By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association's (BFFIA) president yesterday accused "special interests" of pressuring the Minnis administration to repeal the sector's recently-enacted regulations.
Prescott Smith confirmed to Tribune Business that "a really urgent meeting" is being arranged between the Government and industry stakeholders on the matter, adding that if the legislation was repealed "there is nothing else I can fight for".
His comments came following a statement by newly-elected Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) leader, Philip Davis, who expressed concern over reports circulating in the fly fishing community that the Government plans to revoke the regulations passed by the former Christie administration.
"We advise the Government not to do so," said Mr Davis in the statement, adding: "We urge the Government to proceed carefully, and not to proceed with the repeal of any legislation that protects fly fishing for Bahamians."
Although repeated attempts to reach Renward Wells, minister of agriculture and marine resources, proved unsuccessful yesterday, Mr Smith confirmed that the Minister had reached out to him regarding a meeting on the issue.
"He reached out to me and said they would like to have a meeting with us," he added. "Pressure is being put on the Government and it's not surprising. There are special interests that want to control this industry. If the Government does anything to the legislation other than strengthen it we have lost control of this country.
"We are waiting on a date now for the meeting. It's a really urgent meeting. If this legislation is reversed there is nothing else I can fight for. That would be 24 years of trying to fight for something for Bahamians, for our children and grand children."
The fly fishing regulations introduced back in January require anglers over the age of 12, and those 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 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 ban commercial fishing in the flats, and anglers are only allowed to catch and release when catching bonefish, permit, snook, cobia and tarpon. A Conservation Fund for the management and protection of the flats and fisheries resources in the Bahamas is to be established.
As reported by Tribune Business, when the proposed regulations for the estimated $140 million industry 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, while 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.
Bahamian lodge owners recently complained that the bulk of this nation's fly fishing business was going to foreign-owned lodges, while Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board's executive director, said anglers were being frustrated by an inability to apply and pay for their licenses online.