Jul 15

Bahamas Update, Thoughts and Ideas

Long Island clear day

I hope you like reading… this is a long one.

It has been a while since there has been much news on this front. If you haven’t read this piece from Gink & Gasoline, I’d urge you to.

If your curious about my own biases, I’d direct you here for my own disclosures.

I thought I’d try to wrap it all up in one big go here, tell you what has happened thus far, where they stand now and where I think we are going. I also share a few alternative ideas that are probably horrible, but I’m putting them out there anyway.

Where we stand now

On June 19th I got an email with a copy of proposals to regulate the flats fishing industry in the Bahamas. Reading through the proposals my eyes took on a look of shock, then horror. It seemed really bad and I said as much. At the same time the same email was being opened and read by others who also arrived at the same conclusion… this was going to be a disaster for the Bahamas. Blog posts started going up, letters started being sent in as part of the “consultation process,” the Bahamian Fly Fishing Industry Association had a meeting and a vote on leadership, a meeting of stakeholders occurred, followed by a second stakeholder meeting.

To my knowledge there is not a second draft version at this time. Many of the items we think will be in the proposed legislation have been discussed by persons in positions of power and authority, but have not been written down or passed around widely. Some of those items might not make it into the proposed legislation, as the Attorney General’s office is tasked with actually writing the legislation.

The proposed legislation will be brought into the Cabinet where it will be discussed and debated. If it emerges from the Cabinet it will go to the House of Assembly where MPs vote after the “Third Reading” of the bill. Then it goes to the Senate and again is voted on (they can delay, but not kill a bill) at the “Third Reading.” That is how I understand the process to work.

There is still a long way for the proposed legislation to go. It has to be written into a coherent bill (this may be difficult to do as many of the terms are vague and other existing laws have to be considered), it has to make it out of the Cabinet (which it very well might fail to do) and it has to be voted on by the Members of Parliament.

A press release by the Ministry of Tourism seemed to say no tourist unfriendly proposal would go through, but it isn’t their proposal, so they wouldn’t be in a position to official kill this thing off. Still, it is hopeful.

What the bill lacks in economic sense it makes up for in nationalism and xenophobia. Such forces cannot be underestimated. Remember, Argentina went to war with the UK over the Falklands.

The most cited Bahamian complaints

The move to regulate flats fishing has many sides and the push comes from a number of commonly cited complaints from Bahamians, as far as I understand them.

  1. Foreign Guides – It is claimed a number of foreigners have set up shop to guide in the Bahamas. Certainly, there are a few. I know of one Canadian guide out of Eluthera and one lodge (Bahamian owned) on the West Side of Andros. Maybe there are others. That I don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
  2. Foreign Mother Ship operations – Many guides have said they’ve seen mother ships with four or five skiffs in tow on pirate fishing excursions, not only not employing Bahamian Guides, but instead employing American guides. It is entirely possible such things exist. I don’t see them marketed or talked about, but it could be these are a real issue. They are certainly perceived as an issue.
  3. Foreign Illegal Lodges – I have seen claims of lodges being set up in private homes with foreign guides, skirting laws about hotel taxes and other regulations. No one has been able to show me one of these and they certainly don’t have booking agents sending them business or websites to book clients. This is perceived as an issue, although this one feels like more perception than reality, given the complexities in making a lodge actually run and be successful. It could be there are “pop up” lodges with fly shops bringing in their own clients for a week or two at a time. I’m not sure exactly what shape this takes, if it has any shape.
  4. DIY anglers – Many guides really, really don’t like the DIY movement. The argument goes that the waters are Bahamian and if you go fishing by yourself you are stealing money from the pockets and food from the mouths of a Bahamian. DIYers bring too much pressure. DIYers ruin the fishery by killing too many of the fish. DIYers get to use the resource for too little money. There are a long list of complaints, and as I’ll discuss a little bit further on, some of them we have brought about ourselves.
  5. Bahamian Guides lack respect – No certification, no training program, no piece of paper saying you are a guide means there are none of the solid benefits of being a guide that might come with a more established white-collar profession. Things like bank loans and customs duty exceptions might come if they have that piece of paper.
  6. Second home owners – Many of these second home owners bring over boats (wouldn’t you?). The boats give the angler much more access and they start bumping up against guides trying to make a living. The guides see this as a Bahamian waters for Bahamian people issue.

What is in either the draft proposal or has been discussed in one form or another.

