By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) president yesterday hailed imminent regulations to govern the sector as “one of the biggest pieces of legislation to come about since 1967”, as “closing the loopholes” will increase foreign currency earnings for Bahamians.
Prescott Smith, owner of the Stafford Creek Lodge, told Tribune Business: “I’ve been fighting for this for 23 years. It’s one of the biggest pieces of legislation to come about since 1967.
“Most people don’t realise that because they hear the term ‘fly fishing’, but it’s the first piece of legislation that lays the foundation for building ownership by local Bahamians. It doesn’t matter your economic standing; there is something in this industry for you to lay claim to. That is what the legislation does. This is so huge.”
The regulations are expected to come into effect on next Monday, January 9. They will require anglers above the age of 12, and who wish to fish in the flats, to apply for a personal angler’s license and pay a set fee.
Non-Bahamians will have to pay $15 for a daily license; $20 for a weekly license; $30 for a monthly license; and $60 for an annual license.
The regulations will also require a foreign vessel wishing to fish in the Bahamian flats to obtain the usual sports fishing permit, with each person on the vessel also holding a personal license.
The regulations also ban commercial fishing in the flats. Anglers are only allowed to catch and release when catching bonefish, permit, snook, cobia and tarpon. And a Conservation Fund for the management and protection of the flats and fisheries resources in the Bahamas will be established.
As reported by Tribune Business, when the proposed regulations were first unveiled, they created considerable controversy and effectively a divide between the 400 local guides and the lodge owners.
The latter were more opposed to the proposals. There was concern that the regulations, as initially drafted, gave the impression that the Bahamas was being too protectionist and restrictive, and anti-foreign, while tying up access by foreign anglers in bureaucracy and red tape, not to mention increased costs.
Significant opposition came from foreign anglers and groups who organised fishing tours to this nation, with the hotel, marina and tourism industries becoming increasingly concerned that the regulations would drive visitors away.
But Mr Smith told Tribune Business yesterday: “There was so much push back because people misinterpreted the legislation. You have all of the illegal businesses you’re shutting down.
“What has been happening is the Government has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars. The legislation addresses that.
“You have all of these floating lodges, these big yachts with three to five flats boats. Now, every angler has to buy a license and, in the regulations, it says if two anglers are in a boat, they need a guide.”
Mr Smith added: “You’re closing all of the loopholes, which is going to drive foreign currency into the hands of local Bahamians. It’s more than just the lodges and the guides; it lays the foundation for local Bahamian ownership in our number one industry. This is not a racist thing.”
The regulations set for implementation next week are a ‘compromise’ between the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, with the former unveiling the news ahead of the latter’s press conference today.
Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson, the Ministry of Tourism’s deputy director-general, said in a statement: “Both the public and private sectors collaborated extensively on the new legislation, with the aim of sustainable development of the fly fishing sector.
“Our aim was to make the industry sustainable for those working in the sector and for those enjoying the natural environment and sporting activities of the Bahamas.”
Jacqueline Ramsey, director of domestic tourism, added that the regulations will allow anglers to continue to enjoy the Bahamas for decades to come.
“In our collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, we sought not only to establish a regime regulating fly fishing, but one that protected the industry,” she said.
“Millions of visitors come to our islands each year to fly fish, be it for bonefishing, deep sea fishing or live bait fishing. We want to make it so that the industry is more transparent, and that our fish stocks and our local guides are protected.”