Bahamas Draft Fisheries Regulations Set to Shut Down Flats Fishing Tourism Sector?
So by now we’ve all heard about the new proposed flats fishing regulations that seem to make DIY angling and foreign-owned lodges illegal. We’ve all had our little respective meltdowns and (some of us) are wondering how the heck we’re ever going to afford that next bonefish.
Personally, I think this smacks of classic politics and the triumph of so-called “common sense” over cold, hard data. In a 2010 Economic Report Bonefish & Tarpon Trust discovered that flats fishing brings over 140 million dollars into the Bahamian economy. No surprise there. The surprising part is that over two-thirds of that (over 100 million dollars) was from Non-Guided (DIY) Anglers. I was shocked to read that, but after a bit of reading and consideration it made sense. It seems that DIY anglers spend more days in the Bahamas. I mean, if you can afford two days at a lodge for $1,500 USD or a full week for $2,000, which are you going to choose? You’ll drop the extra $500 every time! And, while you’re there for those extra days, you’ll likely drink a little more than you should, drive a little farther to find fish than you were expecting and buy a few more orders of conch fritters than you’d budgeted for.
I mean, this is business 101, right? People will spend more IF they think they’re getting a deal. Witness the iPhone, or Abel reels, or YETI coolers.
This, it seems is why the DIY angler is such a massive contributor to the Bahamian economy. And, it must be mentioned that he spreads his money around: car rental, accommodations, groceries, taxi, drinks, restaurants, tackle shops, and, yes, guides. Everyone gets a little slice.
In light of this I have written the follow letter to the Bahamas Fisheries Dept. Make your feelings known here: firstname.lastname@example.org. YOU HAVE UNTIL FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2015!
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing with concern for the new Draft Regulations for the Bahamas Fisheries, particularly Flats Fishing. I am worried that the move to limit (or outright ban) Do It Yourself anglers (DIY) would severely damage the Bahamas’ economy. My concern is based on research data collect by the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (which can be read in it’s entirety here: https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org/images/stories/Bahamas_Flats_Economic_Impact_Report.pdf, and I’ve also attached a copy for your reference).
In this report they note that “Direct expenditures for both guided and non-guided anglers were nearly $70 million (Table 7). Guided anglers accounted for 21% of this total while non-guided angler spending comprised 79% of flats angler’s direct spending in the Bahamian economy.”
So, the impact to the Bahamian economy by Non-Guided anglers (DIY) is 3 times that of Guided anglers. This is surprising but is because non-guided anglers are clearly spending more time in your lovely, hospitable islands (as Table 7 in the report clearly shows).
I am an independent guide myself in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve also been tempted to push back against Non-Guided anglers, because “common sense” says they’re harming my business. However, the data does not show this to be true. In fact, DIY anglers contribute tremendously to our economy, renting cars, buying petrol, renting accommodations, buying food and drinks, visiting restaurants, frequenting tackle shops, purchasing souvenirs, etc. These moneys do benefit me in the long run because they enrich my island, my homeland and my people. Also, many of these anglers do end up booking me for at least 1 day, and often refer friends and family to me as well. In fact, more anglers in my waters can only mean more business in the long run… IF the proper conservation measures are in place to prevent over-fishing and destruction of habitat.
Of course, I have fished many times in Bahamian waters and do not wish to lose the option of doing a little fishing on my own while visiting. I will point out that I have fished out of lodges (Big Charlie & Fatihas on Andros), with DIY Lodges (Fedel’s on Acklins), and with Independent Guides, including J.J. Dames on Great Exuma. However, on all of these trips I enjoyed grabbing my fishing rod and a Kalik and walking the flats at sunset, looking for just a few more tailing bonefish. Sometimes I caught fish and sometimes I did not, but I always enjoyed myself. It would be a shame for something like that to be impossible.
To be clear, I fully support immediate implementation of a Fishing License requirement (as Florida has required for many years), but it should be reasonable. $20/day is not reasonable. That would add $120 to every week-long stay at a fishing lodge, whose average prices are already barely competitive with other flats fishing destinations like Belize, Honduras and Mexico. A fishing license in Florida (which also has bonefish, tarpon and permit) is only $30 USD PER WEEK! Why would someone pay for a plane ticket, book an expensive lodge AND pay nearly $100 in addition to these expenses when they could simply stop in Miami and be done with it? It think this is something that should be seriously thought through.
I hope that my letter (and the letter of the countless other anglers out there) will provide some perspective on how this Draft Legislation, IF turned into law AS IS, would harm rather than help the Bahamian people.
Two fish displayed evidence of bacterial infection following handling, and both fish were exposed to the zinc sunscreen treatment. Based on these results, anglers should consider avoiding handling of fish with sunscreen-coated hands, as well as with UV gloves.
FlyLife Magazine just published an interesting article outlining a couple interesting experiments done at Bahamas’ Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) wetlab where they tested the effects of sunscreen tinted baits on bonefish feeding behaviour and whether sunscreen (conventional or zinc-based), sun gloves or clean wet hands are better for handling fish.
The results are interesting (and you can read the full account at the link above), but the basics are this:
- Sunscreen doesn’t deter or attract bonefish to bait. They are primarily sight feeders, so a refusal is probably because of something off in a presentation, or the fly pattern itself. Don’t blame the sunscreen.
- Although conventional sunscreen removed the most slime, zinc-based sunscreen seemed to cause the most damage to the bonefish.
- Clean, wet hands are the best for handling fish… so remove those sun gloves first.
