This looks like a good time.
I saw some photos yesterday of some mangroves being ripped up near Fresh Creek in Andros.
Mangroves, as most folks here would know, are vital. They are the nurseries for juvenile fish. They hold the shoreline in place when the big storms come through. They are host to crabs and shrimp and all manner of wild things.
You shouldn’t rip out mangroves because you want to put in a fuel station.
But… if the reports are true, that’s exactly what our good ole pal Prescott Smith is doing down in Andros. Yup, that Knight of Conservation appears to be ripping out mangroves. And yes, that’s a bonefish flat right in front of the ripped out mangroves.
It boggles the mind.
The number one threat to bonefish is not angler pressure or illegal netting or pollution. The number one threat to bonefish is habitat loss.
There is a lot of habitat in Andros. Miles and miles and miles of it, square miles. It is the biggest nursery in the Caribbean. It is only that good because it is mostly intact. Bonefish won’t be lost by a few huge devastating blows, but by a thousand little cuts. This is one such little cut.
Tom Karrow is gathering up guide stories, histories and knowledge all for a pretty cool project. I asked him to share some information about this project and to lend some of his insights gained thus far.
Check it out.
Tell me a little about the project you’ve been working on. What was the inspiration and where are you in the process?
The project I am working on is funded through the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust as well as a series of other industry supporters including Nautilus Reels, RL Winston Fly Rods, FishPond, 12 Weight, Costa, the Fisheries Conservation Foundation and World Angling. I have also had great on-island support from lodges like, North Riding Point Club, H2O Bonefishing, Deep Water Cay, Bairs Lodge, Swains Cay Lodge and industry associations like the Abaco FlyFishing Guides Association.. not too mention the dozens of participating guides including amazing Bahamian elders like Ansil Saunders, David Pinder Sr. O’Donald McIntosh, Basil Minns, and Maitland Lowe. My primary goal for BTT is generating fisheries habitat maps in collaboration with local Bahamian angling guides on Bimini, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Andros. These islands were selected because of the size of their angling tourism sector and the longevity of their fisheries… Bimini became a popular angling destination as early as 1923 with the establishment of the Bimini rod and gun club. While I am working with guides to generate habitat maps, I am also examining fisheries population dynamics for Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit (and more). These populations have changed over time, and it is critical to establish some sort of “baseline” in the absence of commercial fisheries catch rates. Without a baseline, it is difficult as a resource manager to assess increases or declines in populations, the effects of conservation measures, climate change impacts or source point pollution issues like dredging, oil spills, or waste water discharges. Many Bahamian guides have been guiding for decades; their experiences on the water are vital for better understanding ecosystems and the changes that have occurred in these systems. I am also trying to give these Bahamian icons recognition for their tireless efforts in working to learn about the fishery, and establish a world-class fisheries-based tourism destination. Their stories and experiences are being documented both in print and on film for release of a book entitled “Ghost Stories” and an accompanying documentary film. Film shorts and a trailer will be released through the International FlyFishing Film Tour (among other media sources) and will highlight not just bonefishing/fish porn, but the Bahamian culture, its history, food, customs and more. Ghost Stories will tell the story of the Bahamian bonefishing through the eyes of local Bahamian guides. I am grateful for support from Capt. Will Benson and World Angling who bring a wealth of professionalism and expertise to this vital effort. The challenge lies in funding for filming which is very costly.
What is something that has surprised you about your project thus far?
A couple of things come to mind. Firstly the sheer magnitude of Bahamian generosity, courtesy and willingness to accommodate me needs mention. I have not found more polite, friendly people and I love returning to the islands. Beyond that, I think the beauty of the islands is stunning. Each time I land in a new destination, I say to myself… “this is the most beautiful place I have been”…. it makes me appreciate travelling throughout the islands and reminds me to encourage anglers to try new Bahamian destinations…. there are 700 Bahamian islands after all! I too am guilty of returning to familiar grounds when travelling but I can say, angling diversity throughout the Bahamas is worth seeing and you will become a better angler having had more experiences in a variety of locations with the teachings from local guides. Each destination I travel to holds a place in my heart whether it is because of local people, the geography, the food etc. and I hope some day to return to each place. I am fortunate to have met and interviewed, some of the Bahamian legends that I have; I cherish the time I have had with each of these finest of people.
