Opinion: Fishing has the numbers

THE Yanks recently released the preliminary report on the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. It’s the 12th survey in a series which commenced in 1955, and is repeated every five years.

As usual, the report contains some big numbers on participation and expenditure, as you’ll see in the following paragraphs. But it’s worth leading into a look at those figures with a couple of observations. First, whoever originated this work back in the ’50s realised that by providing this collated information they could demonstrate the value of these activities to the broader American people … and their politicians and the healthy economy they all depend on. Second, they saw a clear synergy between fishing, hunting and wildlife watching, extending the argument we’ve been trying to put here that getting involved in each of these is largely about the outdoor experience to be had with friends and family.

Overall, 90 million people, or 38 per cent of Americans 16 years and older, participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2011 and spent $145 billion dollars, supporting thousands of jobs in related industries and businesses. That’s pretty impressive for an economy reported to be doing it tough.

The findings with regard to fishing specifically are in some respects surprising, in others predictable. The participation rate in fishing had declined between 2001 and 2006 by about 12 per cent, but in 2011 was back almost to the 2001 level. 33.1 million people fished an average of 17 days each in 2011. They spent $41.8 billion on trips, equipment, licences and other items (including magazines), with an average expenditure of $1,261 per angler.

As noted in the previous paragraph, participation increased from 2006 to 2011 but overall fishing-related expenditure declined by 11 per cent. There was as just as much spent on equipment such as rods, reels and general tackle, but spending on boats and recreational vehicles dropped by 44 per cent.

So, in the face of some economic adversity, more people went fishing and spent as much as ever on their tackle, but didn’t buy or upgrade really big items at the same rate as previously.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see comparative figures for Australia over time? I’ll bet there would have been similar trends during our periods of economic depression or recession. I’d bet participation in beach, rock, wharf and river fishing would have been up in those periods, and fishing from big boats would have been down.

If our resources boom continues to cool, will there be an upsurge in new-age rock fishing like the ISO boys are pushing and even more inexpensive kayaks sold? It would be invaluable to both social researchers and all of the rec fishing industry if, as in the US, some agency could conduct this type of regular, focused research.

John Newbery is Fishing World’s environment editor.

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