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), which was granted creditor protection status last month.

The auction house has said it’s unlikely it will host any auctions next year, leaving a sizeable hole in the market.

However, Wrangler Hamm, president of the Saskatchewan Trappers Association, said the fundamentals of the fur industry remain healthy.

“To be honest, the fur industry is still strong,” said Hamm.

“There’s demand, and the buyers and the auction houses are aware of that.”

While he acknowledged that the loss of Northern stores was significant for trappers, he said there are still buyers available. He said the annual fur table event in Prince Albert, Sask.,  is one example of a large event where trappers can sell their wares.

“There are markets to access,” he said.

“The trappers association is working hard to ensure that trappers have options and choice and this will be one of them that we’ll be addressing.”

The North West Company isn’t ruling out eventually returning to selling fur, but said market conditions would need to improve before that happens.

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