Price plummets as ban looms

GN to seek buyers within territory for shunned seal skins

By CHRIS WINDEYER

With the market for Nunavut seal pelts about to dry up thanks to the European Parliament's recent vote to ban the trade, Nunavut is looking within its own borders for buyers.

But even though the ban is not yet law, demand, and prices already look certain to drop.

Ed Ferguson, a fur technician at the Fur Harvesters Auction in North Bay, said it's unlikely his company will be able to buy another 10,000 skins from Nunavut next year, suggesting a figure like 3,000 might be more accurate.

The company is also going back to a flat-rate pricing system, paying $30 to $40 per pelt, regardless of size. That would be down from this year's price range of $50 to $60.

"We'd like to see a considerable cut-back in the number [of pelts] produced," he said.

Backers of the European ban thought they were helping Inuit by exempting small-scale, "traditional" hunting of seals, but Simon Awa, the Government of Nunavut's deputy environment minister, said such an exemption is pointless.

"When it's banned, it's banned and prices plummet," he told Nunatsiaq News May 15.

Even though the ban is not yet law, fur traders have lost formerly lucrative markets like Denmark, Ferguson said.

The wording of the new law is infuriatingly vague, he said, and fur dealers are still trying to figure out how many pelts will be allowed under the so-called Inuit exemption.

To make matters worse, some European Union countries have already put their own bans in place.

"You've got a lot of grey area there," Ferguson said.

At a recent sale by the Fur Harvesters Auction not a single Nunavut seal skin found a buyer, Awa said.

So the Government of Nunavut is trying to sell those 10,000 pelts, which are currently sitting in a warehouse, by stepping up sales of pelts to Nunavut artisans at cut-rate prices.

Last week the GN began circulating order forms in Inuktitut and English to hunter and trapper organizations and sewing groups explaining the offer.

Large tanned skins, six to seven feet long, go for $110, while smaller skins, under five feet, sell for $90. The maximum order is 10 pelts per person.

Ferguson said his company has been selling pelts back into Nunavut for five years, but expects sales to the territory to double this year.

He estimates the auction has sold between 700 to 1,000 pelts to Nunavummiut already this year, and expects to move as many as 700 more.

The government spent about $400,000 buying up pelts from Nunavut hunters last year and thanks to the European ban, the GN is left holding the bag.

But Awa said the GN doesn't expect to recoup its losses by selling the pelts back inside the territory.

"We don't even know how many individuals or fur producers in Nunavut will be interested to purchase sealskins. We don't even know how many we can sell," Awa said.

Awa admits the government is still trying to figure out what a post-ban sealing economy will look like. The ban isn't law yet: it must be approved by the Council of European Union before it takes effect.

In the meantime, Nunavut is still buying pelts from hunters, Awa said, while lobbying European governments, who form the European Council, to drop the ban.

"Nothing has changed yet," he said.

"We haven't stopped our fight yet or our efforts to try and lobby the Europeans but it's an uphill battle."

Awa said the GN will look at buyers outside the territory if sales to Nunavummiut don't clear out the backlog of pelts.

Ferguson said while there are a few new North American customers for seal, the salvation for the seal market will be Russia and China.

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