First, let’s talk about what is not in the proposals. These are not proposals designed with conservation in mind. There is some light, undefined talk of preserving the resource, but those words are not about the fishery, unless you mean relieving DIY pressure from the flats. There are a number of important issues confronting the flats fisheries… illegal netting, dredging and over-development spring to mind. There are certainly more serious issues facing Bahamian fisheries in general too, such as illegal poaching (placed at the feet of the Dominican Republic for the most part) and illegal poaching from Americans coming over from Florida. An arrest was just made of a couple of American poachers with turtle meat, undersized conch and illegally harvested lobster all seized. This proposal does nothing to address any of these more serious issues. It is not about conservation. These proposals are about the industry and the resource, who can use it and who can profit from it.

Here are the elements I gather as being either in or discussed:

  1. A fishing license – This was one of the first red flags, as the original language implied you had to get the permit from a guide or lodge who could arbitrarily deny it to you. It’s easy enough to set up an on-line licensing system, so setting up a system dependent on the guide or lodge seemed to be done intentionally to make it more difficult and to give the guide veto power. It seems we are moving toward a more reasonable fishing permit system, easily accessible and more-or-less affordable. The original proposal was very high, where a second home owner staying for a month might have to pay $2,000. A day, week and annual license, topping out at $250 seems likely, but, again, this hasn’t been put in writing. Probably 95% of the people I’ve talked to have no issue buying a permit to fish as long as it is reasonable and if the money goes to help preserve the resource and not into some political slush fund.
  2. DIY restrictions – This has not been written down but I’ve heard the lines have already been drawn in some cases. DIY will be allowed, but only in certain areas. Those areas would be set in consultation with the local guides and lodges. You would be able to DIY, but only where you were told you could. Everything else would be off limits, except to guides, and the fines if you are caught out of bounds could be as much as $3,000. Most of us think this is a non-starter. Restricting DIY to certain areas defined by guides (who have no motivation to give you anything worth fishing) would likely prevent many anglers from making the trip. To be told exactly where we were able to fish and threatened with severe fines if we didn’t comply would end the free spirit and easy going feeling of the Bahamas for many of us. The guides seek, and Fisheries Minister Alfred Gray has vowed to give them “exclusivity on the flats.” So, you can go DIY the Bahamas if this passes, but you’ll be fishing the sloppy seconds in every sense of the phrase.
  3. Mother Ships – Those would be finished, unless employing Bahamian guides. Haven’t met anyone who has a problem with that. If those mother ships with foreign guides and a string a skiffs really were invading Bahamian waters, there seem few things that would be a greater insult to Bahamian guides. So, good riddance to that.
  4. Foreign Owned Lodges – The original proposals took aim at foreign owned lodges, the language was explicit, although there are some legal complexities here making this part of the legislation more bark than bite. To start a lodge in the Bahamas you need a local partner and you need to make a large investment. There are elaborate regulations for this process. The language certainly is threatening to foreign lodge owners (who operate some of the best known and sought after lodges in the Bahamas), but it is doubtful such massive changes to foreign investment could come from this bill.
  5. Certification and Training – There would be a training program and licensing program, for both lodges and guides. This process would be run by the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association, run by Prescott Smith, the main driver of these proposals. The issue here is the political nature of the BFFIA and, in particular, of Prescott. There is opposition to Prescott from many in the Bahamian fly fishing community (there are also those that love the guy and would follow him anywhere) and if this passes it appears Prescott would be given the power to grant or withhold his blessing on a lodge or guide. The lodges and guides who oppose the BFFIA and Prescott would have to pay Prescott for his services as well. The whole thing reeks of politics of the worst sort. It might be a good idea to train guides on handling bonefish, on conservation, on how to be a guide… there certainly is a wide variation in skill, ability levels and levels of professionalism. An official certificate might also come with a duty exemption for fly fishing related gear like boats, trucks, rods, reels and more. So, there is some good in here for guides and lodges, but the “how” remains a huge question mark as Prescott has lost almost all his international credibility and has divided the Bahamian guide and lodge community by his tactics.
  6. Second Home Owners – Forget taking your own boat out. You would need a guide, even if you are a permanent resident married to a Bahamian. So says Minister Gray. If you hate flats fishing, there will probably be some properties hitting the market in the next year if this passes all the way through.

How we got here

I’ve been thinking about how we got here. I don’t know all the nuances, but I have been paying attention and here are my thoughts.

