Some more thoughts about the proposed Bahamas flats regulations

Long Island BS

A few day have passed now and there have been a lot more voices added to the hue and cry about the potential Bahamian flats fishing regulations. Below are a few to pay attention to.

I can only hope it is enough. The more I hear, the more I read, the worse I feel about what may be coming down the pike. I have become more convinced the regulations are being brought forward with malice. As bad as they are now, I’m afraid of what might happen when the doors close.

Now, the maybe good news I’ve heard from one Bahamian guide is that this stuff doesn’t have a good chance of passing. Let’s hope that is true.

Since people love lists. Some of the key points.

  1. A permit for a modest fee. You bet. Sign me up. However, make it easy,  make it objective and make it modest in cost. Don’t make criminals out of the dad who goes and throws a spinner in the ocean for 20 minutes.
  2. Bahamian Guides for Bahamian Waters. There should not be Florida guides (or Texas guides or California guides) making money polling the flats of the Bahamas. Easy. I don’t know anyone who is opposed to that. However, if you rent a house and it comes with use of a boat and you use that boat to motor out to a flat 5 minutes away to fish, it seems like you should be able to do that without having to hire a guide. The guide may not like that, but the people who rented out the house like it and the people who feed and transport those guests benefit from their trip. To outlaw DIY, which, I fear, is really where this thing is headed, is to do injury to the Bahamian economy that will create distrust and animosity and will take years to heal.

The damage is being done right now. Americans and Europeans are changing travel plans NOW, as they are unsure where things are headed.

No one wants Bahamian guides to go away. I love doing a little DIY, but I love going with Bahamian guides, the good ones who know their waters so well. If the Bahamas makes me feel unwelcome, if it becomes hard, if it becomes a hassle, I’ll simply go somewhere else and I won’t be the only one and that Bahamian guide, the smooth casting, eagle eyed Bahamian guides I’ve enjoyed fishing with so much will simply go away.

I’ve seen the proposed regulations pitched as a way to preserve Bahamian heritage. I think the missing point is that there is no Bahamian heritage of poling the flats without clients and if you drive off the clients by making them feel unwelcome it will lay to waste the sustainable jobs build by the guiding industry. If that happens, the options for the Bahamians living on those islands will be narrowed down to the exploitation (and selling off of) their natural resources, and the national heritage of the Bahamas.

Read the posts linked to above and let your voice be heard.

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13 comments

  1. Since greed is no doubt at the heart of this — perhaps the powers that be in the Bahamas are looking to take over the foreign lodges & businesses at a cheap price. Then they reverse some of the new laws in hopes of getting back the tourism.

  2. Just got of the phone with a prominent guide in my country and he told me that they are not targeting diy fishing. Once an angler gets his fishing license he can fish the flats by himself.. They are targeting foreign owned lodges in the country because most Americans would prefer to stay at an American own lodge Than a Bahamian one. We shouldnt be playing 2nd fiddle in our own country.

  3. Doug Jeffries

    I have been trying to read the proposed regulations and all the associated comments and interpretations that go along with them. Here’s my take as of today:
    – I believe that underlying the proposed regulations are three issues:
    1. establish a level playing field for lodge ownership and operation; perhaps level isn’t correct, tilt the playing field in favor of Bahamian citizens.
    2. protect the livelihood of the Bahamian guides from encroachment by non-Bahamian guides.
    3. a desire to capture some of the financial gain to be had from the bonefishing industry.

    – Personally I think all three of those issues are perfectly understandable and acceptable; nobel endeavors founded on nationalism and capitalism. I completely understand and can accept a license fee / permit fee for fishing PROVIDED that money goes back to protecting the fishery. I very much oppose fishing fees when that money goes into the government pork fund coffers (or their own pockets). Bahamians have every right, and probably are foolish if they don’t, bias the lodge ownership and operation and jobs as guides in favor of Bahamians.

    – If I am correct in the above interpretations, and that is a big IF, I think the language and potential legal interpretation of language in the proposed regulations can create some serious, onerous results as many others have voiced. If my interpretation is correct, it should not be difficult to clarify the regulatory language to produce the intended results while preventing the onerous misinterpretations. Regarding the DIY issue, that’s a little more difficult to regulate. I agree the tourist who takes a family vacation should be able to go out and wade the local flat for an hour or two before the kids wake up and get ready to go build sand castles. I believe non-Bahamian fisherpeople should be able to fish some on their own, but perhaps they should pay for that privilege (think out-of-state licenses versus in-state license). I understand and empathize with people who want to DIY-it for all kinds of reasons but you are fishing in someone else’s back yard and you should need to obtain permission.
    – Lastly, one major issue with this entire proposed regulation is the enforcement aspect. As is evident in many, many regulations here in the US, they are often not completely thought through, and are implemented without providing for the ancillary aspects like enforcement, financial management, oversight of the effectiveness, a mechanism to change the regulation if it isn’t working properly, etc. In my years of traveling and fishing in the Bahamas, I have not seen much enforcement capability. Obviously they can capture incoming fishermen as they pass through immigration, but that’s probably only going to capture the law abiding ones. Enforcement should not be left to the local population.

