As 2021 draws to a close, now is a good time to reflect on the radical changes that the sportfishing industry has witnessed over the past couple of years. 2020 brought a global pandemic, which created innumerable challenges but also unprecedented growth in the sport of recreational fishing. License sales data provided to Southwick Associates indicate that fishing participation was up more than 13% nationally in 2020 versus 2019. Additionally, Southwick Associates estimates that fishing equipment sales grew by nearly 55% overall in 2020. We know that fishing attracted millions of new participants during the pandemic, and that experienced anglers spent more time on the water than ever before. There’s also a lot of evidence that these trends have carried on well into 2021.
This year, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, but life has also begun to show signs of normalcy. So, it’s natural to wonder where the industry stands now, and where it’s headed in the next year.
As you likely know, Southwick Associates collects and analyzes fishing license sales data on a semi-annual basis as part of a partnership with several state agencies and nonprofits. Results for the first half of 2021 are now available, and they indicate that fishing participation has slowed a bit this year compared to 2020. Based on license sales from 12 states, fishing participation in the first half of 2021 declined about 6% from the first half of 2020. However, we need to keep in mind that 2020 was a banner year. Midyear fishing participation in 2021 is about 8% higher than in 2019 and higher than in any other year in a decade, excluding 2020. The key takeaway is that fishing participation has remained strong, even if it has declined slightly from 2020.
There are some additional nuances of the 2021 midyear fishing participation trends that merit mention. First, it should be noted that fishing participation among non-residents was up more than 25% in 2021 compared to 2020. During the pandemic, many anglers were encouraged to fish near their homes. With travel restrictions being relaxed, 2021 saw a lot of people travelling to fish. Non-resident anglers represent key customers in destination fishing areas such as coastal and western states, so that’s a welcome number.
The next key point is not so positive. The decline in midyear fishing participation seen in 2021 involved losses among some of the key groups that drove the participation spike seen in 2020. Female fishing participation decreased by 11% in the first half of 2021 versus 2020, compared to just a 4% decline by male anglers during the same time span. Similarly, participation among those aged 18-24 declined 17% in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020, while participation among relatively older anglers declined at a much lower rate. The big picture is still very positive. Participation is still up among both female and youth anglers so far in 2021 compared to 2019, but we need to focus on retaining as many new anglers as possible.
Retaining these new anglers is, of course, much easier said than done. Remember that those who are new to fishing will have a lot of questions, and the more you can educate and engage with them, the better the chance that they will keep fishing and coming back to you for their tackle needs. One of the easiest ways to engage with new customers is by collecting their email address during their initial purchase, and then continuing to communicate with them. Consider utilizing some of the resources provided by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, such as their Places to Boat and Fish map or their Fishing License and Boating Registration tool, both of which can be added directly to your own website.
As always, there is so much more information available on the fishing participation and greater fishing tackle market than can be shared here. To learn more about the tackle market via detailed market reports, or to gain custom research to help your business grow, please contact Southwick Associates at [email protected] or visit southwickassociates.com.
Editor’s Note: This article initially appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer.
Ben Scuderi is a Senior Research Analyst at Southwick Associates, a market research and economics firm, specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing, and outdoor recreation markets. For more than 30 years, Southwick Associates has helped the private sector and natural resource agencies make better decisions.