How to destroy the Bahamas, a Guide

There is some really frightening proposed legislation floating around the Bahamas and they’ve given us about a week to let our opinions be known. I’ve looked at it and it does not make me happy, and except for a few people, I wouldn’t think most Bahamians would be too happy with it either.

Let me just say plainly I think the proposed regulations are a misguided money-grab by a few Bahamians. I think if these regulations are adopted it would be a very bad move for the Bahamian economy, especially with the possibilities of increased competition for flats fishing anglers from Cuba on the horizon.

The stated aims:

The aim of this initiative is to prepare legislation that will regulate this part of the fishing industry providing rules to govern those who participate in it, whether as fisherman, guide or lodge operator, and to ensure that the marine environments upon which the fishery is based, are protected. It is further expected that changes will result in the further development of the sector and of its contribution to the economy of The Bahamas.

The proposed regulations would eliminate foreign guides in Bahamian waters, but more than that, it also seeks to eliminate foreign owned flats fishing lodges.

(4) A person eligible to apply for certification as a fishing lodge operator under paragraph (1) must —

(a) be a citizen or permanent resident of The Bahamas; and

(b) satisfy all criteria established and published by the Department of Marine Resources.

I’m all for Bahamian guides for Bahamian waters. That seems to make sense and is generally the way it goes from what I understand, with a few exceptions. Permanent residents, folks who live there all year, they would be eligible to guide, from what I understand. That makes sense to me as well. But by attacking foreign owned lodges the proposed regulations go from “let’s get a handle on things” to “let me figure out how to reduce competition so I can make more money.”

Imagine the Bahamas with no Deep Water Cay, no Abaco Lodge, no Andros South, no Bair’s Lodge. These are foreign owned operations and they are some of the best in all the Islands. They invest heavily in their lodges, they market, they hire well, they manage well and they are the types of places we think about when we think about fly fishing the Bahamas. There are a number of great Bahamian operations as well, don’t get me wrong, but they are as good as they are because they are competing with the foreign operations.

Fly fishing brings something like $141M to the economy of the Bahamas each year (probably more now, as those numbers are 2010 numbers). It seems, with these regulations, someone wants more of that pie. It is a short-sighted path to destruction.

Those foreign owned lodges buy a lot of goods. They employ a lot of people. They contribute a lot to their local economies. Take them out of the picture and sure, some lodge may get a few dozen more bookings a year, but the net impact will be negative. It will mean fewer visitors, fewer anglers and less income for Bahamians.

Also, while I’m at it, let’s talk about what these proposed regulations will NOT do. They will not “ensure that the marine environments upon which the fishery is based, are protected.

I’ll remind you… the photo below is of a new lodge going in near Treasure Cay. This is a Bahamian owned operation and, from what I hear, they used local political connections to skirt environmental regulations prohibiting the type of dredging seen in the photo. Mangroves ripped out, the flat dredged and by Bahamians, not by some villainous foreign owner.

Well... isn't that ugly!?

Well… isn’t that ugly!?

If the flats are going to be preserved it will be done by addressing over-development and over-exploitation. How does limiting who can own a lodge address this? How does making it harder for a guide to guide address this? It doesn’t.

I’d think if they wanted to preserve the flats it would be more about limiting development in critical places, especially around nursery areas and those places bonefish aggregate before spawning. You might throw in rod/angler/boat limits for certain sectors as well, if you want to reduce pressure, and there certainly are some places that need a bit less pressure. However, a newly dredged marina and a couple acres of ripped out mangroves probably has more of an impact on the health of the ecosystem than who owns a particular lodge.

One other aspect of the proposed regulations I don’t much care for is the vagueness surrounding exactly why an angler or guide could be turned down for a permit to fish or guide. It seems very subjective and in a place a small as the Bahamas, I would worry the authority to deny someone the ability to fish or to make a living could be abused. This might not lead to FIFA levels of corruption, but if you recall the photo just above of the new lodge with the ugly newly dredged channel, corruption and abuse already occur in broad daylight.

