Confusion mounts over the issue of a suspension of the Flats Fishing Regulations which were passed in early 2017 with an official announcement expected to come “soon” which hopes to clear up matters.
During a radio appearance on the Steve McKinney show on Friday evening Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Renward Wells, responding to a question, stated publicly that the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations 2017, introduced by the former Christie administration, is indeed suspended.
However, the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources remain in the dark concerning the suspension of the legislation and have yet to receive word from Mr. Wells of the change.
The issue creates undue confusion as agents are unsure whether to accept payment for licenses or not, which creates a legal conundrum, as they await official notice of the suspension from their Minister.
An email to a local guide from Parliamentary Secretary and Central and South Abaco MP, James Albury confirmed at the end of January that a Cabinet decision had been made to suspend the regulations.
Mr. Albury said he spoke with the Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis and a delegation of ministers and confirmed that “the fishing regulations are suspended and will remain so until further notice, any government personnel who are attempting to enforce or intimidate any persons based on the regulations have no legal grounds or authority to do so.”
He added, in response of concerns of intimidation, that such action could be attributed to “some crossed wires or misunderstandings in their central chain of command,” which he expected would shortly be resolved.
But up to press time, while officers were aware of a suspension, as it has been discussed publicly, there has been no official communication within the ministry to instruct them.
The Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association (AFFGA) in a statement over the weekend said the entire Bahamas was now “feeling the pinch” due to the significant loss of tourism revenue in the Family Islands due to the “hasty crafting and poor implementation” of the bill which was blamed for up to a 40 per cent fall in bonefish lodge bookings.
They further stated that “The Out Islands of the southern Bahamas have been especially hard hit.”
“Bonefishing lodges on Andros and Long Island, as well as the US-based Bahamas booking agents, report declines in bookings of 20 to 40 per cent or more, which means guides and staff are not working as many hours this year and our taxi drivers are losing business.
“Without the influx of operating capital by the foreign anglers being spread throughout the communities, houses are being left unfinished, medical care is put off, and plans are put on hold because of lack of income. The job of caring for one’s family and raising children has gotten harder because of the flats fishing regulations, as noted by one lodge owner on Andros.
The statement noted that “This is most alarming because the anglers are still flats fishing; they are just doing it in other places. Cuba, Belize, Mexico, Central America, Christmas Island and the Seychelles are the recipients of those tourist dollars now.”
According to the AFFGA statement, the Minnis administration has now suspended enforcement of the regulations until their impact can be reviewed, as angler licenses have been extremely difficult to obtain and pay for.
The regulations require anglers over the age of 12, and those who wish to fish in the flats, to apply for a personal angler’s license and pay a set fee. Non-Bahamians will have to pay $15 for a daily license; $20 for a weekly license; $30 for a monthly license; and $60 for an annual license.
The regulations also require a foreign vessel wishing to fish in the Bahamian flats to obtain the usual sports fishing permit, with each person on the vessel also holding a personal license. The regulations ban commercial fishing in the flats, and anglers are only allowed to catch and release when catching bonefish, permit, snook, cobia and tarpon.
A Conservation Fund for the management and protection of the flats and fisheries resources in the Bahamas is to be established.
The suspension was slammed by Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) chairman Fred Mitchell as “an act of madness”, adding that the Opposition was “confounded” that the Government had “stripped away protection” for the fishing grounds and Bahamians.
Mr. Mitchell accused the Government of “looking out for foreigners and not for Bahamians”, and said that “The PLP put in place regulations which protected fly fishing for Bahamians, and maximum protection against pilferage by strangers coming into this country to pillage our fish stocks.
“All the patient work done by the Fisheries Department under the PLP has been scrapped, and now there is open season in our fishing flats.”
Describing the situation as “shameful”, Mr. Mitchell said Renward Wells, minister of agriculture and marine resources, had failed to “stand up” for conservation and Bahamian bonefish guides while foregoing the revenue that will now be lost from licenses.
“The PLP pledges as soon as it returns to office to return the provisions and rules to protect Bahamian fishing stocks and the fly fishing sector for Bahamians,” he added.
The Abaconian attempted to contact Mr. Wells for a statement on the suspension but received no response up to press time.