‘Social fishtancing’ through the pandemic

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. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and cutthroat trout (clockwise from left) are among the most popular recreational species for anglers in the U.S. Photo Credit: A. Lynch / N. Sievert / C. Springer.

By Steve Midway, Abigail Lynch, & Brandon Peoples

Map of the study’s participating states (Midway et al. 2021).

Recreational fishing is a hugely popular pastime in the U.S., and it turns out the COVID-19 pandemic may be a boost to the sport. In the summer of 2020, researchers from Louisiana State University, Clemson University, and the U.S. Geological Survey examined survey data from early 18,000 recreational anglers from 10 U.S. states asking questions about their fishing activities during the pandemic. The survey focused on what the anglers did during the first few months of the pandemic, in which many states experienced unprecedented lockdowns and travel restrictions. Below are some highlights of the study.

Did anglers fish more during the early stages of the pandemic than before the pandemic?

When comparing spring 2019 to spring 2020, anglers reported taking 0.2 more trips per angler. This results in one additional fishing trip for every five anglers. While that may not sound like a lot per angler, there are 50 million licensed anglers in the U.S. So, scaling up these numbers means an extra 10 million fishing trips may have occurred in spring and summer of 2020!

One out of every five anglers fished more in spring 2020.  Are you one of them?

Why were anglers fishing during spring 2020?

Reasons for fishing that increased (blues) and decreased (reds) during the early pandemic (Midway et al. 2021).

People fish for a lot of reasons, including to connect with nature, for sport, stress relief, or food. Not surprisingly, the most common reasons anglers fished during the early stages of the pandemic included stress relief and increases in free time—probably because a lot of people were experiencing stress from the pandemic and also had increased time on their hands. Interestingly, we found that the greatest decreases in fishing motivated by sport or thrill and for food. Although decreases in fishing for food is hard to explain, it makes sense that less sport or competitive fishing took place during the early pandemic when so many social activities were postponed or canceled.

How did fishing access change at the beginning of the pandemic?

Fishing access by state during spring 2020 (Midway et al. 2021).

A lot of access to fishing includes boat launches, docks, and other infrastructure that is operated and maintained by a state government agency. Although early pandemic state responses varied a lot among states, many states shut down non-essential operations, including fishing access, to alleviate work on staff and encourage people to stay at home. We found that anglers in each of the states we surveyed reported some level of complete and partial loss of fishing access. However, it was highly variable. A lot of states did not experience a spring 2020 COVID-19 surge, or kept their fish access open for different reasons. For example, anglers in Iowa and Arkansas reported very few total closures and only about 25% reported partial closures, whereas anglers in Florida and South Carolina reported up to 10% total closures and 50% partial closures. While some of the states with highest closures were those with marine fisheries (e.g. fishing piers), we didn’t have enough data to parse out the effects of freshwater vs. marine anglers.

Anglers think fishing is a safe pandemic activity (Midway et al. 2021).

Is fishing a safe pandemic activity?

According to our survey takers, yes! About 19 out of 20 anglers surveyed told us that recreational fishing is a safe activity. This makes sense, given that much of recreational fishing accommodates pandemic safety guidelines. For example, fishing takes place outdoors and often alone or in small groups (usually with household members). So, go ahead, get out there, and embrace ‘social fishtancing’!

For more information, please see:

Midway, S. R., A. J. Lynch, B. K. Peoples, M. Dance, R. Caffey. 2021. COVID-19 influences on US recreational angler behavior. PLOS ONE. 16(8):e0254652.

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