So… what to do about it all? Write. Let them know what you think of these proposed regulations. (you can find the regulations here)

From Cindy Pinder:

Interest persons and organizations are urged to review the Draft and provide their comments thereon to the Department of Marine Resources. This would be best done through email to and should be received before Friday 26th June 2015.


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  1. Bjorn,
    I did comment on your FB post on this topic.
    I believe that tourism will be significantly hit by the ‘day permit for DIY’ aspect.
    $20/day +$10 administration fee with uncertain ease of obtaining one?
    Bonefisher will simply go elsewhere, unless they are lodge-only anglers.
    I have writen to fisheries, did get a reply ‘thanks for your comment’ sory of thing.

    But this smacks of a behind closed door done deal.

    I hope I am wrong…. the Abaco fishery I how contains very big fish. It is my dream to get one one day on my terms (8 doubles to date done the easy way on Rick Sawyer’s boat…).

    Thanks for pushing this issue. It is a serious threat.

    Tim Marshall
    Green Turtle Cay and NC

  2. I understand your opinion but Bahamians own the waters we fish in. Granted it is difficult to understand. Bahamas’ is a young country as far a self rule goes. I think the Bahamas’ lives a life like Europe. They work to live and not live to work. Bahamas’ has trophy bones fish every where only if you look. People raised on free market see an chance to make people happy at the same time making a buck. making money is not bad but getting as much money as you can in a short period is not Bahamian. A business model and business plan longer the 5 years is not reality here either. If you have seen what I have seen in 13 years. Americans have been and will continue to make money on the Bahamas’ because it is so young. How come there is no trade agreement with the Bahamas’ from the USA. Americans abuse the Bahamas’. i can buy products cheap manufactured in Europe then I can from the USA. But TSA rules the Airports in the Bahamas’ and is funneling everyone through Nassau to make it Easier on the USA.n Ban Live aboards for Bone Fish. More then one Yacht 50′ to 100′ seen on the flats in Eleuthera with 4 flats boats in tow. Every anglers wants the 10 pound plus Boney but has to have a deal to brag about. Want the fish Pay for it in the Bahamas’ and not the USA. It is not the USA it is the Bahamas’ and they can do what they want.

  3. Good job hitting critical points regarding the proposed legistlation. I hope all of your followers will take a minute to write to DMR with their thoughts.

    The dredging of the bonefish flat for the lodge development in Treasure Cay is being done by a foreign owner . . . I believe from the UK? We are still scratching our head on that one.

  4. For the foreign owned lodges, it may be worth it to contact your embassy in the Bahamas to voice your concerns.

  5. this is ridiculous. Without foreign ownership we would not have the concervation we have in the bonefish industry. Almost every foreign owned lodge promtoes self attainability with best bonefish practices. They also bring awareness to the devastating impact man is having on our oceans and the loss of marine life with over fishing and pollution. I Am not saying a local owner would not do the same but what they are doing is working. The bone fish and tarpon trust would not be down here or promote themselves as much as they do with out places like deep water cay and blackfly lodge. This is just one example. To lose places like this would have a monster reverse impact on the bonefishing in the bahamas and their efforts globally.

  6. This move by the bahamian goverment should be reevaluated. There is a reason foreign owned lodges are prefered. These lodges are run better and cater to their client on a more familiar basis. If this move goes thru I am sure a huge amount of tourism and money will decide to go elsewhere in the world. I for one have spent an enormous amout of time in your country even doing a lot of my growing up on Andros and Chub Cay. The locals do have great lodges but lack the financial backing that an aAmerican owned lodge has so the comforts suffer. Please re-think your decision to move forward with these ideas

  7. bonefishbjorn

    Hey Cindy, thanks. I read on some forum boards that it was Bahamian owned and that is how they got around the dredging regulations, through contacts with the local MP. I’d love to know more about that.

  8. The obsticals created by the proposed legislation sounds similar to those a Bahamian would encounter if he tried opening a fly fishing lodge in the US.

