Bad News Bahamas

The latest meeting in the Bahamas about the new fishing regulations was, by the accounts I’ve heard, an unmitigated disaster. We appear to be headed for a self-induced Bahamian hurricane. I’ll call it Hurricane Prescott-Gray.

There was no new, improved draft of the proposed regulations and the discussions went further and further in the wrong direction. All the “consultation” from the past couple weeks seems to have been ignored.

You won’t be able to fish by yourself from a boat without a guide. Even a permanent resident wouldn’t be able to fish. So, if you are married to a Bahamian and have your own boat and live there full-time, you will need a guide to fish.

DIY would be regulated by designating certain areas for DIY, set aside in consultation with local guides who have no interest in you ever catching a fish on your own.

Ease of access for permits wasn’t discussed, but it doesn’t really matter, as the blocking of DIY is now much more overt so there is no need to play those sorts of games.

It is clear Minister Alfred Gray is no friend of anglers or tourists. He basically said he would rather lose a tourist than lose a dollar for a guide (which has to be great news for all those Bahamians whose money he is planning on keeping out of the Bahamas). Oddly, making a “no sissy weddings in the Bahamas” comment several times (hey, look, anti-foreigner AND homophobic, what a combo!), he reiterated his “seeking exclusivity for the guides” line. He may have been trying to say that just because Americans want something or do something across the Jet Stream doesn’t mean it is going to fly in the Bahamas. So, way to try to make a point while being a total jerk. He seems to specialize equally in being wrong about things and about promoting political patronage. He’d fit right in in our House of Representative, which is about as big an insult as I can think of.

Maybe Minister Gray is hoping to get this all pushed through before he’s prosecuted for corruption?

Gray sat in front of the group with Prescott Smith sitting beside him. The two make a Category V for the Bahamian fly fishing industry. Touting total falsehoods such as “guides are mandatory to fish in Florida” and “if you touch a bonefish it dies,” the they talked over or ignored those they didn’t like or whose points they didn’t agree with.

Gray, at one point, seemed to suggest Bahamian guides are the cheapest in the industry (um… no), seeming to suggest if they get rid of the DIY anglers they will have the market cornered and they can CHARGE MORE (the economics is not strong in this one).

The proposals seem to include the need to certify guides, a process that would be controlled by the Bahamian Fly Fishing industry group Prescott runs. So, Prescott would likely have a say in who guides and who doesn’t and those hand-picked guides would also get to set the areas where DIY anglers can fish. It sets him up to be a kind of King of the Flats. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’d say maybe even the quest for it does the job.

Seldom, in the history of legislation, in the history of bonefishing, have so many bad ideas been in one place at one time. This is nothing short of a disaster for the Bahamian people and economy. As someone said in one comment, in ten years the Bahamains wont’ be guiding for bonefish, they’ll be catching them to eat having scared away the tourists in a tourist economy. That would be a tragedy.

Maybe these guys should ask the lodges and guides of Los Roques how well it goes when you scare away the tourists?

Let’s be clear about what this is not… it is NOT about conservation. Conservation wasn’t really discussed at the meeting. If you ask Bahamians about conservation of their fisheries they are about 99:1 more likely to mention poaching from the Dominican Republic or illegal netting than to cry about the sky falling because of incidental mortality from a catch and release bonefish fishery. It’s laughable to argue DIY C&R angling is really any sort of threat to the Bahamian fishery. It is something impacting such a tiny percentage of the millions of bonefish in the Bahamas as to be a total non-issue in the big picture. This argument is being touted by the guy who said we anglers needed to take responsibility for the risks of fishing the flats, risks that included bull sharks and heart attacks, so, not this is not surprising.

The regs are about profit and the misguided belief that by reducing opportunities there will be more money for themselves, even if there is less for other Bahamians. They don’t care about other Bahamians. This is a cold-blooded cash grab that stands every chance of wreaking economic havoc, as most ugly storms do.

