Alfred Gray, the Bahamian Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, has reportedly promised not to screw up the Bahamas nearly $150 million dollar per year sportfishing industry. And while there has been little new information since news spread several weeks ago about proposed legislation in the Bahamas — which critics fear will end do-it-yourself bonefishing on Bahamian flats, block foreigners from lodge ownership and institute a corruption-ready day use permit system — Gray's comments may provide some reason to be hopeful that things be moving in the right direction.
Gray did insist that the system currently in place is in need of regulation, though it is likely that few thoughtful opponents of the currently proposed changes would beg to differ on that point. Gray's comments were made at the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association’s (BFFIA) annual general meeting, and anecdotal information on attendees' responses to the ground covered at the meeting have been mostly positive.
According to Bjorn Stromsness, on his blog Bonefish on the Brain, "emerging from that meeting, the people I talked to sounded pleased, optimistic and hopeful. I shared their sentiments based on what I had heard. Seemed like things were going well. A license would be easily obtainable, second home owners could use their own boats, foreign owned lodges were not going to be targeted and the most egregious Yank insult, the unguided mothership, would become a thing of the past."
But Stromsness went on to express his skepticism — a sentiment that has been widely expressed and shared by other critics of the currently proposed legislation — due the lack of movement since last week's meeting from the Bahamian government to formally revise the proposals in a way that would set concerns to rest and clarify the reach and intentions of the legislation.
Orvis took the time this week to clarify its position on the proposed legislation, due to misconceptions and rumors that had spread about the company and CEO Perk Perkins' support or lack thereof for the proposed changes.
According to Perkins, "I was misquoted on e-mails that have circulated in the past few weeks, and some of my comments were taken out of context. For the record, I am absolutely against any prohibition of foreign ownership of Bahamian lodges and any restrictions on foreign anglers fishing on public waters. The reason I gave partial support to the legislation was strictly for the funds that would be raised for conservation through licensing fees, but even on that issue I had provisions that I suggested regarding the ease of obtaining the necessary permit."
In a level headed open letter to the Bahamian Ministry of Fisheries, Orvis stated that they "strongly support the efforts of the Bahamian Government to manage their fishing resources as they are invaluable; not only to the local economy, but as a singular and remarkable natural resource that draws thousands of anglers from around the world each year." The letter also The Bahamas is one of the more progressive countries in the Caribbean in its conservation of its marine resources and that leadership should be commended, supported, and continued. That should be at the heart of this legislation. The country’s restrictions on long lining and harvesting sharks are notable examples."
But Orvis went on to make clear that they "believe parts of this legislation are too restrictive, too subjective, and as it stands will do more harm than good."
According to Orvis, "user fees based on a fair and accessible permit system, where proceeds are dedicated to support the science and the conservation of the resource, are unassailable as the foundation for the protection of the resource, but at the same time there must be a democratic process where different voices and constituencies can have the opportunity to shape a fair outcome. Initially, this comment period is much too brief and the process too rushed to ensure a strong and mutually beneficial outcome for all concerned stakeholders."