[The Government of the Bahamas, Dept. of Marine Resources, on June 17 released a draft for consultation on regulation of the island nation’s flyfishing industry. That suspect piece of potential legislation would nix non-guided trips, making DIY defunct; charge foreign anglers add-on daily fees; and eliminate foreign-owned flats fishing lodges—like those up and down Andros and to the north on Abaco and Grand Bahama. On one hand, the government says the new regs would protect fisheries and marine environments. On the other, U.S. based lodge owners, traveling anglers, and booking agents are wondering if the whole thing is a poorly played pre-July 4 prank. Haha… Gotcha!]

The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) weighs in:

The destination angler traveling to the Bahamas has for many decades played a vital role in the health of the Bahamian economy. These tens of thousands of Bahamas-bound anglers also play a crucial role in the U.S.-based fly-fishing industry as a whole. For these reasons, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) opposes the Fisheries Resources Regulations of 2015 in its present draft form. We would further encourage Bahamian legislators to carefully consider the negative impacts that such heavy-handed and unnecessary regulation will have on destination angling and fly fishing throughout the Bahamas.

We strongly encourage the Bahamian government to reject the draft of these regulations in their present form and seriously evaluate whether these proposed regulations are truly good for the Bahamas as a whole.

Recent data (from The Economic Impact of Flats Fishing in The Bahamas; Tony Fedler, Ph.D) shows that anglers traveling to the Bahamas in 2010 spent over $141 million to fish the Bahamas, bringing to the developed islands of the Bahamas (and perhaps more importantly the out-islands) thousands of jobs and economic benefit. And the best news of all: These anglers were spending money on a low-impact, totally renewable pastime on the islands and in the communities that need it the most. Fast-forward to 2016 with the U.S.’s improved economy and an end to its recession, there is little doubt that this number of $141 million will in all likelihood significantly increase.

The ill-conceived and downright puzzling attempts by a small number of self-serving individuals in the Bahamian fly fishing industry to fast-track the proposed Fisheries Resources Regulations has already put the destination fishing industry of the Bahamas at great risk. The industry outcry, social media reaction and backlash in the last two days alone have already tarnished the image of the Bahamas as a paradise for traveling anglers. If key elements of this proposed legislation become reality, there is a chance that the lucrative and valuable destination angling industry servicing the Bahamas will suffer catastrophic damage that will negatively affect the Bahamian economy. Creating an environment where foreign anglers, non-Bahamian lodge and property owners, and even casual tourists looking to fish are essentially locked off the water and off the flats makes no sense at all. While a handful of local guides and lodge owners might see this as a short-term win and a way to artificially strengthen their own small businesses, the Bahamas as a whole will lose in a big way. Heavy-handed and unnecessary regulations will send a message to destination anglers throughout the world that they are not welcome in the Bahamas unless they are willing to pay to fish with a small number of “select” guides or lodges. This at a time when Belize, the Yucatan, Cuba and numerous other international destinations are welcoming and marketing to foreign anglers and investors like never before. The proposed regulations will successfully and immediately drive destination anglers and the dollars and jobs that they bring to destinations other than the Bahamas. The Bahamian government should be doing whatever it takes to increase sustainable anglers’ access to the flats instead of limiting access.

Our industry members are deeply concerned with the proposed Fisheries Resource Regulations and the impacts these new laws would have on their businesses and the flyfishing industry as a whole.

As one lodge owner from Abaco recently stated, the timing and the tone of the proposed regulations are awful and will further erode the competitive position of the Bahamas as a fishing destination at a time when visitors are already reeling from the recent imposition of Value added tax.

Other industry members and fly-fishing businesses have also weighed on the issue this past week.

“As a fly shop owner that currently hosts annual trips to the Bahamas, I am very concerned by the proposed regulations,” said AFFTA member Colby Trow, who owns Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Virginia. “Over the past 12 years of hosting fishing trips in the Bahamas, our retail shop has brought over $75,000 annually to the Bahamian economy. The proposed changes would unconstructively impact our customers who presently travel to the Bahamas and will certainly create a situation where we would look to other flats destinations throughout the Caribbean.”

President of Simms Fishing Products K.C. Walsh further added, “there is no doubt that such short-sighted legislation will negatively impact the economy of the Bahamas and reduce access for visiting anglers. If the draft proposal passes, anglers that currently travel to the Bahamas will surely find other flats fishing destinations.”

Ian Davis, co-owner and saltwater program director for Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures commented “it is unfortunate that a small number of self-serving, outspoken guides and lodge owners have gathered momentum to the point that these regulations are actually being considered and discussed. The potential harm to the Bahamian sportfishing industry is immeasurable.”

The one piece of the proposed regulations that AFFTA and the fly fishing industry would support would be a daily and weekly marine fishing license for all recreational anglers fishing in the Bahamas. If a license were easily attainable on-line, provided indiscriminate access to the flats and the shallow waters of the Bahamas, and if the funds generated were designated for conservation and protection of Bahamian resources, then a sportfishing license could be a great thing for the Bahamas and its economy. The key with a successful and well-executed license program will use generated funds to enhance and protect the flats’ ecosystems and habitats, drawing more anglers into the Bahamian tourism economy.

In closing, it is important that input on this issue should be solicited from all involved and concerned parties, including independent Bahamian guides, lodges (both foreign-owned and locally owned), anglers, second home-owners, scientists, conservation groups and the fly fishing industry as a whole. Rushing forward on legislation that will ultimately cost the Bahamas hundreds of millions of dollars in angling-related revenue and countless jobs throughout the country would be a tragic mistake.

There’s still time to act. Review the draft regs, here. And send your comments before this Friday, June 26, here: fisheries@bahamas.gov.bs

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Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.

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