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Tourism Fury Over Fly Fishing ‘Tsunami’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A furious tourism industry is uniting to oppose the new Fly Fishing law and regulations, fearing it will cost the Bahamas millions of dollars and “further erode the competitive position” of the sector.

Tribune Business can reveal that the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) is uniting with the Grand Bahama and Out Island Promotion Boards, plus the Marina Operators of the Bahamas (MOB), to oppose proposed amendments they fear will hit the tourism industry “like a tsunami”.

The sector, and its associations, are especially concerned that the planned changes to the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act will create more ‘red tape’ and price the Bahamas out of the market.

The concerns centre on the proposed requirement that all visiting fly fishermen, even experts coming to the Bahamas for decades, will be law have to hire a local guide at a cost of $600 per day.

While sensitive to the need to protect Bahamian fishing guides from foreigners who come in and establish themselves in business illegally, the tourism sector is concerned that the ‘local guide stipulation’ and other proposed fees will make this nation further uncompetitive on price.

Amid disquiet at the perceived lack of consultation by the Government, the BHTA and other tourism associations are also unhappy with the requirement that all boats have to obtain Bahamas sports fishing charter licences.

And they feel there is too little flexibility over the proposed ‘$20 per day’ permit that all visiting fly fishermen must obtain. The tourism industry wants these permits to be available via the Internet, and for there to be different durations and prices. Enforcement, too, is an issue.

An e-mail forwarded to Tribune Business, which was sent to MOB members by its executive director, Bob Bower, warned of the proposed amendments: “We believe it’s a disaster that’s going to hit us like a tsunami.

“Regardless of whether this legislation passes, the firestorm of anti-Bahamian PR is going to hit, so get ready.”

That backlash is already on. Senior executives from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) warned in a June 23 letter that the Bahamas was endangering the $141 million per annum that it earns from visiting fishermen.

The letter, to Michael Braynen, director of the Marine Resources Department, warned: “The ill-conceived and downright puzzling attempts by a small number of self-serving individuals in the Bahamian fly fishing industry to fast-track the proposed Fisheries Resources Regulations has already put the destination fishing industry of the Bahamas at great risk.

“The industry outcry, social media reaction and backlash in the last two days alone have already tarnished the image of the Bahamas as a paradise for travelling anglers.

“If key elements of this proposed legislation become reality, there is a chance that the lucrative and valuable destination angling industry servicing the Bahamas will suffer catastrophic damage that will negatively affect the Bahamian economy.”

The letter, signed by AFFTA’s president, Ben Bulis; chairman, Tucker Ladd; and chairman emeritus, Jim Klug, warned that the proposed regulatory and legal changes were akin to “locking off the water and flats” to all professional and casual anglers.

Warning of the consequences, they added: “While a handful of local guides and lodge owners might see this as a short-term win and a way to artificially strengthen their own small businesses, the Bahamas as a whole will lose in a big way.

“Heavy-handed and unnecessary regulations will send a message to destination anglers throughout the world that they are not welcome in the Bahamas unless they are willing to pay to fish with a small number of ‘select’ guides or lodges.

“This at a time when Belize, the Yucatan, Cuba and numerous other international destinations are welcoming and marketing to foreign anglers and investors like never before. The proposed regulations will successfully, and immediately, drive destination anglers, and the dollars and jobs that they bring, to destinations other than the Bahamas,” the AFFTA executives said.

“The Bahamian government should be doing whatever it takes to increase sustainable anglers’ access to the flats instead of limiting access.

“As one lodge owner from Abaco recently stated, the timing and the tone of the proposed regulations are awful and will further erode the competitive position of the Bahamas as a fishing destination at a time when visitors are already reeling from the recent imposition of Value-Added Tax.”

The AFFTA letter quoted one member, Colby Trow, who said his shop had injected $75,000 annually to the Bahamian economy over the past 12 years by hosting fishing trips in the Bahamas.

Mr Trow added: “The proposed changes would unconstructively impact our customers who presently travel to the Bahamas, and will certainly create a situation where we would look to other flats destinations throughout the Caribbean.”

