What makes recreational fishing so addictive? Catching fish can be a lot of fun, but research indicates that for most Australians it doesn’t explain the whole story.
A number of studies from around Australia have looked at what motivates us to go fishing, and found that there are several reasons why we find fishing so satisfying. For many it’s about spending time outdoors. For others it’s the time spent with friends and family. Many fishers also describe a relaxed, near meditative state, where they ‘lose time’. How many people do you know who struggle finding peace like that in modern-day life? And of course, fishing demands of us all the art of patience, so rare in our rushed world of instant gratification.
For Australian fishers, these are all generally bigger drivers for going fishing than actually catching fish. And they must be pretty compelling; over 3.4 million people go fishing each year in Australia. But are the benefits we receive from fishing measurable? Do hyperactive children find it easier to concentrate after fishing? Do people with depression feel better after wetting a line? Do families who fish together stay together? What does the available science tell us?
Professor Alexandra McManus and her colleagues from Curtin University have been looking into what is known about the health and well-being benefits we receive from fishing. The project is funded through the Australian Government’s Recreational Fishing Industry Development Strategy.
Unfortunately they have found that there is very little known about the benefits of recreational fishing – particularly in Australia. The researchers systematically explored around 20,386 scientific articles. Of those, 131 were directly related to recreational fishing. Only three of them looked specifically at health and well-being and recreational fishing. And none were from Australia.
Research that has been done overseas is quite interesting though. One project looking at benefits received by physically disabled and non-disabled fishers in Germany found that both groups received a range of benefits, including improved social relationships, improved self esteem, experiencing nature, solitude and a sense of adventure. Interestingly, disabled fishers generally received more benefits from fishing compared to those without disabilities. Unfortunately, they also experienced more barriers to going fishing, such as difficulty accessing fishing locations, not knowing people to go fishing with, risks associated with fishing at the water’s edge, and poor health. Happily though, fishers with disabilities still went fishing as often as fishers without disabilities, suggesting that they were able to overcome these barriers.
Professor McManus and her colleagues also set out to survey Australian recreational fishers to see if they reported any benefits, and were astounded at the positive results received. Whilst not published in scientific journals, they found evidence of benefits from fishing in youth development, breast cancer recovery, improved mental health, recreation for the disabled and participation as a sport. In many cases, fishing was effective in providing an incentive to deter antisocial behaviour, and gave children who typically didn’t do too well in classroom situations the opportunity to shine and to form friendships outside their own school. Interestingly, the researchers also reported findings that hyperactive children were seen to sit quietly by the water for long periods of time and uncommunicative children vocally expressed that they wanted to fish.
More work is clearly needed in this area to help us understand the role that recreational fishing plays in keeping our communities mentally and physically healthy. This information would help inform ongoing marine parks discussions; demonstrating the importance of continued access to quality fishing opportunities for our communities. It would also help make a case for increased government support for our recreational fishing industry, as a preventative alternative to ballooning investment required for hospitals and healthcare. And who knows? Maybe some time in the future you’ll be able to claim a new fishing rod each year from your private health fund?