  1. DIY got too easy. I remember, painfully, the first time I wandered into a forum and asked for a DIY spot in the Bahamas. I was naïve. People didn’t give that stuff away. You had to earn it. You had to go to the place yourself and develop that knowledge which was paid for with hours of fishless flats walking and sunburn. Now, thanks to blogs (like mine) and Google Earth and detailed books you don’t have to work for it. You can just look it up, like Yelping a place to get dinner. In the age of GoPro and Instagram and Vimeo, there are no secrets… not really. So, we all headed for the flats, en masse, and wrote about it and filmed it and took a billion pictures and that inspired others to go and do the same thing. I’m partly to blame and I’m part of the story. One of the first stories that captured my imagination was in This is Fly about a guy who got dropped off on an uninhabited cay in the Bahamas for a week to fish. It was everything I wanted in a trip and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
  2. The Business of being a guide has changed. Today it isn’t enough to have a boat, a pair of good eyes and a family name. There’s marketing to be done. Americans (and I’m guessing we are the majority of anglers going out with guides in the Bahamas) are used to being inundated with marketing messages from the brands we follow. Think about where the flats fishing content is for us to follow. It isn’t coming from the guides in the Bahamas. It is coming from the bloggers and clothing brands and DIY guys who go there, film it, photograph it and share it with the world. They are selling the image of the DIY guy largely against the absence of any kind of native Bahamian marketing effort. Bahamian guides are guides, concerned about the cold front that might come in, the cost of gas and the day-to-day of living and working on an island. They aren’t thinking about the cost of customer acquisition and customer loyalty. It used to be loyalty came with a good trip. Now, loyalty has to be constantly sought after and reaffirmed. Ever have a hard time getting a trip confirmed from a Bahamian guide over the phone? Ever had a guide take down your phone number or email address? Yeah… me either. This overly marketed to American consumer is probably different from the American Client of 20 years ago. The business has changed, is changing and will changes some more. The Bahamian guides need some real help in better marketing what they bring to the table or they will continue to lose the marketing battle they may not even be aware they are fighting.

I’m open to new ideas

Now, I’m just going to throw some stuff up on the walls… I won’t claim any of this is really well thought out. I also doubt that those pushing the regulations will be interested in doing anything other than what they are planning on doing already. Still… here are a few ideas to address the main gripe, the DIY angler.

  1. We could adopt an informal code-of-conduct in the absence of official regulation. How about avoiding a DIY trip in the heart of the best guiding season? How about not posting which island you visit? How about committing to one day of guided fishing per trip? How about promising to stay in a Bahamian run motel, if you aren’t at a lodge? We could police ourselves a bit better and maybe that would help.
  2. In the US we have ways of managing our most impacted and sensitive environments. I’m thinking of things like deer tags and Grand Canyon river permits. There may be some places where there just aren’t enough flats to go around. In that case, how about a lottery system? You apply for a tag for Acklins and see if you get it. Other islands with more flats might be tag-free. If you get the tag you can choose to go through an outfitter for assisted DIY or you could go full DIY. Guides would not need a permit and you could fish at any time with those guides. This might enable these more sensitive areas to be better managed by limiting angler pressure (or at least even figuring out how anglers are even using the resource) and dispersing the impact over time. I’m sure there are problems with this idea, but I’m intrigued by it.
  3. The idea of “DIY” areas sucks the spirit out of the trip. However, flipped around and modified a bit, a Guide Only area(s) might not be such a horrible idea. Set aside some areas for the guides to use, manage and profit from exclusively, while still leaving the DIY angler the ability to explore a bit, to find their own water, to spread out. Guide Only areas could be a little bit further away, more boat-accessible. Guides could guide anywhere they want to, but could make special use of the Guide Only areas when pressure becomes too great in other areas.

Jul 15

Great, well researched article on Bahamas issue

From Gink & Gasoline today… a really well done piece. This is what it looks like when a journalist gets a hold of an issue like this.

The story.

The clan in Grand Bahama in 2013

The clan in Grand Bahama in 2013


Jul 15

Hurdles for Flats Fishing Regulations and What Happens After

“The draft bill and accompanying regulations are not an effort to stifle, prevent or prohibit any category of anglers from fly fishing within the Islands Of the Bahamas, or to restrict international investor participation in the sector.”

So says a Ministry of Tourism press release.

This thing might not have the legs it needs to get through the cabinet. In fact, there seems to be a swelling of internal opposition to the proposals as people wake up to the realities and potential economic pitfalls.

