Clint Kemp from Black Fly Lodge in Abaco and the Bahamas Fly Fishing Lodge Association spoke about the regulations battle today. He didn’t have any updates or news to share, but he did have some perspective to share and I think it is worth listening to. So… here’s Clint.
There is sometimes some confusion about what fishing regulations are like in the States.
Pretty much, in the US, you can fish where you want to fish. If the season is open and you can get on the water, you can fish it.
You don’t need a guide to fish in Florida, not even for Tarpon at the height of the migration.
You don’t need a guide to fish for redfish in Louisiana or Texas.
You don’t need a guide to fish for trout in Yellowstone.
You don’t need a guide to fish the Big Horn or the Big Hole in Montana.
You don’t need a guide to float the Green River in Utah.
You don’t need a guide to fish the Deschutes for steelhead in Oregon.
You don’t need a guide to fish for cutties in the Snake in Idaho.
You don’t need a guide to fish for salmon or trout in Alaska.
You don’t need a guide to fish for bonefish in Hawaii or Puero Rico.
You don’t need a guide to fish for rainbow trout in California.
You don’t need a guide to fish for stripers in Montauk.
There are a few places that have special regulations, usually to relieve fishing pressure or to address boat traffic issues. There are some places you are not allowed to guide, like in some Parks.
In all of these places there are large and thriving numbers of guides. I’d be shocked if Florida doesn’t have more guides than the Bahamas. Most guides don’t go through special training, although many are required to get a guide’s license, which has more to do with liability insurance than skill. To my knowledge these guide licenses are (mostly) purely administrative. They don’t asses if you know how to fish or if you know which end of the rod to use. You fill out the form and pay your money and you are a guide. Many guides are booked a year in advance by the same clients, year after year.
People use guides in all those places. They use guides even when they can fish on their own without guides. Anglers, in the US, use guides for many, many reasons. Maybe they don’t know the water well, or they are new to fishing. Maybe they are expert fisherman and just want to benefit from the guide’s deep knowledge of “place.” Maybe they just enjoy the experience of fishing with someone who knows the names of the birds and the trees and the flowers. Maybe they only have a few days to fish a year and want to maximize their time on the water.
Bahamian guides are no different. People choose to fish with Bahamian guides for many of the same reasons. You can let people choose how they want to fish and so long as people aren’t hurting the fish or the flats, many, many, many will chose to fish with a guide (and anglers are not harming the flats, by and large, as DIY anglers can only access a tiny fraction of the flats a guide with a skiff can access). I love fishing with a good Bahamian guide in their home water where they know the tides like the backs of their hands and can find fish even when the wind is howling and the lights are off. That’s worth a lot, and American anglers know that, and will pay for it, if that’s the kind of angler they are.
You want to regulate your own industry. Great. However, you also need to understand your consumer, the buyer of your product. No company can just ignore their consumer and then demand that they continue to buy their products. If you alienate your buyers, your buyers will go other places and become someone else’s buyer. That’s not a threat, that’s just how markets work.
In your particular case, the buyers of your products really don’t like being dictated to because they are rarely dictated to when pursuing their hobby in their own country. If you roll out dictates to them in your country they may not react well. I’m not talking about buying a license here, I’m talking about DIY. Almost all anglers have to buy a license in the US, but this is a fast and straightforward process, often done on-line or over the phone or through a business which is open on the weekends and holidays. We make it easy. It isn’t a barrier. There are also some places that don’t require a license, like Hawaii.
Bookings last year were up in Belize, from what I understand. Were your bookings up? I’m not talking about what someone told you about their bookings… I mean your actual days on the water. Did you do more than you did last year?
If your days were down last year, I’d bet the businesses who rely on the DIY anglers were hit even harder. The guest houses and the car rentals and the restaurants and shops. You start aiming at your anglers and it isn’t just the guides who suffer, it is all the other folks too, your neighbors.
It is true that Eastern Canada has some very restrictive rules on guides. They are the outliers, not the norm.
Regulate your industry, but know your decisions and how your decisions are communicated impact the willingness of your consumers to consume your products.
“It was then agreed, among other things, that only Bahamian citizens should be permitted to be licensed as guides and authorized to offer guiding services for the fly-fishing industry; and that visiting anglers engaged in fly-fishing activities be required to use the services of a licensed guide.”
“As a consequence, I am happy to reiterate the continuance of the Flats Fishing Regulations, 2017, and I look forward to the input and continue support of stakeholders as we move this process forward.”
