30
Jul 15

Christmas Looks Nice

I want to go to Xmas Island. Christmas is one of those places that has been on my list for a while. I am on the Pacific side of things and I’m supposed to be oriented out that way for my fun in the sun, right? I’ve thought about my 2016 trip being to Christmas. I may just begin the negotiation process here at home to make that happen.

If I go, I’d likely do it through a booking agent and stay at a lodge and go with guides. It is a long way to go to not be on the right flats. However, if you want to do it solo, it would appear that is an option as well.

It sounds to me like things aren’t that expensive once you get there, it is just that the getting there is kind of a hassle with an overnight in Honolulu. Could be worse!

Also… there are GTs. I’d very much like to break some gear on a GT.

 


29
Jul 15

Science Based Conservation

A few Androsian fin clips from 2011

A few Androsian fin clips from 2011

Before you can draft laws to protect some type of fish or environment, you need to understand that fish or environment. If you have built a solid scientific understanding of the thing then you can build regulations that work in the long-run.

That’s exactly what the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has been working to do in the Bahamas. Their Bahamas Initiative has added significantly to the understanding of bonefish, where they live and what they need to survive and thrive.

The Bahamas Initiative.

Instead of looking at what BTT has done and using that science as the basis for reasonable regulation and protection of the Flats and the fish and fisherman who depend on them, the current proposal from the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association seems to go out of its way to dismiss what BTT has already accomplished, even going so far as to cast doubt on the validity of their work.

Excerpts from the BFFIA Proposal:

“This will also assist with more accurate surveys and statistics as to the percentages of Guided and Unguided Anglers frequenting our Country’s Flats and not rely on secondhand surveys or information from Non-Bahamian Entities’ Reports.” BFFIA Recommendations

 

“It is recommended that all mangrove, flats and reef  research should be done through The College of the Bahamas in consultation and in conjunction with BFFIA.   BFFIA suggests that 40% of the Fishing License Proceeds go to conservation and that a Board Member of BFFIA be appointed as  Board Representative on  the Government Conservation Fund Committee.” BFFIA Recommendations

For me, and I’d bet for almost everyone reading this, this stance is just further proof of the xenophobic nature of the proposals put forward by the Prescott Gang.

Man, I hope someone in the Cabinet gets the memo.


27
Jul 15

Something in writing from the BFFIA – and it sucks

A thing of the past maybe

A thing of the past maybe

The first glimpse of what the BFFIA was planning got out and freaked a lot of people out. After the initial freaking out they went a little quiet. They just released Version 2.0 and it hasn’t gotten any prettier.

Here are the highlights:

  1. Unguided Anglers (UGAs) would be limited to designated zones set aside through consultation with guides and lodge owners. Those areas would be rotated with periodic closures like crop rotations. While it seems all the Islands could have these designated areas, Long Island, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Exuma, Acklins and Crooked Island are singled out as being in particular need of protectionist protection. This kills the DIY game fairly handily for most of us. There would be no more exploring on your own in the Bahamas. You’d have a beat assigned to you, to walk like hundreds before you. I won’t do it. 
  2. Mother Ships banned without Bahamian guides at a 2:1 ratio. This will likely mean that some Islands, like Ragged, just don’t ever get fished (legally, at any rate). 
  3. Fishing licenses would be easily obtainable and purchased on-line with two different prices for UGAs and guided clients, topping out at $500 a year for UGAs ($200/mo, $100/wk, $20/day). If someone can point out a more expensive annual fishing license, I’d love to see it. Also in this proposal 40% of this just goes straight to the government. That must be the pay-off.
  4. Guides would be trained and licensed by the BFFIA. So, a guide’s ability to guide would depend on not pissing off Prescott.
  5. Lodges would be licensed by the BFFIA and the Ministry of Tourism’s Hotel Division. The BFFIA, at the heart of everything, as usual. 
  6. New lodge investments, which are done through the Foreign Investment Board, would require some sort of consultation with the BFFIA to make sure there wasn’t a burden on the fishery. This would lock in existing lodges, remove future competition and any need to improve or innovate. 
  7. There is a bit about conservation, calls for mining and drilling bans, for creek restoration and children’s programs and for all research to be done through “The College of the Bahamas in consultation and in conjunction with BFFIA.” Again, the BFFIA puts themselves right in everything. 40% of the Fees would go to these conservation efforts, managed by the BFFIA or requiring their input and approval. Beyond mining and drilling, there are no other calls to halt development.  
  8. There are things in there about duty exemptions for guides and lodges. Sure, why not?
  9. Guiding is to be limited to Bahamians. This is another solution in search of a problem.
  10. There is a call for added protections for Tarpon, Permit, Snook and Sting-Ray (Sting-Ray?). Um… yeah, sure.
  11. Wading Warden Program (responsible for manning the zoned Unguided Anglers (UGA) Flats ensuring proper handling and care of the bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook and stingray, no netting or littering). So now the folks that have harassed DIY anglers would be legitimized and given some authority to scare away the tourists. Sounds like a great plan. 

