It appears this is happening… January 1, 2017, much faster than anyone thought and with much less notice than was promised. It is happening without a vote in Parliament since it was pitched as a revision to existing legislation. (Now, I don’t know that this will, in fact, launch on Jan. 1, but that is what Minister Gray said, explicitly.)
This, I think, is what got passed, more or less, with maybe some very minor changes.
The big winner in all of this is Prescott Smith. His organization, the BFFIA, looks to be the entity that will control who guides in the Bahamas. That has always seemed like one of the main drivers. The organization he leads will train and certify guides. It is a lot of power and I would not be surprised to see it abused by someone so clearly capable of carrying a grudge and lashing out at those who question him. Prescott has a real anti-foreigner streak, ironic if you know his past, and he seems to be living out some long held revenge fantasy.
The main loser is, for sure, the Bahamian people, who now will have to pay the government to fish the flats, something they’ve never had to do. Water 1-6 feet in depth includes a heck of a lot of water now off limits unless you are paying. It is mind-numbing to think the Bahamian people would accept this, but this issue seems has attracted almost no attention from the media or from non-industry Bahamians.
The second biggest loser in all of this appears to be second home owners and ex-pats who have boats in the Bahamas. They will not be able to take anyone out with them to fish without a guide. Two people fishing is one too many, according to what I see as the regs. There is some debate if a boat owner would be able to fish, at all, without a guide, but I think a single angler can take their own boat out. More detail is needed here, but it isn’t good.
For the average bonefish angler, you can still do DIY, but you just can’t use a boat. Kayak? You bet. Two person Kayak? No. Canoe with one angler? Yes. Canoe with two anglers? No.
Funds raised by anglers will go half to the government and half for conservation. I’d bet a fair bit of that conservation money will go to the Bahamas Sportfishing Conservation Association, which is a hardly-existing entity run by… care to guess? Yup… Prescott. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but somehow, I think I’ll be right about it, which is math that shows only one winner (and it isn’t the Bahamas).
So, we started out with an effort to severely limit DIY and ended up with a power play to financially benefit a few of the chosen PLP anointed. It was always about money and power to one degree or another.
How this thing is enforced is going to determine how bad it gets for the Bahamas. If some wayward flats fisherman gets put in jail for 6 months or if anglers on their own get harassed, it is going to be bad.
Lodges may see a little dip in business, as the tenor and tone of the regulations are not friendly and the intent of their creator is clearly xenophobic and malevolent, but if you were going to spend a week at Bairs or Andros South or Delphi or wherever, this will add just a few dollars to a several thousand dollar tab and you might not notice anything. It is the folks lower on the totem that will go without the business.
It has been a mess and has eaten up more time than I’ve spent fishing this year. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong on all my doomsaying. I’d love nothing more than to be wrong.