There is sometimes some confusion about what fishing regulations are like in the States.
Pretty much, in the US, you can fish where you want to fish. If the season is open and you can get on the water, you can fish it.
You don’t need a guide to fish in Florida, not even for Tarpon at the height of the migration.
You don’t need a guide to fish for redfish in Louisiana or Texas.
You don’t need a guide to fish for trout in Yellowstone.
You don’t need a guide to fish the Big Horn or the Big Hole in Montana.
You don’t need a guide to float the Green River in Utah.
You don’t need a guide to fish the Deschutes for steelhead in Oregon.
You don’t need a guide to fish for cutties in the Snake in Idaho.
You don’t need a guide to fish for salmon or trout in Alaska.
You don’t need a guide to fish for bonefish in Hawaii or Puero Rico.
You don’t need a guide to fish for rainbow trout in California.
You don’t need a guide to fish for stripers in Montauk.
There are a few places that have special regulations, usually to relieve fishing pressure or to address boat traffic issues. There are some places you are not allowed to guide, like in some Parks.
In all of these places there are large and thriving numbers of guides. I’d be shocked if Florida doesn’t have more guides than the Bahamas. Most guides don’t go through special training, although many are required to get a guide’s license, which has more to do with liability insurance than skill. To my knowledge these guide licenses are (mostly) purely administrative. They don’t asses if you know how to fish or if you know which end of the rod to use. You fill out the form and pay your money and you are a guide. Many guides are booked a year in advance by the same clients, year after year.
People use guides in all those places. They use guides even when they can fish on their own without guides. Anglers, in the US, use guides for many, many reasons. Maybe they don’t know the water well, or they are new to fishing. Maybe they are expert fisherman and just want to benefit from the guide’s deep knowledge of “place.” Maybe they just enjoy the experience of fishing with someone who knows the names of the birds and the trees and the flowers. Maybe they only have a few days to fish a year and want to maximize their time on the water.
Bahamian guides are no different. People choose to fish with Bahamian guides for many of the same reasons. You can let people choose how they want to fish and so long as people aren’t hurting the fish or the flats, many, many, many will chose to fish with a guide (and anglers are not harming the flats, by and large, as DIY anglers can only access a tiny fraction of the flats a guide with a skiff can access). I love fishing with a good Bahamian guide in their home water where they know the tides like the backs of their hands and can find fish even when the wind is howling and the lights are off. That’s worth a lot, and American anglers know that, and will pay for it, if that’s the kind of angler they are.
You want to regulate your own industry. Great. However, you also need to understand your consumer, the buyer of your product. No company can just ignore their consumer and then demand that they continue to buy their products. If you alienate your buyers, your buyers will go other places and become someone else’s buyer. That’s not a threat, that’s just how markets work.
In your particular case, the buyers of your products really don’t like being dictated to because they are rarely dictated to when pursuing their hobby in their own country. If you roll out dictates to them in your country they may not react well. I’m not talking about buying a license here, I’m talking about DIY. Almost all anglers have to buy a license in the US, but this is a fast and straightforward process, often done on-line or over the phone or through a business which is open on the weekends and holidays. We make it easy. It isn’t a barrier. There are also some places that don’t require a license, like Hawaii.
Bookings last year were up in Belize, from what I understand. Were your bookings up? I’m not talking about what someone told you about their bookings… I mean your actual days on the water. Did you do more than you did last year?
If your days were down last year, I’d bet the businesses who rely on the DIY anglers were hit even harder. The guest houses and the car rentals and the restaurants and shops. You start aiming at your anglers and it isn’t just the guides who suffer, it is all the other folks too, your neighbors.
It is true that Eastern Canada has some very restrictive rules on guides. They are the outliers, not the norm.
Regulate your industry, but know your decisions and how your decisions are communicated impact the willingness of your consumers to consume your products.