This (whatever this total disaster ends up looking like) is going to the Cabinet and we have to hope other cabinet officials take one look at this proposal and recognize it for the storm of destruction it is.

Here are some people who need to understand the magnitude of the disaster awaiting the Bahamian people if these regulations come to pass.

The Hon. Obediah H. Wilchcombe – Minister of Tourism –

The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie – Prime Minister –

Write these guys and let them know the damage these proposals pose. This may be our last hope to have an impact.



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  1. Bjorn, I was at the meeting yesterday and I’d like to share a few comments with you (and your readers.) Yesterday was a continuation of the first Public Consultation. Minister Gray had kindly extended that meeting as there was not enough time for all of the stakeholders to share their input. Thus, yesterday was intended to be the conclusion of the first meeting. No one expected a “new improved draft of the proposed legislation.” There was a lot of good input at the first meeting and we all left the meeting feeling hopeful. Yesterday’s meeting had a decidedly different tone. I personally left the meeting feeling sad.
    I was sad because Prescott Smith had been moved from the front row of the audience at the last meeting to the head table this time. As you and your readers are aware, THE AFFGA DOES NOT RECOGNIZE HIM OR HIS BFFIA ORGANIZATION AS THE VOICE OF THE FLY FISHING INDUSTRY.
    I was sad because about 15 minutes into the meeting the door opened and a plane load of 20 to 30 guides (from North Andros I’ve been told – I don’t know any of them) joined the consultation. The tone of the meeting was decidedly different compared to the first consultation.
    There was a lot of talk about DIY fishing, but there was at the last meeting too. The difference was, the last meeting was more balanced. This time anybody that opposed DIY was quietly cheered and those who were for it were heckled.
    When the Minister informed us that the BFFIA would be responsible for defining the standard for a guide and I stood up to formally object, he did admonish the guides to show respect for a lady and to let me talk. The end result of me ‘talking’ is that it has become necessary for the opposition, AKA, those members who were not afforded an opportunity to vote for emperor Prescott at the AGM, AKA, The Dog and Pony Show on June 25th, to legally challenge the vote. Until further notice Minister Gray has declared the BFFIA as the rule maker regarding guides for the fly fishing industry in The Bahamas. This makes me VERY SAD.
    I think the most important thing for everybody to keep in mind is that the consultation process is for talking about ideas and making suggestions for the regulations and to define terms. The actual legislation will be written by the Attorney General’s office.
    I am sad because only one conclusive thing came out of the meeting. As a unified group we were, after two meetings, finally able to define the term “flats” for legal council. The other four specific terms and procedures legal council asked for help with were never answered. None of us can even guess how those questions will be answered now until the legislation becomes law.
    One thing I want all of your readers to know is that the AFFGA now has 5 new members from Grand Bahama.
    To end this on a happy note, I want your readers to remember that the independent guides and the lodge owners of Abaco and Grand Bahama value our visitors, our anglers, our second-homeowners, those who hire us and those that don’t. It truly is better in the Bahamas and we welcome you with open arms. So please do include us in your upcoming fishing plans because we have a world-class fishery and world-class guides. Sincerely, Cindy Pinder, Vice President & Secretary, Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association

  2. bonefishbjorn

    Thanks Cindy. I know you are fighting the good fight, along with many from Grand Bahama and Abaco. If I get back to the Bahamas, it is going to be to the Northern Bahamas where folks like you and the AFFGA are working to make us feel welcome.

  3. […] the current trend continues in the Bahama’s Fly Fishing Saga, as reported by this morning by Bjorn , we’re ready, along with an impressive proportion of folks we’ve chatted with in the industry, […]

  4. Cindy wasn’t this mandatory guide idea yours and Buddys in the first place?

  5. Will this affect private yachts who have flats boats?

  6. bonefishbjorn

    Yes… very much so.