There is more talk about conservation in this proposal, but it is clearly all about cementing profit and power, mostly power and almost totally in the hands of the BFFIA.

If you want to understand the nationalist, xenophobic mindset this stuff is coming from, I suggest watching this video. This is pretty classic “with us or against us” type stuff. In this case, Americans, the clients and tourists are the “them” along with anyone who questions the party line.

So, the march off the cliff continues and I can tell we anglers, we clients, we vacationers and tourists, we are wearing down under the grinding persistence of the bad news. Hell, I don’t like sounding like Chicken Little, but the sky kind of is falling.

The Bahamas has been a wonderful place and attitude and way of life for so many of us, but that is all under threat. Nothing says “Relax” quite like “National Game & Wading Wardens.” WADING WARDENS! Right?

What an effing disaster.

To all those Bahamians who say “What right do you have to say anything about what we do in the Bahamas?” Well, if we were passing a law saying Bahamians coming to Florida had to be accompanied by a licensed tour guide and only 50 Bahamians at a time could be in Miami… well… it might be a law passed in the US, but I’d think you might take offense, and rightly so. These laws are aimed at Americans (and sure, Europeans), so expect us to voice our concerns. We aren’t invading or anything (at least not unless Trump gets into office… then all bets are off, that guy’s crazy and has an eye for real estate), but we might have something to say about this giant Bahamian middle finger.

Not much left to do at this point but hope sanity reigns in the Cabinet. Reasons for hope on that front are not abundant. The BFFIA is doing everything it can to consolidate power and authority and at least the Ministry of Fisheries seems to be totally on board.

Here is the full text of the proposal:

Conservation: – Major nursery systems of Mangroves  and Flats throughout The Bahamas need to be protected. Examples being the Northside of Grand Bahama, West Coast of Andros, the Joulters Cays, Bights of Acklins and Crooked Island, Westside of Abaco, Eleuthera, Long Island and Cat Island etc.  This is imperative that these Mangrove habitats and flats are protected, especially Red Mangroves, as it is the primary nursery system where the juvenile fish and crustaceans grow and find protection from the predatory fish.  This will increase the fish population from depletion or extinction for the continued enjoyment of Anglers and generations to come. No commercial mining or drilling of any kind should be allowed in the flats.  These areas should be passed by Law as Marine Reserves. A Management Plan needs to be implemented which focuses on the opening of many blocked creeks around the Bahamas, repairs and building of boat ramps, Game Wardens Program, Wading Warden Program (responsible for manning the zoned Unguided Anglers (UGA) Flats ensuring proper handling and care of the bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook and stingray, no netting or littering), funding local children conservation educational programs and field trips and the proper handling and care of the “Catch & Release” species by Guides and Anglers.  It is recommended that all mangrove, flats and reef  research should be done through The College of the Bahamas in consultation and in conjunction with BFFIA.   BFFIA suggests that 40% of the Fishing License Proceeds go to conservation and that a Board Member of BFFIA be appointed as  Board Representative on  the Government Conservation Fund Committee.

Fishing Licenses: – Fishing permits should be sold electronically and purchased via credit card or through the Department of Marine Resources, the Family Island Administrator’s Offices, Fly Shops or Lodges.  Fly Shops and Lodges should be able to purchase Daily and Weekly Licenses in Bulk at a discounted rate and be able to sell to the Anglers, like we do now with Batelco Phone Cards, and send in the filled in applications to the Department of Marine Resources for their records.  Persons who have a vacation home in The Bahamas should be able to purchase a year fishing license for the owners of the house. This is not for use by guests visiting their homes.  BFFIA suggests that there be two (2) Categories of Fishing Licenses, Guided and Unguided.  This will also assist with more accurate surveys and statistics as to the percentages of Guided and Unguided Anglers frequenting our Country’s Flats and not rely on secondhand surveys or information from Non-Bahamian Entities’ Reports. The  proposed fees are as follows:

W/Guide   $10         W/O Guide   $20    Day
W/Guide   $50          W/O Guide  $100  Week
W/Guide   $100          W/O Guide  $200  Month
W/Guide  $250        W/O Guide  $500  Year

Foreign Vessels or Floating Lodges: – A Foreign Registered Vessel (needs to be defined) fishing in Bahamian waters with single or multiple flatsboats be required to purchase a sportfishing permit also for the flatsboats and a fishing license for every Angler on board. They would also be required to hire a Certified Bahamian Guide at a ratio of one to two, that is one guide to every two Anglers.

Certified Fishing Guide be employed at a ratio of one(1) to two(2), namely one guide to every two Anglers fishing in the flats.

Number 5 (2) (c): –  In the Draft Legislation where is it talks about Certification of Guide and operators. It need to state “successfully completed the fly-fishing Certification program offered by BFFIA for a minimal fee.