  4. Hey Bjorn,

    Thanks for posting all of this stuff. I do feel there are some misconceptions though and they should be cleared up if we care to try and have input into the process.

    The biggest one is that current lodges are going to be pushed out of the business. This is not true. There aren’t any lodges now, that operate, that would considered foreign owned. They either have an exemption through foreign investment that would give them an exemption through the Hotels Act, or they are partnered with a Bahamian and the business is then considered Bahamian by the government. That status will not change for those lodges. If they don’t fit into one of those categories then they are already running an illegal business in the Bahamas. Everything I have read and heard from these lodges all point to them having issues with other parts of the legislation, and not the having to be Bahamian owned, because that is already the case.

    I had a big write-up that I posted as a comment on Louis Cahill’s blog post but he seems to have felt that it contradicted to much of what he was saying. So I’ll try and post a bit of it here.

    DIY fishing is not being banded. You’ll need a permit though and right now they really haven’t talked a lot about the process for that. You also won’t be able to DIY from a boat. Currently any boat that is taking foreigners fishing (for deep sea, reef, etc) is supposed to have a sport fishing licence and each person on the boat is supposed to pay a fee. When you charter a boat that fee is paid in your cost as the certified charter’s issue it and pay the fee to the government. If you have a foreign boat, you can’t fish unless you’ve obtained a sport fishing licence as well. Some of this part of the legislation is closing the gap to apply to flats fishing as well, which is currently a grey area, but forcing the guide on people is going beyond the current regulations for sport fishing.

    For most tourists coming here, the only change they will really see is that they have to pay for a licence and they can’t do it from their own boat without a guide. Apart from that it will mostly impact Bahamians in the industry.

    Another misconception is that this will be table and voted in parliament on Monday June 29th and that you can only email up till this Friday. This will not be tabled in parliament for some time still. The is an open meeting for stakeholders to discuss and bring up issues on Monday June 29th in Nassau. Please post this up in your main article if you can:

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

    I will be in attendance and I will happily ask questions that are posted here if I can.

    My main issue with this bill is that is really only amounts to about $500,000 in total collected funds each year, of which half will go to a conservation fund. It will cost more than $250,000 per year to institute and maintain this program so it will actually cost Bahamians money. The other thing, is that almost all of this is already covered with other laws. You can’t run a business here unless it is registered here so there already are no foreign owned lodges (whether or not they actually are, the government see them as Bahamian and will continue to). Guides already must be Bahamian as you can’t work here without a work permit if you are a non Bahamian and they don’t issue them for guides. So really the government is causing people to become very concerned for very little money when it comes down to it. It’s likely to cause more lost income that the government will gain.

    Again, I will try and let people know what I learn at the open meeting. I have a lot of questions I will be bringing up myself but please feel free to add some. We need clarification on a lot of the issues before jumping to conclusions.

    Thanks,
    Ken

  5. bonefishbjorn

    Thanks for your comments Ken.

    I have a strong suspicious, corroborated by others, that the true target is the DIY fisherman. It turns out some of the folks involved in this may have promised Bahamian lodges that they would, indeed, try to get DIY banned in the Bahamas. As is, that isn’t in the proposed regulations, but a requirement to get your permit from a guide or lodge, who could deny you that permit, could amount to a de-facto ban. And, let’s not get away from the second home owners there who have boats and won’t be allowed to fish them now. That’s not a minor thing.

    OK, you say lodges wouldn’t be impacted. Well, why put in that language at all? Why talk about amending the Hotels Act? Why include that at all if it doesn’t actually cover anyone? Unless… unless removing foreign owners really is part of the goal?

    I have no doubt at all that the costs will outweigh the gain. I think the costs are starting to be tallied already, and that’s a shame. Damage is being done. This whole thing seems very poorly thought out. The issues should probably be addressed by the government individually and over time and based on solid data. Doesn’t feel that that is happening.

  6. Hey Bjorn,

    I can see how you’d be suspicious of them trying to end DIY fishing, but I have never felt any sort of animosity towards anyone fishing on flats or open water as long as they aren’t doing anything stupid. I would be very surprised if that was a goal of this legislation. As for the second home crowd with boats, I share the same concern as you. The only thing I can see is that maybe they are trying to keep boaters who don’t know how to drive on the boats flats. I have a hard time believing that though (the government very little involvement in nature conservation, that is mostly done by the Bahamas National Trust, which is a private non profit organization, and runs all the national parks). I would really like to see that part taken out or changed.