  7. Jason Neil Roberts

    Maybe we should try and be a bit more open minded about the entire process and seek to garner some level of appreciation for the intent of the proposed bill.
    Most of the persons who visit the Bahamas to bonefish come from some of the world’s richest countries where regulations even on fishing is nothing new.

    I see the bill as an attempt to protect the local Bahamian guides and to ensure they have a preserved mains of securing income. It is absolutely selfish to be one sided on this issue. What is wrong with a Government seeking to create provisions in Law to protect local bonefish guides from foreign exploitation of the bonefish industry?

    If local bonefish guides are completely ruled out of the equation as some may wish, what kind of environment and social structure will it create in ten years time ? How will they make a living in their own country ? Why should the Government of the people capitulate because of a few selfish minded individuals who not see the need for locals to make money but to use our resources to enrich themselves?

    Please seek to gain some understanding on International Law and how it correlates to sovereignty of territorial waters.

  8. bonefishbjorn

    Jason, you are missing the point. No one wants to do away with guides. Some of my best moments of bonefishing have been with and because of Bahamian guides. To be out, in the Bahamas, with a really good Bahamian guide is a real treat.

    This sentence “If local bonefish guides are completely ruled out of the equation as some may wish,” is stupidity. NO ONE wants to “rule out” Bahamian guides. To say something like that means you understand nothing of the industry… nothing.

    However, sometimes I want to go out for a day on my own, on foot, to see if I can make it happen, see if I’ve learned enough, if my skills are high enough. This legislation will tell me I can’t do that. Even if I went with a guide the day before, or would go with a guide in a couple days time, I would be told either that I can’t, or that I can only go in a tiny box where I almost certainly won’t catch anything. Why would I do that?

    This legislation is alienating your key customers. How do you run a tourist based economy while at the same time running off the tourists?

    I (and a WHOLE BUNCH of other people, mostly the folks who come to the Bahamas to fish) see the effort as attempting to corner the market and create a monopoly… a monopoly they want to use to extract more money from ME.

    “Please seek to gain some understanding on International Law and how it correlates to sovereignty of territorial waters.” Again… this is stupidity. Please seek to understand something about business and what happens to your economy when you create an environment that is restrictive and punitive, when you tell your customers you don’t want their business. You are, in a very real sense, killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

  9. Jason Neil Roberts

    While you may choose to use venomous words I will not resort to doing that. Laws are made as a means of regulating something that’s slowly becoming out of control or out of control already.

    Local Bahamian bonefish guides began levying complaints when sighting of yachts carrying their own flats boats and foreign guides. While I note your reason for dissent to the proposed Law (a day alone ) others have exploited the freedoms that make your trip worth while.

    Because of the videos and the complaints that has come to bare, the Government saw it fit to implement Laws to prohibit foreign guides from guiding in the Bahamas (more jobs for Bahamian guides) and regulate the industry.

    Where are you from, can I come into your country and act as a guide without permission?

  10. bonefishbjorn

    Jason, if you’ve followed what people have been saying, no one is opposed to banning mother ships operations with foreign guides and the only lodge in the Bahamas that uses foreign guides is owned and run by a Bahamian (Flamingo Cay on the west side of Andros), so that’s not an issue at all.

    No one… NO ONE is saying Bahamians shouldn’t be the only ones to guide in the Bahamas. If that were the law, people would be signing up.

    So, let’s not confuse the foreign guide issue with what is really going on. Ban mother ships, stipulate all guides must be Bahamian… done and done. Sign me up. That’s not what the legislation is about though, not by a long shot.

    The idea that laws are made only to fix problems is laughable. Laws are made by people in power, most often to their benefit.

    There are a LOAD of suggestions out there about how to put in regulations that would regulate the industry in a way that wouldn’t be so anti-foreigner and anti-tourist and would do a fair bit more to ensure conservation and protection for the fishery, but all that advice is being ignored in favor of these drastically harsh measures.

    Do you think the Bahamas can stand a drop in tourism? Even with the whole Baha Mar thing going on? What happens if bookings drop by 20%? Who gets hurt?

