Near-record numbers of Nova Scotians have been drawn into the world of sport fishing during the pandemic.
About 79,000 general sport fishing licenses were sold in the province in 2021, the most since 1985. Residents of Nova Scotia purchased 97% of licenses, the highest percentage of sales in the province at the Canada-wide.
Andrew Lowles, Nova Scotia’s director of resource management for the Department of Inland Fisheries, said the pandemic played a role in that increase.
“During the pandemic, outdoor recreation was pushed by the health department and sport fishing was a great way to exercise and get in the water,” Lowles said.
“I think a lot of people have come back to fishing after being away from it for years.”
Matt Szeto runs a guiding service on Kinsac Lake and the Stewiacke River north of Halifax. He has been fishing for over 30 years and has never seen so many Nova Scotians cast their lines.
“When I started fishing Stewiake you hardly saw anyone there, now you see hundreds of people,” Szeto said.
The increased local interest has been great for his business.
“It’s been really busy this year. I actually had to turn a lot of people down,” Szeto said of his serve on the Stewiacke River.
“I actually gave a few clients to another guide and now he’s fully booked as well.”
Switch to online licensing
General sport fishing licenses allow anglers to catch all freshwater species other than Atlantic salmon which has a specific license.
At the start of the pandemic, the province set up an online system for general and salmon licenses in addition to hundreds of license vendors in stores and government offices across the province.
Szeto says the convenience of being able to get a permit in minutes without leaving home has drawn more people to Nova Scotia’s rivers and lakes.
“A lot of seats are sold out and the Department of Natural Resources offices are closed on weekends,” Szeto said.
“I brought in guys from New Brunswick who were amazed that they could get a license in five minutes.
The Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture wants to make the province a hub for sport fishing.
Booming sport fishing industry
A new program called Fish Nova Scotia was launched in 2020. Its goal is to promote and increase sport fishing opportunities in Nova Scotia to residents and visitors and to enhance Nova Scotia’s reputation as a as an attractive travel destination.
In 2021, sport fishing contributed more than $70 million to the provincial economy through services ranging from accommodations to the purchase of fishing tackle.
Larry Shortt has been with Fishing Fever in Halifax for 20 years. He says business has increased during the pandemic, but now the store is struggling to stock some equipment due to global supply chain issues.
“It’s frustrating because you want to help people get into a really good sport,” Shortt said. “The whole family can do this and sometimes it’s frustrating not having the materials to get them started in the right direction.”
Shortt hopes it will soon become easier for tackle shops to get gear so the sport can continue to grow in the province.