So… we might be able to, in not too long, collectively breath a sigh of relief. Maybe. Depending. At least, well, there’s a good chance. (How many outs can I give myself in one paragraph?)

Underlying what might, just might, be the successful offing of the horribly thought out and disastrously presented proposals, there may be a few issues we need to discuss and consider.

The bill’s popularity with some is grounded in the stark realities they are facing. Consider the bill would have provided duty exemptions for guides for items such as boats, trucks, fly rods and reels, etc.. That would help guides get better, newer gear to grow their businesses for something closer to market rates instead of the hugely inflated costs once you add transportation AND duty costs.

The move to effectively ban most DIY was popular with many guides and they had their reasons. We might do well to examine what those reasons are. Maybe things have become a bit too easy on the DIY front. Maybe not everyone who heads out to one of the Out Islands acts like a perfect gentleman. Maybe we need to think about how we can help the Bahamians to better promote themselves and their services.

The ban on mother ships, ban on foreign guides and the introduction of a reasonably priced and easy to obtain fishing license were all widely supported elements of the proposal. If just those bits survived, they would be welcomed by the vast majority (assuming the money went towards conservation or preserving the fisheries).

If this thing does die, and let’s hope it does, we may need to think about what other elements need to be resurrected, changed, and re-proposed.

Those proposals almost certainly can’t come from the current leadership of the BFFIA, who have lost international respect and proven to be the most divisive of leaders. Even if you are for the proposals, you have to think the presentation and roll-out has been nothing short of a disaster and if you don’t know whose feet to lay that disaster at, you are willfully blind.

So, let’s keep up the pressure. Let’s let the other stakeholders know how we feel and let’s try to do a little introspection of our own and see what has merit, what doesn’t, and what we can do to make our impact a little softer on those who have felt wronged by the current state of affairs.

Andros South in the morning.

Andros South in the morning.

Jul 15


Happy in the Bahamas

Happy in the Bahamas

For my day job I often find myself at medical conferences listening to doctors (I’m not one) give presentations. Before a doctor gets on stage and tells you about their research or case report they first give you their disclosures. They let everyone know up front if they’ve taken money from the drug company or if they have a private lab engaged in research or selling competitive services. They want to let people know their possible biases before they start so the information that follows can be assessed in context.

Here are my disclosures. I am not a guide (I guided for trout in Northern California for one season in my early 20’s). I am not a lodge owner, or part owner. I don’t own land in the Bahamas. I don’t own a boat in the Bahamas. I do know some Bahamian guides and some Bahamian and American lodge owners. I’ve fished out of both. The Bahamas has only been a travel destination for me for about 5 years. I was kind-of-almost working for a booking agent for a hot minute when I was between jobs two years ago, but I didn’t end up actually working there and never made a dime off of the work.

Mainly what I have invested in the Bahamas is interest and dreams. The Bahamas are one of my favorite destinations and I have chosen the Bahamas for family vacations, two lodge-based trips and a couple DIY/Guided trips, all in the last five years. I figure I and my family have spent around $20,000 in the Bahamas over that time. I have been to and fished out of Grand Bahamas, Andros, Abaco and Long Islands.

My interest far outweighs my experience and that interest has led me to talk to a lot of people about the Bahamas and to read about the Bahamas to make up for my lack of physical presence. I’ve done interviews and shared stories about the Bahamas consistently for the past five years as well. Ever since the blog was launched, I’ve been talking about and sharing stories about the Bahamas.

My first bonefish came from the East End of Grand Bahama with an independent guide.

In short, I have no “skin in the game.” If the proposed regulations pass I stand to gain nothing financially. If they don’t pass I stand to gain nothing financially.

If they do pass, what I lose are some dreams, maybe a bit of my muse would be snuffed out. I’d lose a family vacation spot and a bit of happiness. That’s all.

My rather strong voice of alarm and concern stems from my worries about what these regulations will do to the Bahamas and to their people. I see economic hard times if these pass. It could be that I also see a loss of something I love as well, a loss of freedom and a loss of choice.

Now you know my biases and where I come from and can put what I have to say in context.

Jul 15

Where we are now and where we’re going

A Grand Bahama Sunset

A Grand Bahama Sunset

I’m struggling at the moment to figure out where to go from here. It feels like the battle lines are drawn and minds are made up among the guide community and there is a pretty good delineation between the “For” and “Against” camps. It is also looking more and more likely the “For” camp has been laying the groundwork for this for some time. We “Againsts” are late to the party.