  9. Richard B. Sawyer

    My wife and I have been going to Cape Santa Maria for about 15 years, while the Bone fishing is not ‘Great’, the facility is quite good, the beach wonderful. The fishing on nearby flats is modest but I do try- with some success. I do hire a local guide to get to the better flats where a boat is needed to get there.
    I much prefer to fish on my own – free to think alone, be alone, have a cigar alone and be left alone. I have several friends that I have met year after year at the same place – while we enjoy each others company, we are there to clear our heads.
    If this happens I will probably have to rethink winter fishing destinations.

  10. Thanks for this. I fish in the Bahamas regularly & it is truly a special place on this earth. I don’t know enough about the issues on both sides at this point, so I will refrain from weighing in with my opinion. But I will be following the issue with great interest and again appreciate all the information.

  11. While I appreciate the supposed concern of the Bahamians relative to increasing pressures on their resources, this is the wrong way to go about righting the wrongs. The limitation on visiting anglers to access flats on their own without an incredibly difficult permit process and then only with a guide is absolutely draconian, and will cause many, many people I know to re-think their vacation planning. I have supported Bahamian guides for the past 30 years, but as mentioned above, have spent many, many dollars to enjoy the satisfaction of locating and briefly encountering bonefish on the vast flats. I’ve encourage others and accompanied them to many different islands, with very little impact, other than a very positive economic one. I do not see legislation as any kind of reasonable solution to a perception of a problem. The desire to enjoy the resources on our own terms, as well as giving support to local guides is what drives our desire to visit the country. Take that away from us and there will be no more motivation to visit. This “fast track” act creates tremendous concern for me. I sincerely hope that common sense will prevail, and in short order. This is not well thought out at all.

  12. My email response to – bounced and could not be sent.

  13. bonefishbjorn

    Mine went through… maybe we broke their system.

  14. Capt Brit Robinson

    While your point made is valid in my opinion it misses the mark. Who cares who owns the lodge. By Bahamian law, any foreign business owner must have a Bahamian partner. So Bahamians aren’t being pushed out of their own country. The real point of this proposed regulation is, it will eliminate a private individual from flat fishing. If passed an individual can no longer fish without a certified Bahamian guide. No longer can some one wander out on the flats on his own. No longer can my boss who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars flats fishing the Bahamas use his own specially designed boat with specially designed safety gear, necessary due to his aging, for bone fishing. He has given generously to the Bahamas Trust, Andros Trust, and Caribbean Nature Conservancy, just to insure the health of the fisheries. All this so he and his offspring will have a place to fish. I have no problem with a $20 permit for flats fishing. I even encourage it, IF, it is used for research and law enforcement for the fisheries. Laws already exist for the protection of Bahamian fisheries, it is the lack of law enforcement that hurts it. It should be noted that we hire local guides about 75% of the time. But every now and then we prefer the solitude of not having a guide to fish.

    As for Chad Melton’s comment on yachts with a string of boats…Your ignorance of those operations speaks for itself. Those type of boats always hire guides and contribute more money to the Bahamas than most lodges. They are more environmentally aware than 95% of the population and take extraordinary measure both physically and monetarily to protect the environment. Please don’t assume things, based on your preconceived notion, that all rich people are raping the world.

  15. I’m glad this is getting the attention it deserves. Here’s a key issue too – there are loads of businesses that are not specifically bonefish lodges, but rely on fishermen for a high proportion of their trade. Places like the Seascape Inn in Mangrove Cay or the Rainbow Inn on Eleuthera, where people like me drag their wives along, so they can escape for a few hours here and there to bonefish, and maybe hire a guide for a day or two. If we can’t do that in the Bahamas, we’ll just go elsewhere. I’ve written to the relevant authorities today. Anyone who wants to see a full transcript of my letter and adapt it for their own use, feel free to check out my site.

  16. […] How to Destroy the Bahamas, A Guide (21 June) […]

  17. Foreign owned lodges will have nothing to worry about. All tourism businesses in the Bahamas must be owned by Bahamians or have an exemption from the government through foreign investment. Bahamian companies can also be owned up to 40% by non Bahamians and still be considered fully Bahamian. If those lodges are operating legally now, then they will be allowed to continue doing so.

