This time of year, Oregonians are known to flock to the outdoors to spend time participating in their favorite nature-based hobbies. This year, people may be noticing something new they aren’t used to seeing so much of in the great outdoors – other people.
Fishing and hunting license sales through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have increased steadily since the start of the pandemic last spring, with 2020 sales of fishing licenses rising by 18% compared to sales in 2019. So, if you are planning a fishing trip to the Willamette River, nearby reservoirs, or to the coast any time soon, be prepared to see other anglers at your favorite spot.
“Riverbanks and jetties were busier, and people with boats probably didn’t realize they had so many friends,” said Jeremy Romer, Assistant District Fish Biologist at ODFW, of the 2020 fishing season.
Romer attributes numerous factors to the increasing crowds seen along Oregon’s rivers and coasts. Being cooped up due to COVID-19 was a main contributor to the increase in both hunting and fishing licenses throughout the Pacific Northwest, but more locally Romer believes the wildfires in early fall had the subsequent effect of pushing more outdoor recreators into even narrower spaces.
“Basically, it was the perfect storm for having more people outdoors recreating in less outdoor space than normally available,” he said.
The pandemic’s influence on use of the outdoors in 2020 was significant, as socializing outside allows for social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not only is the outdoors a relative safe haven as far as COVID is concerned, but the pandemic also gave many people the time and a reason to finally try something they may have always been interested in. Being cooped up and stressed out naturally leads many people to the outdoors, and the reportedbeneficial aspects of fishing – including stress relief, decreased PTSD symptoms, and increased physical activity – make it a natural choice for a new hobby during the pandemic.
“Fishing and hunting are wonderful pastimes, even if you are terrible at it. On an ‘unsuccessful trip’ you take some beautiful pictures, see amazing things, laugh, hang out with the people closest to you, find something cool, get some exercise, make memories, bond through trauma – terrible weather, boat breakdowns, equipment failures, etc.,” Romer said. “Then, when you are successful the reward isn’t a medal to put in a shoebox in a drawer, it’s sustenance (often delicious), manna, nutrients required for life. That’s cool.”
The surge in fishing and increased use of waterways has continued into 2021 as well, again partly due to the pandemic, but also due to the ease at which people can now purchase their angling licenses from ODFW.
The Electronic Licensing System now used by the organization to sell licenses online was first debuted in 2019, when it experienced some technical hiccups. Now, however, it is running smoothly and outdoor enthusiasts, as well as first time goers, are able to purchase the required permits remotely, which makes the transaction easier and COVID-friendly.
Not only has the recent surge in fishing activity benefited people in the form of stress relief and time spent outdoors, but it’s good for environmental and educational programs. This revenue collected by ODFW from fishing license sales supports the organizations’ numerous salmon, lamprey, and steelhead conservation efforts, as well as the Willamette River Conservation and Recovery Plan.
So if you are an experienced, seasoned fisherperson, you may be sharing your usual fishing spot on the Willamette or the McKenzie with some new-comers. To some people who seek fishing for its solitude, the increased popularity of the sport may take some getting used to, but it’s worth remembering that increased fishing not only promotes the wellbeing of our community, it will also help protect the aquatic resources and fisheries that Oregonians love.