The non-commercial harvest of fish and wildlife remain crucial to the diets, economies, cultures, and livelihoods of many people around the globe. However, quantifying the significance of this food has seldom been attempted at a national scale. A new project launched by Shane Mahoney, Vice-Chair of the CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, aims to accurately measure the biomass, economic value, and ecological replacement costs of the current annual harvest of wild protein in Canada and the United States.
Canada and the United States have a long history of conservation coupled with the wild harvest of fish and game. Annually, in these two nations, an estimated 15.5 million hunters and 37 million anglers participate in such wild protein harvests returning home with food to share with family and friends. Likewise, an unknown number of First Nations hunters and fishers harvest wildlife to meet food needs as part of longstanding cultural practices and traditions.
In the past, policy developers may have overlooked recreational hunting and angling when considering food security, nutrition, land management, and conservation. Agricultural development has often been considered preferable to the protection of wild land. At times, this has signified the loss of traditional wild harvesting opportunities, and has caused significant ecological damage. The current animal agricultural system requires enormous inputs of land, feed crops, fertilizer, fuel, antibiotics, and hormones. Alternatively, hunting and angling provide a means by which to procure wild, organic food while creating negligible environmental impact. Indigenous Peoples historically and relevantly illustrate how wild animal harvest can be sustainable for thousands of years.
The Wild Harvest Initiative will use standardized scientific protocols to amalgamate the fish and wildlife harvest data available from provincial, state, and federal agencies, as well as from appropriate NGOs in Canada and the United States. These data will be combined with existing socio-economic data to provide a full estimate of the economic, nutritional, and livelihood contributions of the wild protein derived through recreational hunting and angling in these two countries. Results will be used to calculate the costs of replacing wild food with agricultural models. The potential to incorporate data on indigenous harvests will be explored through communication and collaboration with First Nations institutions and appropriate Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations.
Mahoney has implemented the Initiative through his private company, Conservation Visions Inc., and has already secured substantial funding and buy-in for the study from state agencies, conservation organizations, wildlife management bodies, and hunting organizations. He continues to pursue additional partners and is actively seeking participation from Indigenous groups, jurisdictional governments, food security organizations, nutritionists, economists, sociologists, and biologists. Developing a diverse coalition of support, as well as a wide partnership structure beyond hunting and business interests is a strong priority. This project will involve at least five years of work and many individual research projects carried out in a coordinated manner. It is expected that a number of peer-reviewed, scientific publications will be produced from this work.
Understanding the importance of wild meat is a global concern. Final results of the Wild Harvest Initiative may be referenced by future policy makers and effect decision-making, particularly with regard to land management and wildlife production and conservation. Results will also underscore the success of wildlife management models that incorporate sustainable harvest practices, including the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and also those models practiced by Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, the Wild Harvest Initiative will provide common ground for discussions and public engagement about food security and the modern relevance of hunting and angling, while increasing public awareness of the importance of wildlife habitat.