Bahamas Fishing Regulations – Change For the Worse

So why am I posting something about fishing in the Bahamas on this blog about brook trout fishing? Because, like many fly fisherman, I am not restricted to a single type of fishing or a single species when I fish. One of the things I have enjoyed in recent years is going to the Bahamas to target bonefish. As many of you know, the Bahamian government has proposed new regulations aimed at fly fisherman who fish the flats (original document here). This could drastically change and likely end unguided fishing in the flats in that country.

My views on this are pretty simple. I have no problem with the idea of purchasing a fishing license to chase bonefish in the Bahamas. In fact, the first time I went there on a DIY trip, I asked the owner of the place we stayed where I needed to go to get a license. He laughed and said there is no need for a license to fly fish the flats in the Bahamas. I also discovered other aspects of these laid-back islands, such as no open container laws, and the rental car “agreement” was just handing over the cash and getting the keys to the car. This is part of the appeal of the out islands. Things are very informal. It’s nice. But as far as fishing licenses, again, I would gladly pay a reasonable amount.

So part of my problem with these draft fishing regulations is the proposed cost for unguided anglers to fish the flats. Aside from the one-time $10 application fee, it’s $20 per day. Several bloggers and commenters on their sites think that’s not unreasonable. I think it is. For a comparison, this past April I purchased an annual out-of-state saltwater license for Florida for a total of $49.97. That allows me to fish in Florida’s extensive saltwater fisheries for an entire year. In the Bahamas, that will pay for two days of fishing (including the application fee) under this proposal. Even Mexico charges about what Florida does for an annual license.

But it gets worse. Much worse…

See the regulations link above for yourself, but also read the following articles and you’ll see what is “between the lines” in this draft legislation:

Aside from restricting foreign ownership of lodges and participation in guiding, for the do-it-yourself angler, the process for obtaining a permit is vague and, based on what is written, troubling. In order to get a permit, the process appears to be controlled by fishing guides. In addition to the government possibly issuing permits (it’s unclear), the draft mentions that lodges and guides will issue permits (this is clear), and further, those lodges and guides can restrict access to areas where unguided anglers are allowed to fish.

So will one be able to go online and get a permit to fish anywhere in the Bahamas (which would be fine), or will fly fisherman have to get a permit for specific areas to fish on the island you’re visiting as allowed by a local guide who presumably oversees that area and has discretion to grant or deny it based on conditions he deems appropriate? Such as not letting you fish in or near an area he would like for his own operations?  See here:

Section 4 (6) (c). A permit may be granted subject to such conditions, restrictions or limitations as the grantor considers appropriate.

And what is the penalty for violation? “Summary conviction,” which can be up to three months in prison and a $3,000 fine. In other words, no trial. You can be arrested on-the-spot and, worst case, hauled off to jail for three months. Nice.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like a contingent of Bahamian lodge owners and guides have gotten together and lobbied the government for this, and the practical effect is going to be a ban on unguided fishing throughout the islands. Not a good thing, and hopefully this is a bad interpretation of what is being proposed and it does not come to pass. But the way it’s written and, more importantly, the way people who are familiar with the fishing industry in the Bahamas see it (links above), a ban on unguided fishing is exactly what is being proposed.

Send your comments by Friday, June 26th 2015 to fisheries@bahams.gov.bs and primeminister@bahamas.gov.bs.

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