    I’ll tell you what… it isn’t me. I don’t suffer if the Bahamas economy crashes. I’m not opposed to these regulations because I have skin in the game, I don’t. I’m opposed to these regulations because I can see they will be HORRIBLE for the Bahamas, for the Bahamians, for the industry there, for the little restaurants I’ve eaten in, the independent guides I’ve fished with… it is going to be bad.

  11. Jason Neil Roberts

    You have an unfettered right to interpret the Law the way you wish. To be concise, if a problem did not exist the local guides would not be crying to the Government to fix them.

    With reference to Andres being the only place vexed with the problem of foreign guides that is a chronic and habitual lie. I’ve heard the cries personally and have seen the blogs of even guides from Abaco venting on the issue of foreign guides and the exclusion of local bonefish lodges that has in many cases been replaced second home owners renting ( conducting business in the Bahamas without approval from the investment board) their homes to foreign bonefish guest…

    Should we allow anything or anyone to dictate our policy to maintain a vibrant economy ? I think I know a little more than you when it comes to the ins and outs of the running of my country and as a little secret let me help you “BAHAMAR” will not fail.. As a matter of fact……….. Keep your ears open.

    Don’t know which country you are from but I would love to…

  12. bonefishbjorn

    This policy will not maintain a vibrant economy. Pure and simple. No outsider thinks that it will, only a small group of Bahamians think this is a good idea and everyone else thinks it will be a disaster. It already is, in fact.

    What blogs have you seen with foreign guides guiding in the Bahamas. Point them out. I’d love to see them.

    Point me to another lodge that has foreign guides. Please, name names and let us see. It is easy to say “it exists” but I won’t believe you until you show me evidence. Evidence changes everything. This whole “homes turned into lodges” thing I find very interesting because a lodge is a lot more than just a place to sleep. A lodge comes with a lodge manager, a cook, a staff, boats and logistics. You can’t just throw up a tent and have a lodge. A lodge has a website, a way to be contacted, they have booking agents. What kind of lodge can just be a shell of a building and be up and running and get any sort of traffic? Where are they? Show them to me. I’d love to talk to someone who has been to one of these operations, because I haven’t yet.

  13. OK, now I know of one other foreign guide, a guy guiding in Eleuthera. So now that’s two places. Tell me more.

  14. Jason, if I may ask do you bonefish? The reason I ask this is because to get a true sense of what is going on here you need to be a fisherman and understand the WHOLE situation, just not what you may or may not be told by one person (or many) on a certain side of the discussion. I get the sense you don’t have a true feeling of the situation.

    All I hear is how bonefish guides will/should be “protected” by the government. Yet, these same bonefish guides are essentially telling their fellow bahamians “I want money that you were getting from people who don’t use guides to come to me”. To hell with you and your life, I want it in MY pocket. The taxi drivers, roadside stand vendors, renters of rooms, the bars and taverns that benefit from foreigners using their goods and services. I really do think this small band of guides is trying to pull a fast one on the less informed bahamian public that reaps a HUGE financial gain from having travelling fisherman come through their country. Do you realize that the efforts of these few individuals are going to have far more reaching implications on their own countrymen than anything else? You seem well educated, everyone else in the world can see the economic trickle down effect from this yet some bahamians continue to stick their heads in the sand or just don’t understand how the rest of the world works. Not good!

    Most of us who “DIY” and oppose this legislation are almost UNANIMOUS in our support of regulating those foreign boats and yacht from coming in. We are in support of a license if it is used for conservation purposes (which I see the leader of the group is now wanting money to go to the guides……the same leader who says this is all about “conservation”. Conservation of what?) We support alot of other GREAT AND RATIONAL ideas that the guides of Abaco brought to the table. Ideas designed to continue to bring people to the bahamas instead of drive them away. But we do NOT support the original proposals coming from Andros that is for sure.