I personally love the work Bonefish & Tarpon Trust are doing, and if you care at all about these species, so should you. Give em a click. Read. Join.
This last site had over 4,000 spawning Nassau Grouper removed from it, in only 2 years of fishing…
A marine scientist doing field work
at the Nassau Grouper aggregation
in the waters off Little Cayman.
[Photo courtesy the Grouper Moon Project]
A few years ago I started covering this story after a series of massive overfishing episodes threatened this critical predatory reef species prompted the Cayman Islands Government to close the fishing site on Little Cayman until they could gather data on the Nassau Grouper. They discovered that the thousands of Grouper in that single site were all resident Little Cayman Nassau Grouper. Now the importance of this aggregation site is internationally recognized, not just for the health of Little Cayman’s reefs, but for the future study of this species.
As the winter full moon approaches, the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman prepares for the annual arrival of the Grouper Moon Project team. Each year from late January to early February, scientists and volunteers of the Reef Environment Education Foundation (REEF) join staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) to document the last healthy, active and protected Nassau Grouper spawning site just off Little Cayman. The Southern Cross Club and others in the local community provide vital support to the team, recognizing that it takes an entire community to bring this historical and endangered species back from the brink of extinction.
You can read more here: (http://www.pitchengine.com/pitches/7d1e2df1-4739-4736-80be-71a41b0fc895)
Follow along here: (http://www.reef.org/groupermoonproject)
MinuteEarth presents a compelling case for letting big fish get away.
Interestingly, and worryingly, the Cayman Islands have no law preventing “harvesting” of fish above a certain size. We do have a law banning the taking of non-baitfish below 8 inches (or maybe 9 inches), which seems to make sense.
However, this highlights another one of those areas where common sense breaks down. Of course it makes sense to protect babies and juveniles, right? Right? Wait. Are there more adults or juveniles? Which can we more afford to lose? Which is actually more important to the survival of the species?
Perhaps there is a little be of anthropomorphization going on here. Our children are sacred to us—they’re about the only thing that is anymore—so we assume all young should be sacred.
Thing is, we only make a few young over our lifetime. About the only human who has come close competing with fish in terms of offspring is possibly Genghis Khan, who might be the ancestor of roughly 8% of all Asian males (and presumably quite a few females too). On the other hand the average 1st World citizen only has 2.06 kids. An adult barracuda, to pick a fish at random, can lay up to 300,000 in a single season. Three-hundred thousand. In a year. From one fish. Correction, from one adult fish. A young female only lays about 5,000 eggs. That’s 60 times less. It’s the difference between having your 2.06 kids and having 123 of them running around the house.
It turns out that, counter-intuitively, the adults of some animal species are the most valuable members of the population. Weird I know, but look at it this way, if you have a minimum size restriction on taking fish and those fish reach adult-hood just in time to breed once or twice before we pop them into a dinner pot, you’d need 30-60 of them to equal what one full-grown adult can reproduce. That’s so crazily different that it’s hard to get our heads around the sheer numbers involved.
Actually, different is exactly the word, because animals (especially fish) are in fact very different from us. It’s the old Disney™ problem again. We want attribute our values and biases to the world around us. Of course we pin our hopes to the young of our species. That’s a classically optimistic human perspective. But the natural world is one of wondrous variety, and not all animals do it like we do.
It turns out that people are bad at much of this common sense stuff. For example, every reasonable adult and parent will tell their child they need an education in order to make a good living. At the same time statistics show that only 20% of college graduates end up with a career in their field of study. However, I hasten to add that they still make a living, still end up with careers. It’s just that while a university education provided something vital for their career, it wasn’t what they or their parents thought it would be. These are the numbers, the statistics, yet year after year parents and freshmen still make the same erroneous assumption about what they’re spending all that money for.
Or take the example of the example of happiness. Who do you think is happier, a recent paraplegic or a recent lottery winner? That’s right: someone who has no use of their limbs and someone who just got given a pile of money. Who is happier. Take your time. After all, it’s just common sense. Right?
Right. Unless you’ve already seen the video (or are a genius), you guessed wrong. After a year they are both equally happy.
This is why actual science with real data is so vital. Without meaningful numbers we would be left at the mercy of our notoriously useless common sense. It is also why our legislation needs to be driven not purely by the whims of the voting public or by the (already suspect) common sense of our politicians, but by actual research and data.
So, to the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, the data is in. Repeal the current (pointless) law and establish a new one that protects the mature, breeding adults of our marine species, for these are truly the future of our waters.
With a couple of my old clients, I shared the sentiment that if we caught a fish in a location, we could move on and fish somewhere else. It was always acknowledged with irony, since we knew staying where we were was an easy win. But we’d also proved our point, and we didn’t want to punish the fish there. Besides, I was much too anxious to want to see new (and even find) new spots, see how far we could take a little bit of success.
Does that sound counterproductive? Does that mean we’ll catch fewer fish?
In the short run, yes. In the long run, definitely not.
~ Marshall Cutchin over at Skiff Republic (unwittingly) weighs in on the DIY debate (in a tangential sort of way).
Ok, so here we are. First, the highlights:
- Lionfish eat pretty much anything smaller than them. They also breed a lot more than native species and out-compete them for food.
- Lionfish have been confirmed at 300 ft., in “large populations”. Nice.
- The whole invasion has been trace (genetically) to just a few releases off South Florida.
- We, human beings, started it with saltwater aquariums.