A Guide to the Fur Industry
The Fur trade is the oldest industry in Canada and many, especially in the North, are determined to keep it going by selling seal skin, beaver and fox products among others. But what does the industry look like today?
A big part of Nathan Kogiak’s life revolves around trapping. He works full-time as a firm marketing and sales coordinator for the Government of NWT and in his spare time, he goes out on the land and prepares his traps.
From the last two decades of trapping and selling fur, Kogiak is well-aware of the strenuous process it takes to harvest each fur and therefore he knows that it’s a valuable commodity. That’s why he’s so passionate about his work with the government, where he tries to help and encourage other trappers to keep the tradition going.
But between the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and misinformation spread by anti-fur activists, it’s getting harder for Northerners to make a living from trapping.
“COVID has kind of stopped travel…and with the fur industry and auction houses, you need people to actually go to the auction and actually see, feel and touch the fur,” Kogiak explains. “It makes them feel more secure and comfortable buying once they’ve felt it and touched it and looked at it, more than just seeing pictures online.”
And because of the war going on, Kogiak explains buying luxury goods in Russia has virtually stopped because of the import and export sanctions. Of the two auction houses for fur in North America, one has recently shut down—leaving only a single house open, the Fur Harvesters Auction (FHA), based in North Bay, Ontario. “The market has gotten a lot smaller, unfortunately,” Kogiak says. “Buyers are used to going to actual auctions so it caused that disconnect.”
Types of Fur Traded
Up here, you’ll find trappers work with several types of fur. That includes fox fur, beaver, wolverine, and seal skin among other types. Beaver is one of the warmest types of fur, while fox fur is often used as trim on parkas to block out the wind. Sealskin is warm and waterproof, plus its unique design makes for a fashionable statement piece. Kogiak adds that the most popular type of fur varies at every auction.
Making Fur Trapping More Accessible
Although the fur trade is Canada’s oldest industry, it’s not as popular as it once was. Most no longer wear fur and prefer to live in the city and hold more contemporary jobs. But the industry is not dead. Many continue to build their livelihood through traditional practices such as hunting and trapping. And FHA is doing what it can to keep the industry going.
“We also do workshops with Environmental and Natural Resources (ENR) on trapper training to help any harvester improve their skills, their trapping techniques and also to ensure our trappers are all up to date on trapping standards and techniques,” Kogiak says. “We also do officer training so our ENR officers are up-to-date on new advances and other new information.”
The GNWT additionally offers incentives for trappers which includes running a Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur program, which offers a guaranteed advance for every species caught. Plus, if the fur sells for higher than the advance they received, the trapper gets a bonus on top of the price it sold for.
“If the trappers’ pelt sells for less than the advance, GNWT eats the loss rather than asking the trapper for any money back,” Kogiak adds. “Also, the GNWT runs the grubstake program which helps trappers with their trapping start-up costs. Trappers receive $10 (raised from $5 due to the pandemic) for every pelt they brought into ENR the previous trapping year to help with start-up costs in the new trapping year.”
Why is it important to keep the fur industry going?
Trapping continues to hold significance for many today, especially in the territories.
“It helps a lot of our Indigenous people in small communities where there isn’t much for jobs besides the fur industry,” says Kogiak. “There aren’t many government jobs or jobs in general for that matter in these small communities, so they are more reliant on the traditional economy, such as trapping and creating arts and crafts to sell.”
In fact, according to the Nunavut government, Nunavut’s current harvesting economy is worth $40 million annually. Many Northerners make their own parkas to protect themselves from the cold and sometimes their intricately designed parkas have landed them on the international stage. Take Victoria Kakuktinniq, for example, who has showcased her work in Paris and New York or Canada Goose’s Project Atigi, which partners with Inuit designers to make traditional-style parkas.
But is the fur industry really sustainable?
The Canadian fur industry isn’t as bad as many in the south make it out to be. In fact, it’s far more sustainable than faux fur, which is made from millions of microplastics that end up in the soil, waterways and in animals and humans. It’s a natural product and the animals harvested by locals don’t suffer in the way animals in factory farms do. Plus, it’s highly regulated and supports our local economy. Kogiak says Canada is a leader when it comes to creating and upholding regulations to protect our wildlife.
“Canada is a leader in that aspect. We have the FIC which is the Fur Institute of Canada, which partakes in fur testing and we have other countries that come to Canada for help and direction for their own regulations. The NWT also has their own trapping regulations like foot holds. They’re a rubber restraint so they don’t cut off any circulation [on the animal] and there’s a 72-hour law where you have to check those traps within 72 hours.”
Benefits and Sustainability of Seal
When it comes to the use of seal fur and seal products, the government restricted the allowable catch in 2020 to 400,000 harp seals out of the 7.6 million out there. And given seals generally eat about 30 million tonnes of fish each year, seal hunting is a form of controlling the population while also ensuring that fish keep on swimming.
Those who hunt seals ensure no part of the animal gets wasted. While seal skin is used for creating parkas, boots, bags, and other items, the rest of the animal is eaten. Harp seal loin, for example, has 23 grams of protein per 100-gram serving. Chicken has just 14.6 grams and fish has 17.8 grams/100 grams, in comparison. Seal meat is incredibly high in iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12. And seal oil is a complete source of Omega-3, which can support mental and cognitive health while fighting inflammation and boosting your immune system.
Misinformation Spread about Fur Industry
There is a lot of misinformation about the Canadian fur industry, which is something Kogiak hopes to change. He urges people not to take anti-fur information at face value. He says often the videos used to deter people from fur come from other countries where the industry is not as regulated. But there’s a clear way to tell what fur is ethical. And that’s by checking if it’s Furmark certified, which means the animals were killed humanely and follow Canada’s strict rules about trapping. Plus, by supporting Indigenous fur trappers, one is supporting culture and tradition.
“My father trapped and my father’s father trapped and my great grandfather trapped,” Kogiak says. “It’s a tradition that I like to continue to ensure that it doesn’t get lost.”