Bad News for Bahamas Bonefishing

June 23rd, 2015| No Comments

BonefishHow’s this for some thoroughly miserable news: the government in the Bahamas has just proposed legislation that will effectively put an end to Bahamas bonefishing as we know it.

That might sound extreme, but sadly it’s a reality we’re all having to adjust to.

It scarcely seems credible that a government would seek to undermine an industry that brings so much money into its economy. It’s a protectionist move and no doubt an attempt to divert more of the the tourist dollar into Bahamian hands, but it’s horribly misconceived and, in my opinion, a fatal error.

Before we go any further, I’d suggest you read the proposal yourself, which you can find here.

On the point of fishing permits, I’ll say I have no issue with that whatsoever. I buy an annual permit to fish the rivers and lakes here in the UK, and I happily do likewise whenever I travel to fish. If the Bahamas want me to pay to fish their flats, I’m happy to. But wouldn’t it be great if we could buy the permit online before we travel?

It’s in the other stuff on this bill where the problem lies. Here’s one of the crucial bits:

(4) A person eligible to apply for certification as a fishing lodge operator under paragraph (1) must —

(a) be a citizen or permanent resident of The Bahamas; and

(b) satisfy all criteria established and published by the Department of Marine Resources.

I don’t know what means for existing lodge owners, and whether the legislation can be retrospectively enforced, but essentially it comes down to this:

No more Andros South. No more Deep Water Cay. No more Abaco Lodge. There are of course loads of others. Some of the best operations in the Bahamas are foreign-owned.

Not only that, but you can kiss goodbye to DIY trips. Henceforth you’d only be able to fish the flats in the company of an accredited guide. So if you’re on holiday with non-fishing spouse, say, and wanted to wander onto the flats for a couple of hours here and there… forget it.

Of course, we have to be careful here. No-one likes being told by outsiders how to govern their country, but there’s no point sitting back and saying nothing. The Bahamas government needs to know what will happen if they push this legislation through: people will look for alternative destinations and the very people it seeks to protect will suffer.

Personally speaking, I love the Bahamas, I truly do. I love the people, I love the place itself and of course I love the fishing. I’ve only been to Andros, but I’ve had some incredible fishing experiences, the best of which were during unguided DIY bonefishing trips.

Under this new legislation I wouldn’t be able to do that any more. So guess what? I won’t start looking around to make sure I’ve got a guide slotted in for every day of the trip, I’ll just turn my attention to destinations where I can fish unguided. That’s just how it works.

If the Bahamas government forces this through, that’s what will happen. People will go elsewhere.

Has any thought even been given to the fact that Cuba (a flats fisherman’s paradise) is about to become a very real option for US anglers? A big hungry competitor appears on the horizon, primed and ready to take a slice of the pie, and this is the reaction? I find that baffling.

So what can we do?

Sadly I feel like this proposed legislation has more than a whiff of “done deal” about it.

The proposal was made public on the 17th, and the vote (at which point it is expected to be made law), is on the 29th. Not much time for a rethink then.

But you can certainly do your bit by emailing both the Ministry of Fisheries ( and the Prime Minister’s Office ( and let them know how you feel.

The folks at Nervous Waters have put together an email template that you can use – you can find that right here.

Below you’ll also find the full letter I sent this morning. Maybe it will drop into an email vacuum never to be read, but maybe someone will take notice if enough people say something. It’s got to be worth a try.


Email to Bahamas Department of Marine Resources

Dear Sir or Madam, 

My name’s Rory Batho. I’m the editor of – a global fishing and travel guide. 

I am writing to you today regarding the proposed Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Flats Fishing) Regulations, 2015.

I would like to let you know that I, like many others, strongly oppose these proposed regulations. 

No doubt you have received much correspondence already, pointing out that the issue of protecting the fisheries resource is not one of ownership, it is one of stewardship. 

I appreciate that the people of the Bahamas might not take kindly to outsiders offering their opinion on the governance of their country, but I urge you to listen on this occasion. The fears that many have raised in the last couple of days are well founded and are prompted not by self-interest, but by a love for the country, its people and its fishing, and the very real prospect that it’s a destination they will have to stop visiting altogether. 

Just considering my own Bahamas travel experiences makes it easy to highlight some inherent flaws in this proposed legislation.  

Example 1 

In 2009 I travelled with my wife to the Seascape Inn, Mangrove Cay, Andros (a foreign owned establishment, but not a fishing lodge). My wife does not fish, so I had specifically selected somewhere that made it possible for us to spend time together, and where I would still be able to disappear for a couple of hours here and there to fly fish. I did hire a local bonefishing guide for a couple of days, but I wanted to be able to fish on my own some of the time as well. 

We ate at local restaurants (where we tipped well), went on local tours (tipped well), and of course the bonefishing guide was tipped handsomely. 

Under this new regulation, presumably, I would no longer be able to fish alone, despite there being an easily accessible flat right in front of the property? That seems like a farcical arrangement. 

I predict that this business (and many others like it), which provide jobs for local Bahamians and bring money into the local economy, would be hit hard. The Seascape Inn relies to a large extent on people like me – ie, those travelling with non-fishing partners who want to fish a little bit here there, but not exclusively. People looking for that kind of option will simply look elsewhere – to Cuba perhaps. 

Example 2 

In 2011, I returned to the Bahamas, to stay at Mount Pleasant Fishing Lodge on Andros. This time I was travelling alone and wanted to fish exclusively. I chose Mount Pleasant because they offer the opportunity to mix and match guided fishing days with unguided fishing days. 

I arrived at the lodge to find myself the sole guest for the week. I paid for some guided days (both wading and from a boat), but unquestionably the most memorable aspect was the time spent fishing alone. This was made possible by the folks at Mt Pleasant, and their ability to recognise the fact that some people want to fish with a guide sometimes, and without one at other times. 

Again, I spent well (and tipped well), and made some great friends. I have even helped them (for free) to promote their business in the UK and elsewhere, and have helped generate bookings as a result. 

Had your legislation been in place, this trip would not have even taken place. Mount Pleasant would have been empty that week and they would have lost out on future bookings that I may have directly or indirectly helped generate. 

Guided fishing vs unguided fishing

Do not underestimate how protective people are about the right to fish on their own. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that anglers in the UK and US for example, are not obliged to hire a guide every time we go fishing, and we most certainly won’t be strong-armed into doing so when we go on a fishing trip abroad. 

Legislation like this will not encourage people to hire a guide, it will simply prompt them to explore the myriad alternative locations where unguided fishing is an option. 

The Cuba factor 

If none of the above persuades you, hopefully this will. Cuba, as a potential destination for the travelling fly angler, is about to become a very real threat to the Bahamas. Anglers from Europe and Canada already travel there in big numbers, but the fact that US citizens will soon be able to do likewise is big news and (be under no illusions here) people in the fishing world are excited about it. 

At precisely the time when the Bahamas needs to be doing all it can to safeguard its position as the No1 destination for flats fishermen, this proposed legislation will weaken its position by forcing anglers to consider options elsewhere. 

Permits to fish 

I personally endorse this idea. I would be happy to pay for a permit – I do so here in the UK and I’m happy to do so whenever I travel to fish. 

But please do ensure that this process is straightforward and transparent. Why not make it possible to purchase the permit online prior to arrival? 

I could fill pages on why this legislation is a bad idea, but I know you won’t want to read it all. 

The point is this: the fishing industry is massive for the Bahamas, and of course we all understand the need for you to ensure that Bahamians are the ones who benefit from it. But this protectionist legislation is not the way to achieve that. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Rory Batho

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