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Report in USA says too many anglers are leaving


Nearly one quarter of anglers in the US are simply walking away from recreational fishing – that’s the stark statistic uncovered by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Federation (RBFF).

Four years ago millions took to fishing and boating for the first time in search of a healthy refuge from the global Covid pandemic. In 2023 an historic 57.7 million anglers aged over six went fishing in the USA – an impressive six per cent increase on the previous year. Now participation in the sport is hovering at 19% of the population, its highest for 16 years.

However the storm clouds are gathering following the discovery that the churn rate is a staggering 23%. Stephanie Vatalaro, the Senior Vice President, Strategy & Operations at the RBFF, told Angling International: “With participation at its highest mark in nearly two decades and the churn rate peaking, the industry finds itself at the crossroads. Seasoned anglers, educators, guides and manufacturers must come together to bridge the gap between new entrants and those leaving the sport.”

Recognising the need for change, the RBFF – under the directive of its Board – initiated a comprehensive multi-phase research project last year. “The 2023 endeavour went deeper into the psychology of churn than previous studies have – deep enough to explore the behavioural science behind the propensity of participants to swap fishing and boating for alternative activities,” explained Vatalaro.

Conducted by the global market research firm Ipsos, the research unfolded in four phases. The first delved into social data analysis, scutinising over 900 million social and online discussions to glean real-time feedback on fishing and boating and the factors contributing to attrition.

The research sought to unravel the conscious and subconscious decision-making processes by leveraging behavioural science. “Insights collected shed light on potential barriers to sustained fishing engagement. For example, the poignant account of an individual who solely fished to bond with their late father highlights the emotional dimension of the sport. Such narratives offer retention strategies, emphasising the revival of cherished memories and the therapeutic aspects of nature immersion.

“Another prevalent barrier was identified as time constraints, with individuals wanting to return to fishing once free from overwhelming responsibilities. However, further exploration revealed that these time slots were often filled with alternative hobbies, suggesting a need for a strategic repositioning of fishing within the leisure preferences of the individual.”

In January this year, researchers put boots on the ground to find out the views of lapsed anglers and boaters, delving deeper into the threads unearthed in phase one. They explored topics such as goals beyond catching fish, awareness of available resources for newcomers and the pivotal role of community in fostering sustained engagement.

A third phase followed these discussions with a quantitative survey to discover the reasons and drivers for anglers giving up the sport, leveraging behavioural science frameworks to dissect attitudes, motivations, barriers and beliefs.

Finally, phase four breathed life into the people identified, with participants sharing video diaries to elucidate strategies for retention-focused outreach and sustained engagement.

“The study resulted in actionable insights and recommendations that are being provided to industry stakeholders – like Angling International – to guide targeted, informed efforts to maximise retention and reduce churn,” said Vatalaro.

“In short, the RBFF is providing a toolkit that all industry stakeholders can use to help keep new anglers active. Make no mistake – the future of fishing is bright. An overwhelming 99% of fishing participants say they intend to continue fishing. More than a third of those – 34% – plan on over 20 outings a year.

“But the industry must ensure a vibrant future by increasing efforts to engage younger demographics.”

A massive 87% of current fishing enthusiasts were introduced to the sport during childhood. And according to the study, the sport remains markedly connected to family activities. Sharing the experience of fishing with a child remains a high motivator for parents to cultivate activities on the water.

Understanding participants’ demographics, motivations and barriers is pivotal for the industry to engage the next generation of fishing enthusiasts effectively, says the RBFF. Retaining newcomers remains paramount, especially considering the younger, more diverse, and digitally-connected demographic entering the fold.

Key strategies include showcasing memorable fishing experiences, highlighting accessible water resources, providing beginner-friendly educational resources, emphasising the social dimension of fishing and recommending cost-effective equipment.

For access to information on the 2024 Special Report on Fishing, click here. The Psychology of Churn research is coming soon.

• The research initiative was made possible through the generous support of industry partners, including the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Grady-White Boats, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas (MRAA), the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and Yamaha Watercraft.

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