You have been doing a LOT of traveling around the Bahamas recently. Any tips or tricks for helping get “there” with your sanity intact?
Remember you are on ” island time”, relax, go with the flow and enjoy the journey…. some of the most interesting people and contacts I have made were during “travel days”. Travel with the locals, embrace Bahamian people and their culture. More practically, leave lots of time, carry essentials with you (in case luggage arrives later) and fly direct if possible to avoid transfers, weather delays etc.
What do you think the state of Bahamian guiding is in at this point?
The quality of guides I have found throughout the islands is unparalleled. The best in my opinion, recognize the importance of the industry to Bahamians, they acknowledge their important role in that industry, they are well versed in local ecological processes and they are tourism and hospitality experts… largely self trained by the way, although there is a ‘tradition’ of guiding in some Bahamian families. In a few cases, the 3rd or 4th generation of family guides are now carrying on this tradition having learned from Bahamian greats.. a perfect example of this is the Pinder family of Grand Bahama who were, and are, lead by phenomenal Bahamian great, David Pinder Sr. Other families like the Smiths, Leadons, and Lowes follow suit. Beyond this, there are some issues with other aspects of the “state of guiding” in the islands. On many islands, new young guides are hard to find. Elder guides tell me, the younger generation finds guiding too hard, too much work and they see jobs in medicine or law as more credible. This will be an issue in the future of the Bahamas. We all have to address this problem as technology takes a greater role in the lives of our children and time in the outdoors is reduced.
Describe one of your favorite flats.
Personally, I prefer angling from a boat. I like diversity in a flat, I like a mixed shoreline and beach, coral and mangroves… I find it more challenging. I also like some access to deep water where species like Permit and Tarpon may travel through on their way to the flat so there is potentially a surprise on every flat. I love the flats of Northern Grand Bahama because they provide such diversity in terms of species and habitats, and I thank both H2O Bonefishing and Grand Bahama Bonefishing for showing me this incredible habitat. Sandy areas mixed with grass flats and everything in between allow for just about anything to happen. If wading, I much prefer a hard consistently white sandy flat so I can get beautiful Bahamian sand between my toes … I think of Exuma for this type of flat and I am on my way there today!
When you are on the water a lot you see some weird things. What’s something you’ve seen on the water that fits that bill?
Last time I was in the field, I had some down time to actually fish… a rarity rest assured! Research and interviewing are the focus of my time in the Bahamas… that is sometimes tough because I do love to throw a line and fly! However, two things come to mind with that question. On a flat on Great Exuma in January, I was wading when I heard and then saw a 5-6 foot black tip shark beach itself while chasing its prey. Right out of the water and well up the beach, it frantically thrashed about as it tried to return to the water which it did. Before that, I had never seen something like that. I also remember being with Androsian great, Charlie Neymour on a strong outgoing tide in about 10 feet of water looking for Permit in June. The water was so hot, that large off-shore permit up to 60 or 70 lbs. came right in on the boat, taking refuge under the boat in the shade it provided… that was crazy and pretty amazing to see. I might have gone in to swim with them had the current not been so strong the fact that some large Bull Sharks had followed the permit!
Where are you headed next?
My research efforts began in 2014 and I am approaching the end of official field work. While there will always be more guides to interview (and I would love to), from a research and funding standpoint I am close to having enough interviews from each of the study islands to accurately represent the local fisheries. Currently, I am en route to Exuma to interview a few more guides and will then travel to Andros for several weeks of travel and interviews from the south end all the way to the north end. I try to interview 50% of the guides on each island so I may return to Abaco in the fall for a few days. I would love to continue this study on Acklins, Long Island, Eleuthera and other Bahamian islands, but those are not in the cards at this time!
Thanks Tom. Can’t wait to see this thing!
I love the longer days.
One thing I kind of hate about winter is the later afternoon darkening. The world seems so less full of possibilities when it is dark at 5:00.
Now, it is still light after dinner. That means I can be a good husband and father and still manage to sneak away for a bit to fling flies in the Bay.
So, I did.
