By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
One of America’s largest fly fishing outfitters has warned that the sector’s proposed new regulatory regime “will do more harm than good”, and create “significant” potential for a fall-off in visiting anglers.
Paul Perkins, The Orvis Company’s chief executive, in an open letter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, backed the Government’s intent to manage the Bahamas’ fisheries resources and ensure it maximised the economic benefits for locals.
While backing the Government’s plan to require visiting anglers to obtain permits, Mr Perkins’ called on user fees to be based on “a fair and accessible permit system”.
His June 25, 2015, letter also called for the consultation process on the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2015 to be extended - something the Government appeared to agree to at last week’s Monday meeting with the industry.
“What is at stake here is not only the protection of this resource, but fair and equitable legislation that protects the resource while at the same time strengthening the economic value of that resource to the local Bahamian economy,” Mr Perkins said.
“In our opinion as long-time stakeholders in Bahamian tourism as it pertains to angling, we believe parts of this legislation are too restrictive, too subjective, and as it stands will do more harm than good.
“We as travel professionals specialise in customer service. Years of experience tell us that the potential for a decline in angling visits is significant, given the growth of other markets combined with the difficult and uncertain nature of certain aspects of this draft legislation for visiting anglers.”
Mr Perkins emphasised that Orvis backed the Government’s fisheries resources management efforts, given the “invaluable” role they played for the economy and as a natural resource, drawing hundreds of fishermen to the Bahamas annually.
Describing the Bahamas as “one of the more progressive countries” in the Caribbean when it comes to fisheries conservation and management, Mr Perkins urged that the consultation process become more “democratic” to ensure all voices were heard.
“User fees based on a fair and accessible permit system, where proceeds are dedicated to support the science and the conservation of the resource, are unassailable as the foundation for the protection of the resource, but at the same time there must be a democratic process where different voices and constituencies can have the opportunity to shape a fair outcome,” Mr Perkins wrote.
“Initially, this comment period is much too brief and the process too rushed to ensure a strong and mutually beneficial outcome for all concerned stakeholders.”
Mr Perkins added that “the wheel does not have to be reinvented in the Bahamas”, as there were numerous legislative exampled globally that this nation could draw upon to assist its reform efforts.
The current regulations have effectively split the Bahamian fly fishing industry ‘down the middle’.
One group, led by Prescott Smith, the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) president, is supporting the proposed amendments as a means to empower Bahamian bonefishing guides and ensure they maximise the economic benefits from the $141 million industry.
They are especially concerned about the number of foreign participants they claim “sneak in through the back door”, such as second home owners who convert their homes into bonefish lodges and rent them out without obtaining the necessary approvals.
The other side, though, believes the proposed regulations are too restrictive and protectionist; further increase already-high visitor costs and the bureaucracy involved in obtaining fishing permits; and threaten to drive lucrative business from the Bahamas to competitor nations.
Orvis, in a dispassionate review of the proposed regulatory changes, warned that the definition of ‘fishing guide’ opened up anyone considered a non-guide - even fathers teaching their children - to potential prosecution.
It told the Ministry: “The definition of a guide is too restrictive and could create problems for hosted trips, which are a big business for Orvis, our industry peers, and many of our partners in the Bahamas.
“You should focus on supporting the certification and training of guides to ensure an adequate number of skilled guides to support the economic potential of the resource.”
Orvis added that the $20 per day permit for anglers “could be cost prohibitive and result in a decline in tourism”, hurting the Bahamian economy.
It instead recommended ‘a sliding scale’ that would allow anglers to purchase permits for different lengths of time, such as $100 for a weekly permit and $200 for a monthly permit.
The outfitter added that the $150 annual fee for a flats fishing guide certificate, and $250 per year fee for a lodge operator certificate, “seem very light” given that they were the main beneficiaries from the Bahamas’ national resources.
Orvis also urged that the Government make angler permits available on-line to “save time and money, and unnecessary paperwork and red tape for all involved”.
“The criteria for a permit should be concise and consistent across the resource. There should be national unrestricted access with no room on the local level to prohibit access to flats or a license,” the company added.
“As it is currently written, the legislation suggests that guides, lodge operators and local administrators would be in the position to ‘independently govern a region’, impose conditions, restrictions or limitations for a permit as they deem appropriate.
“This allows too much room for restrictions subject to the whims of the individual grantor, especially if a guide simply doesn’t want an angler to fish in a certain area.”
Orvis also urged a “gradual roll-out” of the regulations to ensure that there were enough certified, licensed guides to meet angler demand.