Impact on biodiversity

Historically, the fur trade has had a severe impact on biodiversity and is responsible for the depletion and even extinction of several furred species, including the sea mink.

As an example of the fur trade’s irresponsible attitude towards the environment, all the big cats in the wild and many of their smaller cousins are now endangered and protected from further exploitation due, to a large part, to the excesses of the fur trade’s past.

Trapping

Trapping poses a major threat to wildlife populations. The traps used to catch wild animals are notoriously indiscriminate and can result in non-target species, some of which may be classified as endangered or threatened, being caught, injured or killed. Trapping can therefore put additional pressure on populations of animals that are already fragile.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that ‘non-target animals’ (or ‘trash’ animals as they are referred to by industry) can account for up to 67% of the total catch.

escaped animals

American mink, raccoon dogs, muskrats and coypu are all non-native species that were originally introduced to Europe deliberately for the purposes of fur farming and have now established themselves in the wild. Such invasive alien species pose a significant threat to biodiversity and are recognised as such under the Convention on Biological Diversity. These four species have been placed on the list of 100 worst invasive alien species in Europe (DAISIE database). A Danish study estimated that 80% of free-roaming mink were fur farm escapees.

Feral American mink

The American mink has the greatest impact on native European species of all alien mammals. Feral populations of American mink are found in more than 20 European countries and the numbers are increasing.

Through competition for food, the invasion of the American mink in Europe has led the European mink to become critically endangered.

Feral American mink can have a severe impact on ground-nesting bird populations, rodents and amphibians. In the UK, predation by the American mink has led to the decline of the water vole, Britain’s most rapidly declining mammal.

There are substantial economic costs associated with the removal of these invasive alien species from the environment or the reduction of their impact. The cost of invasive alien species in the EU has been estimated at least as 12 billion Euros a year and damage costs are increasing.

Legislative measures

The adverse impact on local biodiversity caused by fur farm escapees led several countries to limit or end mink farming. In 2006, Japan introduced the Invasive Alien Species Act to prohibit the establishment of new mink farms, due to the damage feral mink were bringing to native mink populations and to local chicken farms and fisheries. The 2006 Act led to the end of mink fur farming in Japan in 2016.

In Spain, the Act 42/2007 of Natural Heritage and Biodiversity introduced a ban on the keeping and trade of the species listed in the Catalogue of Invasive Alien Species, which includes the American mink. Since the 2007 ACT, the establishment of new mink fur farms in Spain is prohibited.

Recommendations

In June 2017, the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) was the first species farmed for fur to be included on the List of Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern. Inclusion of American mink on the Union list is crucial to establish a common perspective on preventive measures to avoid further dispersal of the species across Europe.

Complete eradication of a predator species, such as the American mink, without re-invasion from neighbouring countries or escapees from fur farms, is extremely difficult. EU-wide preventive measures on the farms themselves, focusing on increasing fencing and biosecurity to avoid farm escapes, are recognised by the European Strategy on Invasive Alien Species as the most cost-effective method for dealing with invasive alien species.