New Zealand possums are dying and going to waste even as demand for their fur increases, says an industry body.

Textiles New Zealand has entered discussions with the Department of Conservation (DoC) and Animal Health Board to boost the number of possums commercially harvested for use in clothing manufacturing.

The fur industry has criticised the departments in the past for limiting access to harvesting areas and poisoning animals, leaving them to die in the bush.

Textiles New Zealand chief executive Elizabeth Tennet said there was the potential to increase the annual harvest from 1.7 million animals to more than 3 million - a move that would double the industry's annual revenue to $200 million.

The fur market was growing, both domestically and overseas, where possum fur was becoming more popular, she said.

About 40 per cent of New Zealand's possum fur harvest goes to China.

Tennet said about 45 million possums remained in New Zealand, and Kiwi-made possum products were popular with tourists visiting the country.

Snowy Peak chief executive Peri Drysdale, whose company has been a pioneer of the merino-possum blend, said there were occasional shortages of the fur.

"It comes and goes ... . there's big chunks of time where we are all anxiously wondering if there will be enough [possum fur] for tomorrow and the next day, and then there's periods of time when there's more than we know what to do with."

Drysdale said there was a problem with the health board - which kills possums to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis - and DoC poisoning animals that were not collected and went to waste.

Steve Boot, co-director of Basically Bush, an East Coast company that buys possum furs and skins from harvesters, said DoC had entered into the dialogue with Textiles New Zealand because of budget cuts.

In last year's Budget, the department was forced to shave $54 million from its spending over the next four years, meaning planned possum control on 23,000ha of land would not go ahead.

Boot said if the harvesting industry was integrated into the way the possums were managed on a long-term basis, it could make a "huge dent" in animal populations, at no cost to tax and rate payers.

Andy Bassett, a DoC area manager based on the East Coast, said the department relied on the fur industry to keep possum numbers in check in the area, and was working with Basically Bush to harvest possums in back country areas.

A spokesman for the Animal Health Board said the organisation usually worked in areas where possum populations were low, due to long-term eradication programmes, making harvesting economically unfeasible. "We had a useful meeting with Textiles New Zealand in January when we outlined our position. We also agreed to be part of any working group that may be set up to explore the issues in more detail," the spokesman said.


* Possum fur is usually blended with merino to make garments which are warmer and lighter than regular wool.
* About 1.7 million possums a year are killed in New Zealand. Forty per cent of the fur goes to China.
* The industry is worth about $100 million annually and employs 1150 people.
* A kilo of possum fur fetches $95, and 18 to 20 possums are needed to yield a kilo.