EDITOR, The Tribune.
A new draft of proposed flats fishing legislation has been released by The Department of Marine Resources. All Bahamians who fish, as well as guides that work in the business, second-homeowners with boats and even visitors to The Bahamas should be aware that both Bahamians and foreigners will be required to buy a fishing licence to fish in water less than six feet deep and if you get caught without one the fine is $3,000!
I think it may be helpful for your readers to understand the perspective of a bone fisherman from the United States in regards to the proposed new fisheries regulations, including the most recent April draft.
My family and I have visited the Out Islands for many years. We have fished many islands of the Bahamas: Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Long Island and Walkers Cay.
We typically combine some days of fishing with a guide and other days of fishing on our own. We are devout “catch and release” fisherman and take great care to protect the fish and all marine resources.
We love the Bahamian people and have been well received in all the communities we have visited.
We believe our visits add to the economic well-being of the communities we visit through the money we spend on meals we eat, guide and lodging fees we pay, the offerings we give when we attend church, and the shopping we do during our visit.
Unfortunately, since the advent of The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (led by Mr Prescott Smith) and Minister Gray’s proposed new flats fishing legislation we have put all planned trips to The Bahamas on hold.
While we certainly don’t mind buying a non-resident fishing licence at a reasonable fee for the duration of our stay, the severe punitive and vindictive aspects of the drafts we have seen thus far lead us to believe that we are not welcome to visit and fish in your country any longer.
For instance, why would we want to risk the forfeiture of our fishing gear and a $3,000 fine as well as the possibility of jail time for simply renting a skiff and trying to bonefish on our own during our stay?
In the interim, while we wait for closure on this legislation (that has been ongoing for an entire year now) we have instead vacationed and fished in Mexico, Belize, Idaho and Oregon. My wife and I and another couple are afraid to make reservations for a trip to The Bahamas this fall because of the unsettled state of affairs regarding bone-fishing and the draconian legislation.
We will not return to your country to fish until sensible legislation is enacted.
Hopefully more thoughtful heads will prevail on this and we will feel comfortable enough to return.
Even then, please know that we will specifically ask if a guide or lodge is a member or supporter of the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association before booking. If they are, we will not utilise their services.
I do not believe they speak for all guides as the official voice of fishing in The Bahamas and further, I believe the forces behind this legislation have so thoroughly alienated fly fishermen across the world that the economic damage to your country (which I have heard is already being felt) will be long lasting.
I truly hate that - but I want your readers to understand from my perspective the cause of this damage and who is most responsible for the decline in flats fishing tourism to The Bahamas.
We hope your government understands the implications of the proposed fisheries legislation and acts in a reasonable, thoughtful way because we want to come back to The Bahamas we know and love.
May 18, 2016