By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) chief executive says he still “encourages” local government authorities to consult with local boaters about charging them anchorage and mooring fees, on the basis that any revenues raised would be spent for their benefit.
Using the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park as an example, Eric Carey told Tribune Business that the mooring fees levied by the BNT on visiting boaters - while providing valuable income - covered just under 30 per cent of annual park maintenance costs.
All this money - some $175,000 - was ploughed back into the Park’s upkeep, which benefited both the environment and the many boaters who enjoyed it.
Mr Carey said the same model, which is also employed in Hope Town, where local government rents out moorings to boaters, could generate a valuable income stream for local governments “throughout the Bahamas”.
However, he suggested that such a policy be implemented after consultation and with tact - unlike his recent Internet/Exuma Business Outlook comments, which so incensed many foreign boaters that they threatened never to return to this nation’s waters.
Mr Carey’s subsequent retraction and apology, reported in yesterday’s Tribune Business, appear to have somewhat defused the situation, based on the more muted feedback posted on this newspaper’s website.
One comment, from ‘ThisisOurs’, said in response: “Interesting. Change is hard and diplomacy is a skill.”
Others were slightly less charitable, ‘Amarone’ saying: “In my world, comments like that would be grounds for dismissal. Never bite the hands that feed you.
“Look at areas like Black Point, Governor’s harbour, Hatchet Harbour, that welcome you with smiles and great attitude. These settlements should ask for his dismissal.”
However, Mr Carey even received some support. One poster, ‘Bay Breeze’, said: “Perhaps the comments were ill-advised and hurtful to good boaters and cruisers. I would hope folks who are upset with Mr Carey’s comments consider that there are bad boaters and outright pirates exploiting Bahamian resources with no economic benefit to the economy of the Bahamas, and no respect for the marine environment.
“Day trippers and weekend cruisers may not be the problem in the Exumas, but Bimini, Cay Sal and Bahama Banks are looted by folks who do not pay fees, clear Customs or spend a dime in the Bahamas.”
Pointing to media reports to back his case, ‘Bay Breeze’ added: “Given the importance of all tourism, it is obvious why The Bahamas does not want to crack down on those who illegally exploit resources and disrespect the sovereignty of the nation.
“Perhaps the words were ill advised, but good cruisers who obey the law, respect the environment, support the economy and contribute their time should know that there are bad players who taint the boating community with their imprudent actions. To those moochers, I concur with Mr Carey’s original sentiment - the Bahamas is better off with out them.”
The BNT chief, meanwhile, has not given up on his mooring/anchorage fee proposal, although this is being made much more diplomatically.
“My finance folks tell me we earn about $175,000 currently from Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park mooring fees,” he told Tribune Business via e-mail.
“Much of this is ploughed back into the mooring maintenance themselves, with both equipment and staff time. This does not even cover salaries, which total more than $180,000.
“In addition we have at least $75,000 in just fuel alone. Tens of thousands in boat and engine maintenance. Building maintenance; costs of BNT providing support from Nassau; transport of staff in and out of this remote location; expensive satellite communications etc. All in all, this approaches $600,000 annually. So we do not earn a profit from the mooring fees – far from it in fact.”
Explaining the BNT’s strategy, Mr Carey added: “To help raise these funds we are also implementing an anchorage fee policy in the Exuma Park. This is targeting especially the large charter yachts that use the park as part of their itinerary.
“Many of them are too large to tie up safely on our moorings, so they have to anchor. We are confident most of them will support the anchorage fees, as these will be reinvested back into the management and upkeep of the very resources and beauty of the park that they use to sell their charters to their guests.
“Taking care of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is full-time, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And it costs a lot of money to run. We are very frugal down there and I’m not sure how the staff actually make it from day to day. I want to reemphasise that we don’t make a profit off of the users – we don’t even break even.”
Mr Carey, in a subsequent phone interview, described mooring and anchorage fee income from the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park as “almost a wash, in and out”.
Yet, noting the potential importance of such revenues to Family Island communities, the BNT chief added: “I still encourage local government people to engage boaters, and talk to them about protecting their environment.
“There are places like Hope Town that put moorings in and rent them out, and I support local governments doing the same throughout the Bahamas.”