Certification of Guides: – The legitimizing of the Fishing Guide Profession for Bahamian Citizens only.  The reason being that Immigration status like permanent resident with the right to work and others have and are still being abused, especially in the commercial fishing sector. Currently foreigners are only marrying locals to have access to our Natural Resources while they continue to hold on their primary residence in their country with no allegiance to the Bahamas.  General Guide License and Master Guide license should be obtained from The Department of Marine Resources, following the certification of the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association. Current professional Guides, with five years or more experience should be grandfathered in, with new Guides undertaking the certification program, which would include a minimum of a year apprenticeship on the flats with a professional Guide.  They would also be required to have Liability Insurance.

Certification of Lodge Operators: –   The certification of lodges should be done by the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association and the Ministry of Tourism Hotel licensing unit.  BFFIA recommends that Foreign Investment Board should consult with BFFIA, who will discuss with members and  relevant stakeholders, to evaluate the current lodge density in the proposed area to avoid over fishing and irreparable damages to the already fragile local fishery. A major concern is that Bahamians who are presently in the industry, have been placed at a very unfair disadvantage and competition, due to not having access to capital compounded with high interest rates from our local banks whereas foreign persons do not encounter these issues. The present lodges here in The Bahamas should be grandfathered in, but any Lodge going forward should be majority Bahamian owned and the Industry reserved for Bahamians.

Duty Free Exemption Fishing Lodge Operators: – The BFFIA recommends that Certified Guides should also be able to apply to the Department of Marine Resources/Minister of Finance for customs duty exemption for Boats, Trailers, Engines, Trucks, Jeeps or SUVs, Kayaks, Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP), fly fishing gears and related supplies, so that it would improve the capability of Guides to deliver the highest level of service and safety to the Anglers.

Outfitters’ License: –   Recommends that Bahamian Fly Fishing Lodges and Certified Fly fishing/flats fishing Guides who meet all the Government requirements and licensing be issued an Outfitters’ License. This would allow lodges and Certified Guides to have fly shops with the basic gear that Anglers needs on their fishing trips. Often Anglers come on a trip and find in many cases they don’t have the correct gear. Example sometime they forget their foul weather jacket, or wading boots, or the wrong fly line etc.
Prohibited Commercial Fishing in the Flats: –  No commercial fishing or netting of Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit, Snook or Stingray be allowed in the flats.

Protection: –  BFFIA recommends the protection of Tarpon, Permit, Snook and Sting-Ray with further strengthening of the present protection of Bonefish in the current Act.  Also the need for Catch and Release practices and protection of our National Fish, the Blue Marlin (Could you imagine a Bahamian visiting the USA decides to hunt and kill the Bald-Headed Eagle. Imagine a Sovereign country where the national fish is not protected for catch and release).

DISTRIBUTION OF FISHING LICENSES: –  BFFIA recommends that the fishing license fee should be distributed as follows:
40% Government
40% Conservation fund
15% Bahamas Development Bank in a special fund to help Bahamians presently and are interested in getting in to the fly fishing business. Presently a minimum of 70 percent of Bahamians are not able to make their bank payments.
5% BFFIA

National Game & Wading Wardens: – BFFIA recommends establishing a National Warden Program throughout the Country to assist in the enforcement as it relates to fishing without the proper Government Licenses, handling and care of the protected flats species,  and the illegal Netting of Bonefish namely in Long Island, Andros, Acklins along with other illegal activities on the flats.  A portion of the funds from the fishing license can be used to train and pay for these wardens and ensure that they are properly equipped and have access to speed boats and flatsboats for patrol etc.

Unguided Anglers (UGA): –  To zone areas for Anglers with a Fishing License to fish without the assistance of a Certified Guide. (At their own risk and accepting full liability).   These zoned areas must be assigned with consultation with the Local Guides and Lodges on each island because of their unique geography and usage placed on a rotation schedule to prevent overfishing .e.g. if an island has 3 zoned Unguided Anglers’ (UGA)  flats one in rotation should be closed every 6 or 9 months. Islands like Long Island, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Exuma, Acklins and Crooked Island need special protection because of their  the geography, the roads are constructed on the side of the islands directly on the flats, which exposes and makes  the fishery very vulnerable for abuse to over fishing.  UGA, because of the easy access, should not be allowed to fish these islands especially due to the limited flats, increased wading traffic and the already applied pressure on the fishery to avoid the already depletion of the fish population.  Anglers should be permitted to fish on feet (wading) providing they are staying in a local fishing lodge. Their fishing license should allow them to wade on a flats near the lodge to fish.  There are genuine cases where such facilities who cater to Anglers who like to fish by themselves, should be permitted, as long as they are staying at a licensed fishing lodge. Persons who have a legitimate vacation home in the Bahamas should be eligible to purchase a long term fishing permit which allows them to fish the flats. Under no circumstance, should that allow them to run an illegal business in The Bahamas from their residence. This is no different from a Mothership’s (Floating Lodge) operation on the water, where they bring in their flats boats and foreign Guides.
Again we, the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association Board, would like to thank you for allowing us to voice the collective views of our members and stakeholders.

