An estimated $2.2 million worth of fur pelts were sold in the Dec. 12 fur auction in North Bay, making it one of the most successful sales for the Fur Harvesters Auction.

Beaver pelts sold for an average of $30.69, $4 more than the same sale a year ago. In fact, most pelts sold for higher averages prices than last year.

“Beaver and racoon were very strong. Otter has been very good. The more otter we can get, the better,” said Bob Watts, president of the auction house.

Fur Harvesters is half Native-owned and it replaced the Ontario Trappers’ Association, which collapsed in 1991.

Last year, the December sales were $2.3 million, with over 114,000 pelts being sold, and organizers say they had expected this years sale to be just as successful.

The industry has been rebounding the last few years as rising fur prices encouraged trappers to work their traplines. Beaver in particular bottomed out in 1992 at an average of $14.96 a pelt, half the price paid in North Bay.

A major factor that kept this year’s sale from surpassing last year’s was the withdrawal during the auction of about 14,000 mink pelts.

Watts said they held off their mink for the January sale because they suspected the prices might not be that great and North Bay is the first sale of the season.

Rather than sell the mink at cheaper prices, they are waiting to see what happens with the sales in Europe and elsewhere before putting their mink on the market.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but we were nervous to be the first ones in on the mink because were waiting to see how prices were going be set in other parts of the world,” Watts said. “The other thing we want to do is make sure we get the best prices for the trappers who ship to us.”

The only pelt that fell in value was sable, which fell from an average of $52.17 last year to $50.60 this year. There were about 50 buyers representing about 120 companies at the sale. Watts was pleased with the turn-out, saying there were more buyers from the Far East market with agents from places as far away as Korea and China.

“Also furs are being used for trim for accessories. So people and designers are looking at other ways of using the fur than just the fur coat that we’re so used to,” said Watts. “It’s an exciting time right now for the fur industry. You see guys who haven’t been trapping for years, they’re going back on the trapline.”

Watts said it’s clear the higher prices mean the public has a renewed interest in furs. “The whole fur industry has been able to counter a lot of the negative advertising of the anti-fur lobby groups. And I think people are starting to recognize that fur is a natural product and feel comfortable with fur again,” said Watts.

Weather may have had a negative impact on sales, because mild temperatures in major cities dampered consumer interest.

The weather also hampered the efforts of many trappers who are dependent on snow and snowmobiles for working their traplines. However, there is no indication in the prices that the weather had much impact on the quality of the furs. “I think we’ve started off this new season really strong and we expect the prices to continue to remain strong,” said Watts.