New research shows pandemic good for recreational fishing due to 'social fishtancing'
Recreational fishing in the U.S. is largely a personal hobby that scales up to a multibillion-dollar economic activity. More than 44 million people in the U.S. identify as recreational anglers making this hobby second only to jogging in terms of popular outdoor activities.
At the beginning of the pandemic last spring as things were shutting down, fisheries science researchers at LSU, U.S. Geological Survey and Clemson University saw the opportunity to study how the pandemic was affecting recreational anglers. LSU launched an online survey from July to August 2020 and received nearly 18,000 responses across 10 states. The researchers asked recreational anglers 20 questions that included if they fished more or less since the pandemic, what their motivations were and if they thought fishing is safe in terms of COVID-19 exposure.
"What we found is people still fished and in fact, they fished a little bit more during the pandemic," said LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor Stephen Midway, who is the lead author of this study that is published in PLOS ONE.
Out of five anglers, four fished as much during the pandemic as they did before while, one angler out of the five fished more—taking about one additional trip in the spring. Although the increase may seem small, it has a positive ripple effect for the economy and fisheries management.
"When you go fishing, you are spending money. You may have bought your fishing rod and reel 10 years ago, but when you go fishing, you buy bait, put gas in your car or boat, buy ice, buy a fishing license and possibly pay for a boat slip. There's a significant amount of money that gets distributed throughout the economy through the travel cost of fishing including that one extra fishing trip," Midway said.
Money from state fishing licenses is also often reinvested in the fisheries and wildlife management agency.
"For most states, a large amount of their fisheries management budget is generated by fishing license sales. That helps increase the revenues to help them do their jobs," he said.
The vast majority of survey respondents thought fishing was a very low risk activity during the pandemic. In addition, many expressed they had reduced work hours as well as income loss and that fishing is a relatively low-cost recreational activity.
Stress relief, social and family bonding and being in nature were the strongest motivators for why people have gone fishing during the pandemic.
"The willingness of anglers to keep fishing during a public health crisis suggests the importance of the activity. A better understanding of anglers' motivation and behaviors is important for any type of resource management," Midway said.
The 10 states whose recreational anglers participated in this study are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Iowa.
"This study was very valuable to state fisheries agencies, because it helped to identify what the broad motivations were for people to increase their fishing activity. State agencies were well aware that many more fishing licenses were being sold during the pandemic, and everyone had some opinion 'why.' This work identified that fishing was perceived as a safe, stress-relieving activity, which will now help agencies to fine-tune messaging to try to keep people fishing in the future," said Jeff Kopaska, fisheries research biometrician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.