The stripers aren’t here yet, at least not in numbers sufficient for me to find them… or not where I know where to look, I suppose. I have a lot more to learn about chasing stipers in San Francisco Bay, but that’s part of the process. You have to suck at something before you can be good at it.
The fish count yesterday was 0 stripers and 1 Jack Smelt.
I’ll take it.
Based on a fictional story.
We will begin boarding soon.
We will first welcome our Super Elite Diamond members,
Followed by our Golden Elite Ruby members,
Our Silver Elite Sapphire members
Followed by our Bronze Semi-Elite Visa Card Holders
And then our Tin Chalice members.
We will then board families with children under two, members of the military, Nobel Prize Winners and Survivor Winners.
We then will board our Super Special Semi-Special members,
Followed by C-list celebrities, then D-list celebrities.
Then we will board those in Group 1.
After that… if we must… we might let the rest of you jerks on the plane who didn’t pay us extra money to board early. If we have room.
I’m not making any promises though.
I write this post to the Bahamian people. I am not Bahamian. In fact, I live a long, long way from the Bahamas. There are some things I think you need to know about things going on in your country you likely don’t know much about. The reason you don’t know much about them is because they are going to be pretty bad for many of you, and, given how politics tends to work, those behind the efforts aren’t too keen to really let you know what they have in mind.
As a Bahamian you are born into a beautiful country. Your environment may be your greatest asset. Many of you make your living from your local waters. Many of you may do a bit of fishing to put a meal on the table. Some of you may just like to go out and fish for the joy of it.
This could be about to change. A group of fly fishing guides, together with the Ministry of Fisheries, is seeking to regulate exactly who can fish and where. A license would be required for Bahamians to fish on the “flats,” defined to encompass mostly any water that isn’t too deep (less than 6′). It could cost you $100 now to go fishing in water you’ve been able to fish for free since, well, forever. You want your wife to fish too? That’s another $100.
Your birthright, those beautiful Bahamian waters, are going to be held in reserve for those who can pay, mostly Americans and Europeans staying at expensive lodges. This might make the fishing a little bit better, in the same way there might be more American Bison if we didn’t let anyone into Wyoming, but the average Bahamian loses a right to do something you’ve been able to do since there was a Bahamas.
The full regulations are aimed more at foreign anglers than they are at locals who want to go catch a snapper. They are intended to make it harder for certain types of fishermen to choose how they experience the Bahamas. To those fishermen, many of whom have been coming to the Bahamas for years, these efforts seem very uninviting. The easy going nature of the Bahamas is being replaces by something unfriendly. The regulations say “It isn’t enough for you to spend your money in the Bahamas, it has to be with us.”
This is going to result in lost business for the independent guides, for the guest houses and smaller hotels, for the car rentals and boat rentals and little restaurants. Anglers that come with their families and want a relaxing vacation with a couple days of fishing in the mix, those guys are not pleased and may not return.
The regulations are not about preserving the fish. Nothing in the regulations does anything to address habitat loss, what is most likely the main threat to bonefish in the Bahamas. When it comes to sustainable fisheries, the issue of illegal fishing by Dominican factory ships is 1,000x more important, and these rules would do nothing to address any of that.
The opposition to the regulations isn’t about having to pay for a license. Anglers would happily pay a license if it were reasonable, easy to obtain and went to support the health of the fishery.
Here are some comments by fisherman. These are just a few. There are many, many more. It is going to be a disaster for the average Bahamian.
Well written article which clearly states the outcome of passing these shortsighted “regulations”. It is abundantly clear to an outsider, the proposed regulations are are power grab attempt by a few. This group hopes to push all anglers into hiring guides, charge exorbitant fees which will enrich their coffers and in general push the DIY anglers out of the Bahamas. There is a distinct xenophobic cast to the whole business.
The fallout from Prescott’s selfie move will be worse, we think than anyone planned. Looking at his now shrunken by 80% BFFIA members, we see some pretty good guys caught up in this mess. Too bad.
I am continued to be amazed/dumbfounded by the lack of foresight by the policy makers in the Bahamas. Sure there will be lots of people that still go and fish via the lodge route. That is what I have done in the past. But I will tell you it is completely off my list for family trips or a buddies DIY trip. AND I live in Florida.
