In response to what they feel as moves by a “completely unacceptable” regulatory body (the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association [BFFIA]), the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association (AFFGA) formally requested that the Department of Marine Resources to abandon installing the BFFIA as the regulators for the entire industry.
In particular, the AFFGA opposed the controversial draft regulations proposed by the BFFIA which the AFFGA claims will not only fail to protect the $150 million flats fishing industry, but irreparably harm it.
The AFFGA fears the proposed draft regulations would discourage anglers from choosing The Bahamas as their flats fishing destination.
The AFFGA finds the BFFIA to be untrustworthy, citing what they see as a sham of a BFFIA election where Abaco members were not given the opportunity to cast votes. As such, the AFFGA no longer acknowledges the BFFIA as the authority in the flats fishing industry.
The AFFGA stated, “Our guides will not now, nor ever, participate in any sort of training, certifying, nor any meetings or fishing related activities with BFFIA involvement.”
The Government’s attempts to add regulations (the draft of which was introduced last year) to the industry are viewed as unnecessary and harmful as it complicates the guiding profession.
The draft regulations would require every angler coming to The Bahamas to pay for guide services.
“Without our visiting anglers there would be no flats fishing industry at all; no guides, no lodges, no need for any of this draconian legislation,” said the AFFGA.
The focus on tourist coming in to fish, AFFGA claimed, is misplaced and the focus should instead be on sustainability and protection of the fishery. Critical factors being habitat loss and pollution.
“Illegal netting must be stopped and the only way to stop it is for the current laws to be enforced. This draft does nothing to protect the fishery but it does add an undue burden on the guides and terrorises both the guides and angling public with exorbitant fees, and the threat of unreasonably exorbitant fines and jail time. None of these offences should be a criminal offence. If an offence is committed by either a guide or an angler a reasonable fine should be payable within 30 days. End of story. Any licensing penalties should be credited to the Conservation Fund,” said the AFFGA.
“There is virtually nothing in this draft to protect the fishery. At the present time we are unaware of any illegal activities (other than netting of bonefish and Motherships) presently taking place on the flats of Abaco that warrant legislation. However, it may be advisable to enact additional legislation based on recent scientific findings to protect the fish or the fishery.”
Regarding the implementation of fees the AFFGA said,
“Many of the guides already have business licenses, pay National Insurance contributions under the self-employed individual classification or through their employer, and have Class B Captains Licenses, boat registration, and liability insurance, as well as being recommended by the Department of Fisheries – either as bonefishing or commercial fisherman for duty exemptions.
Regarding the 2:1 Guide Requirement and Restricting Second-Homeowners from Flats Fishing:
“According to data from the Department of Housing, there were 3,000 second-homeowners on Abaco in 2014. If only 10% of them have flats boats that would equate to 300 boats. All of the boats and flats boats that have been imported into The Bahamas by second-homeowners throughout the country who keep them here permanently have duty, stamp tax and now VAT paid to the Treasury. They are also licensed with the Port Authority on a yearly basis. Our second-homeowners should be allowed to fish on the flats without the ridiculous requirement that they be alone in the boat.”
The AFFGA further contends that the financial contributions of second-homeowners is estimated to be $15 million dollars per year in Abaco alone. Aside from the initial home purchase, they spend an additional $20,000 to $100,000 on taxes and local goods and services. Abaco second-homeowners are also well known for their donations to local charities.
“The 2:1 guide requirement also restricts the pleasure yachts that contribute huge sums of money to our economy when they dock at Bahamian marinas for a season. This type of visitor should be allowed one flats boat to be used for private fishing. Commercial flats fishing utilizing foreign guides should never be allowed.”
The Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association believes it is unfair to the second home-owners and pleasure yachting segment of the economy and to the Bahamians who make their living in those sectors to legislate against the visiting anglers ability to pleasure fish. The 2:1 guide requirement should be removed from the legislation.
Other articles of the draft regulation that the AFFGA objects to include: Banning commercial food fishing upon the flats (current laws already prohibit buying/selling bonefish and netting for bonefish in the flats). The Association contends this proposed legislation is prejudicial towards other Bahamian fishermen and instead there should be a focus on enforcing current laws.
The government’s consultation period on the proposed regulations ended earlier in May. The AFFGA has yet to receive a response. In regards to the current status of the draft proposals – no comment could be acquired from the Ministry responsible.