Respectfully,

Prescott Smith- President/Director
Denward Rankine- Vice President/Director
Valentino Munroe- Asst. Treasurer/Director
Shawn Leadon- Director
Kendall Williamson- Director
Nathaniel Gilbert- Director
Paul Pinder- Director
Omeko Glinton- Director
James Smith- Director
Colin Cartwright- Director
Philip Wiiliamson- Treasurer

Geneva M Wilson
Secretary
Kate Williamson
Assistant Secretary
Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association
Nassau, Bahamas


24
Jul 15

Dewy didn’t win and we haven’t either

We have not won. Notice how we haven’t seen a new written proposal? Notice how the main instigators have gone a bit radio-silent? The intent is still there and what is getting out does not seem to be good.

Despite some assurances coming from unnamed sources in the government that DIY isn’t dead, what isn’t being said is that it might be seriously curtailed. It is seen as a compromise to merely ban DIY from certain Islands or to limit it to certain specified areas. Places like Long Island, Acklins and Mayaguana might be either totally off-limits to non-guided fishing, or may have those DIY boxes that sound like a good way to discourage anglers from going there. Which Islands are being targeted is not clear, but Long and Acklins have been mentioned several times by he-who-must-not-be-named, so they seem shoe-ins for inclusions.

DIY could also be on-foot only, meaning no SUPs or Kayaks (or even being dropped off). There still very well could be no non-guided boats and no non-Bahamian registered boats.

The folks pushing this seem to have gotten a little smarter and are keeping fairly quiet about what they actually want to do. They’ve seen that when their intentions hit the light of day all Hell breaks loose and I doubt the Minister likes all Hell breaking loose. Things are still leaking out, however, and some of those leaks are finding their way to me and I’m telling you.

I think they are just waiting for us to tire, to be distracted by the next shinny trinket (SQUIRREL!). Seems a smart play on their part. We can’t let up, even though it is easy to tire.

We have to keep up the pressure and focus our efforts on the Minister of Tourism, who has some say in what happens to this thing in the Cabinet. Send your emails about what you think these regulations will do to the Bahamas and what these regulations will do to your own travel to the Bahamas to The Hon. Obediah H. Wilchcombe (tourism@bahamas.com).


22
Jul 15

Bahamas Update, Thoughts and Ideas

Long Island clear day

I hope you like reading… this is a long one.

It has been a while since there has been much news on this front. If you haven’t read this piece from Gink & Gasoline, I’d urge you to.

If your curious about my own biases, I’d direct you here for my own disclosures.

I thought I’d try to wrap it all up in one big go here, tell you what has happened thus far, where they stand now and where I think we are going. I also share a few alternative ideas that are probably horrible, but I’m putting them out there anyway.

Where we stand now

On June 19th I got an email with a copy of proposals to regulate the flats fishing industry in the Bahamas. Reading through the proposals my eyes took on a look of shock, then horror. It seemed really bad and I said as much. At the same time the same email was being opened and read by others who also arrived at the same conclusion… this was going to be a disaster for the Bahamas. Blog posts started going up, letters started being sent in as part of the “consultation process,” the Bahamian Fly Fishing Industry Association had a meeting and a vote on leadership, a meeting of stakeholders occurred, followed by a second stakeholder meeting.

To my knowledge there is not a second draft version at this time. Many of the items we think will be in the proposed legislation have been discussed by persons in positions of power and authority, but have not been written down or passed around widely. Some of those items might not make it into the proposed legislation, as the Attorney General’s office is tasked with actually writing the legislation.

The proposed legislation will be brought into the Cabinet where it will be discussed and debated. If it emerges from the Cabinet it will go to the House of Assembly where MPs vote after the “Third Reading” of the bill. Then it goes to the Senate and again is voted on (they can delay, but not kill a bill) at the “Third Reading.” That is how I understand the process to work.

There is still a long way for the proposed legislation to go. It has to be written into a coherent bill (this may be difficult to do as many of the terms are vague and other existing laws have to be considered), it has to make it out of the Cabinet (which it very well might fail to do) and it has to be voted on by the Members of Parliament.

A press release by the Ministry of Tourism seemed to say no tourist unfriendly proposal would go through, but it isn’t their proposal, so they wouldn’t be in a position to official kill this thing off. Still, it is hopeful.

What the bill lacks in economic sense it makes up for in nationalism and xenophobia. Such forces cannot be underestimated. Remember, Argentina went to war with the UK over the Falklands.

The most cited Bahamian complaints

The move to regulate flats fishing has many sides and the push comes from a number of commonly cited complaints from Bahamians, as far as I understand them.

