By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association has formally requested that the Department of Marine Resouces move away from the idea of installing the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association as the regulatory body for the industry.
In its latest consultation document addressed to the Department, the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association (AFFGA) said it was adamantly opposed to Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (BFFIA) being any part of the legislation as a contributor or regulatory body, claiming that as an organisation it is “completely unacceptable”.
The AFFGA begged officials to reject the contents of its standing draft and enact sensible legislation that will protect not only the fishery but the country’s $150m flats fishing industry.
“The Bahamas is a premier bonefishing destination, but we must always remember that we are not the only destination in the world,” the AFFGA document said.
The association called in to question issues surrounding the BFFIA’s election process, alleging that many of the members of the organisation were not given the opportunity to cast votes in its most recent election of directors. The AFFGA went on to suggest that due to this fact, a large percentage of the national fly fishing community finds the BFFIA to be “untrustworthy”. The association added that it did not “acknowledge” the BFFIA as an authoritative body.
“Our guides will not now, nor ever, participate in any sort of training, certifying, nor any meetings or fishing related activities with BFFIA involvement,” it said.
The AFFGA contended that the government’s attempts to “legitimise” the guiding profession has “missed the mark”, claiming that much of the regulation poured into the draft document since it was first introduced last year has been viewed as not needed.
“The attempt at legislating the flats fishing industry started a year ago with a first draft that mandated all anglers fish with guides and has ended up with a third draft that attempts to ‘legitimise’ the guiding profession and carries penalties that can put guides in jail if they don’t have a Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (BFFIA) certified guide licence,” the consultation document said.
“What are we, as a country, trying to legislate? Perhaps a better question is why are we legislating? Is the intent to protect the fishery? If so, the legislation has missed the mark. Is the intent to complicate the guiding profession and destroy the reputation of the Bahamas worldwide by criminalising the tranquil sport of catch and release flats fishing that our visiting anglers enjoy? If so, the legislation is on the right track.
“We beg you as you read our organisation’s suggestions to remember that bonefishing is catch and release fishing that is environmentally friendly. Even though the sport is done on the water and involves fish, it is a tourism product.”
The AFFGA argued that the proposed legislation would negatively affect the tourism product as it looks to handcuff “100 per cent of the anglers” who visit the Bahamas and pay for guide services or fish the flats by themselves.
“Without our visiting anglers there would be no flats fishing industry at all; no guides, no lodges, no need for any of this draconian legislation,” the document stated.
The group urged officials to shift its focus away from the people coming in to enjoy the industry and on to those that are tasked with sustaining and protecting it.
The AFFGA said it believes that the biggest threat to the flats fishery is habitat loss and pollution. The association insisted that pressure from anglers and proper fish handling are also of great concern.
“Illegal netting must be stopped and the only way to stop it is for the current laws to be enforced. This draft does nothing to protect the fishery but it does add an undue burden on the guides and terrorises both the guides and angling public with exorbitant fees, and the threat of unreasonably exorbitant fines and jail time. None of these offences should be a criminal offence. If an offence is committed by either a guide or an angler a reasonable fine should be payable within 30 days. End of story. Any licensing penalties should be credited to the Conservation Fund,” the document read.
“There is virtually nothing in this draft to protect the fishery. At the present time we are unaware of any illegal activities (other than netting of bonefish and Motherships) presently taking place on the flats of Abaco that warrant legislation. However, it may be advisable to enact additional legislation based on recent scientific findings to protect the fish or the fishery.”
The association also addressed issues over fees, licences and the expansion of the commercial fly fishing industry.
Today marks the end of the government’s consultation period on the proposed regulations.