By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show
It’s been more than a dozen years since America has seen this many people fishing – and that is based on data compiled before social distancing raised the number of anglers to record numbers. The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) announced the findings of the 2020 Special Report on Fishing, noting participation is on the rise. The Outdoor Foundation and RBFF-produced report, in its 10th year, provides insights into demographics, the “leaky bucket,” perceptions of fishing and more.
“Thanks to the strong improvements in recruitment and reactivation, fishing participation is up again this year,” said Frank Peterson, RBFF president and CEO. “Better yet, the key audience segments we feel are tantamount to the future of fishing continue to see gains in overall participation and participation rate.”
Participation is up to the highest rate since 2007, with 17% of the total of the U.S population participating in fishing in 2019. That equates to a total of 50.1 million Americans ages 6+ and a net increase of more than 700,000 participants. There were 3.1 million Americans who tried fishing for the very first time in 2019, making up 6% of all active participants. In addition, youth participation is up over the previous year.
Hispanic participation in fishing continues to rise with 4.4 million participating in 2019. The Hispanic participation rate of 12% is the highest ever recorded in the Special Report. Hispanics go on an average of nearly three more fishing trips per year than the general population.
The female fishing participation grew to 17.9 million in 2019 for the third straight year of growth. The gender gap is continuing to close, but the “leaky bucket” is still an issue. Fishing lost 9.3 million participants in 2019 — a loss of 19% of the 2018 participant base — and nearly double the 5.6 million lost participants in 2017.
In addition to demographic and participation-related data, the Special Report also looked at intangibles such as perceptions of fishing and trends that can help our industry predict and shape the future of participation. Overwhelmingly, anglers look to fishing as a way to escape the day-to-day, become close with nature, and of course, catch fish. While survey respondents didn’t hold strong stereotypes of anglers, more men than women feel that fishing participants look similar to them. Prioritizing youth participation continues to be a theme in preserving the future of fishing; 91% of currently anglers first participated before the age of 12.
Boat registrations way up too
Speaking of waterports participation, boat registrations nationally in June were way up in several key categories, according to preliminary data released by Michigan-based Statistical Surveys Inc.
“The numbers are fantastic,” SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe told Trade Only Today, adding that entry-level boats had a particularly outstanding month. “You can’t say there are too many industries that are profiting from COVID, but the marine industry is definitely one of them.”
Personal watercraft and jet boats both leapt more than 27% over June 2019 registrations — a whopping 12,109 new PWCs were registered across the 30 states from which registration data was collected, accounting for around 57% of the U.S. market.
Even the bowrider segment was up for the month, rising 12% after years of almost consecutive quarterly declines. Sterndrive bowrider registrations rose 8%, and outboard-powered bowriders jumped 50%. Pontoons and aluminum fishing boats rose nearly 23% each over June 2019 numbers. A look at the early-reporting states shows that nearly all of them are up substantially over the same period last year as well.
Texas, the No. 2 boating state for the month, saw nearly 40% growth in new boat registrations this June versus June 2019, and North Carolina, ranked No. 3 for number of new boats registered, saw almost a 57% increase.
“Even [No. 4 ranked] Michigan was up, and we were locked completely down,” said Kloppe.
New York, Wisconsin and Georgia (ranked 5th, 6th and 7th) were up 21.5%, 43%, and 47%, respectively. Ohio, typically 8th in boat registrations, was not a part of the 30 state survey group.
Texas also had close to the same number of boats registered for the month as Florida, the top boating state in the United States; Texas counted 4,555 compared to 4,779 in Florida.
The strong showing reflects the demand that was reflected pre-pandemic, when January and February boat sales were already up by double digits, said Kloppe, adding: “COVID has just enhanced the urgency to get on a boat; what a great way to social distance and hang out with family and friends.”