When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, residents facing quarantines and crowd restrictions turned to the outdoors along the Space Coast — biking, fishing, hiking and hunting.
One immediate challenge was the increased demand for use of public areas, because many of those facilities were still shut down due to virus concerns, said Greg Workman, the regional public information coordinator and acting regional director, Northeast Region, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Just talking to a lot of folks who are in the field that they have noticed a little uptick in users in our public lands. You have everybody telling you to get outdoors. It’s a good way to social distance, and we did everything we could to provide that,’’ he said.
In May, “We started looking at how we could reopen these public areas and still maintain safety. That’s what we’re continuing to do to keep these areas open,’’ he said.
The fishing industry — especially surf fishing — experienced a pandemic-related increase in interest and demand for equipment, said Matt Fowler, the manager of Strike-Zone Fishing at 2771 W. New Haven Ave. in Melbourne. Early in the pandemic, fishing was one of the few ways you were allowed to be on the beach, he said.
Last year was, however, “a double-edged sword” for the fishing industry. Demand was high, including new boat sales, but there were problems with getting supplies of all types, causing delays, he said. “It’s been an interesting duality,’’ he said.
There were 63,983 fishing and hunting licenses sold in Brevard County in 2020. Statewide in 2020, the grand total of saltwater, freshwater and hunting licenses was a record 1,857,741 compared to the total of 1,730,133 the previous year, according to the FWC.
“If there is a bright spot in this horrible COVID-19 tragedy, it’s the unprecedented interest of families and individuals wanting to enjoy nature. We are seeing a strong demand for outdoor gear across all categories, both online and in our store, according to a corporate spokesman for Bass Pro Shops, which has a location at Interstate 95 and Palm Bay Road.
“Fishing, hunting, hiking and other outdoor recreation are great activities for times like these, because it’s easy to practice social distancing and provides a healthy source of stress relief given the uncertainty we all feel,” the spokesman said.