Simply put my wife and I go to the Bahamas every winter for a week or so, she reads and I fish – always catch and careful release.
Last year it was Long Island, during a time of low travelers as the island recovered from the hurricane.
The people we me seemed very glad we were there…
The consequence or mere possiblity of being hassled or worse for wading a flat is too much for me to risk to re-visit the Bahamas.
Frankly the whole thing is in the “hard to believe” colum.
Count me wading somewhere else. Thumbs down!!
What I find funny is the BFFIA wants to be part of the “policing” in all of this. Which you and I know means they will chase and harass any visiting angler that appears to be fishing on their own, even legally, until the BFFIA gets what they want: them to literally leave the water and never return again so that BFFIA and their members have a monopoly on everything.
I think the worst part for me is the ambiguity. I do DIY (mostly on E but was planning a trip to Cat) and I mostly bonefish but I also do blind casting. How is this covered? Definitely will look somewhere else.
Tell Minister Gray and the BFFIA that there is a real cost to their maneuvering and efforts to extract more dollars from traveling anglers – if enough anglers contemplating the Andros trip do as I am doing and stay away, the trip will be cancelled and $40,000 less will flow into the Bahamas this year. It’s too bad, because the pain will be borne most heavily by the lovely family that runs the lodge, not Minister Gray.
The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust just recently put out a response to the Fisheries proposed regs. You can read them here.
The Abaco Fly Fishing Guide’s Association also submitted a lengthy rebuttal to the proposed regulations. Here is a link to their response (It is too long to post here, but this is a PDF of their reply).
Here is the thing. These thoughtful and well-intended responses to the proposed legislation don’t matter at all… and that underscores exactly how bad this whole situation is.
Minister Gray and Prescott Smith don’t care what BTT or the AFFGA have to say. In fact, much of what is in the proposals seems aimed at directly negatively impacting both organizations and their constituents. Abaco guides are on the outs with the BFFIA-crew and their interests are not important to the likes of Prescott Smith. Only Prescott’s interests are important to Prescott. And BTT? You notice how when BTT lists the people in the Bahamas who work with them, who help them fulfill their mission there is a stark lack of participation from the BFFIA folks? I have noticed. The BFFIA seems to view BTT, a bonefish conservation nonprofit, with suspicion and distrust and with the totally delusional idea that they could do what BTT is doing themselves (they can’t… not by a long, long way).
This “comment period” (which closes in the next couple days) is a sham because those asking for comment have no interest in hearing anyone’s concerns. Their minds are made up and all that is left is this farce of a process of consultation.
The cliff note version of my take on the proposals looks like this.
(Really, I’m tired of writing about this stuff, but, ya know… this is kind of what it’s about right now)
If you talk to the proponents of this newest BFFIA driven proposal, at some point someone may mention how great this whole thing works up in Quebec. Their license fee is, can you guess it? $50 a day. You can’t just walk out on the nearest river. There are some sections that are completely private, others that require a guide and others that you can walk out on, but only after you get your local permit from the local government.
This is what the BFFIA folks want. It mostly kills off the DIY game and consolidates access to the water in the hands of the wealthy and those who take them fishing.
This starts to fall apart though when one looks into it more.
First, before about 1980 all the rivers in Quebec were, more or less, private. The locals had no access. There was no economy dependent on the unimpeded access to those waters. There was no tangential tourism industry to kill. In the Bahamas there has been a long history of anglers coming and trying their luck on the Bahamian flats and there are a number of businesses which have grown up to cater to those anglers. Independent guides, guest houses, restaurants, car rental places and boat rentals. They all stand to lose and there was no such situation in Quebec, so the comparison is deeply flawed.
Secondly, bonefish are not Atlantic Salmon. Some of those rives may only get a couple thousand fish in a season. I’ve seen schools of fish in Andros with more fish in them than some of the best rivers in Quebec see in a whole year… in a whole YEAR. Take all the fishable water in Quebec for Atlantic Salmon and how much water would you actually have? I’d think you’d have more fishable water in a single Bahamian island. Atlantic salmon are also swimming to their death (they may survive the first spawn and head back out to the Atlantic, but most only spawn once or twice). It is a fish that requires a lot of management and is in a far, far worse state than bonefish are.
