By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMIANS and visitors could face up to six weeks in prison, a $2,000 fine or both if they fail to adhere to the new fly fishing industry regulations set to come into effect on Monday, Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray announced yesterday.
Mr Gray said under the new regulations, persons over the age of 12 caught engaging in fly fishing without a government issued license to do so will face a fixed penalty of $250, or risk over a month’s imprisonment should they opt to contest the penalty in court.
Those penalties also apply to persons who do not engage in catch and release fly fishing, as well as persons who engage in the sport for commercial purposes, Mr Gray said. The MICAL MP said the regulations also apply to persons operating non-Bahamian vessels on the various “flats” throughout the archipelago.
However, Mr Gray said persons may engage in fly fishing for sustenance.
The fish protected under the new regulations are the bonefish, snook, tarpon, cobia and permit.
Additionally, Mr Gray said the new regulations will require all persons seeking to engage in fly fishing, such as guides, anglers and independent fishermen, to have obtained a license issued by the Department of Marine Resources in New Providence or the various administrator’s offices throughout the Family Islands before operating.
Prices for the new licenses range from $5 to $40 for Bahamian citizens, depending on the desired duration of the license (daily, weekly, monthly, or annually), and between $15 to $60 for non-Bahamians. Licenses for fly fishing guides, whom Mr Gray said will be exclusively Bahamian, will cost $100.
Persons under the age of 12 will not be required to have a license to fish, however.
Only certified guides will be allowed to work as guides after successfully completing their training, Mr Gray said. Those currently serving as guides will continue to carry out their duties. However, Mr Gray said his ministry expects every guide to be trained in accordance with the regulations by the Ministry of Tourism, the Department of Marine Resources, and the Fishing Associations in The Bahamas.
Additionally, only Bahamians will be allowed to act as guides under the new regulations, Mr Gray said.
Mr Gray also noted that certified guides will be employed if two or more anglers wish to engage in fly fishing “by means of a vessel.” However, he said persons engaging in fly fishing by themselves, or “do-it-yourselfers” will need no fishing guide.
Only Bahamian registered boats will be allowed on the flats, Mr Gray said. Mr Gray made the announcement during a press conference yesterday morning at the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources’ East Bay Street office.
Discussions to establish a legal framework for the industry started two years ago, according to Mr Gray, which led to “months” of consultation and negotiations with the Ministry of Tourism, fishing guides, marina and hotel operators, fishing lodge operators, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), as well as private sector stakeholders.
The meetings were chaperoned by the Office of the Attorney General, with “input” from the Department of Marine Resources, Mr Gray said.
After several draft regulations and “world-wide” circulation, Mr Gray said Cabinet approved the regulations in October of last year. Along with the enforcement of the new regulations, Mr Gray said a “conservation fund” will be established for the “conservation and management of the flats and its fishery resources.”
“The fly fishing sector is an important part of The Bahamas’ tourism product and is responsible for the employment of hundreds of Bahamians throughout the Bahamas,” he said. “This is particularly true for the islands of Andros, Abaco, Acklins, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Bimini, Long Island and Mayaguana.
“Because this sector was not governed by any form of regulations, those involved in the industry acted as they desired, without rules or regulations and without any safeguard for conservation and sustainability of the industry. This position, we believe, could not be continued.”
Tommy Thompson, deputy director general of the Ministry of Tourism, said now that the fly fishing industry will be properly regulated, the ministry is committed to ensuring that the industry remains sustainable “and that the fishermen, the fishing guides, the lodgers are all making money and that the wealth of tourism is being distributed throughout the islands of The Bahamas.”
“We have a great job in terms of promoting fly fishing in The Bahamas,” he said. “We have some of the best flats, some of the best fishing in the world, and we want to encourage as many visitors to come and enjoy the resources of The Bahamas.
“We’ll be promoting this through various shows throughout the US, Canada and also Europe,” he added. “It’s also going to be prominently placed on the website bahamas.com, and of course we’re going to be working with mainly publications and media persons to come to The Bahamas.
“Social media is a big part of what we’re going to be doing, and with the help of the new guides in terms of getting nice clips for us to put on the website and to blog will be very useful in terms of us promoting it. So we see it as a great opportunity for us to increase visitors to the Bahamas for fly fishing, a very lucrative business, and we’re going to get more young people interested in this.”