    Let’s face it, it’s a supply and demand thing. There is only a certain percentage of the fishing population that can afford to get guides or stay at lodges for 3, 5 7 days at a clip with guides. There might very well be an overabundance of guides to support those numbers so whose problem is that? If that’s the case, and I think there is some amount of validity to that arguement, then the guides who don’t run effective businesses and the ones who have zero people skills (I’ve witnessed that first hand) shouldn’t expect their government to bail them out of anything at the expense of their fellow countrymen.

    But yet “it’s my bahamian right” constantly gets thrown around. If I used that excuse here in the states do you know how far it would get me in my business? Like trying to double haul into a 50mph headwind, that’s how far.

    I’ve talked to alot of my friends who travel there and they all say the same thing: this passes they are done going to the bahamas. Can’t afford it, dont want to be in a hostile environment where a certain few crazy individuals are controlling things and can’t be trusted. And once someone in government besides Mr. Gray actually starts reading and tallying those cards we all complete when we leave the Bahamas, and realizes “where did all the fishermen go” and then adds up the economic impact to the country, then maybe they’ll bring some levity to the situation but by that time the damage will be done.

    I really feel sorry for alot of my bahamian friends this will hurt. The already hurting economy and infrastructure of the out-islands is going to take a BIG hit from all this. And then when that happens, will those bahamians have anough trust in their government to bail them out? The out islands are ignored enough as it is, i highly doubt that will happen.

    Heck, they’ve needed a new road between central andros and north andros for years and they can’t even figure that one out. Good luck.

  15. Bjorn,
    I want to thank you for fighting the good fight.
    I share the concerns of thousands of anglers worldwide who have visited the Bahamas and love the islands and its people. The proposed regulations will absolutely deter traveling anglers like myself, who are passionate about the conservation of the fishery and flats from visiting the Bahamas. These regulations will have dire economic consequences for the residents of the Out Islands and Family Islands that count on visiting bonefishermen to greatly contribute to local economies.

    Over the past 5 years, my wife and I have travelled to Abaco, Long Island, Exuma and the Exuma Cays, and the Berry Islands. This past May, we visited Little Exuma with our newborn son. While my wife does not fly fish, she loves to accompany me by skiff, kayak, or wading to explore the pristine flats the Bahamas are blessed with. I have never stayed at a traditional bonefish lodge, though I have fished with many independent guides on different islands. I have also greatly enjoyed renting small skiffs and kayaks and exploring the flats on my own. In fact, it is my love for exploration and self-guided bonefishing that has kept us returning to the Bahamas. The proposed regulations will make it prohibitively expensive and decidedly less enjoyable for visitors like us to continue traveling to the Bahamas. Arbitrary restrictions on the access to specific flats, and preventing self-guided fishermen from using a skiff are misguided and will only benefit local lodges. The agenda is clear for Prescott Smith, Stafford Creek Lodge, and the supporting members of the BFFA who are advancing these regulations: Keep anglers off ‘their’ flats under the guise of conservation.

    Of the estimated $140 million that bonefishing contributes to the GDP of theBahamas, most of it is spent outside of New Providence, where 70% of the population resides. While bonefishing is a small percentage of the Bahamas GDP, if you look at the impact bonefishing has on an individual island’s economy (Andros, Long Island, Crooked & Acklins, Exuma, etc.) the numbers are much different. Simply put, the more remote of an island, the greater the impact bonefishing has on the local economy. On all my trips to the Bahamas as a self-guided fisherman my family and I have directly contributed to the local economies in ways that a lodge-based visitor would not. I am keenly aware of the money my wife and I spend directly on hotels and lodging, restaurants, groceries, bakeries, rental cars, flights, rental boats and kayaks, and independent guides when we visit. If passed, these regulations will discourage and prevent visitors like us from returning to the Bahamas. If the money that bonefishing brings to the Bahamas thins out, the impact will directly and disproportionately negatively effect the residents of the Out Islands and Family Islands.