It just isn’t the same thing.
If the regulations proposed by the BFFIA and Fisheries passes there will be some winners and some losers. It is worth looking at the breakdown, as I see it.
Lodges – Yes, lodges will win in this scenario. They get rid of a great number of anglers, even locals, and get the waters mostly to themselves. The threat of harassment, the complicated license fees, the massive possible fines will keep DIY guys off the water, in large part. That means the water will be less pressured and the safest way to access any of it will be via a lodge with the lodge guides. This is the Quebec version of fisheries management.
The BFFIA – Made kingmakers by this legislation, they would get to determine who guides and who doesn’t. It puts them, and our good pal Prescott, in a position of power and authority to be able to dictate to the guiding community.
Cuba, Belize, Mexico – Those who don’t go to the Bahamas will go other places. Even if the DIY game is not the same, the animosity being created will keep some folks away, but they’ll still go fishing, just other places.
Um… I can’t see any other winners here.
Independent guides – The folks that came with their families and wanted to grab a day with a guide in addition to a little walking around on their own will, to one degree or another, go somewhere else. Having to get two different licenses for the different types of fishing isn’t great either. There will be fewer days of guiding for indie guides.
Assisted DIY providers – A different license, a different classification and having to deal with the BFFIA make this a much harder business to run under the newest proposed regs.
Smaller hotels/guest houses – Those places the families and DIY folks stayed at won’t get that business.
Small businesses – Some of the families who come to do some fishing and other activities will go other places, so fewer meals to be sold, fewer cars to be rented, fewer Kaliks to be sold.
Second home owners – A place like Abaco has a number of second home owners, some of whom have their own boats. They wouldn’t be able to fish with anyone else unless they hire a guide. It will likely mean some interesting places will be on the market though.
Bahamas Environment – If you have fewer people experiencing the wonders of the Bahamas, you’ll have fewer people who will care if some of that is destroyed. If fishing becomes less of an economic boost, other industries will fill the void and exploit the resource and cries to stop that will fall on ears slightly deafened by the reduction in the importance of angling. People fight for what they care about and they care about the things they know.
Bonefish research – The BFFIA is pretty much openly hostile to “American” science, even if Bahamians are deeply involved. If you look at who participates with the BTT you’ll notice a conspiciuos lack of BFFIA leadership.
Anyone who has disagreed with the BFFIA – The leadership here seems to really know how to carry a grudge. I can’t imagine they would use their new powers lightly. Maybe not immediately, but I’d bet some of the opposing forces would find it harder to do business if this sort of thing gets passed.
The average Bahamian – It has always been the case that the average Bahamian could walk out on their local flat, maybe right in front of their home, and fish. This changes that. Is that water considered a “flat?” Well, pay up or you can’t fish there. Considering how much of the Bahamas could be considered flats, that is a huge part of the country. I can’t imagine the local Bahamians have any idea they are about to have one of their birthrights stolen from right under their noses.
It is important to note that the proposed legislation does not outlaw DIY fishing, it just makes it much less appealing. The multiple licenses, the draconian fines, the possibility of being harassed on the flats, it all makes it likely to keep some people from heading to the Bahamas. Some business will continue to flow, but other business will dry up.
It is tarpon time in the Keys. The migratory ocean-siders are doing their thing, pausing at the bridges and moving with the tides and the hopeful are waiting and searching for them.
It seems I now do this about every two years. A trend that looks like it will continue in 2017. Last year I got the Keys Beat Down and went 5 fishless days before a small act of redemption in the Glades. Somehow, I’m still up for trying again.
Next year it looks like a conference I’ll be attending will be held in Ft. Lauderdale right about this time. That means I’ll be able to wrap up the conference and slide a couple hours south to complete my biennial tarpon hunting.
I have to say… I’m already a bit excited about it, even after the demoralizing smack downs the Keys have dished out. There is just something about being there and seeing those fish sliding through the water, prehistoric, massive, sleek and powerful.
I’ll be planning this trip from now until I get on the deck of whatever skiff I’ll end up on.