If you go fishing in the Bahamas, should regulations stop you from fishing alone? Should you be required by law to hire an expensive guide? This short tale of legend and regs may forecast an economic disaster for the blue green islands.
I love legends. Although I have spent more hours on center consoles hunting fish than on sailboats, it is certainly not because I do not love sheets and sailing open ocean. As cool as fishing is, sailing has its own magic, and you can have a spot in your heart for both tight sheets and tight lines. It was a 42’ Morgan Out Island that put me on North Andros many years ago, but it was legendary bonefish and permit fishing with a fly rod that was on my mind as soon as I had washed four days of ocean salt into the drain. Andros comes with legends for sure. There is a half octopus half shark that protects the blue holes of spring water, there is a three toed creature with shiny red eyes that scares kids still, and buried treasure is only a scratch below the surface with a shell. But of all the legends I had heard by the time I was thirty, it was the bonefish and those platter-sized permit I was after.
Tourist or Scout?
At the time, in the eighties, I was not exactly a typical tourist. I had travelled mostly the Western Hemisphere, but I had travelled it hard. I had walked, flyrod in hands, for trout in Tierra del Fuego and I had fished halibut in the cold water of Valdez. Eighty miles upriver, two days later I caught my first salmon on a flyrod. I still feel him in my hands in the cold, cold water, a dark nymph hanging from the corner of his mouth as if I knew what I was doing. The hook removed, he kicked once and was gone into the boil.
I love guides. I live with guides, I write about guides, and short of having a “six-pack” license to guide people for money, I pretty much have spent my whole life putting people on water. I never got the license, but I have guided all my life. But being a professional and having to rely on tourists and local addicts wanting to learn how to “do” their own fish is not an easy life. We are dealing right now with the implementation of Sector Separation – a set of recent regs on the Gulf of Mexico that splits guides from non-registered recreational anglers. Regulating allocations for professional guides in Florida, however, is a different thing than the government in the Bahamas saying that if you want to fish you have to pay a guide. That means you cannot fish alone.
Long Term Impact of Short Term Regulatory Burdens
The potential impact of such a regulation can have devastating impact on the economies of an island nation like the Bahamas. Granted. People mess up the world. They do it all the time. But plastic water bottles can be picked up. I know because I find them floating all the time on Tampa Bay and our surrounding waterways!!!! When say all the time coming home without a couple of bottles of Zephyrhills blue – a local bottled water pulled from a spring where people have put water in containers for twelve thousand years. Ancients threw their stuff in the bay too. It’s not a modern occurrence. Pottery – a recent addition to indigenous cultures able to carry water – was thrown in just like those plastic bottles were thrown in. The problem now is not people acting stupid – they always will. It’s how many of them throw in those containers and how long those containers are gona last that’s at issue in modern times.
Saying to tourists that they cannot fish without paying somebody, that is another thing. The movement in the islands to further regulate foreigners that come to those islands to fish will hurt the islands forever, or until it is revoked by future politicians with different skin in the same game; controlling all aspects of all our lives. Or working to stop over-ruling.
Short and Long-Term Impact
So what will it mean if I am no longer allowed to sail drunk just offshore the island called North Andros – or any of the hundreds of other places I can moor and fish? Nothing, really. I am a half-baked adventurer still. An avid environmentalist, I am the first idiot that drives a truck onto a beach where 100yards away turtles are egging. I know how stupid I am. But I also know that I pick up bottles, and my long-term carbon footprint will be far far smaller than many of the activists that yelled at me all day about the tire marks. I do stupid things, but I try to do more smart than stupid. The long term implications of the proposed move by the Bahamian ruling class will have very very positive impact on a few other places vying for the same tourist trade.
Think Belize, folks. Think Panama. Think Costa Rica; Find out who is building new fishing resorts – complete with skinny water, permit the size of garbage can covers, and those oh-so-quiet bones. Being on those flats, hearing the zzzzzzz of a flyreel being stripped of all that expensive line, feeling that permit fight like nothing short of a submarine with fins does something to you. It ain’t the nation where the flats reside that draws us. It’s that noise. That smell. That air. Those fish. Push away middle class anglers on the trip of their life by making three fishing days cost $3,600 instead of twelve and the cost of a rented panga? You are gonna be dead in the water. Not your bonefish. They’ll be fine with the reduced pressure your proposal will give them.
Summary: Having guides, good solid regulations, special visas for avid sportfisherman that lets them fish with whoever and whenever they want within current size and seasonal harvest limits. A good percentage of the people coming to fish are gonna hire guides anyway. But one day with a $1,200 guide is a lot of many family’s budgets. They will often hire a guide one day and rent a boat – further revenue to the islands – and fish themselves for three more. Wake up Bahamas. You are either gonna pay attention to the reason people come there to fish and make it easy and relatively inexpensive to do so (??) or you will willingly – on purpose – send people to those equally beautiful fishy spots in Belize, Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, and a few more under construction.
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