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The Recreational Fishing Market During Covid and the Future

In many underdeveloped or poorer nations, fishing is about providing food for the family meal. Recreational fishing is less important than fishing for an income or just providing sustenance. However, in the US, recreational fishing is a very popular outdoor activity, and one that was affected by Covid as many other areas of life were.

Close to 55 million fished in 2020 in the US. There had been a decline in certain areas of the nation up until then, partly due to increased license costs, and also due to trends in outdoor activities and generational differences.

The pandemic still continues but things have, by and large, returned to normal. How did the recreational fishing market fare during the last two years, and what do 2022 and the future hold?

What happened to recreational fishing during Covid?

Looking towards the US fishing market, the industry stayed steady throughout the pandemic. In 2019, the US recreational fishing market was worth $10.11 billion. In 2020, this dropped slightly to $10.05 billion but was expected to bounce back the year after.

Globally, the recreational fishing equipment market was worth $23.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2% up to 2028. This will mean the industry is valued at $31.8 billion by this time.

The number of licenses issued during Covid also remained steady. 2019 saw 41.4 million licenses issued. That meant more fishing licenses being issued than any time in the previous 20 years. So, it was no shock that the pandemic would cause a drop the next year. 2020 saw 38.49 million licenses issued. But, 2021 saw more people paying for fishing licenses than in 2018.

There are some exceptions in each state which mean not everyone requires a license to fish. Hence the discrepancy between license numbers and the actual number of people who fished in 2020.

Why did angling remain popular during Covid?

It would have been expected to see a drop in the US fishing market value in 2020 and 2021, yet nothing significantly changed. The number of fishing licenses issued didn’t change too much and 2021 even saw an increase against 2018’s figures.

Why would this be?

Easy to get into for beginners

The activity or sport is one that most people can enjoy. There are few age restrictions, and it is a safe outdoor activity on the whole. Information is readily available for newcomers, and it is inexpensive to start.

An entry-level beginner’s fishing kit could be as little as $100 to $300. And websites such as Fishing Refined offer detailed reviews on equipment and resources for beginners and seasoned anglers. While fishing can be an expensive hobby, it doesn’t have to be.

It is also one of the easiest outdoor activities to understand and get involved in. All you need is some equipment, a license, and a fishing spot.

It was a safe activity during social distancing

Angling continued to be popular during Covid because social distancing was easy to observe. It even spawned its own term ‘fishtancing’ as anglers continued to enjoy their hobby while non-anglers found themselves locked out from pastimes.

Fishing aided mental wellness during what was a trying time

There are quite a few recognized benefits to mental health associated with fishing.

Cortisol is the hormone that causes stress and this has been shown to decrease during fishing. Even though fishing requires focus, it is also a very relaxing activity. It can help fight against symptoms of depression, and reduce anxiety.

Fishing is also believed to help with cognitive skills, concentration, and even creative thinking.

Where is recreational fishing headed next?

With continued growth in the equipment market expected, it would seem that angling is a growing sport rather than one in decline.

The Outdoor Industry Association published some interesting figures on recreational fishing during the pandemic. There were increases in a variety of demographics concerning who fished during 2020.

There was a 10% uptick in female anglers that year. More Hispanic Americans fished in 2020 than in the previous 14 years. A similar pattern was seen with African-Americans too. 14.6% more African-Americans were involved in fishing in 2020 than in the previous year.

The most interesting statistic though was about continued participation. More than 55% of individuals who fished in 2020 said they would do so again in 2021. As more fishing licenses were issued that year it seems that this proved true.

Countries where fishing is traditionally associated with catching fish for mealtimes or to sell have also seen a rise in recreational angling. Around 300 anglers traveled from different states in India to take part in the all-Goa fishing competition. This is notable because it happened in 2021 when the pandemic was still causing travel problems and fear of infection in a country that was heavily affected by Covid.

Is recreational fishing a sustainable sport?

One thing surrounds fishing as an activity and as an industry, and that is sustainability. The commercial fishing industry has taken a lot of flak over the years, with some countries seemingly uninterested in future fish stocks.

Recently, China was under fire for exploiting marine resources in Sierra Leone and negatively impacting the local economy. In 2017, the Marine Stewardship Council awarded North Sea cod with sustainable certification. Yet, just two years later this was suspended as the stock dropped below the safe biological level.

What about recreational angling? Is fishing itself sustainable as a sport and pastime?

Sustainability and being eco-friendly are key to whether fishing continues to grow or ends up in decline. Most industries today are aware of their social and environmental responsibilities, and yet fishing equipment manufacturers are still lagging in one area.

Lead fishing weights are still being produced, and are still legal in the majority of states in the US. They are also legal in many countries around the world.

To make fishing a sustainable sport, anglers, and manufacturers have some responsibilities. The use of biodegradable lures instead of plastic is desirable for one. Anglers themselves should practice catch and release techniques, and return fish to the water within 1 or 2 minutes.

But the fishing equipment market is where many changes could be made. Emerging trends in the fishing equipment sector include artificial bait, knotless nets, biodegradable monofilament fishing lines, and recycled materials used for bait boxes and waders.

Collection bins are offered by many vendors now for discarded fishing lines to avoid dumping. Chip-resistant fishing weights are available to reduce the chances of paint entering the water.


Recreational fishing was one of the few areas that Covid seemed to have a positive effect on. The desire for individuals to head into the outdoors perfectly aligned with fishing’s ability to work alongside social distancing.

Not only did there seem to be no significant drop in sales of equipment or licenses being issued, but there was also an increase in activity in certain demographics. More youngsters than ever took part in angling at least once in 2020, and it seems that the majority of beginners carried their new hobby into the following year also.

With a positive forecast for the global fishing equipment market and an understanding of the need for eco-friendly practices, recreational fishing would seem to have a healthy future for now.