This much is for certain. Flats fishing in the Bahamas is relatively big business. A recreational fishery with an annual economic impact exceeding $140 million. (About what "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" pocketed during its opening weekend.) How that business is conducted, however, will soon change thanks to new flats-fishing regulations that have been on the tinkering table now for more than a year.
The island nation released its initial draft regs back in 2015. That piece of paper was met with panic and criticism by foreign lodge owners and DIY anglers who interpreted it as an affront to both fair business and good fishing opportunities in the country. Bahamian officials held a press conference at ICAST in Orlando earlier this summer, offering everyone in attendance the universal olive branch known as beer, plus "Hold on now, everything's cool..." reassurances. The problem is now that the bottles are empty it seems that so too are the promises.
This week Bonefish & Tarpon Trust took the fight straight to the Ministry of Agriculture & Marine Resources, with a pointed letter decrying the amended plan it deems "inappropriate and in many cases counterproductive to the long-term health of the fishery."
Additional highlights include,
It is BTT’s assessment that the top threats to the long-term health of the bonefish fishery in the Bahamas are habitat loss, degradation, and illegal netting. This is not unique to the Bahamas – the same threats are impacting the bonefish fisheries in Belize, Mexico, Cuba, and Florida. Although the Draft Regulations address many management aspects of the fishery, there is no mention of flats habitat conservation and protection, which are essential components of a comprehensive regulation and conservation plan.
DIY anglers contribute a significant amount to the Bahamian economy. In addition, many DIY anglers are second home-owners or own a private yacht, who either like to wade the flats or fish from a personal boat. Requiring a ratio of one “certified guide” to every two anglers if they are fishing from a boat is unnecessary. This would prohibit friends and family from fishing together, unless they hire a guide.
Not to mention,
In recent years, the Bahamas has made good progress in flats conservation, including the declaration of new national parks that will protect important bonefish habitats. This not only benefits the flats fishery through habitat conservation, it also helps in the very competitive international tourism market. Flats anglers prefer to fish in locations that practice strong conservation. Unfortunately, the negative press that the Draft Regulations will cause will greatly offset the benefits that the habitat protections have brought to the Bahamas. With increasing competition for anglers coming from Cuba, Belize, Mexico, and Florida, the negative impacts of poorly constructed regulations should be considered.
You can check out the letter in its entirety, here.