    Jonathan F.

  16. Bjorn – many thanks for the consistent and transparent updates on this issue! I have a great amount of admiration for your persistence in exploring and looking out for the interest of all stakeholders! At the same time, I’m wondering if there are any comments or discussions you might be willing to share from a slightly different perspective….and please feel free to delete this if it opens up a can of worms that would be ill-advised to open up just yet….
    By that I mean, there are several booking agents in the US, all of whom book for several Bahamian lodges. A quick internet search finds that the Flyshop in Redding, Angler Adventures in CT and Flywater Travel in OR, all book for Stafford Creek – the obvious “ringleader” of this debacle. I’m very curious as to what they might have to say, or where they stand?
    From an admittedly selfish perspective, it would be difficult for me to stop visiting the Bahamas completely even if this legislation passes. I have the means to, and mostly do, guided trips such that it wouldn’t affect me much unless the price on a week of guided fishing significantly increased. Many years ago as a safari hunter, I saw something similar happen in Zimbabwe where I had a pile of fun, but when things got political and pitted good people against good people, I crossed it off my list. I really don’t want to do that with the Bahamas. So my other question would be, is anyone compiling a list of those who are “pro” versus “con” in this whole mess? As my personal option will be to book only with those “opposed”…
    My booking agent needn’t worry, all he needs to do is give me the straight skinny (and I know he will) as to which side of the coin things fall. And worse comes to worse, he has many other options outside of the mess which he could count on my business for. As sad as it might be to abandon my favorite fishing destination on the planet (aka Bahamas), at the same time I’m sure he’ll have a great time helping me find a new favorite fishing destination on the planet!

  17. bonefishbjorn

    Others have asked me about a list of who is “on our side” and who is in the “opposition” and I’ve resisted doing so (at lease beyond Prescott and his immediate clique). I think when you put things down like that it may make people more likely to school up for protection, rather than to let their minds freely explore all sides of an issue. The next post up above int he comments you’ll see an Androsian guide, Tommy, who seems to genuinely be trying to work through the issues. Maybe he’s on the “mostly con” side now, but he’s got some “pro” in him too and I wouldn’t want to label him one way or another.

    I’m not sure where some of the big booking agents are on this. Certainly haven’t heard anything from the Fly Shop, although I know people there and could ask. Same goes for Fly Water Travel. I know Yellow Dog stopped sending people to Prescott’s operation a while back.

    I struggle with where to go from here with things, really. I know if this stuff passes in anything like the forms being discussed I won’t be returning to the Bahamas for a family trip, and with two kids (1.5 and 8.5), family trips are a lot of what I get to bank on these days. I just wouldn’t go somewhere I couldn’t take a couple hours and go wade around a bit. It would kill my soul knowing I couldn’t do it anyway. I’d rather go somewhere with NO bonefish and not be tempted.

    If you fish out of lodge anyway, and a great number of people do that, none of this will really impact you. You almost certainly would have fewer people on the flats and a place like Long Island, where the DIY pressure is pretty high, might see some slightly improved fishing (that is if they can also deal with the illegal netting going on there). There will be fewer visitors. I’d imagine some of the more marginal operations will go out of business.

    Beyond Prescott, I’m not going to actively boycott anyone, although if I were going to book a lodge right now I’d probably be looking up toward Grand Bahama and Abaco where it seems things are a lot more friendly. H20, East End Lodge, Abaco Lodge, Delphi, Black Fly… they all seem very opposed to the regulations. Even in Andros there are places dead-set against the madness. Swain’s and Bairs and I’d guess Andros South as well. There are plenty of good people out there who are fighting against this stuff… just as I’m sure there are good people on the other side who have been sweet talked into thinking this is in their best interest.

  18. Cindy’s reply:

    That is absolutely untrue.
    We don’t have much trouble from DIY in the marls so DIY is a non-issue
    for Buddy and always has been.

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