Trying to make fur fly
GNWT looks to new approach for marketing western fur

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 08/99) - NWT fur is among the best in the world, and therefore deserves to fetch a higher price than most.

That's the fundamental principle behind a new marketing plan the territorial government has introduced in an attempt to sustain trapping as a way of life in the Western Arctic.

Until this year, all furs from the NWT have been sold by auction, by one of the handful of big fur houses that dominate the industry.

A 1993 study commissioned by the territorial government, concluded, among other things, that NWT fur is considered to be among the best fur in the world, and that auction houses routinely bundle it with inferior grade furs to increase the overall price of lots offered for auction.

The practice decreases the value of NWT fur. To get around it, the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, in December of 1998, introduced a plan to sell NWT fur as a private collection through a dealer.

"We're doing something that hasn't been done before," said Francois Rossouw, the department's co-ordinator of traditional economy and fur management.

"We're pulling our fur out of the auction house system and marketing it ourselves through this company."

The company is L'Heritage of Montreal, the exclusive dealer of what will be known as the Northern Canadian Wild Fur Collection.

Each trapper will decide whether to sell his or her fur by the new method or the auction house route.

The new marketing move leaves the existing fur pricing program and regular advance program unchanged. Under the fur pricing program, trappers are advanced a fixed, usually optimistic, price for premium pelts. Pelts of lesser quality will qualify for an advance based on a percentage of the estimated value.

In either case, if the selling price turns out to be more than the estimated value, trappers receive the difference. If it is less, the territorial government absorbs the loss.

Fur prices remain depressed so far this year. At the North American Fur Auction last month, Canadian martin pelts went for an average of $32. North American is the largest fur house in the world.

Martin, also known as sable, is the bread and butter of the NWT trapping industry, accounting for $414,489 out of the $1.3 million in fur sales.

Territorial trappers are hoping to see prices increase at the Western Canadian Auction Feb. 15 and a Seattle auction Feb. 22-26.