  1. Foreign Guides – It is claimed a number of foreigners have set up shop to guide in the Bahamas. Certainly, there are a few. I know of one Canadian guide out of Eluthera and one lodge (Bahamian owned) on the West Side of Andros. Maybe there are others. That I don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
  2. Foreign Mother Ship operations – Many guides have said they’ve seen mother ships with four or five skiffs in tow on pirate fishing excursions, not only not employing Bahamian Guides, but instead employing American guides. It is entirely possible such things exist. I don’t see them marketed or talked about, but it could be these are a real issue. They are certainly perceived as an issue.
  3. Foreign Illegal Lodges – I have seen claims of lodges being set up in private homes with foreign guides, skirting laws about hotel taxes and other regulations. No one has been able to show me one of these and they certainly don’t have booking agents sending them business or websites to book clients. This is perceived as an issue, although this one feels like more perception than reality, given the complexities in making a lodge actually run and be successful. It could be there are “pop up” lodges with fly shops bringing in their own clients for a week or two at a time. I’m not sure exactly what shape this takes, if it has any shape.
  4. DIY anglers – Many guides really, really don’t like the DIY movement. The argument goes that the waters are Bahamian and if you go fishing by yourself you are stealing money from the pockets and food from the mouths of a Bahamian. DIYers bring too much pressure. DIYers ruin the fishery by killing too many of the fish. DIYers get to use the resource for too little money. There are a long list of complaints, and as I’ll discuss a little bit further on, some of them we have brought about ourselves.
  5. Bahamian Guides lack respect – No certification, no training program, no piece of paper saying you are a guide means there are none of the solid benefits of being a guide that might come with a more established white-collar profession. Things like bank loans and customs duty exceptions might come if they have that piece of paper.
  6. Second home owners – Many of these second home owners bring over boats (wouldn’t you?). The boats give the angler much more access and they start bumping up against guides trying to make a living. The guides see this as a Bahamian waters for Bahamian people issue.

What is in either the draft proposal or has been discussed in one form or another.

First, let’s talk about what is not in the proposals. These are not proposals designed with conservation in mind. There is some light, undefined talk of preserving the resource, but those words are not about the fishery, unless you mean relieving DIY pressure from the flats. There are a number of important issues confronting the flats fisheries… illegal netting, dredging and over-development spring to mind. There are certainly more serious issues facing Bahamian fisheries in general too, such as illegal poaching (placed at the feet of the Dominican Republic for the most part) and illegal poaching from Americans coming over from Florida. An arrest was just made of a couple of American poachers with turtle meat, undersized conch and illegally harvested lobster all seized. This proposal does nothing to address any of these more serious issues. It is not about conservation. These proposals are about the industry and the resource, who can use it and who can profit from it.

Here are the elements I gather as being either in or discussed:

  1. A fishing license – This was one of the first red flags, as the original language implied you had to get the permit from a guide or lodge who could arbitrarily deny it to you. It’s easy enough to set up an on-line licensing system, so setting up a system dependent on the guide or lodge seemed to be done intentionally to make it more difficult and to give the guide veto power. It seems we are moving toward a more reasonable fishing permit system, easily accessible and more-or-less affordable. The original proposal was very high, where a second home owner staying for a month might have to pay $2,000. A day, week and annual license, topping out at $250 seems likely, but, again, this hasn’t been put in writing. Probably 95% of the people I’ve talked to have no issue buying a permit to fish as long as it is reasonable and if the money goes to help preserve the resource and not into some political slush fund.
  2. DIY restrictions – This has not been written down but I’ve heard the lines have already been drawn in some cases. DIY will be allowed, but only in certain areas. Those areas would be set in consultation with the local guides and lodges. You would be able to DIY, but only where you were told you could. Everything else would be off limits, except to guides, and the fines if you are caught out of bounds could be as much as $3,000. Most of us think this is a non-starter. Restricting DIY to certain areas defined by guides (who have no motivation to give you anything worth fishing) would likely prevent many anglers from making the trip. To be told exactly where we were able to fish and threatened with severe fines if we didn’t comply would end the free spirit and easy going feeling of the Bahamas for many of us. The guides seek, and Fisheries Minister Alfred Gray has vowed to give them “exclusivity on the flats.” So, you can go DIY the Bahamas if this passes, but you’ll be fishing the sloppy seconds in every sense of the phrase.
  3. Mother Ships – Those would be finished, unless employing Bahamian guides. Haven’t met anyone who has a problem with that. If those mother ships with foreign guides and a string a skiffs really were invading Bahamian waters, there seem few things that would be a greater insult to Bahamian guides. So, good riddance to that.
  4. Foreign Owned Lodges – The original proposals took aim at foreign owned lodges, the language was explicit, although there are some legal complexities here making this part of the legislation more bark than bite. To start a lodge in the Bahamas you need a local partner and you need to make a large investment. There are elaborate regulations for this process. The language certainly is threatening to foreign lodge owners (who operate some of the best known and sought after lodges in the Bahamas), but it is doubtful such massive changes to foreign investment could come from this bill.
  5. Certification and Training – There would be a training program and licensing program, for both lodges and guides. This process would be run by the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association, run by Prescott Smith, the main driver of these proposals. The issue here is the political nature of the BFFIA and, in particular, of Prescott. There is opposition to Prescott from many in the Bahamian fly fishing community (there are also those that love the guy and would follow him anywhere) and if this passes it appears Prescott would be given the power to grant or withhold his blessing on a lodge or guide. The lodges and guides who oppose the BFFIA and Prescott would have to pay Prescott for his services as well. The whole thing reeks of politics of the worst sort. It might be a good idea to train guides on handling bonefish, on conservation, on how to be a guide… there certainly is a wide variation in skill, ability levels and levels of professionalism. An official certificate might also come with a duty exemption for fly fishing related gear like boats, trucks, rods, reels and more. So, there is some good in here for guides and lodges, but the “how” remains a huge question mark as Prescott has lost almost all his international credibility and has divided the Bahamian guide and lodge community by his tactics.
  6. Second Home Owners – Forget taking your own boat out. You would need a guide, even if you are a permanent resident married to a Bahamian. So says Minister Gray. If you hate flats fishing, there will probably be some properties hitting the market in the next year if this passes all the way through.

