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Recreational fishing got a boost during the pandemic

When it comes to popular outdoor activities in the United States, recreational fishing is nearly at the top of the list – second only to jogging. More than 44 million Americans describe themselves as recreational anglers.

Last spring, researchers at LSU, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Clemson University set out to investigate how the pandemic was affecting recreational fishing. 

The team distributed an online survey in July and August of 2020, and received thousands of responses across 10 states. Recreational anglers were asked 20 questions, including whether they fished more or less often during the pandemic and what their motivations were.

Study lead author Stephen Midway is an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences at LSU. “What we found is people still fished and in fact, they fished a little bit more during the pandemic,” said Professor Midway.

Overall, 80 percent of the survey respondents said they fished as much during the pandemic as they did before, while 20 percent said they fished more.

The individuals who fished more during the pandemic took about one additional trip in the spring. The researchers explained that while this increase may seem small, it had a positive ripple effect on the economy.

“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,” said Professor Midway.

“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.”

In addition, money from state fishing licenses is often used to support wildlife management agencies and fisheries.

“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,” said Professor Midway.

Most of the survey respondents expressed the belief that fishing was a very low risk activity during the pandemic. 

Many of the individuals had experienced reduced work hours and less income as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns. They said that they turned to recreational fishing as a relatively low-cost outdoor activity.

As for what motivated people to go fishing during the pandemic, the most popular responses were: social and family bonding, stress relief, and being in nature.

“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,” said Jeff Kopaska, who is a fisheries research biometrician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“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.”

“The willingness of anglers to keep fishing during a public health crisis suggests the importance of the activity,” said Professor Midway. “A better understanding of anglers’ motivation and behaviors is important for any type of resource management.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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