New regulations regarding the fly fishing industry are going into effect in the Bahamas, and predictably, questions and objections have been raised. Salt water flats fly fishing has become big business in the island nation, and regulators say the new rules were long overdue.
In a statement reported by the Bahamas Weekly, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources the Hon. V. Alfred Gray is quoted as saying,
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Fly Fishing industry in The Bahamas is said to be worth more than half billion dollars. For more than 20 years, and under several administrations, the men and women involved in the Fly Fishing industry of The Bahamas have been seeking to have this very important industry regulated.
He continued: "The Fly Fishing industry worldwide is said to be worth (in revenue terms) over $5 billion, and in The Bahamas it is said to be worth more than $5 million in revenue annually."
It is assumed the first figure of "half a billion" may be intended to represent investment such as lodges, vessels and other infrastructure, and the second annual figure of $5 million is that of direct billings such as lodging, meals, tackle and guide fees.
Minister Grey stated that the new rules will include the following restrictions and requirements, coming after decades of self regulation and relatively unrestricted operations by outfitters in the region.
1. Bahamian certified fishing guides will be employed if two or more anglers are fishing on the Flats by means of a vessel (skiffs, etc.);
2. Only Bahamian registered vessels will be allowed on the Flats;
3. Only Bahamians will be allowed to act as guides;
4. All anglers over the age of 12 years will need a license to fish;
5. Do-It-Yourselfers or DIY's will need no fishing guide;
6. A conservation fund will be established for the conservation and management of the Flats and its Fishery Resources;
7. No commercial fishing will be allowed on the Flats;
8. The Fishery covered by this regulation includes the Bone Fish, the Tarpon, the Cobia and the Permit.
The fines and penalties as set out in the regulations will be strictly enforced.
However, despite the Minster's assertions that the measures were adopted after extensive consultation and procedural process, the announcement was not without contention from those within the outfitting and advocate community.
As cited by the online outlet Tribune 242, Peter Mantle, managing director of the The Delphi Club, a luxury bonefishing lodge and micro-hotel on Abaco, said that "despite the mitigation provided by the fixed penalty scheme, we consider the penalties for non-compliance with these regulations to be draconian/disproportionate, and therefore hostile".
Mr Mantle also expressed concerns over the stamping of licenses at a Bahamian 'port of entry', a concern which was also expressed by the international non-profit conservation organization, Bone Fish Tarpon Trust.
Mr Mantle continued for the Tribune: "The position of second homeowners with their own flats boats remains deeply invidious. Unless they fish alone (unwise for a number of reasons), they are compelled to take a guide - assuming that their boats do not qualify as "a Bahamian owned or licensed charter vessel" in Regulation 3.
"I think this is spectacularly unwise and will seriously damage interest in investment in the Bahamas. It is also, in effect, retrospective legislation that is always bad policy, and will affect people who have already invested large sums in the Bahamas."
Fly fishing -- and specifically the business of outfitting -- has become not only an independently viable industry worldwide, but a significant driver of economic development in areas of tourism and outdoor recreation. Similar regulatory actions have been enacted in countries like Chile and Mexico, with an understandable intent of capturing revenue and providing employment for the benefit of the countries who's natural resources are being utilized. However, the potential for any perceived disincentives by foreign investment interests are sure to be of political concern in going forward, and will probably invoke ongoing debate.
The Bahamas is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy headed by Queen Elizabeth II, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.