He is not alone. Ian Davis, co-owner of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, in his own letter to the Government warned that the proposed legislative amendments could “cause a great deal of turmoil throughout the Bahamas”.

He added that his company represented and booked more than 30 Bahamian fishing lodges spread across 10 islands, and said clients would simply go elsewhere if the amendments were passed.

“Collectively, the business that we do throughout the Bahamas, and the clients that we send, support hundreds of Bahamian jobs and pump well over a $1 million a year into the economies of the Bahamian Out Islands,” Mr Davis said.

“Flats fishing provides a substantial source of revenue for the Bahamian economy and has served as a mainstay for generating new visitors to the islands for many decades. The fishery for bonefish in the Bahamas is a spectacular one, and it does not require over-regulation and one-sided permitting to protect and enhance this valuable resource.

“The issue of protecting Bahamian fisheries is not one of ownership, but rather one of sound, common-sense stewardship,” Mr Davis added.

“It is in the best interest of all fishing lodges and outfitting operations throughout the Bahamas - whether they are locally owned or foreign owned - to protect the resources on which their businesses depend.

“The proposed fisheries regulations are quite literally a bad solution in search of a problem that does not exist. If this legislation were to move forward, the end result will eliminate much-needed jobs and an important source of income for the country.”

Tribune Business, though, understands that a number of Bahamas fly fishing guides, including Prescott Smith, the Association’s president, are very supportive - and fully behind - the Government’s proposed amendments.

The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association, which includes more than 100 registered guides and 20-plus lodges among its members, will vote on whether to support the passage of the new regulations/legislation and its Annual General Meeting (AGM) today.

Tribune Business understands that not all Association members back the proposed amendments, and today’s AGM may seem some fireworks as the different factions square off.

The Government, for its part, appears to want to bring the consultation to an end as rapidly as possible. A June 29 meeting will bring the process to a close, just two weeks after it began.

The Department of Marine Resources’ Mr Braynen, in a June 17 e-mail, said: “The aim of this initiative is to prepare legislation that will regulate this part of the fishing industry, providing rules to govern those who participate in it, whether as fisherman, guide or lodge operator, and to ensure that the marine environments upon which the fishery is based are protected.

“It is further expected that changes will result in the further development of the sector and of its contribution to the economy of the Bahamas.”

He then added: “This process of consultation will conclude with a National Consultation to be held in Nassau on Monday June 29.

“This National Consultation will bring together stakeholder representatives from throughout the Bahamas to review the draft, and to receive their comments and recommendations on the subject.”

Comments

asiseeit 2 years, 3 months ago

They can not and do not enforce the laws on the books, what good will more laws do? How about teaching those who are supposed to be enforcing the law, what those laws are? Look at compressors, people are breaking the law with them daily, I see it, why don't the those that are supposed to be enforcing the law see it? Clowns!

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Sickened 2 years, 3 months ago

"law have to hire a local guide at a cost of $600 per day". Is this amount set in stone (i.e. the same fixed price for the next 100 years), or does the law simply state that a local guide has to be hired and the price shall vary depending on the guide, the location, type of boat etc. etc.? Also, what if a tourist wants to walk to the flats that are just 20 yards offshore; does he still need to hire a guide to simply watch him fish? Does the guide need to be right beside him on the flats or can the guide sit under the coconut tree on the beach and take a nap? If we start making these stupid laws we are just going to end up looking, I don't know... stupid!

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newcitizen 2 years, 3 months ago

According to how the legislation is currently written, you would only need a guide to fish from a boat if you are not Bahamian. Walking the flats would be fine, but you would need to get a permit to do so.

Also, no the $600 isn't set in stone, but rates for a day for a guide with a boat range from $500-$800. I'm not sure how many guides there are that would just join on your boat or if they even have a rate for it right now because it's not very common.

