By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s president yesterday accused critics of “clouding” the issues surrounding proposed regulatory reforms, arguing that the success of local fishing lodges hinged on the treatment of Bahamian guides.
Addressing the industry’s annual general meeting, Prescott Smith, owner of the Stafford Creek Lodge, said the push for regulations to govern the industry had lasted for two to three decades.
“There is no industry without the guides. Many persons cloud the issue because they don’t feel for the guides. The more successful and better we treat our guides, the more successful and better the lodges will be,” said Mr Smith.
“I look forward to moving forward this legislation. When this goes to Parliament we should all be coming to celebrate, so we can say that the profession - which is an honourable one - is now legally recognised in our country.”
The Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Amendment) Bill 2015, and the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2015, introduce a number of regulations designed to create a supervisory framework for flats fishing in the Bahamas. This involves a set of new permit fees and stricter distinctions for foreign fishermen and foreignowned bone fishing lodges.
Concerns over the new regulations centre on the proposed requirement that all visiting fly fishermen, even experts coming to the Bahamas for decades, 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 and encourage anglers to head to rival destinations.
Mr Smith’s position is not universally shared among lodge owners. Cheryl Bastian, Swain’s Cay Fishing Lodge’s owner, said that the proposed regulations seemed to suggest that foreign lodge owners were no longer wanted in the Bahamas.
Tribune Business understands that the proposed regulations have created a divide between guides and lodge owners, with the former generally in favour of them, and the latter more against.
There is concern that the regulations, as drafted, give the impression that the Bahamas is being too protectionist and restrictive, and is being anti-foreign, while tying up access by foreign anglers in bureaucracy and red tape, not to mention increased costs.
One guide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business that while he supported the move to regulate and protect the industry, the Government should tread lightly.
“I fully support the move to regulate the industry. I understand what the Government is trying to do. There are people coming here, fishing, taking our resources and we get nothing, the Government gets nothing, we get nothing,” the guide said.
“That has to be fixed. What we don’t want to do, however, is scare away the anglers who come here sometimes twice a year, or alienate some lodge owners who have made significant investments in this country.”
Concerns were also expressed yesterday over illegal netting, with one guide stating that it was “killing the industry” and must be addressed.
A 2010 study conducted by the Bahamas Flats Fishing Alliance estimated that the flats fishing industry has an annual economic impact of $141 million.