One problem we are going to run into is people don’t usually change their minds. I listened to a great episode of This American Life called “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind.” It was an interesting story and confirmed something we all know deep down, people usually don’t change their minds. That means all those Facebook arguments haven’t moved the needle one bit. Politicians have almost stopped trying to change the minds of those who disagree with them. Instead, they just rally their supporters, turning them into SUPER SUPPORTERS and since politics is very much a Zero Sum Game, those in the opposition turn into SUPER ENEMIES.

We’d probably all be better off if things weren’t between SUPER SUPPORTERS and SUPER ENEMIES. I’m trying to keep an open mind and to listen to other points of view. Sometimes I even succeed.

At this point there doesn’t seem to be a second draft getting circulated. As I understand it, the actual legislation will be written by the Attorney General’s Office and then it goes to the Cabinet. I’ve heard it doesn’t stand a great chance of making it out of the Cabinet (others might see the economic downside a little more clearly at the Cabinet level), but when you have a country of 377,000, you can’t be sure of anything. Throw in a good dose of nationalism and things tend toward unpredictable.


I’ll try to keep you posted on what I’m hearing.

Jul 15

A point by point rebuttal of this story

I read this story on the Tribune242.com website. It is full of so much misinformation, I felt like I’d take it on point by point.

Tribune Business Reporter

Bahamas Can Be ‘Global Pacesetter’ Over Fishing

THE Bahamas has an opportunity to become a “global pacesetter” in fisheries protection and preservation under proposed regulations to govern the fly fishing industry, the sector’s association president said yesterday.

Let’s be clear… there is very, very little about conservation or preservation in the proposals. What is there is undefined and sloppy. Look at the suggestions of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust… a conservation organization who knows what they are doing. If these folks were really interested in conservation, they would come with a science-forward approach. What is in the proposals is about business, not about conservation. It is being wrapped up in conservation, but it just isn’t there.

Industry stakeholders participated in what was expected to be the last consultation on the regulations, which have been a source of heated debate among them over the past several weeks.

The Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, V. Alfred Gray, said he was “disturbed” by correspondence exchanged between  several industry stakeholders regarding the proposed regulations, stressing he would “rather lose one visitor than lose an entire country”.

Several saying come to mind… don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face… there are probably others. The chorus of shock, warning and alarm has been deafening. People who love the Bahamas deeply and who are responsible for a lot of tourists coming to the Bahamas have warned this is a bad, bad deal for the Bahamas and could destroy the industry. So, Minister Gray may well get his wish many times over. I’m guessing there’s no economic impact study for these proposals, because there is no way they turn out well for the Bahamas as a whole. 

While acknowledging the remaining divisions within the industry, Prescott Smith, the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) president, said yesterday’s consultation helped bring more clarity to the situation.

“A lot of positions were clarified. There is a lot of misinformation out there. I think people are clear that the legislation is something that is necessary in everyone’s interest, and not just special interests” Mr Smith told Tribune Business following the meeting yesterday.

It is very much clear this legislation is NOT in everyone’s interest, but is, instead, thought to be in the interest of a handful (ironically, it probably isn’t really in their interest either). This comment by Prescott flies directly in the face of reality. What about guest house/motel owners? What about shops and restaurants? What about rental car outfits? All those people stand to lose clients and money. What about the independent guides who pick up a day or two on an angler’s DIY trip (and this is a very common occurrence)? Those guides will lose days. This line of Prescott’s defies logic as it is exactly what the legislation would do and the whole world can see it as clear as day. 

“You can’t just think about laws to protect one’s individual business to the detriment of everyone else. The key issues in terms of the Association being the governing body that is recognised nationally, and also the whole issue of what they refer to as ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) anglers, while no one is opposed to it, it was noted that you have to take into consideration certain islands because of their geography and their limited flats in comparison to other islands.

The hostility toward DIY anglers is well known at this point. Check out Page 5. An incident was brought up at the most recent meeting and the guide who had run off a DIY angler was proud of his behavior and he was not reprimanded by the head of the Association, nor the Minister for Fisheries. Again, the comment by Prescott is ironic because the laws are seen as benefiting several businesses at the expense of others.

Also, the association is not recognized by all, not even in the Bahamas. The last election (just a couple weeks ago) was, by most accounts, a farce. Look at my questions to Shawn Leadon in the comments of this post. These are unanswered questions and the silence speaks volumes. 