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happyfly 2 years, 3 months ago

How about the ban on foreign ownership of fishing lodges. Leave it to the PLP to find a way to start restricting foreign land ownership. Its like a bad crack habit for them. How can they possibly convince themselves that putting restrictions on tourist related foreign investment activity is what this country needs right now ??????????????????????//

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duppyVAT 2 years, 3 months ago

Now thats a serious can of worms to open

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newcitizen 2 years, 3 months ago

Can anyone actually point out a foreign fishing lodge? All lodges that currently operate and have foreign interests do so with either a Foreign Direct Investment exemption, or they are partnered with a Bahamian and running it as a Bahamian company (which is fully legal). The status for those lodges is considered Bahamian and so they will continue to operate as usual. If they don't have one of those and have foreign principle then they are already operating illegally. You can just come here and set up a business as a foreigner without following the rules. They should be shut down if they haven't followed all of the current rules. It's not even necessary to put it in the new law because it is currently that way.

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duppyVAT 2 years, 3 months ago

When the foreigners come here........ personally build these "second homes" and rent them out to their foreign friends, families and lovers for weekly and monthly paid vacations with fishing, snorkeling, beaching, touring perks (using their personal assets) ......... thats a friggin foreign owned fishing lodge ......... they are all over this country from Grand Bahama to Inagua ...... ask the Local Government, police and MOF island reps (if they are honest)

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becks 2 years, 3 months ago

Sorry...a foriegner who buys land,builds a house...all at great expense and hasssle and then rents it out is in no way a "Bonefishing Lodge" is any sense of the expression. And there are no " Bonefishing Lodges" on many of the islands that bonefishermen frequent...so your position on that matter is total bullsh*t duppyVat.

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newcitizen 2 years, 3 months ago

So they are including fishing in these rentals? And who is guiding these people to fish? Are they locals or are foreign guides coming down? Because basically what you said is that people are renting out their second homes down here, which is something that can be dealt with by the Hotels Act. If foreign guides are coming down then they are working illegally can be dealt with by immigration.

If someone rents out their house, it isn't a lodge, it's a vacation rental, and if they are using local guides anyway then those people already fall within what is allowed in this proposed legislation.

There seems to be so much hysteria from both sides of this debate and little to no information on who and what will actually be affected.

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duppyVAT 2 years, 3 months ago

When these foreigners are crawling all over the flats in their kayaks and fly boats (owned by their renters) thats the problem that the government is trying to stop .. and that is a really big problem in many Out Islands

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newcitizen 2 years, 3 months ago

Well then they need to crack down on illegal vacation rentals. A person staying at a hotel or Bahamian owned rental property could get a kayak and do the exact same thing. Or rent themselves a flats boat and fish all day. Is the goal to restrict all access to the flat for fishing except through a guide?

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VDSheep 2 years, 3 months ago

The lucrative and valuable destination angling industry servicing the Bahamas - is - suffering catastrophic damage that is negatively affecting Bahamians at large. The folks that are going to the bank laughing, are the foreign operators that are exploiting the industry. They have more capital to invest in this resource. A resource that Bahamians need to invest in and exploit. Too long already our fly fishing economy is outsourced and monopolized by those entities. They are the group so uncomfortable with the pending legislation. We must control our resource for our citizens, as other nations does with theirs! We must stop the giveaway.

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happyfly 2 years, 3 months ago

For pity sake. DR poachers are cleaning out the southern banks of the Bahamas like vacuum cleaners. Bahamian commercial fishermen gill net bonefish by the millions to use for fish-pot bait and most family islanders do not believe a single conservation law or marine park applies to them........ but what do we want to do.......scare off dem foreign !!

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duppyVAT 2 years, 3 months ago

And who is enforcing the law on the DR fishermen and the local fishermen??? .... I agree that ALL of those examples are destroying our fishing resources ............ but who CARES????????????

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B_I_D___ 2 years, 3 months ago

Just opens it all up for selective enforcement and strong arming a select few...most will continue carrying on doing what they are doing, they will by the 'law' some lunch or a beer to look the other way...or persuade them to go annoy some other individual.

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