    For anyone in the Nassau, there will be an open form to discuss the legislation being held on the 29th of June. Here is the information:

    June 29th from 9:00AM – 1:00PM
    at the Island Traders Building, East Bay St
    in the Agriculture Conference Room

    I will be attending, so please post any specific questions and I will try and ask them.


  18. Just ask the small business owners(Grocers,motels,house rentals,tackle shops) along the Outer Banks of NC what happens when draconian government rules blackballs sportsman. Oh wait,nevermind, you might be hard pressed to find someone to talk to.

  19. Bjorn,

    Your thoughtful article was excellent. More such as this is needed. There is a lot of passion about. One of my greatest fears is for the lodges. We both have friends who run excellent lodges, and we’ve been to many — most have great respect for their Bahamian hosts, and for the environment. For them to be banned would be a travesty, and a punishment not deserved, and the devastation of a great part of our sport. It would hurt so many, including the Bahamian people — and the sport we love.

    There is so much more to this, but your fine words were such a good job. Much appreciated

    Thanks. Marlow

  20. Ken- How about asking why if the concern is for the benefit of the guides incomes, that the legislation can’t focus on limiting the guide pressure in certain areas, by licensing certain geographical areas, and limiting the number of guides licensed. I think a lot of the message coming out of this is from the bottom of the last economic cycle, where fewer guide trips were demanded based on lower tourism. When they witnessed individuals fishing on their own, it created some angst relative to what they perceived as missed opportunity. Now that the general economy is improving, the demand for guides will recover, but that is no reason to suddenly remove the ability for individual foreign anglers to even be able to access the flats, which is in essence what this bill intends to do. If the increase of fishing pressure from more lodges and more guides is the true issue, a geographical allocation is perhaps needed. The allocation itself would end up being self-policed. Give protected areas for guides that they could be assured as to who could fish there, and then have some common ground also.
    Raise the bar on new guides entering the field. I read one Bahamian trade group article that indicated that more Bahamian guides needed to be trained to provide more work. This statement alone confuses me as to where the basis of this legislation is even coming from. If this bill passes as written, I assure you there won’t be any need for any more guides. In fact, there will be far less need for guides, as the demand for them will be severely reduced. The foreign angler licensure, if deemed necessary, could be accomplished by on-line ordering ahead of a trip, or even collected by customs upon entry for the trip length. The bill promotes a license method that is all but incomprehensible and unfair at least. You would think that a country so dependent on the revenue from tourism would focus more on positive motivation for visiting, not an arbitrary and restrictive methodology for visitors who come year round and spend and inject as much as $140,000,000 a year as stated into it’s economy.

  21. Go to Iceland and see what a permit costs to fish in a stream for a foreign. Or see the regulations of a Bahamian fishing in Florida waters. Boats come from Florida every day and rape the Bahamian waters.
    The Bahamas is a small country. Let them decide what to protect their resources. If you don’t like it catch bonefish in your own country. And I’m not even a Bahamian!!

  22. Hey Dan G,

    I like a lot of what you are saying. Tourism certainly has picked up a lot in the past year and with the (hopefully someday) opening of the new Bahamar mega resort in Nassau, it will see a huge up kick. The Bahamas very much has an ‘if you build it they will come attitude’ but they are not very good at advertising or getting the attention of customers. This is where the idea of more guides equals more fishing comes from. There is some truth to that statement though. There is only one guide in Nassau, with very hit or miss reviews, while there is decent bonefishing all around the island and roughly 9 million visitors a year coming through. It would be easy enough for a well reviewed and accessible shop to set up and cater to hotel and cruise ship passengers who aren’t as hardcore about DIY fishing on the out islands and just want to spend a few hours trying their hand at it. A lot of that failure in marketing comes from a general lack of computer and internet skills in this country, which is why although I am hugely in favour of the idea of getting permits online before hand, I have very little confidence it will be done that way and if it is will not work very well. Car licences are still written by hand here with no electronic database.

    I’ll be bringing a lot of what you have to say up at the meeting and will try and report back to all of you the best that I can.


  23. […] Bahamas both more expensive and more difficult, especially for DIY anglers. Back in June, both the Bonefish on the Brain and Gink and Gasoline blogs were on the story of “scary” proposed regulations that […]

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