Flyfishing enthusiasts and professionals are outraged concerning proposed new legislation for the industry. Though some agree that there are certain points of the new law that could be beneficial, the majority of industry stakeholders, including the Abaco’s Fly Fishing Guides Association (AFFGA), agree that if the laws are implemented as they are written it would be devastating to the industry.
After a disastrous “dog and pony show” of a Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association meeting, where many members felt railroaded and were allegedly prevented from voting, a more promising round of consultative talks were held. The consultations will provide the government with a more wholesome view from industry stakeholders.
The most controversial point of the new regulations is that any visitors to The Bahamas that wishes to flyfish MUST hire a local guide for $600 a day. A tourist would not be able to fish by themselves. This is regardless of the visitor’s amount of experience or whether they want to fish for the whole day or simply cast a line off while picnicking at a beach. Tourism stakeholders are worried the changes to the Fisheries Resources Act will price the Bahamas out of an already competitive market.
Negative reactions to the news have already prompted some cancellations to several bonefishing lodges across the country according to one bonefish lodge owner.
Comments on the new regulations range from “short-sighted,” “unenforceable,” and “disastrous for the economy.” Industry insiders have complained that the consultation period for the legislation was too short in addition to extra costs it aims to impose on tourists.
The $140 million a year industry is especially lucrative for the Family Islands including Abaco.
After the announcements of the proposed regulations the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) held their annual general meeting. It was a “disaster” of a meeting that the AFFGA alleges was fixed to prevent anyone opposing the BFFIA’s current regime from voting.
Cindy Pinder, AFFGA’s vice-president, said that only a small group within the BFFIA was pressing for the controversial regulations.
“There are a very small group of people pressing this,” Pinder said, “very, very small. The purpose of the AGM was to elect a new board, but the present leadership of the BFFIA had no intention of letting that happen.
“They failed to take a vote on resolutions that had been seconded, and railroaded the membership through the whole meeting. They followed their agenda to the detriment of the members. They would not allow a vote be taken early in the day. The meeting was scheduled from 11am until 4pm, and many of us got on airplanes and left then.
“When I got back to Abaco, driving on my way home at 6.45pm, and called a friend in Nassau, they were still voting. Probably 75 per cent of the membership left because they had airline reservations.
“As a group we do not acknowledge the BFFIA as the voice of the fly fishing industry. In fact, we disagree with anything they say or do. The AGM was a circus. It was a dog and pony show. It was a disaster.”
AFFGA President, Justin Sands, agreed with his vice-president’s assessment.
“The meeting, in my opinion, was deliberately drawn out so that not everybody would get a chance to vote. The majority of the persons that flew into Nassau for the meeting had return flights in the afternoon and had to leave.
“There were approximately 250 persons in attendance. I was told at the airport by another Board member, just before I boarded my flight back to Abaco, that at the time he left the meeting there were only about 30 members left in the room to participate in voting.”
The meeting was moderated by BFFIA’s attorney, Keod Smith. Those able to vote at the BFFIA meeting re-elected Prescott Smith as president of the association. He has since accused other groups within the flyfishing industry of a smear campaign against him.
Following the BFFIA’s elections a national consultation meeting was held. The AFFGA was represented. Industry stakeholders expressed optimism following the consultation due to a wider cross-section of opinions taken into account.
Pinder described the consultation,
“The meeting was very well attended from a lot of different stakeholders,” said Pinder. “I think everyone felt that they were being heard and acknowledged. If this had been the first step and not the third step things would have been different.”
Out of the consultation there was a general consensus that fishing licenses are needed but banning do-it-yourself fishing or requiring guides would not work. A conservation fund was also discussed.
Consultations will resume in a few weeks.