ALL of our lives have been impacted by COVID-19. The various lockdowns and rules during lockdowns have affected all activities and this includes recreational fishing.
Where lockdowns have included complete bans on recreational fishing, the impacts are obvious. Bans on recreational fishing have however not been commonly used across jurisdictions. As an example, 92 per cent of US jurisdictions kept recreational fishing open, asking anglers to always practice social distancing, but enacting a variety of other management responses aiming to allow the activity and minimise the risk.
In Queensland, recreational fishing for food has (more or less) been identified as an essential activity during lockdowns – albeit with movement restrictions. As such, our response shares commonalities with Texas and British Colombia (Canada).
When recreational fishing has been still allowed, there has also been significant changes. While the impacts of COVID-19 on recreational fishing have not been assessed in Queensland, emerging research in Western Australia and overseas sheds light on the range of impacts. Overall, current research suggests an increase in recreational fishing activity adjacent to urban areas.
To summarise that work, impacts due to social distancing were greater for avid fishers, who were only permitted to fish with their family. Impacts due to travel restrictions were greater for metropolitan-based fishers, who were unable to travel to regional centres during the early phases of COVID-19 due to State Government imposed travel restrictions. Impacts due to personal decision to isolate were greater for fishers 60 years or older, who presumably stayed home and had genuine concern for their health.
In Ontario (Canada), although angling effort and fish consumption appeared to decline during the early phases of the pandemic, approximately 21 per cent of the anglers who responded to a survey identified themselves as new entrants who had begun or resumed fishing in that time. Motivations to fish during the pandemic suggest that free time, importance to mental and physical health, and desires for self-sufficiency caused some anglers to fish more. Like the sentiments of many anglers I have spoken to in Queensland, those in Ontario expressed a desire for more clear and consistent communication from government regarding recreational fishing rules during the pandemic.
In Denmark during the early part of the pandemic, an increase of 20 per cent in the sales of mandatory fishing licences suggested an increase in recreational fishing participation. In more detailed analysis, it was identified that participants were younger, more likely to live in urban areas, less experienced in fishing, and stated angling as a less important hobby compared to others.
While some of the effects of COVID-19 on recreational fishing are probably obvious, collectively they pose some further interesting questions. Will those that commenced or returned to recreational fishing because of the pandemic continue to fish when other forms of outdoor recreation and socialising become less regulated on a consistent basis? Will COVID-19 increase recreational fishing participation in the medium and long-term over and above what was expected without it?