What Percentage of People Go Fishing? A Comprehensive Analysis

two men fishing

Fishing has long been a popular pastime for many Americans, with its tranquil surroundings and the satisfaction that comes from catching one’s dinner. While it’s clear that fishing holds a special place in the hearts of many, determining the exact percentage of people who actively participate in this beloved activity is equally important. Delving into recent statistics and surveys can provide a clearer picture of its popularity among the United States population.

In 2020, approximately 54.7 million people in the United States engaged in fishing at least once, making up around 18% of the total population according to a recent report. Out of these participants, 42.6 million were freshwater fishermen, while 14.5 million preferred saltwater fishing. This widespread interest in the activity has significant implications on the fishing industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Given the multitude of factors that can influence fishing participation, it is important to continuously monitor and evaluate new data to determine how the appeal and accessibility of the sport may evolve over time. Organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regularly conduct research such as the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, & Wildlife-Associated Recreation to provide updated information. By staying up-to-date with these surveys, fishing enthusiasts and businesses alike can work towards a sustainable future for the sport.

Global Fishing Participation Rates

By Country

Recreational fishing is a popular outdoor activity worldwide, but participation rates vary between countries. For example, the United States has a high participation rate, with approximately 55 million people, or 18% of the population, engaging in fishing activities in 2020 source. While it’s difficult to provide exact numbers for all countries, the literature on global trends in recreational fishing reveals that public surveys conducted in mainly developed countries generally view recreational fisheries as acceptable and a popular pastime source.

By Age

When looking at the age distribution of fishing participants in the United States, it is noted that the highest share of participants belongs to the age bracket of 6 to 12 years, with 15% of the total fishing participants source. Although age distribution data for fishing participants in other countries is not readily available, it can be inferred that recreational fishing typically attracts people of diverse age groups.

By Gender

Although specific data on gender distribution in recreational fishing is not readily available, it is known that both men and women participate in the activity. There may be differences in the proportions of men and women who engage in fishing, but overall, it is clear that recreational fishing appeals to a wide range of people regardless of gender.

Reasons for Fishing


Fishing is a popular recreational activity in the United States, with nearly 55 million Americans participating in 2020. Often considered a relaxing and meditative pastime, fishing allows individuals to escape the stresses of daily life and connect with nature. The activity also offers opportunities for social bonding, as friends and family members can fish together, strengthening their relationships and creating lasting memories.


Another reason people go fishing is to catch fish for consumption. Freshly caught fish is not only a source of food, but also a means of self-sufficiency and sustainability for many. By catching fish, individuals can bypass commercial fish markets and reduce their reliance on mass-produced food products. This aspect of fishing often appeals to those who prioritize locally sourced and environmentally conscious food choices.


Fishing is a tradition passed down through generations in many families and cultures. For some, fishing is a part of their heritage and a way to honor their ancestors who relied on the practice for sustenance and trade. By participating in fishing, individuals can preserve these cultural and familial traditions while also teaching valuable life skills to the younger generations.


Some people are drawn to fishing as a sport, seeking the excitement, competition, and challenge that comes with catching large or elusive fish species. Sport fishing can involve traveling to exotic locations or participating in fishing tournaments, where anglers vie for the biggest catch or the highest number of fish reeled in. The sport can be both a personal challenge and a social activity, with a camaraderie amongst fellow anglers who share stories of their greatest catches or most memorable fishing experiences.

Fishing Methods and Gear

Recreational Fishing Methods

Recreational fishing is a popular activity in the United States, with approximately 55 million Americans participating in 2020. There are various methods used in recreational fishing, depending on the angler’s preferences and the target species. Some of the most common recreational fishing methods include:

  • Spinning: This technique uses a spinning reel and rod for casting lightweight lures or bait. It is a versatile method suitable for both freshwater and saltwater fishing.
  • Fly fishing: A specialized method that uses artificial flies and a fly rod to mimic the movement of natural prey. This technique is particularly popular for targeting trout and salmon in freshwater environments.
  • Baitcasting: Baitcasting involves using a baitcasting reel that allows for precise casting and control. This method is often used by experienced anglers targeting larger fish species.

