Fishing could help tourism recover in Europe

Angling – which is worth €2 billion to the European economy each year – could play a major part in helping the continent’s tourism sector get back on its feet after the Covid-19 pandemic.

With angler numbers growing in almost every European country during various lockdowns alongside its huge socio-economic value, the sport has a key role to play in boosting visitors once restrictions begin to ease.

The idea is part of a major report by the European Parliament Forum on Recreational Fisheries and Aquatic Environment, which includes representatives from major fishing groups and politicians.

MEP Niclas Herbst, chair of the RecFishing Forum, said the Covid-19 crisis had shown how important angling can be, as it provides a sense of nature and allows people to go outside. He also highlighted the importance of the tourism sector in Europe revealed plans to organise a European tourism convention to draft a 2050 roadmap towards a “sustainable, innovative and resilient European tourism ecosystem.”

Figures from this year so far reveal that Denmark saw a 20 per cent rise in fishing licences being bought in March and April compared to the previous year, in The Netherlands there were more than 100,000 licences sold in the first five months of 2020, where it would normally take a year to reach this amount, Sweden saw a 160 per cent hike in licence sales in May compared to previous months while Finland saw a 50 per cent rise in them in march, compared with last year.

Irish MEP Grace O’Sullivan drew on her own experience to explain how angling helped forge some life-long friendships and is being taught through generations. She revealed that, in Ireland, around 406,000 people went fishing in 2012, with a direct spending of €555 million, of which €125 million was generated by overseas tourists.

She also claimed that estimated 83 per cent of young people in schools wanted to go fishing, meaning angling could be a huge opportunity in terms of education related to nature and fish stocks conservation objectives.

Benefits of angling

Dr Stefan Spahn, a European Anglers Alliance (EAA) board member, revealed that, during the Covid-19 crisis, anglers were able to continue their hobby in most European countries, in compliance with all restrictions and measures in place. He believed that this was beneficial to all, as spending 30 minutes outside lowers levels of stress.

He then argued that angling tourism could be seen as a solution for the recovery of the tourism sector, especially in terms of ‘weekend anglers‘, whose trips have a positive impact at a more local level, and given that people would tend to travel locally rather than abroad during the COVID-19 crisis.

In Europe, there are around 25 million anglers, including 10 million sea anglers, contributing some €20 billion to the economy, from tackle, fees, lodging and travel, with sea fishing alone supporting more than 100,00 jobs. Indeed, in some countries recreational fishing delivers more economic benefits than commercial fishing, with many less fish caught.

Frank Brodrecht, CEO of specialist fishing tour operator Kingfisher Angelreisen, said: “Angling tourism is only a small part of total tourism but it is quite unique and interesting, as angling is a passion. That is why anglers really want to travel and to fish – there are very limited reasons for anglers to cancel their trips, in comparison with regular travellers. The recovery of the sector could be very fast, if the travel infrastructure is functioning.”

Igor Miličić, secretary general of the Fishing Association of Slovenia, said his country was a proven destination for travelling anglers, who spend an average of almost five and a half days in the upper Soca Valley, contributing around €300 per day or €1.6 million per year.

The organisation also works closely with the Slovenian Tourism Board as well as being involved in a number of conservation activities.

Olivier Portrat, CEO of the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFTTA) recognised that those were challenging times, affecting a lot of economic sectors, especially tourism but also, that angling is social distancing at its best.

He said: “Angling is a sustainable form of tourism and a very conservation minded one: once a fish is caught, anglers are free to decide whether to release it or kill it.”

He underlined that the supposed importance of recreational fisheries on some fish stocks should not prevent the EU from proposing a policy vision and support for this sector that represents a genuine opportunity for Europe, including in tourism.

“There is always a way to manage the impact of recreational fisheries on fish stocks, through bag limits, minimum reference sizes, fishing seasons and this should be only a part of the EU’s approach to recreational fisheries.”

Explaining that data for some areas was very spares, he called for a pan-European study, which would give a general overview of the sector, covering turnover, social and economic impacts and cultural importance of the sector, at sea and in freshwater.

He underlined that angling and angling tourism are part of the Blue Economy and should be part of the strategic vision of the European Union.

He cited the 2030 Maritime Strategy of Catalonia, which rightly identified recreational fishing as an activity commonly practiced all year round, creating a relevant and sustainable economic activity, estimating that the sector provided a turnover of €89 million in 2016.

He added: “Recreational fisheries are an integral part of the strategic plan for the region, including actions related to the sustainable, integrated and harmonious development of the blue economy that respects the human uses of the sea.”