I stopped counting at 200 emails, the phone has not stopped ringing and finally at midnight I went to bed.
The Ministry notified me late last week of their intended Draft legislation and it has been nothing short of chaos at DIY Bonefishing World Headquarters (my house) since then.
I’ve been asked to comment on the Draft document by a variety of publications and indeed my subscribers and followers have asked for my opinion and interpretation. Since it is in Draft form and there is still a window to provide feedback to the government I have chosen to pose questions (with a jaundiced eye) rather than lash out.
As of this morning I have heard from or personally spoken to many of the non-Bahamian lodge owners (they are worried sick), talked to independent guides, owners of second homes who fish and handfuls of stake holders who provide services (home rental, car rental, groceries, restaurants) seeking their views. Other than a few independent guides, I can’t find anyone who was part of a consultive process in anything other than a cursory way.
For my part, I have provided extensive background, financial analysis and program suggestions to the government over the last few months. Offering what I hoped was a “voice” for those anglers who preferred to fish part time with an independent guide and part time on their own. In my discussions, nothing like the proposed Draft was ever mentioned or contemplated. I was more shocked by what I read then anyone.
So what happened? Where did a discussion about protecting the resource, initiating a normalized online fishing license process, promoting tourism and ensuring access to bonefishing for everyone go sideways?
Where is the consultative process and why give the “angling world” and stakeholders seven days to respond?
I ask you, who actually benefits from the legislation as presently drawn?
Okay let’s look at the Draft document and walk through it and the questions it raises.
Everyone I know is for protecting the environment and resource, so no issue there.
Most people, including myself, support the purchase of an angling license where the proceeds are used to support and protect the resource being utilized. But the process needs to be simple, straight forward, affordable and accessible. A simple one day, three day, seven day and annual license acquired on-line and through government agencies does the trick. Good throughout the Bahamas and priced in line with other jurisdictions. No fuss, no muss, no problem. Bottom line, a system where I can order and print off my fishing license as easily as I can buy my plane ticket.
How does this legislation affect lodges? Make no mistake when reading the Draft, there is an enormous difference between Bahamian owned lodges and non-Bahamian owned lodges. Those owners I have talked to who are non-Bahamian have been hit on the side of the head with a baseball bat. I’m worried about not being able to walk my favourite flat at night after dinner, they are terrified of losing their multi-million dollar investments.
What happens if you are a non-Bahamian home owner who likes to walk and wade? Or worse yet, bought a boat and fish the flats from a non-Bahamian owned boat? You are screwed. Need a guide on your own boat? Need a permit to fish in front of your house? Can no longer carry your rod down the beach with your wife when walking to your favourite restaurant? What fisherman will ever buy a home in the Bahamas again?
What about the stakeholders that support the non-lodge angler? Who will rent a home when you are not sure you can get a permit? Who will stay for 30 days when your permit (if you can get one) is going to cost more than $600 (I fish something like 60 – 90 days with my wife ….. $3,000 really?) Why even consider the Bahamas as a destination with your family when a component of your vacation is walking a flat on your own? There are plenty of places to go that encourage the responsible use of fishery resources.
And what about the DIY angler? You need a daily permit to fish. How do you get a permit? No lodge owner I have talked to has the least interest in issuing one, why would they? I’m not being mean, and the lodge owner is not being ornery, they have a business to run, this is not part of their business. A DIY angler getting a permit from an independent guide? I know plenty of them, count many as friends, but they are fishing, busy, hard to track down. Where on earth do you think you are going to find a dependable guide ready, willing and able to issue permits to traveling anglers? It is a non-starter, never going to happen.
Island administrators issuing permits. Forget it, I know plenty of them, great people and fun to be with, but try finding the one who will issue a permit at the time you need it.
Here is a BIG ONE. The Right to restrict fishing areas. It looks like an independent guide can restrict an area. Any guide. Forget about the appeal process, your vacation is over by the time it is even looked at. As an example, pick any place you want…and I know them all. There is a guide who doesn’t want you to fish there. Is that flat now closed? Can one guide issue a permit and another restrict the area? Can you get a permit for the whole island, or is it one location at a time? Is it the whole island except for here and here and here? And does it force all DIY anglers onto three flats?
Is the Sky Falling for the DIY angler in the Bahamas? You tell me. Are you willing to spend $3,500 for the week not knowing if you can obtain a permit to fish the areas you want on the days you want?
Does a kayak, SUP or other non-motorized water craft count as a boat requiring a guide?
What about the penalties suggested. Does a fine of $3,000 and/or three months in jail sound like a penalty commensurate with the infraction? And of course they confiscate all your gear. Keep in mind, I’m telling you it is going to be really, really difficult to get permits in a timely fashion. You have rented a beautiful villa on the beach, just finished dinner and want to grab your rod for an hour. That my friend is a very large risk.
I am not reading between the lines, only reading the Draft legislation and then applying the proposed law to the reality of the Bahamas. I have years of experience dealing with the kindest people on earth, but I know how the “world” there works. If you can’t obtain permits on line for the days and areas you want to fish in advance of your trip, you are hooped. If a single guide or entity can restrict where you can fish, you are screwed, If it cost $20 – $30 a day, you will think twice about spending a month.
On the bright side. If you are happy to stay at a Bahamian owned lodge for all your fishing needs, no problem.
If you are looking for drastically reduced home prices in the Bahamas, good news, your opportunity is just around the corner. But remember you won’t be able to fish.