What happens to poached animals after state agencies have seized fish and game?
Nothing can put a burr under the saddle of outdoorsmen and women quite like this one simple word: poacher.
For many of us ethical sportsmen, once someone has skirted the law and taken fish or game over the limit, out of season, or without the proper licensing, they have stepped over the line. At that point they've given up the right to call themselves a hunter or a fisherman. Instead, they're a poacher.
Now, these law breaking individuals or groups can have a chance to redeem themselves, even if the situation was created by their own selfishness. They need to be punished and have some ground to make up to regain respect from the rest of the law abiding hunters and anglers out there.
Having said that, once a conservation officer or game warden has duly caught a poacher in the act and confiscated any ill-gotten game or fish, what then can they do with it? Many times when unlawfully-taken fish or game is seized, it must be kept as evidence until the case is settled or until the judge orders it returned. Remember, our laws are committed to the principle of innocent until proven guilty!
It can also vary by state, by animal, by time of year, and by individual case. Which is to say, there isn't one defined way of dealing with the most-likely dead animals that, frankly, didn't deserve to die at the hands of poachers.
When possible, the wild game is usually donated to a place where food is the main need. After that, the odds that it will go to a good cause drop significantly.
One solid answer comes from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife saying,
"In most cases though, if at all possible and in good condition, seized fish and game is given to the homeless shelters or soup kitchens that allow donations of wild fish and game. Because of inspection requirements, some facilities may not be able to accept these donations. If a suitable facility cannot be found, the evidence is thrown away or destroyed. In some commercial cases involving commercial size loads, the Fish and Game Code allows for this evidence to be sold and the proceeds may be used by the Department."
This should be an acceptable, across-the-board response as most wildlife services across the country have the double-edged sword of battling poachers, and the responsibility to care for the recovered wild game. Poachers generally face criminal charges, big fines, revocation of their hunting license and hunting privileges, and seizure of the illegal kill. And we didn't even mention the confiscation of the firearm, fishing gear, or other tool used to take the illegal game.
Oh yeah, they can also find themselves behind bars.
Food Bank Donation of Poached Game
On 11/27, Texas Game Wardens assigned to Upshur County received an anonymous tip about a substantial amount of fish that...
Donations like these can be done at the local or the state level, but there are almost always takers. As The Bend Bulletin says, "Illegal kills are not just donated to charities, they also can go to a person on the list who must have the meat for health reasons."
Since not everyone can eat commercially processed meats, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police keep a small list of people who are quite allergic to the meat that we all take for granted such as beef, and they can get the first phone call when the department acquires some ill-gotten wild game.
It's just that they need a specific note from their doctor as to their condition.
Before any state's game management service can donate any wild game, it has to be certified safe for human consumption before it can be used. Remember, these are not animals that have succumbed via roadkill, but game animals that have been confiscated as a result of poaching.
In many cases, the poachers themselves are court ordered to pay for the cost of the processing. This may seem to only be the case for game animals living on land, but confiscated fish can be use as well. And while it always seems to be deer, elk, or some other big game animal that get the headlines when they're poached, these situations can also include duck, pheasant, wild turkeys, and other game birds that conservation officers come to take away from illegal activities.
Generally speaking, if an animal is taken illegally and a game warden confiscates it, you can feel confident it's going to a food bank (if it doesn't need to be kept as evidence or is spoiled).
Sometimes the game warden or conservation officer needs a search warrant to find illegally gotten game, and sometimes they witness the violator with their own eyes. Bag limits aside, issuance of even misdemeanor crime citations such as the lack of a fishing license is an everyday part of the job for police officers whether on private property or public lands.
Wildlife officers take wildlife conservation very seriously; it is their sworn duty to uphold the game laws in the state where they reside and work. Wild animals belong to no one person or group of people, but are natural resources there for the pleasure and use of us all, as long as we listen and learn from our esteemed wildlife management community.