So… this came from Minister Wells (email@example.com) and it appears to contradict the Prime Minister, insisting the regulations ARE still in place and NOT suspended.
Additionally, the press release was either crafted with a great deal of care to say something pretty important, or it was crafted with absolutely no care and makes a huge implication without understanding what it had done. The statement says “…visiting anglers engaged in fly-fishing activities be required to use the services of a licensed guide.” That doesn’t call out the 2:1 angler:guide ratio for boats, but just says if you are fly fishing in the Bahamas you are going to need a guide. That’s DIY folks. That’s been what these guys have been after the whole time. So… was that just super careless or was that the first big announcement of DIY as a fight out in the open?
Truth be told… I have no idea. These guys were supposed to be the good guys, but they don’t seem to be all on the same page. This is a page straight out of the BFFIA playbook and a massive step backward for the industry and all those who care about the Bahamas.
And so it continues. The PM on one side, the Minister for Fisheries on the other.
Here’s the latest article from the Tribune.
These folks claiming the sky would fall if the regulations are revoked… I mean… that would just revert to the situation the flats have been in since, I don’t know, Bahamian Independence.
The threats to fisheries of the Bahamas go something like this…
- Over-harvest of conch and lobster.
- Poaching from foreign vessels (like from the DR).
- Increased demand for unsustainable catches by countries who are buying into the Bahamas in a big way, like, oh, let’s say China.
- Development that destroys nursery habitat or impacts spawning aggregation sites.
- Global Warming.
754. Impact of catch and release bonefishing.
But, yeah, by all means, let’s put in place some ill-thought-out regulations to regulate issues that don’t exist and let’s throw in some xenophobia, some protectionist propaganda, some fear mongering and let’s also ignore all those concerns voiced by the people who actually contribute financially to the industry.
Also… let’s make it hard to get a license (like not making it possible to get one on a weekend or holiday).
Way to go guys. Bang up job.
Cindy and the Abaco guide’s association must be tired of constantly having to issue rebuttals to this sort of idiocy. I don’t envy them.
Here is to hoping the PM wins on this one. Also, let’s hope Fisheries loses this bit from their portfolio and it heads over to the cooler heads at Tourism.
Remember last week when things seemed to be kind of settled? Well… hold on a sec.
Turns out the Minister for Fisheries is not on the same page as the PM, according to this story from the Tribune.
The problem here is Minister Renward Wells. He’s the one overseeing fisheries and he’s from Andros. Being from Andros he’s influenced by the very strong pro-BFFIA sentiment there and appears to be buying into some of their utter nonsense. Minister Wells seems to be insisting that provisions like the “2 anglers, one guide” rule for boat is in-line with regulations in Colorado and Montana, which is, of course, a complete and total fabrication.
You want to put three friends in a boat and have them row down a river in Colorado (or Montana or California or Wyoming or Idaho) without a guide you can certainly do that, as many, many, many (that’s THREE manys) anglers do. Of course, I doubt Minister Wells looked into such matters himself, just taking BFFIA talking points as truth. To take a position like that, that such a provision is similar to other places, you have to just not look into it at all. It would take about 2 minutes on Google to figure out that is total nonsense.
You can also fish for reds in Louisiana without a guide. You can also fish for tarpon in Florida without a guide. There is no State in the US where you are required to use a guide or to have a 2:1 ratio. It isn’t a thing, no matter what the BFFIA says.
Now, I thought once the PLP was out we’d be past this type of utter and complete shite, but… but… Andros vs. Abaco/the rest of the Bahamas is kind of like the Urban vs. Rural divide that used to be a driving force in American politics.
The position of the PM seems pretty clear.
The corrosive effect of the BFFIA seems to be lingering, doing nothing positive and sewing discord, kind of like what Taco Bell does to my digestive tract with similar end results.
News out of the Bahamas, according to the Tribune, is that the fishing regulations have been officially suspended. This comes as the math starts to look like a 20-40% decline in bookings in the wake of the BFFIA’s push for regulations on flats fishing.
I mean… yeah… of course.
Suspended is not “totally scrapped” and really, they were suspended anyway (although I had heard some rogue guides/individuals in Andros had been trying to police the regs anyway). Maybe it will come back. Maybe it will be better. It could certainly have been worse, as the original proposals were.
The PLP is playing it according to the script, saying the govt. is abandoning the flats and creating an open season on their fishery. It was their hard work which was responsible for the 20-40% decline (and that’s bookings, not DIY, which I’d guess was down even more). I guess if they want fewer people coming to the Bahamas to fish, that does, in some way, lead to less pressure on the fishery, kind of in the same way the Chernobyl accident helped create a defacto nature preserve.
