Jul 15

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 – tourism@bahamas.com

The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie – Prime Minister – primeminister@bahamas.gov.bs

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