By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Concerns continued to mount yesterday over the new fly fishing regulations, with one Bahamas-based association arguing that many reforms were “unnecessary and counterproductive”, and would undermine the industry’s viability.
The Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association, which has been at odds with the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (BFFIA) since the draft regulations were first released, confirmed the industry split by saying its members “do not recognise” the BFFIA as the sector’s legitimate representative or voice.
The Abaco Association, in a statement yesterday, said: “Rather than welcome all fishing visitors, parts of this regulation restrict anglers from practicing sustainable fishing that does no harm to the fishery, thus greatly reducing the economic benefits of flats fishing for the Bahamas economy.
“Most of the regulation is unnecessary and does nothing for sustainable development of the fly fishing sector. The three major threats to the fishery are habitat loss, degradation of the water and illegal netting. This regulation does nothing to address two of these threats. Netting bonefish has been illegal for many years but the law is rarely enforced.”
The Abaco Association cited a 2016 economic impact assessment of the fly fishing industry by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which used the Bahamas and Martinique as case studies.
The report said: “The anglers’ main reason for visiting the Bahamas is for fishing. If they were not allowed to fish, 91 per cent of the anglers responded that they would not have travelled to the Bahamas and made these expenditures.
“Only 5 per cent said they would have still visited the Bahamas, and 4 per cent were ‘Unsure’. Therefore, fishing is the main force that encourages other expenditures on an angler’s visit. As seen from responses from anglers, the total expenditure for anglers for an average three-day fishing trip to the Bahamas is estimated at$4,608 per angler or $1,536 per day.”
The report also noted that the average times an angler visited the Bahamas to fish was at least twice per year, and that they spent anywhere from one to six days in this nation.
It added that the recreational fishing sector generates annual spending of $527 million, and contributes more than $411 million to the Bahamian gross domestic product (GDP). The industry was said to also provide more than 18,000 Bahamian jobs, either directly or indirectly.
And, referencing a 2010 study by Tony Fedler on the economic impact of flatsfishing in the Bahamas, the Abaco Association said it identified 313 bone fishing guides in the Bahamas. It argued that “it is impossible for this small amount of guides to fulfill the 1:2 guide/angler requirement for all boating anglers as now required by regulation.”
“Second homeowners who have imported duty-paid, Bahamian-registered boats will not be allowed to flats fish without a guide,” the Abaco Association said.
“The countries’ recreational boating/yachting visitors, who utilise the many Bahamian-owned marinas, will not be allowed to flats fish without a guide. Visitors who rent a boat from the many Bahamian boat rental companies will not be allowed to flats fish without a guide.
“Bahamians who own vacation properties and provide a two-person kayak or little skiff can no longer market to bone fishermen because it will be illegal for the visitors to use the boats to access the flats to wade fish without a guide according to the regulation.
The Abaco Association added: “In a misguided attempt to improve the economic outlook of guides, fuelled by BFFIA, the minister will irreparably harm other vital components of the fly fishing industry. Perhaps more shocking is that the Ministry of Tourism and the Prime Minister have not put a stop to the flats fishing regulation in its present form.
“Hundreds of letters have been written to these and other government officials by stakeholders offering input and feedback while the legislation was being drafted, and yet it has all been ignored.
“Pleas to have the 1:2 guide/angler regulation removed by second home owner foreign investors, who have invested untold millions purchasing real estate in this country, primarily for the purpose of flats fishing, have been ignored by the Government. These same home owners pump another $70,000 each, on average, into the local island economies each year. Many of them are leaving. Already, condos, homes and boats have been put up for sale.”
The Abaco Association said that while it agrees that ‘mother ships’ should be barred from fishing in Bahamian waters, the regulations will ultimately punish the entire industry instead of a specific culprit.
“Specific regulations, for instance not issuing sports fishing permits to yachts with more than one flats boat, could easily be done via Customs and Immigration at ports of entry with the appropriate Fisheries and Port Department regulation,” the Abaco Association said.
“There is no need to punish the 83 per cent of anglers who fish from boats when they visit the Bahamas because of the dozen mother ships that have been fishing here for the past 40 years. The one-sided input into the development of these regulations has left stakeholders angry.”
The Abaco Association also labelled as a “slap in the face” the requirement that all guides be trained and certified by a non-governmental organisation in order to qualify for a guide license.
“The biggest complaint from anglers about guides in the Bahamas is regarding their shoddy equipment; inadequate boats, poorly maintained engines, and beat up vehicles used to transport anglers,” it said.
“The one thing that the Minister could have done that would have actually made a difference for guides and their high-dollar anglers in this regulation is the allowance of duty-free concessions for vehicles, boat trailers, fishing equipment and engine parts.
“In fact, those perks were in the first draft, but by the fifth draft that is now regulation, they have fallen by the wayside. The Government is now requiring guides to spend a lot of money to continue to participate in the very guiding profession they have already successfully built, and yet there is no incentive offered for them to participate in this BFFIA promulgated scheme.”