By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamian fly fishing industry is said to be worth more than $500 million, a Cabinet Minister said yesterday, defending new industry regulations that call for a certified guide to accompany every two anglers.
V Alfred Gray, minister of agriculture and marine resources, addressing a press conference on regulations due to take effect on January 9, said:
“When we started the discussions we were told that, globally, fly fishing is a $500 billion industry, and in the Bahamas it is a $500 million industry.
“We are hoping that the country stands to benefit from these small fees. We just want something in place that everybody knows that we have rules and regulations.”
The regulations require that if there are two anglers in a boat they must be accompanied by a certified guide, a stipulation that has drawn criticism.
To this, Mr Gray said: “Two or more persons must have a guide on the vessel. You need a guide as long as you are going to fish. Before these regulations, guides were brought in to fish in the Bahamas and there was no law to stop them.
“Bahamians sat on the dock and watched foreigners fish in their flats, bringing their guides from wherever they came from. They had their mother ships and there were no penalties, no fees and obviously not what Bahamians would want.”
The Bonefish Tarpon Trust (BTT), an international non-profit conservation organisation, while recently outlining several concerns to the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Flats Fishing) Regulations 2016 in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, had called the guise requirement “unnecessary”.
The fly fishing regulations, approved by Cabinet last October will require anglers above the age of 12, who wish to fish in the flats, to apply for a personal angler’s license and pay a prescribed fee.
Non-citizens will have to pay $15 for a day 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 flats to obtain the usual sports fishing permit, and each person on the vessel intending to flats fish to hold 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. The new law will also establish a Conservation Fund for the management and protection of the flats and fisheries resources in the Bahamas.
“The fund is to ensure that we preserve the industry and pay people to manage it. The flats are so important it was determined that we should establish a fund,” said Mr Gray.
He added that anyone found engaged in fly fishing without a license will face a fixed penalty of $250. If a person is convicted by a magistrate they could face a fine of up to 2,000, six weeks imprisonment or both.
Prescott Smith, the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (BFFIA) president, said the legislation will close the loopholes which have caused this nation to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenues.