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Seal skin price push

David Ryan
Northern News Services

Pond Inlet (Dec 04/06) - Jimmy Pitseolak is hoping record high seal skin prices continue to rise at this year's auction.

While earning cash for 28 pelts last year, he was often forced to use his eight member dog team instead of his snow machine due to lack of funds for fuel, he said.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Arctic Bay resident Tommy Tatatoapik checks seal pup holes while hunting on Strathcona Sound in 2005. Some hunters in Nunavut are hoping seal skin prices will continue to rise during the Dec. 15 Fur Harvesters Auction event in North Bay, Ont. - NNSL file photo

This year, the 20-year-old full-time Pond Inlet trapper and hunter hopes prices for seal skin will continue to go up as they did at last year's auction.

"The price could go up $10 to $20 bucks," he said.

Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. in North Bay, Ont., will hold its big Nunavut seal skin auction on Dec. 15th, said Jim Gibb, of Fur Harvesters Auction. "We're expecting the market to be as good this year as it was last year."

Last year's auction saw 6,500 Nunavut seal skins sell for an average of $72.65 per pelt.

The top selling specimen fetched $142.50.

At press time, 5,600 skins had been purchased from Nunavut harvesters by conservation officers, but Gibb expected that number to increase before the auction.

Territorial conservation officers are the only group permitted to purchase seal skins from Nunavummiut seal skin harvesters, other than those used within the North to make traditional clothing and crafts.

According to Government of Nunavut reports last year, officers paid between $45 to $50 per seal skin. In some cases, there was a second payment to the hunters after the auction, where seal harvesters received additional funds if their pelts went for more than expected.

At last year's auction, most of the purchases were made by buyers from Denmark and Germany with some sales to Russian buyers as well, said Gibb. Pelt sales aren't expected to dip this year even after some European countries turned their back on Canadian seal skin, said Gibb.

"There are no signs that point in that direction, but it is an unknown," he said.

A number of European countries have always had concerns when it comes to purchasing seal skins from Canada given the negative press coverage of the East Coast seal harvest.

It's nothing new to hunters in Nunavut, said Harry Alookie, manager with the Nattivak Hunters and Trappers Organization in Qikiqtarjuaq. "It always has an effect," he said.

Most hunters are subsistence hunters using the seal for food along with harvesting the pelts to pay for supplies, but hunting continues to be a difficult existence for some, said Alookie.

"Fuel hikes are probably going to create problems," he said.

Hunters in his association have received between $30 to $90 for their seal skins this year, but he would like to see prices continue to rise.

"If it's the same price, some of our members could be hit hard," added Alookie.