How we got here

I’ve been thinking about how we got here. I don’t know all the nuances, but I have been paying attention and here are my thoughts.

  1. DIY got too easy. I remember, painfully, the first time I wandered into a forum and asked for a DIY spot in the Bahamas. I was naïve. People didn’t give that stuff away. You had to earn it. You had to go to the place yourself and develop that knowledge which was paid for with hours of fishless flats walking and sunburn. Now, thanks to blogs (like mine) and Google Earth and detailed books you don’t have to work for it. You can just look it up, like Yelping a place to get dinner. In the age of GoPro and Instagram and Vimeo, there are no secrets… not really. So, we all headed for the flats, en masse, and wrote about it and filmed it and took a billion pictures and that inspired others to go and do the same thing. I’m partly to blame and I’m part of the story. One of the first stories that captured my imagination was in This is Fly about a guy who got dropped off on an uninhabited cay in the Bahamas for a week to fish. It was everything I wanted in a trip and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
  2. The Business of being a guide has changed. Today it isn’t enough to have a boat, a pair of good eyes and a family name. There’s marketing to be done. Americans (and I’m guessing we are the majority of anglers going out with guides in the Bahamas) are used to being inundated with marketing messages from the brands we follow. Think about where the flats fishing content is for us to follow. It isn’t coming from the guides in the Bahamas. It is coming from the bloggers and clothing brands and DIY guys who go there, film it, photograph it and share it with the world. They are selling the image of the DIY guy largely against the absence of any kind of native Bahamian marketing effort. Bahamian guides are guides, concerned about the cold front that might come in, the cost of gas and the day-to-day of living and working on an island. They aren’t thinking about the cost of customer acquisition and customer loyalty. It used to be loyalty came with a good trip. Now, loyalty has to be constantly sought after and reaffirmed. Ever have a hard time getting a trip confirmed from a Bahamian guide over the phone? Ever had a guide take down your phone number or email address? Yeah… me either. This overly marketed to American consumer is probably different from the American Client of 20 years ago. The business has changed, is changing and will changes some more. The Bahamian guides need some real help in better marketing what they bring to the table or they will continue to lose the marketing battle they may not even be aware they are fighting.

I’m open to new ideas

Now, I’m just going to throw some stuff up on the walls… I won’t claim any of this is really well thought out. I also doubt that those pushing the regulations will be interested in doing anything other than what they are planning on doing already. Still… here are a few ideas to address the main gripe, the DIY angler.

  1. We could adopt an informal code-of-conduct in the absence of official regulation. How about avoiding a DIY trip in the heart of the best guiding season? How about not posting which island you visit? How about committing to one day of guided fishing per trip? How about promising to stay in a Bahamian run motel, if you aren’t at a lodge? We could police ourselves a bit better and maybe that would help.
  2. In the US we have ways of managing our most impacted and sensitive environments. I’m thinking of things like deer tags and Grand Canyon river permits. There may be some places where there just aren’t enough flats to go around. In that case, how about a lottery system? You apply for a tag for Acklins and see if you get it. Other islands with more flats might be tag-free. If you get the tag you can choose to go through an outfitter for assisted DIY or you could go full DIY. Guides would not need a permit and you could fish at any time with those guides. This might enable these more sensitive areas to be better managed by limiting angler pressure (or at least even figuring out how anglers are even using the resource) and dispersing the impact over time. I’m sure there are problems with this idea, but I’m intrigued by it.
  3. The idea of “DIY” areas sucks the spirit out of the trip. However, flipped around and modified a bit, a Guide Only area(s) might not be such a horrible idea. Set aside some areas for the guides to use, manage and profit from exclusively, while still leaving the DIY angler the ability to explore a bit, to find their own water, to spread out. Guide Only areas could be a little bit further away, more boat-accessible. Guides could guide anywhere they want to, but could make special use of the Guide Only areas when pressure becomes too great in other areas.

