The Bahamian movie, The Flats Conspiracy never made it to the big screen. The story got soundly quashed by Bahamian men and women – folks made of stern stuff and think the language of common sense, the future of their fishery, and fellow stakeholders.
The Bahamian government appears on their way to clarifying expectations and working toward commonsense policies regarding traveling anglers’ flats fishing guidelines and conservation matters.
Foreign anglers, local guides, and lodge owners have reason to hope that ambiguity and in-fighting among stakeholders will fade as more inclusive, practical plans gain ground.
Update: Is a Regulatory Sea Change Coming to the Bahamas?
The following excerpts are taken from Beau Beasley’s summary of a meeting held at the 6th Annual Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) Symposium, November 10-11, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
by Beau Beasley / MidCurrent
On hand to discuss the updates were Benjamin Pratt, senior manager for the country’s Ministry of Tourism; Eric Carey, executive director of The Bahamas National Trust, and other Bahamian citizens who work as fishing guides.
The panel audience included lodge owners, guides, and ordinary anglers, as well as industry notables like The Orvis Company’s Tom Rosenbauer, American Fly Fishing Trade Association board member Tom Sadler, and Jim Klug of popular travel company Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures. Many wondered what the new regulations would mean for the future of angling in what is considered one of the best bonefishing destinations in the world.
As if to allay anxiety, Pratt announced with a confident smile that “The Bahamas is open for business. We want every angler who is even thinking about bonefishing to know that we want them in our country, and they are indeed welcome.”
A two-part MidCurrent series titled “The Battle for Bonefish and the Future of the Bahamas” covered the contentious wrangling over changing Bahamas fishing regulations. (Part One of the series is here. Part Two of the series is here.) Since that time, citizens of the Bahamas have continued to spar over issues such as the cost of fishing licenses and whether or not tourists are required to fish with a professional guide. When some Bahamian guides and lodge owners lobbied to ensure that only “certified” Bahamian guides could obtain a guide license, other guides and lodge owners, who spotted a threat to their very livelihood and existence in the island nation, responded swiftly and angrily. Complicating the issue was the fact that although the new law mentioned a “certified guide program,” standards for what might constitute a certified guide program and a curriculum to certify said guides were only at the planning stage.
Stakeholders became more confused and anxious when the new law insisted both that Bahamas bonefish would be subject to a “catch and release only” policy and that locals could keep up to one bonefish a day. Furthermore, few could tell if the new law covered wading anglers—and if it did, it was unclear where wading anglers were permitted to fish. Finally, it was (and still is) difficult to obtain a fishing license: they were available only in person at each of the islands’ Administrator offices during regular business hours. The cost varies from $15 for a daily license to $60 for an annual license.
Under the law, neither Bahamian government officials nor Bahamian lodge owners could determine precisely what compliance would look like. So it comes as no surprise that confusion soon engulfed the fly fishing tourism industry, and countless fly anglers quickly contacted their sporting travel agencies to cancel their trips and book them instead to places like Cuba, Mexico, and even Florida. These tourists support not just guides and lodges but also restaurants, hotels, taxi cab drivers, and numerous other ancillary businesses, all of which have suffered a direct hit from the tourism decline.
The new Bahamian Prime Minister the Honorable Hubert Minnis, who is a physician, was elected in May 2017 in a general election that swept the old administration out of office and into the history books. Minnis is as intent on improving the Bahamas’ image with anglers as the new Minister of Tourism, the Honorable Dionisio D’Agular, who dispatched Pratt as his special representative to the BTT Symposium to allay fears and encourage engagement among stakeholders and tourists alike.
“Because of the confusion, there will be no enforcement of the past regulations until new legislation is drawn up,” assured Pratt. . .