By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday finally confirmed that the government is considering changes to to the controversial fly fishing regulations.
Renward Wells, pictured, minister of agriculture and marine resources, said the significance of the flats fishing industry is "fully appreciated" by the Minnis administration.
Addressing the House of Assembly during his contribution to the 2018-2019 budget debate, Mr Wells said: "The Free National Movement, in its commitment to the Bahamian people, recognises that the stability of our economy depends on the strength of its middle class and small and medium class businesses.
"We resolve to empower a new class of entrepreneurs that includes practitioners in the flats fishing industry. The Ministry is now considering amendments to the flats fishing regulations that will enhance conservation, broaden the entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians, and further enhance the economy of The Bahamas.
"We will address the long-standing issue of foreign flats fishing motherships and aircraft that have been a sore sticking point for all Bahamians engaged in the fly fishing industry."
The Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2017 have been the subject of much confusion over whether they had been suspended by the Government, pending review and changes.
Tribune Business has reported extensively as to how the regulations have effectively divided Bahamian guides and bonefish lodge owners/operators, who are both Bahamian and foreign, into two separate camps.
The regulations, which came into effect last January, require anglers over the age of 12, and those who wish to fish in the flats, to apply for a personal angler's licence and pay a set fee.
Non-Bahamians have to pay $15 for a daily license; $20 for a weekly license; $30 for a monthly license; and $60 for an annual licence. They 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 licence.
The regulations also ban commercial fishing in the flats, and anglers are only allowed to catch and release when catching bonefish, permit, snook, cobia and tarpon.
One of the most contentious aspects of the regulations is the requirement of a ratio of one 'certified guide' to every two anglers, if they are fishing from a boat. While there is no opposition to regulation, the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2017 have proven difficult to implement in practice as there is no online portal or payment mechanism for foreign anglers to obtain and pay for licences.