“You will destroy the fisheries if people can just go out on the flats and fish as they please. Those islands that need special consideration are Acklins, Long Island, Eleuthera, Cat Island and Exuma,” added Mr Smith.

“Destroy” is a pretty wild claim. How many times does a DIY angler even get the tides right? How far can they run if they aren’t into fish? How many fish a day do you think they are catching on average? Where is the study showing this kind of destructive impact? I’ll tell you where the studies are… in Prescott’s head. They don’t exist, nor can they, because this kind of destructive impact is nearly impossible to have when you are talking about catch and release with well intentioned and informed anglers. A bigger impact on the flats would be the illegal netting taking place on Long Island. An angler may be responsible for one or two bonefish deaths, but a net is responsible for every bonefish it touches. 

“The whole issue with fishing licenses, I think people understand the importance of a percentage of it going back into the resource. I feel that the Association should get a considerable portion of it because of the task of training new guides, educational programmes in the school, restoration of creeks, improving the marine environment and lots of education for guides, anglers and the general Bahamian population as well, and bringing to light the fact that the industry is so much more than the guides and the lodges.”

Well, look at that… Prescott thinks the fees should come back to the BFFIA, the organization he’s the President of. Wild, eh? It’s not going to scientists or conservation organizations. It’s going to the head of the association he runs. That doesn’t sound like self-dealing at all, does it?

The Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Amendment) Bill 2015, and the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2015, introduce a number of changes designed to create a supervisory framework for flats fishing in the Bahamas.

This involves a set of new permit fees and stricter distinctions for foreign fishermen and foreign-­owned bone fishing lodges. Concerns over the new regulations centre on the proposed requirement that all visiting fly fishermen, even experts coming to the Bahamas for decades, hire a local guide at a cost of $600 per day.

While sensitive to the need to protect Bahamian fishing guides from foreigners who come in and establish themselves in business illegally, the tourism sector is concerned that the ‘local guide stipulation’ and other proposed fees will make this nation further uncompetitive on price and encourage anglers to head to rival destinations.

There is only one lodge I have heard of who uses foreign guides. The Flamingo Cay Club uses, so I’m told, American guides (I talked to one American guide who worked there in fact). I know of no other lodge or operation using American or foreign guides. So, this is a non-issue and not something that people concerned about. The “local guide stipulation” is not what people are upset about. A requirement that all anglers use a guide certainly is a concern. A second home owner with their own boat would not be able to go and fish by themselves. Minister Grey said that even a permanent resident would not be able to fish on their own. If I come to Treasure Cay for Spring Break with my family (as I did this last year) I wouldn’t be able to head out for a few hours on my own while my kids nap? This is the sort of thing that has people up in arms. 

    “The Bahamas can be a global pacesetter because the only country that has made close to the decisions that the Bahamas is embarking on now is Belize,” Mr Smith said.

“They don’t even have one twentieth of our resources. By us taking this initiative you are protecting the nursery system for the entire Caribbean. The Bahamas has not only the largest flats in the world but the largest concentration of mangroves in the entire western world, which means that the marine life breeding here is  replenishing so many countries around the Caribbean.

First off, the rules set up in Belize are about making Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon catch & release species and outlaws most netting. Their laws say nothing about banning DIY angling. Florida passed rules, rather recently, banning the killing of bonefish and clamping down on how tarpon can be fished for and handled. These rules are enforced as well. Florida now has more strict rules around zoning and development to try and fix some of the damage they did earlier, damage that largely hasn’t yet happened in the Bahamas, but certainly could without enforced rules on dredging and sewage treatment. So, this claim to be a pacesetter rings hollow. The proposed laws would make the Bahamas a leader though, a leader in enacting anti-foreigner, restrictive fishing regulations. So, maybe that’s the pacesetting he’s looking to do. A quick internet search shows that the Bahamas is not setting the pace on conservation, nor would this legislation move in that direction. 

Secondly, it is true that the Bahamas has more habitat than the rest of the Caribbean. That, however, seems to conflict with the idea Prescott posed earlier that a few DIY anglers could bring the fishery low. How are both things true? How can you have the largest mangrove system in the world on one hand, and then claim that a catch and release anglers can destroy the whole fishery? Really, you can’t, but it also isn’t about protecting the fishery, it is about trying to ensure the money goes into the pockets you want it to go into. 

“This legislation goes a long way to say you’re thinking sustainability and preservation and sustainability,” said Mr Smith. “The BFFIA must now move swiftly in terms of the various certification manuals that need to be fine tuned.”

