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A new study co-authored by National CASC Fish Biologist Abigail Lynch reveals global trends in angling interest and activity across the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An estimated 10% of the global population participates in recreational fishing for reasons ranging from competitive sport to collecting dinner, to experiencing the psychological benefits of being outdoors. Regardless of motivation, recreational fishing can also have large economic impacts (for example, through licensing sales and equipment costs). Changes to fishing behaviors in response to global crises like pandemics can therefore affect an individual’s well-being as well as a region’s economy.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, rod and line fishing (angling) was generally considered a safe activity – referred to in a previous study by CASC-supported researchers as “social fishtancing.” While some evidence suggests that angler activity increased when fishing restrictions were relaxed during the pandemic, it is unclear whether those changes were widespread or sustained after the public “acclimated” to life with COVID-19. 

A new study, co-authored by National CASC fish biologist Abigail Lynch, published in Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, examined global changes in recreational angling activity over the course of the pandemic – from “pre-pandemic” (through 2019), to “acute pandemic” when most restrictions were in place (2020), to a “COVID-acclimated” period when many restrictions were lifted (2021). For this study, researchers collected and analyzed many data sources to observe global responses of recreational anglers to COVID-19. Data included the volume of internet searches for key angler-related terms or species (e.g., “fishing spots” or “sea bass”), license sale records, angler surveys, and the use of smart-phone fishing apps or citizen science platforms.   

One key finding was that more people searched the internet for angling-related terms and species during the height of the pandemic (2020) than they had previously – but searches returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Similarly, some regions experienced increases in license sales in 2020 that weren’t sustained into 2021. Other regions, typically those relying on tourism for revenue and licensing sales, experienced declines in sales in 2020 when travel was limited. Some countries also had an uptick in the number of young people participating in angling during 2020 that wasn’t sustained into 2021.  

The authors suggest at least six ways that fisheries managers and policy makers could benefit from these new types of data sources. For instance, expanding angling license programs and creating opportunities for angler citizen science projects and co-management initiatives could help develop more resilient recreational fisheries that inform regulations and services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.  

This work was supported in part by the National CASC Fish Research Program

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