Did you ever consider the economic benefit from the consumption of wild game and fish? Consider this example. In the elk hunting seasons in Canada for 2014-15 and 2015-16, there were 30,375 elk harvested. That two-year harvest generated 6.7 million pounds of edible meat. The United States’ elk harvest for those two years was much larger with 383,361 elk harvested, generating 85.4 million pounds of meat.
We hear about food problems all the time. Food is pulled from grocery stores because it is unsafe. Children in some parts of our country don’t get enough to eat. We hear about the loss of habitat due to agriculture all the time. Yet we have this sustainable food resource sitting right under our nose that could feed hundreds of thousands with minimal ecological impacts. The problem is that the public, both hunters and non-hunters, don’t fully recognize the importance of harvested and consumed wild fish and game.
Shayne Mahoney, a wildlife biologist from Newfoundland, launched the Wild Harvest Initiative
in 2015, and the ramifications are huge. He recognized the fact that the general public doesn’t understand the full value of hunting. Consuming wild game is one of those values, and more and more non-hunters are sharing in this feast. It’s hard to be against hunting when you are eating wild, healthy game.
Up until its formation, no one had ever attempted to quantify the amount of wild fish and game consumed in the United States and Canada. The initiative will only deal with personal, noncommercial harvest, and will be relevant to people who are concerned with safe, healthy food.
Such a survey is a huge undertaking, with many variables to consider. Although hunting and fishing participation is declining, we still have 13.7 million Americans and 2.1 million Canadians over the age of 18 who hunt. There are 25 million recreational fishers in the United States, and 2.7 million Canadians who fish every year. These statistics do not count the millions who legally hunt but do not buy a license.
For example, in 2009 there were 84,000 licensed hunters in Alaska. However, many Alaskan hunters do not need to purchase a license. That’s true everywhere. Most states have regulations where resident or nonresident landowners, their spouses, and in some states their children and grandchildren, and the spouses of such children and grandchildren, and in some states the landowner’s parents, do not need a license to hunt or fish on their own land. Thus, the total number of hunters and fishers in the United Sates is millions more than reported as license buyers. How will the initiative reach all of these people to obtain estimates of their wild game and fish harvests? It’s a challenge for sure.
One real value of this initiative is to obtain the pounds of fish and game meat that is harvested and eaten. Once done (and it won’t be easy to do), one can determine the estimated economic and agricultural replacement values of wild game and fish. If we are to influence non-hunters, politicians, and others about the values of hunting and fishing, such data is imperative.
However, how do you get such data? Fishers and hunters can tell you what they harvested and consumed, but the weights would have to be estimated. One report from butcher-packer.com stated that 60 percent of the dressed weight of venison was not used during processing, while huntfishsport.com reported wastage of field-dressed venison was 44 percent.
Another variable that influences results is subsistent legal fishers in Alaska, where participation is measured by households rather than individuals. Surveys also show that in some regions, most fishers keep the bulk of their catch for food, while in other areas fishers release most of what they catch. Obviously, counting fish caught has limitations in determining fish consumed.
Sharing wild fish and game is a growing phenomenon in America. For example, the bowhunters in hundreds of urban deer hunts donate hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat to soup kitchens. In just a few years, the bowhunters in my hometown (Morgantown, West Virginia) have donated 3,000 pounds of venison to the needy. One estimate showed that 35,000 pounds a year are donated annually, reaching 44 million individuals.
A 2012 study in Sweden showed that even though wild game can be bought commercially, most non-hunters get it from friends who hunt. My guess is that is true everywhere. And sharing can take various forms. Wild game dinners are common in America. In the Far North, sharing fish and game is extensive. There are many community hunting trips where 30 percent of the meat is shared. One study showed that in two communities in Alaska, 30 percent of the Inuit households accounted for 70 percent of wild food consumed there. Another study showed that in rural Alaska, 60 percent of households harvested game, but 86 percent of households consumed game.
Some northern villages provide a community freezer to make sure the elderly and others get wild fish and game. The ways that people share wild fish and game are actually too numerous to cover here. Suffice it to say, wild fish and game feed millions.
The proportion of wild game and fish in one’s diet varies. For North Americans who eat wild meat or fish, consumption rates varied from as little as 22 pounds per person per year to 770 pounds per person per year. (I know that sounds high, but remember that natives in the Far North live on wild meat and fish). The Wild Harvest Initiative listed one study that showed in the Hudson Bay region, the farther north a community, the higher the rate of consumption of wild protein.
I might add here that all of the above statistics came from a literature review, conducted and published by the Wild Harvest Initiative.
As the Wild Harvest Initiative continues, the results, some of which are listed above, will draw attention to the importance of maintaining habitat for wild game and fish, especially for those species we consume.
It will also give lawmakers data to consider when expanding agricultural systems that will reduce wild protein harvests.
If we as hunters and fishers fully understand the values of wild game and fish as food resources, we can convey that message to non-hunters and politicians. The ramifications of the data collected and compiled by the Wild Harvest Initiative, once shared with the public, surely help gain support for hunting and fishing. To learn more, go to conservationvisions.com.