20
Jul 15

Great, well researched article on Bahamas issue

From Gink & Gasoline today… a really well done piece. This is what it looks like when a journalist gets a hold of an issue like this.

The story.

The clan in Grand Bahama in 2013

The clan in Grand Bahama in 2013

 


18
Jul 15

Hurdles for Flats Fishing Regulations and What Happens After

“The draft bill and accompanying regulations are not an effort to stifle, prevent or prohibit any category of anglers from fly fishing within the Islands Of the Bahamas, or to restrict international investor participation in the sector.”

So says a Ministry of Tourism press release.

This thing might not have the legs it needs to get through the cabinet. In fact, there seems to be a swelling of internal opposition to the proposals as people wake up to the realities and potential economic pitfalls.

So… we might be able to, in not too long, collectively breath a sigh of relief. Maybe. Depending. At least, well, there’s a good chance. (How many outs can I give myself in one paragraph?)

Underlying what might, just might, be the successful offing of the horribly thought out and disastrously presented proposals, there may be a few issues we need to discuss and consider.

The bill’s popularity with some is grounded in the stark realities they are facing. Consider the bill would have provided duty exemptions for guides for items such as boats, trucks, fly rods and reels, etc.. That would help guides get better, newer gear to grow their businesses for something closer to market rates instead of the hugely inflated costs once you add transportation AND duty costs.

The move to effectively ban most DIY was popular with many guides and they had their reasons. We might do well to examine what those reasons are. Maybe things have become a bit too easy on the DIY front. Maybe not everyone who heads out to one of the Out Islands acts like a perfect gentleman. Maybe we need to think about how we can help the Bahamians to better promote themselves and their services.

The ban on mother ships, ban on foreign guides and the introduction of a reasonably priced and easy to obtain fishing license were all widely supported elements of the proposal. If just those bits survived, they would be welcomed by the vast majority (assuming the money went towards conservation or preserving the fisheries).

If this thing does die, and let’s hope it does, we may need to think about what other elements need to be resurrected, changed, and re-proposed.

Those proposals almost certainly can’t come from the current leadership of the BFFIA, who have lost international respect and proven to be the most divisive of leaders. Even if you are for the proposals, you have to think the presentation and roll-out has been nothing short of a disaster and if you don’t know whose feet to lay that disaster at, you are willfully blind.

So, let’s keep up the pressure. Let’s let the other stakeholders know how we feel and let’s try to do a little introspection of our own and see what has merit, what doesn’t, and what we can do to make our impact a little softer on those who have felt wronged by the current state of affairs.

Andros South in the morning.

Andros South in the morning.


17
Jul 15

Disclosures

Happy in the Bahamas

Happy in the Bahamas

For my day job I often find myself at medical conferences listening to doctors (I’m not one) give presentations. Before a doctor gets on stage and tells you about their research or case report they first give you their disclosures. They let everyone know up front if they’ve taken money from the drug company or if they have a private lab engaged in research or selling competitive services. They want to let people know their possible biases before they start so the information that follows can be assessed in context.

Here are my disclosures. I am not a guide (I guided for trout in Northern California for one season in my early 20’s). I am not a lodge owner, or part owner. I don’t own land in the Bahamas. I don’t own a boat in the Bahamas. I do know some Bahamian guides and some Bahamian and American lodge owners. I’ve fished out of both. The Bahamas has only been a travel destination for me for about 5 years. I was kind-of-almost working for a booking agent for a hot minute when I was between jobs two years ago, but I didn’t end up actually working there and never made a dime off of the work.

Mainly what I have invested in the Bahamas is interest and dreams. The Bahamas are one of my favorite destinations and I have chosen the Bahamas for family vacations, two lodge-based trips and a couple DIY/Guided trips, all in the last five years. I figure I and my family have spent around $20,000 in the Bahamas over that time. I have been to and fished out of Grand Bahamas, Andros, Abaco and Long Islands.

My interest far outweighs my experience and that interest has led me to talk to a lot of people about the Bahamas and to read about the Bahamas to make up for my lack of physical presence. I’ve done interviews and shared stories about the Bahamas consistently for the past five years as well. Ever since the blog was launched, I’ve been talking about and sharing stories about the Bahamas.

My first bonefish came from the East End of Grand Bahama with an independent guide.

In short, I have no “skin in the game.” If the proposed regulations pass I stand to gain nothing financially. If they don’t pass I stand to gain nothing financially.