    For the amending of the hotel act, I believe it means that they want to just add a distinguish bonefish lodges as specific type of accommodation and to reference this proposed legislation. The majority of hotels and resorts in the Bahamas are financed and ‘owned’ for foreign investors so this would mark a serious departure from that position if they were trying to push out foreigners. The economy of the Bahamas is critically dependent on FDI’s.

    For the data, thanks to the study you posted from the IGFA about the economic impact of bonefishing in the Bahamas as well as some less organized resources I am getting from the Bahamas National Trust I fully intend on bringing up some hard numbers at the public form.

    From the comments I have been reading I intend to see if I can find out about
    – their intention for DIY without a boat
    – why foreigners with a boat won’t be treated the same way as their are for game fishing (just requiring they pay for a fishing licence)
    – if there are going to be options for longer term licences ($20 a day may be acceptable for a couple days, but longer options need to be available)
    – how licences are going to be made available outside of lodges and guides (online would be ideal, but the use of the internet by the government is almost non existent here)
    – where they intend to get the extra funds to run this that won’t be covered by the fees

    Again, thanks for pushing this issue on your site. I’d love to see bonefishing continue to grow in the Bahamas while protecting the natural asset, but I do not think this legislation in it’s current form will help that.

    Ken

  7. Just a note, Louis did in fact get to putting up my comments on his blog post, so thank you to him for that.

    Ken

  8. Keep DIY Bonefishing legal in the Bahamas. If DIY Bonefishing is not allowed, the Bahamas will feel it throughout the travel industry as many tourist are exactly that – DIY bone fisherman. So if the Bahamas government is smart, they will keep the DIYB legal and continue to bring in millions from Bonefishing tourests. If outlawed, there overall revenue from travel will plummit causing bahama airlines to cut jobs, resort owners go out of business, island restaurants to close, …. They must look at the overall industry than just be nearsighted by the guides.

  9. Hey Timothy,

    I think you are overthinking the economic effect from Bonefishing. For some people it is very important, but for a country with 70% of it’s ~$8.4 billion GDP being tourism, the ~$140 million of which is associated with bonefishing represents just 2.3% of an impact on tourism and only 1.7% of the entire economy. This is not insignificant, but that number will not drop to zero and a more organized industry for bonefishing can lead to much better growth and better management of the resource.

    Ken

  10. So according to Ken, this bill will prohibit 2 of the ways I have fished the Bahamas in the past. When we sailed our boat to the Bahamas on vacation, after we obtained a cruising permit, it also included fishing licenses. So sometimes we towed a flats boat over with us or simply fished from the dingy. Sometimes taking the dingy to the flat and wading the flat. Other times, we flew into Marsh Harbor, rented a center console boat and rented a house on Lubbers Quarters. And then just like Ken said, before the wife was ready to go drink rum drinks on a private beach (build sandcastles), I would anchor the center console on the edge of a flat and walk the flat for a couple of hours on an incoming tide. According to Ken, both of those things would become illegal if I am reading it right. Such a bummer.

  11. Hey Bjorn and Ken

    While not too long ago the Bahamas government offered almost no web-accessed services, great improvements have been made over the past couple of years. For example, as a second home owner in the Bahamas, I now pay my property tax on-line and can immediately print a receipt. I also pay my electric, telephone and water bills on-line right from my home in the states. Also, I obtain on-line several non-resident fishing licenses from state wildlife agencies every year. There is no reason this cannot also be done for a Bahamas flats fishing permit (unless the goal is to allow guides and lodges the ability to control who gets a permit and for where). If the draft of the proposed regulations had clearly expressed provisions for an affordable permit for daily, weekly and annual coverage, obtainable on-line, I believe much of the anguish being felt by DIY anglers could have been avoided. I hope these provisions are considered.

    John Pool

  12. Ken,
    In response to your comments above re: economic impact of bonefishing you fail to consider that 70% of the population of the Bahamas lives on New Providence (ie. Nassau). Of the ~140 million that bonefishing brings to the Bahamas, most of it is spent outside of New Providence. It is misleading to say that “bonefishing represents just 2.3% of an impact on tourism and only 1.7% of the entire economy”. If you look at the impact bonefishing has on an individual island’s economy (Andros, Long Island, Crooked & Acklins, Exuma, etc.) the numbers are very different. I have had the joy of visiting many islands in the Bahamas and the more remote of an island, the greater the impact bonefishing (both lodge based and DIY) has on the local economy. If the money that bonefishing brings to the Bahamas thins out, the impact will directly and disproportionately have a negative impact on the residents of the out islands.
    -Jonathan

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