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It seems like everything from soft plastics to fishing reels are out of stock these days. And when you can find products in stock they’re marked up higher than usual. What’s causing these issues and when will we be able to find fishing gear at normal availability and prices?

I talked to Robert Dufek, Shimano Southeast Regional Manager, at ICAST 2021 to understand what is causing the problems and when they will be resolved. According to Dufek, the 2021 gear shortage is caused by the perfect storm of lingering COVID-19 restrictions, rising shipping costs, and a huge increase in demand. 

The pandemic and the government restrictions that come with it are causing massive shipping delays in Asia, where most fishing gear is manufactured. “Some of the Chinese ports are operating at 40, 50, or 60 percent capacity,” Dufek said. “These ports are significantly larger than the Los Angeles port, which is the largest port in the United States. So, containers are arriving at the port, but can’t get out the door.” 

The cost of shipping those containers has gone up significantly as well. “A normal 40-foot high cube container that would cost $4,000 to ship to California from China, is now $14,000 to $18,000,” Dufek said. To make matters worse, bidding wars for containers and space on ships are common. 

It’s not that companies like Shimano aren’t producing products or getting those products to retailers. It’s that the products are selling out in minutes and demand is outpacing supply. “We’re manufacturing far more product than we ever have in the history of Shimano,” Dufek said. Shimano has factories throughout the world, including in Japan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the US, all of which are operational. “We’re setting record shipping numbers every month. It’s not that we’re not shipping as much product as we did a year ago. We’re shipping more product, far more product,” Dufek said. According to a 2021 study by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, 55 million Americans went fishing in the last year, and 4.4 million went fishing for the first time, a 42 percent increase. The obvious solution to this increased participation is to ramp up manufacturing, but expanding a manufacturing facility isn’t a simple task. 

“The other problem is our manufacturing facilities are very large buildings. They’re very intricate, and there’s a lot of machinery there,” Dufek said. “In order to expand the capabilities of that particular facility, it doesn’t happen in three months.” According to him, it would take about two years to expand their factories. 

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So how long will these issues last? Unfortunately, much of it depends on factors out of the manufacturer’s control. If COVID-19 restrictions imposed by various countries are relaxed, then ports and factories can operate with a full workforce. The latest Bloomberg supply chain update shows product flow from Asia to America is improving, but congestion in US ports is worsening. The other factor is how long the surge in demand will continue. The RBFF study found that 55 percent of people who tried fishing in 2020 will continue the activity in 2021, which could keep the demand for fishing products high. In short, we don’t know what the rest of 2021 will hold, and the past year has taught us not to make predictions. One thing we do know is manufacturers like Shimano will be doing their best to get you the gear you need to hit the water. 

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