The legislation goes a long way to sinking what’s left of the Bahamian economy. I hear, daily, from people who say they won’t go back if this goes through. They won’t go for the family vacation where they want to get out for a bit of fishing on their own, maybe grab a day with a guide as well. They won’t go back for the week long lodge trip because they don’t like the stink this legislation has all over it of greed and the big F-U to Americans (and non-yanks too). Certification manuals are the least of your worries. It amazes me that someone could come up with this sort of legislation to implode a $141M a year industry with no understanding of the potential impacts, no study on the impacts and so little care given to the goose that lays the golden egg. It might not be criminal, but it should be. Is this what the Bahamas needs in the aftermath of Baha Mar? Clearly not. 

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.



Jul 15

The Bahamas and a total lack of introspection

In the space since the last meeting in the Bahamas, and in light of all the negative press the proposed fishing regulations have brought, I find it amazing that the head of the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association has shown a total lack of introspection. Instead of listening to the chorus of alarm, he (Prescott Smith) seems intent on finding someone to blame. One target of his blame is Bonefish on the Brain (hey, that’s me!).

Dear All,

Finally with the AGM Elections behind us and we are now able to investigate and show who the individuals were behind the scenes, for their own selfish agendas, who brought the negative PR on The Bahamas. I have colored coded the different emails, so you can clearly see the key persons, behind the scenes, who were primarily responsible for the negative propaganda smear campaign in the last couple months. Also, as you follow the trail of persons who are copied in on the first emails by… (Name removed by me), …the Vice President of The Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association, where  you will see it leads to the Bloggers, like Bjorn Stromsness, Don Causey, and others going wild out there with all the misinformation and destructive things about The Bahamas.

They even took it further and began personal attacks on myself, Shawn Leadon, Denward Rankine and other Board Members because we support the Government in protecting and regulating the fly fishing industry in the best interest of the Bahamas and guides. Bloggers took it to the next level and requested Anglers to boycott our businesses. Click on this link to see for yourselves:  http://bonefishonthebrain.com/hope/

It is hoped that we can now put these malicious acts and propaganda behind us and focus on truly empowering and protecting Bahamians  and other Stakeholders connected in the Industry so that the Government can produce a phenomenal piece of legislation we can all be proud of

Prescott Smith

President: BFFIA

I’ll remind everyone that the Abaco Fly Fishing Guide’s Association is the group who came up with some great suggestions when it came to the proposed regs. You can see their recommendations here. If you want to find a group reacting in a positive way to what is going on, you need look no further than the Abaco Fly Fishing Guide’s Association and their leader Justin Sands.

The only things I’ve seen come out of Pescott seem to be a doubling down. He does not appear to grasp that there is not an organized campaign out to get him or to destroy the fishing industry in the Bahamas (as it would appear he beleives), but that the chorus of opposition was brought about by his own actions, by the language in the proposed regulations.  I haven’t seen anything come out of Prescott that indicates he gets any of the uproar as being brought about by his own actions. There is always someone else to blame.

Here is one of Prescott’s points and then you can read a rather on-point comment from Orvis and you tell me who is issuing propoganda and who seems reasonable.

8)  Designated Areas for Anglers with a Fishing License to fish without the assistance of a Certified Guide. (At their own risk and accepting full liability of the potential dangers without a Certified Guide because of the frequent visits to the flats by Bull Sharks, Hammer Head Sharks and Tiger Sharks, and drowning by some unknown health issue (Stroke, Heart Attack, Cramp….)  These designated areas must be assigned with consultation with the Local Guides  on each island because of their unique geography.

Here’s from Orvis:

“The criteria for a permit should be concise and consistent across the resource. There should be national unrestricted access with no room on the local level to prohibit access to flats or a license,” the company added.

“As it is currently written, the legislation suggests that guides, lodge operators and local administrators would be in the position to ‘independently govern a region’, impose conditions, restrictions or limitations for a permit as they deem appropriate.

“This allows too much room for restrictions subject to the whims of the individual grantor, especially if a guide simply doesn’t want an angler to fish in a certain area.”

Here is the link to the story with the Orvis point of view.

Prescott’s view is that we are all going to be eaten by sharks (you have a better chance of being killed by a falling coconut than being eaten by a shark) and that each guide on each island will get to map out a 10×10 box for you to DIY fish to your heart’s content. Orivs, on the other hand, seems to grasp that Prescott is trying to allow guides to set up their own little fiefdoms. I think it is pretty clear “who the individuals were behind the scenes, for their own selfish agendas, who brought the negative PR on The Bahamas,” in Prescott’s own words. Sharks???

