by Randy Zellers, Assistant Chief of Communications, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
LITTLE ROCK — In the face of a global pandemic, Arkansans rediscovered their bond with nature and enjoyed angling more than they have in the last few years. Thanks to a recently completed study by Louisiana State University, scientists may have a few more answers into how to keep the momentum going.
The study, led by Stephen Midway, Ph.D. at LSU’s College of the Coast and Environment, evaluated the effect of the pandemic on fishing license holders.
Jessica Feltz, a human dimensions biologist who works for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Fisheries Division, coordinated the Arkansas portion of the survey, gathering contact information for Arkansas anglers who purchased a license between March and May of this year.
“That was the period the research is focused on, because it was during that initial COVID response when schools and businesses closed or went to virtual options,” Feltz said. “That was when we noticed much more activity on lakes and rivers in Arkansas, but this research is important to verify what we saw.”
Nearly 1,600 participants who were randomly selected from the AGFC’s fishing license database completed surveys.
“Dr. Midway set a goal of 1,000 survey responses for each state, so we do feel confident in our results,” Feltz said.
Not only did more anglers purchase licenses, but those who historically purchased fishing licenses went more often. A review of license sales indicates an increase of 19.6% in purchases from March to May 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019, and survey responses show that 32% of anglers said they fished more than they would in a typical year. The average number of fishing trips taken during the initial COVID-19 response was 10.9 trips per angler.
This time period also falls during one of the peaks of fishing activity in Arkansas.
While many states saw massive shutdowns of boating accesses, boat ramps in The Natural State remained largely open. The only boating access points closed during the initial COVID-19 response were those on the Buffalo National River and any smaller ramps that were part of a local park that had been closed in response to the virus. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramps remained open as well as state park ramps and AGFC-owned ramps. Campgrounds in many areas were closed, which may have curtailed some plans for extended fishing trips. Three-quarters of respondents said they saw no change in their ability to go fishing as a result of any access closures, but some did indicate the initial closure of some public parks, campgrounds and boat ramps as an obstacle they needed to overcome during their fishing excursions.
The increase in fishing activity may have been the result of the perception that fishing, by and large, presents a low-risk to catching the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“This perception was confirmed by the survey, which indicated that 98% of the respondents said they felt fishing was at least a somewhat safe activity during the pandemic,” Feltz said. “It’s nice to know people felt fishing was something they could still enjoy during this time.”
Feltz says it’s too early to tell if the same increase will occur in hunting this fall, but she says the information gained through the survey will help the agency plan outreach and goals for next year.
“We are just moving forward with discussions on how we can retain these new anglers and anglers who have rediscovered fishing,” Feltz said. “In addition to notices and reminders on how to renew their license, we are hoping to encourage them to expand their outdoor experiences. Maybe take up trout fishing or travel to a new fishing destination in Arkansas for a fresh adventure. We historically have spent a lot of effort getting people to make that first step to becoming lifelong anglers, now we need to switch gears to keep them on that path.”