By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
International concerns over the Bahamas revised fly fishing regulations remain, with one non-profit conservation organisation describing the requirement of one certified guide for every two anglers as “unnecessary”.
The Bonefish Tarpon Trust (BTT), while outlining concerns with the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Flats Fishing) Regulations 2016 in a recent letter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, said ‘Do-It-Yourself’ (DIY) anglers spend more money per night, and more money per total visit, than non-angler tourists and contribute significantly to the Bahamian economy.
“In addition, many DIY anglers are second home-owners or own a private yacht, who either like to wade the flats or fish from a personal boat,” the BTT said.
“Requiring a ratio of one ‘certified guide’ to every two anglers, if they are fishing from a boat, is unnecessary. This would prohibit friends and family from fishing together, unless they hire a guide.
“For many of these anglers, being able to fish on their own and figure out the fishery for themselves is one of the main attractions that brought them to the Bahamas, and is why they contribute to the Bahamas economy by purchasing second homes or spending money for hotels, food, etc. No other country in the region requires people who have a boat to hire a guide.”
The BTT added: “While we are pleased that 50 per cent of fishing license fees will be deposited in a Conservation Fund, it is unclear how these funds will be allocated and who determines this allocation.
“Surveys of anglers who fish in the Bahamas show strong support for a fishing license as long as the fees are applied to flats conservation and enforcement. Therefore, we suggest that an advisory committee comprised of guides, lodge owners and NGOs is created to determine how conservation funds are spent.”
The BTT said that while it was happy to see there will be a single fishing license for flats fishing, with prices reduced to nominal levels to match fees in other locations, there are still concerns surrounding the fees that need to be addressed.
“A license that is purchased online prior to coming into the country, travelling to the Bahamas, should not require a visiting angler to have it stamped upon arrival in the Bahamas,” it added.
“The potential for problems with this system is very high. What about anglers who purchase an online license while already in the Bahamas; would they have to get theirs stamped as well?
“Given limited personnel at some ports of entry in the Bahamas, will there be enough certified officers at these ports of entry to stamp licenses? Only a fisheries officer and other law enforcement should be able to check anglers for fishing licenses, which is common practice in other jurisdictions.
“To our knowledge, no US state or other bonefish fishing location has such a procedure, instead requiring only personal information and the required fee. In the license application form there are two options for purpose of application, one for sports fishing and the other for research. How will the permit (license) application process impact bonefish research?”
Nevin Knowles, operator of the Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, told Tribune Business that while some of the concerns over the initial proposal had “gone out the window”, the controversy had already caused damage.
“Some of those things went out the window. The only thing that comes in is the fishing license. The price is reasonable,” he said. “For me personally, I think it’s a bit low, but they want it to be on par with other destinations.
“The only thing we see a little difficulty with is the second homeowners. If more than two people are in a boat, you need to hire a guide. Second homeowners can’t fish on their own.
“What a lot of Bahamians don’t realise is that they would have to buy a license in order to fish the flats. We needed to have the industry regulated, but the problem is they went about it the wrong way from day one.”
The revised fly fishing regulations are due to be implemented from next Monday, January 9, 2017.