A point by point rebuttal of this story

I read this story on the Tribune242.com website. It is full of so much misinformation, I felt like I’d take it on point by point.

Tribune Business Reporter

Bahamas Can Be ‘Global Pacesetter’ Over Fishing

THE Bahamas has an opportunity to become a “global pacesetter” in fisheries protection and preservation under proposed regulations to govern the fly fishing industry, the sector’s association president said yesterday.

Let’s be clear… there is very, very little about conservation or preservation in the proposals. What is there is undefined and sloppy. Look at the suggestions of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust… a conservation organization who knows what they are doing. If these folks were really interested in conservation, they would come with a science-forward approach. What is in the proposals is about business, not about conservation. It is being wrapped up in conservation, but it just isn’t there.

Industry stakeholders participated in what was expected to be the last consultation on the regulations, which have been a source of heated debate among them over the past several weeks.

The Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, V. Alfred Gray, said he was “disturbed” by correspondence exchanged between  several industry stakeholders regarding the proposed regulations, stressing he would “rather lose one visitor than lose an entire country”.

Several saying come to mind… don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face… there are probably others. The chorus of shock, warning and alarm has been deafening. People who love the Bahamas deeply and who are responsible for a lot of tourists coming to the Bahamas have warned this is a bad, bad deal for the Bahamas and could destroy the industry. So, Minister Gray may well get his wish many times over. I’m guessing there’s no economic impact study for these proposals, because there is no way they turn out well for the Bahamas as a whole. 

While acknowledging the remaining divisions within the industry, Prescott Smith, the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) president, said yesterday’s consultation helped bring more clarity to the situation.

“A lot of positions were clarified. There is a lot of misinformation out there. I think people are clear that the legislation is something that is necessary in everyone’s interest, and not just special interests” Mr Smith told Tribune Business following the meeting yesterday.

It is very much clear this legislation is NOT in everyone’s interest, but is, instead, thought to be in the interest of a handful (ironically, it probably isn’t really in their interest either). This comment by Prescott flies directly in the face of reality. What about guest house/motel owners? What about shops and restaurants? What about rental car outfits? All those people stand to lose clients and money. What about the independent guides who pick up a day or two on an angler’s DIY trip (and this is a very common occurrence)? Those guides will lose days. This line of Prescott’s defies logic as it is exactly what the legislation would do and the whole world can see it as clear as day. 

“You can’t just think about laws to protect one’s individual business to the detriment of everyone else. The key issues in terms of the Association being the governing body that is recognised nationally, and also the whole issue of what they refer to as ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) anglers, while no one is opposed to it, it was noted that you have to take into consideration certain islands because of their geography and their limited flats in comparison to other islands.

The hostility toward DIY anglers is well known at this point. Check out Page 5. An incident was brought up at the most recent meeting and the guide who had run off a DIY angler was proud of his behavior and he was not reprimanded by the head of the Association, nor the Minister for Fisheries. Again, the comment by Prescott is ironic because the laws are seen as benefiting several businesses at the expense of others.

Also, the association is not recognized by all, not even in the Bahamas. The last election (just a couple weeks ago) was, by most accounts, a farce. Look at my questions to Shawn Leadon in the comments of this post. These are unanswered questions and the silence speaks volumes. 

“You will destroy the fisheries if people can just go out on the flats and fish as they please. Those islands that need special consideration are Acklins, Long Island, Eleuthera, Cat Island and Exuma,” added Mr Smith.

“Destroy” is a pretty wild claim. How many times does a DIY angler even get the tides right? How far can they run if they aren’t into fish? How many fish a day do you think they are catching on average? Where is the study showing this kind of destructive impact? I’ll tell you where the studies are… in Prescott’s head. They don’t exist, nor can they, because this kind of destructive impact is nearly impossible to have when you are talking about catch and release with well intentioned and informed anglers. A bigger impact on the flats would be the illegal netting taking place on Long Island. An angler may be responsible for one or two bonefish deaths, but a net is responsible for every bonefish it touches. 

“The whole issue with fishing licenses, I think people understand the importance of a percentage of it going back into the resource. I feel that the Association should get a considerable portion of it because of the task of training new guides, educational programmes in the school, restoration of creeks, improving the marine environment and lots of education for guides, anglers and the general Bahamian population as well, and bringing to light the fact that the industry is so much more than the guides and the lodges.”