Time will tell. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Myself? I’m looking forward to heading back to Grand Bahama, the island where I caught my first bonefish, and fishing out of East End Lodge this July (yes, it will be hot, but there will be cold beer and likely a strong breeze).
Watching Buccaneers and Bones just now and they are having a Bahamas vs. Belize comparison.
I’ll be heading to Belize for the 4th time on Sunday. That’s going to be great.
Later this summer I’ll be heading to the Bahamas for trip #8.
They are just different places. It isn’t really fair to compare the two, but, let’s do that anyway.
Bonefish – The Bahamas wins this one. There may very well be 5 pound bones in Belize, but there are many, many more 1 pound bones. There are Bahamian islands with small average sized bones, but the Bahamas also features monsters, ten-plusers. The Bahamas is just such a pure bonefish fishery, it isn’t really a comparison. So many flats, so many islands and the bones are just THE species to chase.
Tarpon – There ARE tarpon in the Bahamas, but you don’t head to the Bahamas to go tarpon fishing. Belize is going to win on that front. That’s where I caught my first tarpon and where I lost my first larger tarpon. Tarpon are what make Savannah Caye a well known spot and there are other known tarpon spots in Belize as well.
Permit – Ya know… I don’t know. I’ve heard some great stories of permit fishing in the Bahamas, but if you want to catch your first permit, you are more likely to go and have success in Belize, so, I’m going to say Belize. Belize is where I caught my first (only) permit, although I certainly have seen some in the Bahamas as well (big ones too).
Grand Slam – If you are looking for all three, you are going to head to Belize. I’m proof you can make that shite happen.
Beer – The beer of Belize, Belikin, isn’t even 12 ounces. Kalik and Sands take this one.
Guides – Toss up. I’ve had some amazing guides in Belize. I’ve had some amazing guides in the Bahamas. Generally, the Bahamas is known for bonefishing guides and Belize is known for permit guides.
DIY – There is just more area in the Bahamas. You can DIY in Belize, sure, but you just can’t beat the square miles in the Bahamas.
Snook – Belize… not many snook in the Bahamas. Sure, there are some, like this one from East End Lodge, but you are much, much more likely to get into a nice snook in Belize.
I love Belize. I love the Bahamas. This year is a very, very good year, as I’m going to visit both. The very best situation is when it isn’t either/or, but both.
Thinking about heading to East End Lodge this summer and I started thinking about the sounds I associate with the Bahamas. If you close your eyes you can likely hear these sounds.
Your shirt flapping like a flag in a strong wind. flap flap flap flap flap
The soft sound of water slapping on the side of the skiff.
Wind through the mangroves.
The sound of dominos slapping down on a rickety table.
Potcakes barking as you drive by.
Uncatchable dialogue as one Bahamian speaks to another, which seems a totally foreign language which is simply turned off when the conversation is directed at you.
The sound of line going through the guides.
The soft, urgent tones of the guide pointing at a fish you can’t see.
Can you hear it?
I’m going back. I’m going back to the Bahamas in 2018… July.
I’m going to spend a few days at the East End Lodge, very close to the waters where I caught my first bonefish. This is the place I’ve spent the most time of any one place in the Caribbean. This is a place I kind of love a bit and want to know better.
I’m excited to be going back. I’m excited to stand in those waters again and look for something moving toward me there in the shimmering shadows of currents and water.
It is going to be a very, very fine year.
Grand Bahama… I’ll see you soon.
I guess they are bigger out in NJ and the one in Atlanta? Maybe others too? We have one out here in Pleasanton, not too far away from where I call home. I have been to that show more often than not over the past decade. I have worked that show a few times… once for BTT, twice for Friends of the River, maybe once for Clearwater, back when it was Clearwater House.
I love the show. I see old friends and seem to have interesting conversations every year. I don’t really go to buy anything and I didn’t eve cast a rod this year (fewer and fewer ron makers seem to be showing up). But there are still lots of people I like at the show, people I generally only see there.
This year I brought my 11 year old daughter and she didn’t want to leave. I heard her on the phone with a friend later say “I spent the day at a fly fishing show… it was actually pretty fun.”
I’m going to put that in the parenting win column.
I got to introduce my daughter to Camille Egdorf, of Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and from the movie Providence. It was funny because my daughter kind of fan-girled her, although I’m not sure she knew who she was. I made her watch Providence when we got home. Now she knows.