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Fly Fish Chief Slams ‘Doom And Gloom’

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) president yesterday fired back at opponents of the industry’s regulations, suggesting they were pushing a “doom and gloom” narrative to pressure the Government to back down.

“It’s not scaring anyone off,” Prescott Smith told Tribune Business. “The critics are using these conflicting narratives and talk about hurting the industry, which is not true. You can’t go to any of those other countries and do what they want to do here.

“All the talk is simply trying to paint the narrative to the Government that it will hurt the industry, but it’s all foolishness being put out by special interest groups. If it wasn’t about money there wouldn’t be any noise about this.”

His comments came as Renward Wells, minister of agriculture and marine resources, yesterday said the controversial Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2017 remain in effect.

He said in a statement: “The significance of the flats fishing industry is fully appreciated by this Government. In fact, the Government recognises that the stability of our economy depends on the strength of its middle class and small and medium-sized businesses.

“We have resolved to empower a new class of entrepreneurs, and that includes practitioners in the fishing industry. As a consequence, I am happy to reiterate the continuance of the Flats Fishing Regulations 2017, and I look forward to the input and continued support of stakeholders as we move this process forward.”

Mr Smith told Tribune Business that the legislation has been good for the industry. “The legislation has passed, and business has increased for all those foreign lodges. It’s the Bahamian lodges that have been hurt,” he added.

“The BFFA has been targeted. We will have no control over the resources of this country if we lose this legislation. All of this doom and gloom talk, it’s all about creating a false perception to the Government. We haven’t scratched the surface of this industry and we’re trying to create local ownership.”

The Minnis administration had been called upon repeatedly in recent weeks to clarify the status of the regulations, which came into effect last January. Last week, Opposition leader Phillip Davis described the ongoing confusion over whether the regulations, enacted in early 2017, have been suspended as “worrying”.

The regulations have divided Bahamian guides and the bonefish lodge owners/operators, who are both Bahamian and foreign, into two separate camps. The Ministry of Tourism last week launched a survey to garner feedback from industry stakeholders on the current legislation.

The regulations 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.

And the Abaco Fly Fishing Association, among the regulations’ major critic, is also expressing alarm that the 1:2 guide/angler ratio requirement “will have the unintended consequence of further destroying the Bahamas flats fishing tourism sector, as anglers who don’t want to hire a guide will travel to tourist-friendly destinations instead”.

Tribune Business previously revealed that the Cabinet was split on the matter, with some ministers not convinced of the arguments put forth by Mr Wells and the BFFIA.

Cindy Pinder, the Abaco Association’s vice-president, said in a statement: “The current regulation allows anglers to wade for fish without a guide, but not to use a boat to get to the flats or to fish from a boat if two anglers fish together. Second homeowners who have invested hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, in our country because they are fisherman can no longer flats fish here if Mr Wells does not rescind the regulations.

“The exodus of fishing second homeowners will be felt country-wide when the housing market collapses. Bahamians should expect expat fisherman and foreign real estate investment to become a thing of the past, along with all the money that flows through our local economies because of their investment.”

Ms Pinder said the industry “100 per cent supported” a licensing system where permits were easily obtainable, and the revenues went to conservation, education and enforcement.

Yet she warned: “So much needs to be fixed within the current regulation it would be easier to start over, and make it an easy to understand and enforceable regulation that would actually protect the fishery and grow the sport in order to bring tourist dollars into the country.

“The current regulation mandates licensing for only five named fish. Licensing needs to be required for all fish on the flats, and the license must be easy to purchase online. The current regulation stipulates bonefish as ‘catch and release’, but anglers can also keep one to eat. That regulation is contradictory and ridiculous. Most of the regulation is unenforceable and needs to be abolished by Minister Wells.”

Comments

killemwitdakno 2 months, 1 week ago

It's up to the providers right now to decide how they'll collect license payment.

The lodgers could just include it in their Airbnb rates. Expedia and TripAdvisor allows providing of fishing vouchers upon booking I believe. The lodgers or guides can collect and grant and then submit to gov't after. Just take cash.

Keep one each person, children included.

This is also protection against overfishing. Locals don't have boats to go out far for fish if that's ever where they get their own dinner.

I guess the lodges think they bought the flats and are being charged to fish their backyard. Well in the states you need a boaters licenses to drive one on your own canal just the same.

