SOLID data on recreational fishing and its economic and social value in this country is limited, even though fishing is generally regarded as the biggest participation sport in the country. A national report into fishing was conducted by the federal government some years ago. That report, which is generally regarded as flawed and inaccurate, plus a handful of specific surveys and studies done by various interest groups and state government agencies, is about all we have in regards to understanding the importance of fishing in Australia.
A recent report prepared by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation in the US provides us with a blueprint on the sort of information that can be obtained and how it can be used to influence government and interest groups. Fisho obtained a copy of this report from Trevor Maundrell, the CEO of tackle giant Jarvis Walker Brands. Maundrell came across it at the 2009 ICAST tackle show recently held in Orlando, Florida.
The report makes interesting reading on a number of levels. Firstly, it reveals just how big the sport of fishing is in America. Just over 48 million Americans aged over six participated in fishing in 2008. That’s more than 17 per cent of the US population or, scary as it sounds, more than twice our total population. On a per capita basis, this US figure ties in pretty well with the scant data we have regarding Australian fishing participation. Studies have shown about 4-5 million Aussies fish at least once in any given year. That’s roughly 17-20 per cent of our population. Other data revealed by the US report corresponds with anecdotal information about the Australian fishing scene. For example, almost 70 per cent of anglers are men; about 70 per cent are aged between 25 and 45+; and more than half of all anglers earn big money (between $50,000-$100,000+).
The US survey showed that Yankee anglers are interested in many other outdoorsy sports, including camping (33.3%), hiking (22.5%), walking (46.3%) and hunting (20.4%). There are obviously a lot of Homer Simpsons over in the States as 10-pin bowling was enjoyed by 37.9 per cent of anglers. This is a trend that’s probably not shared by all that many Aussies … Importantly, the report found that an interest in fishing leads to participants partaking in other outdoor sports. Put simply, the US report showed that fishing gets people interested in a healthy, outdoors life. More than 75 per cent of anglers surveyed participate in multiple outdoors activities, the report said. There’s no reason to think that the same sort of response rates wouldn’t apply to Australian anglers. In Fisho’s view, this type of information is a vital tool in showing government and decision makers how important fishing could be in helping prevent societal problems such as obesity, diabetes and coronary issues by inspiring people to exercise and lead a healthy lifestyle.
The US report also dedicates significant space to the importance fishing plays in young peoples’ lives. Some 30 per cent of all American boys aged 6-12 participate in fishing. Interestingly, almost 20 per cent of girls in the same age group enjoy wetting a line. As they grow older, girls tend to move away from fishing while boys stay pretty keen. This data corresponds with similar studies done here in Australia on kids and fishing. The US report showed that parents are overwhelmingly the dominant force in influencing kids towards outdoor activities like fishing. Almost 82 per cent of kids between 6 and 12 said their parents influenced their fishing activities. Only 1.3 per cent said a “media icon, sports figure or accomplished athlete” influenced them.
The message is pretty clear: kids really like fishing and it’s up to mums and dads to get them into it.
Boat ownership is an interesting aspect of the US study. American anglers, like Aussies, really love their boats. More than a third of all anglers own a boat and 33 per cent of those who don’t own a boat are considering getting one. Some 65 per cent of boat-owning anglers own power boats with about 30 per cent owning canoes/kayaks. Almost 70 per cent of American anglers went out on a boat in 2008, totalling some 427 million days out on the water. Fishing was by far the most popular use for a boat, with 91 per cent of respondents saying they used a boat for fishing followed by 53 per cent who said they went on a boat to cruise around. Interestingly, women were the keenest boaties.
These sort of studies are, in Fisho’s opinion, vital if we are to a) understand what makes Aussie anglers tick and b) influence government towards making decisions aimed at improving fishing opportunities and maximising the socio-economic benefits of the sport. While the US report can be seen to correlate many aspects of the Australian fishing/boating industry, the specific picture can only be realised if a similar report was to be commissioned locally. For those interested in statistical data, the US report comprised of 41,000 respondents from around America who filled out online questionnaires. It wouldn’t be difficult or overly expensive to organise a similar project to cover Australian anglers.
Fishing World strongly believes the Australian fishing/boating industry needs to compile relevant data pertaining to the reach and importance of recreational fishing. Based on our experience and observations over the past decade it seems more than probable that key decision makers in state and federal governments don’t have a clue about the issues facing anglers. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be as swayed by green extremists in regards to creating no-fishing zones and marine parks. Also, it seems obvious that the social and economic benefits of recreational fishing are simply slipping under the radar. The mere fact that fishing is a healthy outdoorsy sport that kids really like and enjoy is something that our political leaders should be made aware off. The mass media is full of articles about childhood obesity and concerns over lack of exercise. If more kids went fishing that problem could well be abrogated. However, the current focus by most governments is to make fishing access limited, especially for kids.
The next generation of lard-arse Australians will be totally switched on when it comes to landing a trophy fish on a video game or iPhone but they’ll never know the pleasure of catching a few fish for the table, let alone experience the simple childish joy of catching a yakka or slimy off a wharf.
Economic benefits usually make politicians sit up and take notice and the US report shows that fishing stimulates plenty of economic activity. It’s well known anecdotally that fishing brings in large amounts of money to regional townships. In the past various individuals and groups have prepared reports showing the economic worth of fish and fishing. These reports have sparked momentary interest in the economic value of fishing but because they are regional specific to certain types of fishing they fail to raise widespread political interest. It is vital a more detailed and statistically valid representation of the economic aspects of the recreational fishing sector is produced and disseminated to government. As it stands now, fishing is a huge and largely invisible economic driver which in all likelihood will decline rapidly if further closures and restrictions are introduced.
The value to the boating industry of fishing can’t be discounted. Fisho estimates that at least 70 per cent of all the boats on display at the recent Sydney and Melbourne boat shows were fishing boats. These type of shows are major events, attracting widespread mass media attention. Yet most of the coverage is dedicated to multi-million dollar luxury cruisers, which make up a tiny percentage of total boat ownership in this country. The glamour side of the boating industry is sexy and it makes good copy for papers and TV news but we believe the industry is missing out on significant mileage by not pushing the family-based fishing market as being the life’s blood of the sector.
The boating industry, represented nationally by various state-based organisations, no doubt recognises the value of the fishing market but it could well be time to expend more resources towards supporting and developing fishing resources, as well as getting more involved in promoting the worth and benefits of fishing to government.
The Fishing and Boating Alliance being proposed by the Australian Fishing Trade Association is a great way for the recreational boating and fishing sectors to pull together for the common good and influence governments towards better supporting Australia’s millions of anglers, young and old. Fishing World urges all sectors of the boating industry to fully back AFTA in this initiative.