Well, look at that… Prescott thinks the fees should come back to the BFFIA, the organization he’s the President of. Wild, eh? It’s not going to scientists or conservation organizations. It’s going to the head of the association he runs. That doesn’t sound like self-dealing at all, does it?

The Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Amendment) Bill 2015, and the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2015, introduce a number of changes designed to create a supervisory framework for flats fishing in the Bahamas.

This involves a set of new permit fees and stricter distinctions for foreign fishermen and foreign-­owned bone fishing lodges. Concerns over the new regulations centre on the proposed requirement that all visiting fly fishermen, even experts coming to the Bahamas for decades, hire a local guide at a cost of $600 per day.

While sensitive to the need to protect Bahamian fishing guides from foreigners who come in and establish themselves in business illegally, the tourism sector is concerned that the ‘local guide stipulation’ and other proposed fees will make this nation further uncompetitive on price and encourage anglers to head to rival destinations.

There is only one lodge I have heard of who uses foreign guides. The Flamingo Cay Club uses, so I’m told, American guides (I talked to one American guide who worked there in fact). I know of no other lodge or operation using American or foreign guides. So, this is a non-issue and not something that people concerned about. The “local guide stipulation” is not what people are upset about. A requirement that all anglers use a guide certainly is a concern. A second home owner with their own boat would not be able to go and fish by themselves. Minister Grey said that even a permanent resident would not be able to fish on their own. If I come to Treasure Cay for Spring Break with my family (as I did this last year) I wouldn’t be able to head out for a few hours on my own while my kids nap? This is the sort of thing that has people up in arms. 

    “The Bahamas can be a global pacesetter because the only country that has made close to the decisions that the Bahamas is embarking on now is Belize,” Mr Smith said.

“They don’t even have one twentieth of our resources. By us taking this initiative you are protecting the nursery system for the entire Caribbean. The Bahamas has not only the largest flats in the world but the largest concentration of mangroves in the entire western world, which means that the marine life breeding here is  replenishing so many countries around the Caribbean.

First off, the rules set up in Belize are about making Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon catch & release species and outlaws most netting. Their laws say nothing about banning DIY angling. Florida passed rules, rather recently, banning the killing of bonefish and clamping down on how tarpon can be fished for and handled. These rules are enforced as well. Florida now has more strict rules around zoning and development to try and fix some of the damage they did earlier, damage that largely hasn’t yet happened in the Bahamas, but certainly could without enforced rules on dredging and sewage treatment. So, this claim to be a pacesetter rings hollow. The proposed laws would make the Bahamas a leader though, a leader in enacting anti-foreigner, restrictive fishing regulations. So, maybe that’s the pacesetting he’s looking to do. A quick internet search shows that the Bahamas is not setting the pace on conservation, nor would this legislation move in that direction. 

Secondly, it is true that the Bahamas has more habitat than the rest of the Caribbean. That, however, seems to conflict with the idea Prescott posed earlier that a few DIY anglers could bring the fishery low. How are both things true? How can you have the largest mangrove system in the world on one hand, and then claim that a catch and release anglers can destroy the whole fishery? Really, you can’t, but it also isn’t about protecting the fishery, it is about trying to ensure the money goes into the pockets you want it to go into. 

“This legislation goes a long way to say you’re thinking sustainability and preservation and sustainability,” said Mr Smith. “The BFFIA must now move swiftly in terms of the various certification manuals that need to be fine tuned.”

The legislation goes a long way to sinking what’s left of the Bahamian economy. I hear, daily, from people who say they won’t go back if this goes through. They won’t go for the family vacation where they want to get out for a bit of fishing on their own, maybe grab a day with a guide as well. They won’t go back for the week long lodge trip because they don’t like the stink this legislation has all over it of greed and the big F-U to Americans (and non-yanks too). Certification manuals are the least of your worries. It amazes me that someone could come up with this sort of legislation to implode a $141M a year industry with no understanding of the potential impacts, no study on the impacts and so little care given to the goose that lays the golden egg. It might not be criminal, but it should be. Is this what the Bahamas needs in the aftermath of Baha Mar? Clearly not. 

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1 comment

  1. Prescott Smith talks about doing things in everyone’s interests, not just “special interests”.

    Here’s what you’ll pay for 7 nights/6 days fishing at a selection of lodges on Andros (all prices are per person, for double occupancy, based on the same inclusions):

    Swains Cay: $3,840
    Andros South: $4635
    Big Charlie’s: $3,870

    And at Prescott’s Stafford Creek Lodge? $5,927.50

    He’s not guarding against special interests. He IS special interests.

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