We know that Australians love to fish – the types of recreational fishers are vastly diverse across Australia, with fishing meaning something different for everyone. In 2000, the first national scale recreational fishing survey was conducted, estimating that 19.5% of Australians aged five and older recreationally fish (Henry and Lyle 2003). This number was substantially higher than the international average of 10.5% (Arlinghaus et al. 2015).
We have known that fishing is good for wellbeing for sometime, suggesting that a dangle a day does keep the doctor away. However, the most recent nation-wide survey revealed some interesting findings about the current state of recreational fishing in Australia, including the impacts of COVID-19 and the Black Summer Bushfires on the pastime.
- One in five Australian adults’ fish each year. That is approximately 4.2 million people!
- 75% of rec fishers participate in habitat restoration and other stewardship activities
- Rec fishing contributes more than $11.5 billion to GDP per annum and supports over 100,000 jobs each year
- On average, people who fish have higher levels of wellbeing than non-fishers
- Fishing promotes family bonding and positive social connections and is viewed positively by non-fishers
- Most recreational fishers are familiar with recent correct fishing practices and will share that information
- Avid fishers are more likely than less avid fishers to identify and report environmental problems and illegal activities when fishing
- The number of women participating in rec fishing has increased since 2000
The survey is over 200 pages long and explores the contemporary state of rec fishing in Australia.
At the start of 2023, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) published the National Social and Economic Survey of Recreational Fishers (NRFS) in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES), the University of Canberra (UC), and the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF). This survey was designed to provide an overview of the social, economic and environmental value provided by recreational fishing, including a snapshot of the demographics of rec fishers.
With the Australian Government committing to the COP 15 international biodiversity agreement, engagement of rec fisher is vital to achieve the goal of having restoration completed or underway on at least 30% of degraded inland waters, and coastal and marine ecosystems.
The data collected between 2018-2021, captures a holistic view of recreational fishing in Australia. More than 20, 000 people contributed to creating the NRFS with the objectives to:
- Assess social and economic contribution of recreational fishing using multiple methods, including direct and flow-on economic benefits, and market and non-market benefits
- Identify which approaches to recruiting survey participants and completing surveys produce the most representative and robust results
- Recommend appropriate and cost-effective survey methods that can be used to track change in social and economic aspects of recreational fishing in Australia over time
The Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic both occurred after data collection had begun. Unfortunately, this prevented the research team from conducting rigorous testing that was planned for assessing the robustness of survey methods. Despite causing some difficulties however, it provided an opportunity to identify how these events affected some aspects of recreational fishing. Given this, researchers added an extra fourth objective to:
- Identify how fishing activity changed in response to the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Impacts of the Black Summer Bushfires
The 2016-2020 drought that proceeded the Black Summer Bushfires created the conditions for the catastrophic season which burnt over 24 million hectares of Australian land (Australian Government, 2020). The fires caused significant damage to the agriculture, forestry and tourism sectors (Whittaker et al. 2021). Many of the popular costal and freshwater fishing areas were impacted by the fires, disrupting the usual activities of fishers and damaging fish habitat. Ash and sediment washed into waterways and
Just over half of the respondents reported that they fished less between December 2019 – February 2020 when compared to the previous summer.
Impacts of COVID-19
The COVID –19 pandemic was first seen in Australia on the 25th of January 2020 (Department of Health, 2020). The Australian Government responded with the closure of boarders, social movement restrictions and the closure of many non-essential services. Interstate travel was often restricted, while lockdowns were implemented at different times in each of the states and territories, in which residents were restricted from travelling outside their home for non-essential reasons.
These restrictions on activities had various impacts on the ability of the public to go recreational fishing. Although recreational fishing was permitted in most areas, travel and movement restrictions constrained the ability of many people to go fishing. The impacts were varied and often depended on how far a person lived from fishing locations. In March and April of 2020, the Victorian government instituted a total ban on recreational fishing as part of COVID-19 related restrictions on movement (VRFish 2020). This ban, however, only lasted for a short period before being amended to allow fishing within permitted travel distances from the home.
Events such as the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have been associated with a decline in recreational fishing activity.
The fires were devastating for the environment and 45.6% of respondents reported that the top reason for fishing less during the summer of 2019-20 compared to the summer of 2018-19 was bushfire/smoke.
A small number of fishers were able to increase their fishing activity during COVID-19 lockdowns, however it was more commonly reported that fishing activity declined. For those who were able to continue fishing, they found that the activity helped cope with the lockdowns, particularly for those who are more expired fishers. More than one in five of those who did fish during COVID-19 experienced some negative changes when fishing, such as increased overcrowding, or stress when fishing.
Australian Government. 2020. Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements
Report. Australian Government, Canberra.
Arlinghaus, R., Tillner, R., & Bork, M. 2015. Explaining participation rates in recreational fishing
across industrialised countries. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 22(1), 45-55.
Whittaker, J., Haynes, K., Wilkinson, C., Tofa, M., Dilworth, T., Collins, J., Tait, L. and Samson, S.,
2021. Black Summer: how the NSW community responded to the 2019–20 bushfire season. Bushfire
and Natural Hazards CRC: East Melbourne, Vic.
VR Fish. 2020. When will we fish again? May 9, 2020. URL: https://www.vrfish.com.au/2020/05/09/when-will-we-fish-again/
Featured image: An upper Murrumbidgee River Murray cod.
Photo credit: Antia Brademann.