Commercial Fishing Methods

Commercial fishing methods are designed to catch a large number of fish at a time, using efficient and specialized fishing gear. Some of the most common commercial fishing techniques include:

  • Purse seine: This method involves encircling a school of fish with a large net and then closing the bottom of the net, much like a purse, to capture the fish. Purse seine fishing is the most common method used for catching fish commercially, accounting for over 80% of fish caught using nets.
  • Longlining: Longline fishing involves deploying a long line with baited hooks at regular intervals. The line is set either on the surface or near the seabed to target specific fish species. It is an efficient method for capturing fish and can result in hundreds or thousands of fish caught at a time.
  • Trawling: Trawling involves dragging a large net through the water to capture fish swimming in its path. This method can be particularly impactful on the environment, as it can result in significant bycatch and damage to the seabed.

As the demand for fish continues to grow, it is important to ensure sustainable fishing practices are used to maintain healthy fish populations and ecosystems. This can be achieved through responsible recreational fishing methods and adopting sustainable commercial fishing techniques, such as pole-and-line fishing or selective fishing gear, which can reduce bycatch and minimize environmental impacts.

Environmental Impact and Conservation


Overfishing is a significant issue in the world’s oceans, with about 60 percent of fish stocks being fully fished, right at the limit of sustainability, and 33 percent being overfished. This has serious consequences for fish populations and the ecosystems they inhabit. Moreover, an estimated 20 percent of fish in the United States are lost in the supply chain due to overfishing, with this number rising to 30 percent in third-world countries due to inadequate freezing devices. As a result, even though fish harvests are increasing, there is massive waste, further exacerbating the problem of overfishing.

Sustainable Fishing Practices

Sustainable fishing practices are essential for preserving fish populations and maintaining the overall health of marine ecosystems. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that about 7 percent of fish stocks are underfished, which means these populations have room for growth and can contribute to sustainable fisheries. In order to achieve sustainable fishing, it is crucial to:

  • Implement effective catch limits and quotas
  • Minimize bycatch and discard rates
  • Employ more selective fishing gear
  • Protect and restore critical habitat
  • Strengthen monitoring and enforcement

Fully protecting over 30% of the ocean has been proposed to conserve fish stocks and improve fisheries production, as well as help tackle climate change. Over three billion people globally rely on fish as their primary source of protein, and 12 percent of the world depends on fisheries in some form or another, with 90 percent of these being small-scale fishermen. Adopting sustainable practices is crucial for the livelihoods of these fishermen and the long-term health of marine ecosystems.

Economic Impact of Fishing

Fishing plays a significant role in the economy, providing jobs, income, and recreational opportunities. This sector can be divided into commercial and recreational fishing, each having distinct economic impacts.

Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing contributes significantly to the United States’ economy, providing jobs and income to many coastal communities. In 2020, this industry generated over $154.7 billion in sales and supported about 1.1 million jobs, with a total value-added impact of $62.5 billion 1.

Some key aspects of the commercial fishing industry’s economic impact include:

  • Employment: A significant source of jobs, especially in coastal areas.
  • Sales: Commercial fishing contributes to the nation’s GDP through sales and services.
  • Value-added impacts: The overall contribution of the industry to the country’s economy, including wages, taxes, and operating surpluses.

Recreational Fishing

Recreational fishing is a popular outdoor activity in the United States with wide-ranging economic implications. In 2020, retail sales related to recreational fishing were estimated at $49.8 billion per year. The industry supports over 800,000 jobs, generates $38 billion in wages, and contributes $16 billion in federal, state, and local taxes 2.

Some notable aspects of recreational fishing’s economic impact include:

  • Job creation: Recreational fishing generates employment in various sectors, including manufacturing, retail, and tourism.
  • Economic growth: The industry contributes to the economy through sales, taxes, and wages.
  • Conservation efforts: Anglers contribute to the conservation and management of fish stocks through license fees and participation in catch-and-release practices.

In summary, fishing has a considerable economic impact in the United States, with commercial and recreational sub-sectors providing jobs, income, and recreational opportunities for millions of Americans.

Now it’s time to find a place to go fishing. Use this map to get started!


  1. Fisheries Economics of the United States | NOAA Fisheries

  2. New Report Highlights Recreational Fishing’s Broad Economic and Conservation Impact | ASA

Captain Tyler Brady

Captain Tyler Brady

Hi, I'm Captain Tyler Brady, founder of A Fellow Fisherman. Thank you for reading this post and visiting my site. I strive to provide the best information when it comes to fishing, whether it is myself or A Fellow Fisherman that is part of my team. Now stop reading and GO fishing!

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