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Wonkee 2 months, 1 week ago

What is someone who does not use a provider supposed to do? What do persons who do not use a Travel site or booking agency do to get a license? How is a Captain/Guide supposed to know what name to put on the license when they buy one to have on hand, since the license must be in the specific anglers name, and Guides are not authorized to sell license. And "Just take cash." Really? I mean there is absolutely no chance of someone pocketing money. Fly fishermen fish almost exclusively Catch and release, so please explain over fishing when no fish is removed. Locals don't have boats to go out far for fish? Where do you live? On the Family Islands many still make their living off of the sea. They have boats, some of them have 3 and 4 boats for different places. If you read the law, the Lodges are the only ones who will have access to the Flats, not the Do it Yourself fishermen, or even Bahamians must have a Guide to access flats. So what do people in communities like Cherokee Sound who live on a flat do? Their is no access to water that is not a flat from the community, The law as written says that 2 or more are not allowed in a boat without a guide. Having fishing gear on board just leaving the dock is illegal for those people, so how does that make any sense? This law punishes Bahamians so just a handful of guides will have access to money. It is not the License mandate that is keeping visitors away, most love that money to enforce laws and promote conservation are being gathered. It is the inability to get the license in a timely convenient manner. They do not mind no take areas where no fish are allowed to be removed, that is good for conservation. They do not like spending money for a license the cannot get, and once they have it have no place they can use it. Bahamian guides with any sense do not like the law because they have seen the 40% drop in bookings from last year. When they call the clients who have been visiting the past 15 to 20yrs to ask why, the law is blamed. A smart guide does not mind the DIY angler, because they typically pay for a guide for a few trips each visit, and pump thousands into the local economy. This law was broken before it was passed, it was written to only bennife to a few select individuals, not guides, not lodges, individuals. Follow the money trails as to who gets paid for guide training, who gets the money collected for conservation, Who gets the money for Education and research? it all goes into the same 1 or 2 pockets.

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bcitizen 2 months, 1 week ago

This is noise about nothing. NO ONE is against a license or paying for it. The biggest contention in all of this is the ease of aquiring the license. Why would l want to spend days chasing down the administrator and waste my fishing time trying to pay the license? Or let's just say l came to visit the Bahamas for beaches and sun and l realize while l am here that l would like to go fly fishing my last two days at random. Guess what that cannot happen because no time to get the license. So who looses money but the guides? There can be no spur of the moment decision to go fly fishing and hire a guide last min under this legislation. It is absolutely ridiculous that this simple aspect of it cannot be fixed.

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sheeprunner12 2 months, 1 week ago

Indeed ........ I am sure that these American, Canadian, British and European fishermen find it ridiculous that we DO NOT have commercial or recreational fishing licenses in or country ........ We sure cannot fish in America without one.

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Wonkee 2 months, 1 week ago

Americans cannot fish without one, but to get one in the US you can go to a local retailer (Walmart, Tackle shop, Bait store , Marina, Basspro, Gas station) to get it, you do not have to go to the Island administrator, or fisheries office that is open the third Wed of the month from 12:00 to 1:00 but they have lunch from 12:15 to 12:45 and it takes 20 min to process, or do not have the license on hand and tell you come back . It is easy to get a license in the US, here it is a Giant mess

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Porcupine 2 months, 1 week ago

I don't think Mr. Prescott Smith is being honest. There has been measurable fallout over this issue. Mr. Smith stated, “The legislation has passed, and business has increased for all those foreign lodges. It’s the Bahamian lodges that have been hurt,” he added. Why Mr. Smith? I don't understand what you're suggesting. Why is your business down? Is there something we should know about where you were educated in business? Just asking.

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lost_at_sea 2 months, 1 week ago

To the moron Prescott Smitt and the BFIAA supporteres. Check this out...http://myfwc.com/license/recreational/visitors/ Wow...you just did the most difficult step in purchasing a fishing license in Florida. The same resource/ link is available anywhere else in the world that a fishing license is required. Please send me the same link for purchasing a fishing license in the Bahamas. Oh, and I've enjoyed fishing with Bahamian guides for over 20 years in Andros, Abaco, Long Island, Crooked Island, Grand Bahama and even Nassau. I've enjoyed it so much that I would like to make a donation to the "established conservation fund." Maybe you can send me a link to that also. Finally, my 8 friends and I that take at least 3 fishing trips annually are getting on a plane next month to head to Cuba. We will use a local guide for a couple of days, we will go walk around and fish by ourselves for a couple of days, we will buy food, drinks and souvenirs. The Cubans have been in the dark ages for the last 50 years and it's easier to arrange a combination guided/ DIY trip there than it is in the Bahamas. See ya.

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