If they do pass, what I lose are some dreams, maybe a bit of my muse would be snuffed out. I’d lose a family vacation spot and a bit of happiness. That’s all.

My rather strong voice of alarm and concern stems from my worries about what these regulations will do to the Bahamas and to their people. I see economic hard times if these pass. It could be that I also see a loss of something I love as well, a loss of freedom and a loss of choice.

Now you know my biases and where I come from and can put what I have to say in context.


17
Jul 15

Where we are now and where we’re going

A Grand Bahama Sunset

A Grand Bahama Sunset

I’m struggling at the moment to figure out where to go from here. It feels like the battle lines are drawn and minds are made up among the guide community and there is a pretty good delineation between the “For” and “Against” camps. It is also looking more and more likely the “For” camp has been laying the groundwork for this for some time. We “Againsts” are late to the party.

One problem we are going to run into is people don’t usually change their minds. I listened to a great episode of This American Life called “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind.” It was an interesting story and confirmed something we all know deep down, people usually don’t change their minds. That means all those Facebook arguments haven’t moved the needle one bit. Politicians have almost stopped trying to change the minds of those who disagree with them. Instead, they just rally their supporters, turning them into SUPER SUPPORTERS and since politics is very much a Zero Sum Game, those in the opposition turn into SUPER ENEMIES.

We’d probably all be better off if things weren’t between SUPER SUPPORTERS and SUPER ENEMIES. I’m trying to keep an open mind and to listen to other points of view. Sometimes I even succeed.

At this point there doesn’t seem to be a second draft getting circulated. As I understand it, the actual legislation will be written by the Attorney General’s Office and then it goes to the Cabinet. I’ve heard it doesn’t stand a great chance of making it out of the Cabinet (others might see the economic downside a little more clearly at the Cabinet level), but when you have a country of 377,000, you can’t be sure of anything. Throw in a good dose of nationalism and things tend toward unpredictable.

 

I’ll try to keep you posted on what I’m hearing.


15
Jul 15

A day with a Bahamian Guide

There has been so much to be upset about with all the proposed regulations. I thought I’d share a bit of what I love about the Bahamas and the guides who work those waters.

Captain Perry, Grand Bahama Guide and Good Guy.

Captain Perry, Grand Bahama Guide and Good Guy.

Some of my best bonefishing memories have been with Bahamian guides. A good Bahamian guide, guiding in a place they know and love is a special experience.

There are several days that really stand out for me and one of those days was with Captain Perry on Grand Bahama. I fished with him on my second trip to Grand Bahama and I had something like three days (maybe four?) on my own and then one day with Captain Perry toward the end of the week. I’m not sure where he’s guiding now… heard he is at East End Lodge, although when I went with him he was independent. We met in McClean’s Town and fished the waters off the East End.

Going out with Captain Perry was an education. I didn’t know much about bonefish at the time, although I was a bit fixated. My interest did not match my experience level (maybe it never will). I didn’t KNOW much. Knowing comes in part from bits of knowledge, but equally from experience, from doing the thing.

Captain Perry worked with me on my casting (which was kind of bad at that point) and helped me understand how to present the fly, how to move it, how to see the fish better. He helped me in so many ways… it was a critical day on the water for me, for my development as an angler. It was exactly what I needed.

He knew his waters so well. We could hear other boats running, trying to find the sun on a mostly grey day, but Captain Perry knew where the fish were going to be. He trusted to his experience and his deep knowledge of place and he put me on fish after fish. Some of these fish I even managed to catch.

Bone.

Bone.

We talked about conservation and about preservation of bonefish and we talked about the Bahamas. His sense of place, his love of his home shone through so clearly to me. He was a man doing what he was meant to do in the place he was meant to be. He was a steward of the fishery, a protector and a proponent.

Great release by Captain Perry

Great release by Captain Perry

That’s how it is when you go with a really good guide. You feel like they are almost part of the environment themselves, like they are a vital piece of it, like the mangroves or the bonefish themselves.

When I think of the Bahamas I will forever think of that day with Captain Perry… for the fish we caught and the knowledge I gained and for my appreciation of just how deeply Captain Perry knew and loved his home waters.

I couldn’t have done 4 days of guiding. I didn’t have the money for that. My DIY days were mostly fruitless (I think I caught 2 fish on my own). I saw plenty, but they were in really well know spots with a lot of traffic and the fish were smarter than my skills would allow for. That’s how I did trips then, a few days of DIY and one guided day. The guided day was always, and probably will always be the highlight. I was there because I could fish by myself some too. Those fishless days were good days. I valued the time on the water, learning more and more about the place and the fish and the tides and more. I bought a shell from an old lady who has a stand on the road to the East Side and I stayed in a motel in Freeport, ate at restaurants there and rented a car. I probably spent $1,500, not including air fare. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was more than I would spend on anything else.

I’m hoping the Bahamas remains a place where I am welcome, a place where I can poke around on my own and get a guide when I want/need/can afford to.