By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas’ new fly fishing regulations could drive away 90 per cent of visiting anglers, research has shown, with affecting a market of “major significance” that generates almost 10 per cent of this nation’s stopover visitors.
A 2016 report for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which used the Bahamas as one of two ‘case studies’ in its analysis of the economic impact produced by recreational fishing, found that 90 per cent of foreign anglers only came to this nation for the fishing.
Should the new regulatory regime have the impact some in the industry fear, and make recreational fishing by foreigners in the Bahamas too bureaucratic and cumbersome, it could undermine a tourism market that contributes $411 million to national gross domestic product (GDP).
And, providing further evidence of recreational fishing’s importance to the Bahamian economy, the FAO report said it generated five times’ the GDP impact, and twice as many jobs, as this nation’s commercial fisheries sector.
While commercial fishing was estimated to produce an $80.114 million GDP impact, and 9,300 jobs, based on 2013-2014 data, recreational fishing was found to sustain 18,875 direct and indirect Bahamian jobs.
Using data produced by an online survey of 486 foreign and domestic anglers, conducted by Marsh Harbour-based V. d’Shan Maycock, the FAO report found: “It is evident from this study that the recreational fishing sector in the Bahamas is of great economic significance, generating annual expenditures of $527 million and contributing more than $411 million to the overall country’s GDP. The sector provides more than 18,000 jobs either directly or indirectly.....
“Recreational fishing and other related activities assist in generating ‘new money’ into the Bahamian economy. Although the recreation fishing sector only accounts for just under 10 per cent of the overall tourism sector, its economic impact is of major significance.
“Creative entrepreneurs, the Government, policymakers and existing businesses can take advantage of the economic opportunities that exist from the recreational fishing sector. This can include revenue generated from taxi fares, lodging, restaurants, other recreational activities, fishing, etc. If lost, this would have a significant impact on the country’s economy and the sector as it is estimated to contribute more than $411 million to the country’s GDP.”
The FAO study, and survey results, are required reading for Bahamian policymakers, given the concerns expressed by a significant section of the fly fishing industry about the potential deterrent impact of the new regulations. The requirement that there be a guide for every two anglers is seen as especially restrictive.
“Results from the survey indicate that those who visit to fish come for the primary purpose of fishing, not for other tourism activities,” the FAO report said of the Bahamas’ angler market. “Based on their responses, 91 per cent said if they were not allowed to fish, they would not have made the trip, while 5 per cent said they still would have made the trip and another 4 per cent was unsure.”
Anglers were estimated to spend $4,608, or $1,536 per day, on an average three-day trip to the Bahamas, putting them in the higher-yielding stopover visitor category. They also tended to stay in this nation longer, with almost one-third of survey respondents saying they were in the Bahamas for six or more days.
And anglers are also frequent visitors to the Bahamas, with 64 per cent of survey respondents coming to this nation between one to three times per year. Some 15 per cent visited the Bahamas between four to six times’ per year, with 13 per cent coming more than six times annually.
“The top three visited islands for recreational fishing included Abaco (36 per cent), Grand Bahama (30 per cent), and Bimini (21 per cent),” the survey said.
“Eleuthera, Andros, Exuma and Long Island were the next four most frequently visited, and the less frequently visited islands included Inagua, Acklins, Crooked Island and Berry Islands.”
The FAO report called on the Bahamas to treaty recreational fishing as a separate segment, distinct from the rest of the tourism sector, so that it could be properly monitored and its economic benefits maximised.
“Anglers tend to be largely a tourist group accounting for just under 10 percent of the annual stopover visitors to the Bahamas,” the FAO report said. “Out of those that fish in the Bahamas, 89 per cent are visitors, 6 per cent are second home owners and 5 per cent are residents of the Bahamas.
“It is recommended that this sector be recognised as separate and apart from the overall tourism sector for future management, decision making and policy updates. Currently, recreational fishing is categorised as an activity under tourism. The Department of Marine Resources only issues licenses for tournaments and boats used in the sector. For the most part, the Ministry of Tourism only collects data for arrivals of stopover visitors to determine what activities they intend to participate in while visiting. However, no information is collected on overall expenditure by these guests....
“By not clumping it as a mere activity in the tourism industry, recreational fishing - both offshore and flats fishing - should be categorised as a separate industry for proper accountability and monitoring of this sector to determine growth rates, patterns, actors involved and its economic value and impact....
“Information gathered in future studies should also assist with research and marketing efforts that will help to improve the sector for optimal benefit to the recreational fishing industry and Bahamian economy.”
The FAO report said some 8,389 jobs were generated by the Bahamian flats fishing industry, and 10,486 by the offshore variety. Flats fishing was estimated to contribute $182.7 million to this country’s GDP, and offshore fishing a further $228 million.
Commercial fishing, in contrast, generated $68.001 million and $69.727 million in export sales for 2013 and 2014, respectively.