The voices in opposition have been as varied as they have been loud, but Prescott doesn’t seem to get it. He seems to see any disagreement as an insult to the soul of the Bahamas. I don’t think that’s it, not at all. In fact, the voices I’ve heard have expressed their love of the Bahamas and the Bahamians and have shared their worries that these regulations, unless drastically altered, will substantially harm the Bahamas.

Almost every voice has also expressed a strong willingness to support conservation and a reasonable permitting system, as well as bans on foreign mother-ship operations. So, if they are really interested in regulating the industry in a way that will be best for the Bahamas, there are plenty of solid ideas out there to replace the fatally flawed draft proposals.


It seems the Orvis view (also the views of many others, including myself) that the proposed guidelines are intended to set up little fishing empires got some added legitimacy from this story. Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray paraphrased in this quote from the story:

Last week, Mr Gray said that the aim of the new regulations was to give local guides exclusivity in the area.

I hope you enjoy the little DIY Box they intend to put us all in. I’m sure it will be great.

Jul 15

Bahamas Regs, what is being said and what isn’t being said

Looking Good Mr. Bone

Looking Good Mr. Bone

There was a meeting last week with Minister Alfred Gray and the guides to talk over the proposed regulations.

Emerging from that meeting, the people I talked to sounded pleased, optimistic and hopeful. I shared their sentiments based on what I had heard. Seemed like things were going well. A license would be easily obtainable, second home owners could use their own boats, foreign owned lodges were not going to be targeted and the most egregious Yank insult, the unguided mothership, would become a thing of the past.

I can get in line to support any and all of that.

There will be another meeting (July 13 in Nassau) and from there new proposed regs will be crafted and debated in the Cabinet before going for a vote.

Something odd has happened since Monday though. Nothing. Minister Gray has not used the days from Monday to Saturday to reassure anyone of anything. It would be easy enough to clear up the “misconceptions.”

It would be an easy thing to do, really. Put out some new proposals. Put out a statement. Get the folks behind this to float alternative suggestions (like the Abaco Fly Fishing Guide’s Association did). These easy things have not happened and I’m left wondering if Minister Gray might honestly be interested in changing course or not.

Maybe they just sought to placate us a bit without actually intending to modify those poisonous proposed regs. Maybe they figure we only have so much outrage and so long an attention span (ok, that last one might be true). Maybe they have seen the errors of their ways and are just spending their time in quiet meditation contemplating how close they came to destroying so many jobs, businesses and lives with their short-sighted money-grab?

Until we see something in writing, something actually addressing our concerns we are only left with a “Just trust us” from the very people who brought us those original proposals, which were, I believe, intentionally full of loopholes and levers to be used in an attempt to enrich a few at the expense of the many. I don’t trust them and haven’t seen any reason to. I have the opposite of trust, driven by both the content of the original proposal and the comments I’ve seen put forward by the two guys I believe to be most responsible for the mess we find ourselves in right now (oh, you know who you are).

So, Minister Gray, how about seeing some of this in writing? Easy to do… so please do the easy thing.

Jun 15

Bahamas – where things stand now

OK, there was another meeting yesterday. This was a stakeholders meeting specifically about the proposed regulations and from what I hear it went much better than the Bahamas Guide meeting of last week.

There will be another meeting on July 13 for more input and then the proposals will be re-written. From there it goes for debate in the cabinet and then gets a vote. So, some time left and some hope on the horizon.

I’ll get more details out when I can, but here is what it sounds like so far.

  • An objective, easy to obtain license/permit seems to be in the cards. No getting your license from a guide who has no interest in giving you one.
  • Mother-ship operations run by non-Bahamians and not employing Bahamian guides are likely done. Not too many people have an issue with that, I certainly don’t. Seemed a massive abuse of the Bahamians to begin with.
  • Foreign-owned lodges aren’t going anywhere.
  • DIY – Still going to exist, but there may be some restrictions on DIY Exactly what that might look like remains to be seen. There could be some guide-only areas… but there might not be. I don’t think there are clear answers on this one yet.
  • I think second home owners with their own boats may be in the clear, but that isn’t too clear just yet. (Rod Hamilton is reporting that it is sorted)

In general it seems like there was some degree of stepping away from the ledge. I’ll write more about this when I get more details.