By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
AGRICULTURE and Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray yesterday moved to clarify remarks he made last week during the announcement of the government’s proposed plans to regulate the country’s sport fishing industry, stating that the goal of the new laws are to protect and preserve industry for “generations yet unborn”.
The government’s proposed regulations and amendments to existing laws have been met with great concern by many industry stakeholders, in particular, seasonal residents of The Bahamas who took issue with the term “foreigner” in the government’s proposal.
Last week, Mr Gray said that the aim of the new regulations was to give local guides exclusivity in the area.
Mr Gray has denied that the Christie administration was attempting to “force feed” the new regulations to the public, stating that officials have in the past two weeks urged all stakeholders to embrace this opportunity to participate in the consultative process to build a stronger fly fishing sector.
The government held a one-day symposium on the new regulations yesterday.
On the sidelines of that event, Mr Gray said the government had not made a “final decision”. However, he warned: “Without rules and regulations you have chaos – Bahamians should want the best for the country.”
“The aim of this initiative is to prepare legislation that will regulate this sector of the fishing industry and to provide rules to govern those who participate in it, whether as fishermen, guides or lodge operators, and to ensure that the marine environments upon which the fishery is based, are protected and preserved for generations yet unborn.
“We know that it has as its primary customer base persons who visit The Bahamas from all around the world. We want our visitors, including those who come to enjoy fishing in The Bahamas, to have good experiences that will cause them to want to come back to The Bahamas again and again.”
Mr Gray added that as a country, The Bahamas has to protect the fishing industry for the Bahamian people.
“We hope that those who come here expect that there will be rules and regulations governing the industry,” he said.
Director of Legal Affairs Antoinette Bonamy yesterday indicated that the Department of Marine Resources still needed to “legally define” many of the terms presented in its proposal.
According to Ms Bonamy, the terms “lodge operator” and “guide” needed to be better defined to avoid “legal misrepresentation” and “unnecessary confusion”.
Beyond the legal issues raised, representatives from the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (BREEF) and the Save the Bays conservation group urged officials to revisit the conservatory elements of the new policy.
Save the Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin requested that the government set up both a conservation and management plan to make sure that many of the industry’s prominent species of fish are properly protected and an advisory council is created to govern the proposed conservation fund.
Section six of the government’s draft legislation calls for the establishment of a conservation fund for the conservation and management of the flats around The Bahamas and its marine resources.
According to the government’s proposal, 50 per cent of the industry fees obtained would be retained as a conservation levy and directly deposited into the fund.
Mrs Haley-Benjamin implied that the proposed fund would be “better served if persons with the best understanding of species in the industry worked to conserve them”.
Many of those in attendance pleaded with Mr Gray and other government representatives to extend the consultation period.
Last week, Mr Gray indicated that his ministry is working with a three-month timeline to get the legislation to Parliament.
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