COVID-19: Light in the Dark in Europe

The fishing tackle industry has never faced a collective problem like COVID-19, and it would be easy for us all to feel nervous and negative about the future. Times are hard and challenging, of that there is no doubt, but over in Europe things are not entirely doom and gloom. Despite being declared the epicenter of the pandemic in mid-March, each country in the continent is fighting the battle with its own unique determination and inventiveness. According to Johns Hopkins University, most European countries are now watching their number of daily cases and fatalities decrease.

There is cautious optimism out there, you just need to know where to look.

One company that has a good grasp of the situation across much of Europe is Pure Fishing. Managing Director of its EMEA division, Kjell Clefjord, explained: “Southern European countries and the UK have experienced very tough measures where non-essential shops are closed. Germany and Austria experienced a similar situation, but now they are opening shops that are smaller than 2,600sqft in Germany and 1,300sqft in Austria. Then, in the Netherlands (where fishing is still permitted) shops have remained open with strict social distancing measures and most of the Nordic countries (fishing is also allowed) have experienced more or less ‘business as usual.'”

Pure Fishing has been working hard on a global scale to keep its facilities operating and, according to Kjell, and they have also been impressed with the resolve and ingenuity of many in the fishing tackle business.

“We are very impressed by the creativity we see amongst many shop owners to deal with the various levels of lockdown across Europe. During these difficult times we are staying in close contact with our retailers and aim to offer them as much support as we can.

Fishing is becoming more popular in some areas

“In countries that are not in a total lockdown, we see that fishing is becoming a more popular activity day by day. People are realizing how fishing is a great way to spend time with your family, reconnect with nature and to clear you mind. Shops find more people entering the sport or returning to a hobby they left in their teens. We expect this trend to accelerate after the worst is behind us. We strongly believe that when other countries allow fishing again, we’ll see this happening there as well.”

Pure Fishing has also accelerated its digital marketing and even new product development to keep anglers, both new and old, engaged with the sport and drive them towards retailers’ own online stores.

There’s a similar story in Ukraine where one of the nation’s biggest fishing companies, IBIS (owner of Favorite), is trying its best to maintain a good level of service and keep the industry ticking over. Its Sales and Marketing Director Evgeniy Sheiko said: “It will be very hard for Ukraine to overcome the economic consequences [of the COVID-19 pandemic] without serious losses. Many physical stores are closed, and many businesses have already stopped trading. Fishing is currently still allowed, though less people are doing it than normal because they are afraid.”

Despite this, IBIS is doing everything in its power to keep some sense of normality, and rather than cutting back, it is being bold. The company has kept a small team working at its office with the rest working remotely and is running its business through e-commerce, with the option for non-contact pick-ups of deliveries for customers. Evgeniy added: “We are continuing to hire people on full salaries, and we are actually increasing our marketing activities, not cutting budgets. By optimizing the processes inside the company and even working on developing new products, we hope that we can lessen the impact of the predicted 40 to 60 per cent market reduction in our country. We are trying our best to become bigger and better.”

The pattern of fishing enjoying some unexpected growth in countries where it is still allowed can also be seen in Hungary, where at the time of writing the country only had about 2,000 infections and 200 deaths.

“The impact on the economy has not had a major effect on most people’s budgets yet,” explains Salim Fadil, CEO of one of Hungary’s biggest fishing tackle brands Carp Zoom. 

“Any outdoor activity that includes people gathering together has been banned, but fishing is still allowed as long as you go alone, so in fact, the fishing industry has been boosted.”

While the Hungarian government has been ‘a few steps behind’ others in terms of helping businesses ride this storm, Salim remains largely optimistic about the fishing tackle industry. “I do not expect any major change in the fishing industry for the future, although the cancellation of major shows like China Fish will have an effect for sure,” he added.

Fishing still prohibited in some countries

Of course, there are countries finding it tough. France is a good example where fishing is forbidden—not just because of social distancing—but also because of its nature to cause accidents, which the government there believes would put unnecessary strain on an already groaning health service. Vincent Le Masson, a writer with Pêche en Mer magazine, said: “Every fishing business has been deeply impacted by this, especially retailers and fishing guides. One of France’s chain stores Pacific Pêche just announced that they are in economic recovery and are seeking a buyer. However, there have been some interesting initiatives: web shop Fish and Ship committed to donate part of its profit margin to its client’s local shops, to help those that have had to close; and foil motorboat manufacturer SEAAir has been manufacturing protective visors with 3D printers for health workers to wear. Lastly, we have seen a big boost in France in the rod building market – people now have time to learn a new hobby and one supplier RodHouse is reporting a big upturn in sales and demand.”

It seems that many in the industry believe that fishing tackle is one of the markets best suited to not only survive this nightmare, but possibly even benefit from it. Fishing has always been a sport where you can get away from it all, so it’s well suited to social distancing measures. It’s also likely to see a big uptake in people returning to it or even trying it for the first time as they look for hobbies that they can conduct close to home with international travel vastly reduced. Staycations could become commonplace, at least in the short term, and that can only be good for a sport like fishing.