Bahama Bonefish Fishery
We want to keep our community updated on the latest information from Bonefish Tarpon Trust regarding the Bahamas Bonefish regulations and recommendations by BTT. This is one of the best organizations supporting the world wide the fishing community.
Here is the post from BTT – the original post can be found by clicking the link below:
The Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government recently released draft proposed regulations for the bonefish fishery. We praise the Ministry for taking on the challenge of devising a new plan for the economically and culturally important bonefish fishery.
Bonefish & Tarpon Trust provided comments that focused on the need for a comprehensive conservation and management plan that incorporated the threats of habitat loss and degradation. Many others in the flats fishing industry also provided comments.
As a follow up to previous position statements, BTT collaborated with many in the flats fishing world to craft a revised approach to creating a comprehensive conservation and management plan for the Bahamas bonefish fishery. The recommendations are intended as constructive contributions to the ongoing efforts, not as a proposed management plan. All those who have signed on to support this document have an interest in the long term health of the fishery, and from many different perspectives – guides, lodge owners, travel outfitters, fishing trade associations, conservation science. It is notable that this diverse group reached a consensus on this document as a focal point for moving forward. The hope is to find a comprehensive conservation plan that includes conservation, education, and enforcement that will ensure a healthy bonefish fishery for the future.
CLICK HERE to add your name as a supporter.
FISHERIES RESOURCES (JURISDICTION AND CONSERVATION) (FLATS FISHING) REGULATIONS.
Points of Consideration for Bahamas Bonefish Fishery Management proposed regulations
July 10, 2015
The long term health of a fishery requires a comprehensive management plan. This is especially true for the recreational fishery for bonefish in the Bahamas, which is primarily catch and release. This is because the tendency is for managers to assume that since a fishery is catch and release, little attention needs to be paid to the fishery because the main perceived threat of overharvest is not a concern. However, the threats to catch and release fisheries are many, and include: habitat loss and degradation; water quality decline; high post-release mortality due to poor handling by anglers and guides; over-capacity of the fishery (too much fishing effort relative to the bonefish population size and spatial extent of the fishery); overharvest (illegal or legal) for non-recreational use (e.g., commercial harvest and sale).
The recreational bonefish fishery in the Bahamas is economically and culturally important. An economic report commissioned in 2010 by BTT, Bahamas National Trust, and Fisheries Conservation Foundation found that the annual economic impact of the recreational bonefish fishery exceeded $141 million, with the greatest relative impacts in the Family Islands. (This at a time when the recession in the U.S. severely and negatively impacted destination angling and recreational fishing-related tourism throughout the Caribbean. Fast-forward to 2015 and the number of $141 million has in all likelihood increased substantially.) Further, the cultural importance of the fishery on the Family Islands is reflected by the occurrence of the family relations of bonefish guides – an occupation proudly passed from fathers to sons, among brothers and cousins. The key point here is that these benefits can continue in perpetuity as long as the fishery and its habitats are protected by a comprehensive management plan that requires minimal financial investment.
Anglers that travel from the United States, Canada, and Europe to fish for bonefish in the Bahamas contribute to the Bahamas economy in multiple ways. Many anglers stay at fishing lodges, where their expenditures support guides and lodge staff. Other anglers stay at hotels and guest houses, where their expenditures support independent guides and the local communities where they stay. Whether staying at a full-service fishing lodge and working with a guide, staying at a hotel or guests house and fishing with an independent guide, or fishing on their own, anglers spend more money per visitor night and more money per total visit than non-angler tourists.
The Bahamas recreational flats fishery for bonefish is in need of a comprehensive management plan that incorporates science-based conservation, regulations, and enforcement, and has a reliable source of funding.
The top threats to the long-term health of the bonefish fishery in the Bahamas are habitat loss and degradation. This is not unique to the Bahamas – the same threats are impacting the bonefish fisheries in Belize, Mexico, Cuba, and Florida. Unfortunately, although conservation maybe the most important aspect of management of the bonefish fishery, it was not addressed in the Draft Regulations. Fortunately, ongoing research is identifying adult bonefish foraging grounds, spawning migration pathways, spawning sites, and juvenile habitats, to provide guidance for a conservation plan.
Adult Foraging Grounds – Recent and ongoing tag-recapture research shows that bonefish have small home ranges. More than 75% of tagged bonefish that are recaptured are recaptured within 1 mile of the tagging location. This means that if bonefish are removed from an area (e.g., by illegal netting) that these bonefish won’t be replaced by bonefish migrating in from a different location. Instead, population recovery will be slow since the location will only be repopulated by new larvae coming into the area on ocean currents. Therefore, areas identified by fishing guides and tag-recapture studies should be considered essential to the fishery. These habitats must be protected to prevent habitat loss and degradation.
The life cycle of bonefish makes them especially susceptible to overharvest (such as from netting). First, they don’t become sexually mature until approximately 3.5 years old. Second, they are slow growing: a bonefish that is 23” long (tip of the nose to fork in the tail) and about 5 pounds is approximately 16 years old. So replacing bonefish that are lost takes many years.
Spawning Sites and Spawning Migrations – Spawning occurs near the full and new moons between October and April. Recent and ongoing research shows that bonefish migrate away from the flats to spawn, spend a few days at the spawning site, and then migrate back to their home flats. Roundtrip migrations as long as 100 miles from foraging grounds to spawning site and return have been documented. Pre-spawning schools of bonefish gather in shallow bays near deep drop-offs. Spawning occurs at night in deep water (bonefish descend to >150 feet depth in water that exceeds 4,000 feet depth). These spawning sites are spatially separate from the foraging grounds on the flats, and must be specifically protected. In addition, bonefish appear to follow specific pathways during the spawning migration, and these areas often differ from the flats so need to be specifically protected. Both the spawning migration pathways and pre-spawning locations are targeted by people using nets to harvest bonefish for sale and consumption.
Each spawning location likely has region-wide impacts, so their protection is critically important. Since adult bonefish travel so far to spawn, it is likely that each island has only one to a few spawning sites to support the spawning needs of the entire bonefish population. Moreover, it is likely that bonefish find the spawning location by the same process used by Nassau grouper called ‘social learning’: newly mature adults find the spawning location by following an older adult on a spawning migration. Thus, if a spawning location is lost or too many bonefish are harvested during the migration, that social knowledge of the spawning site may be lost. In addition, the larvae that hatch from the eggs float in ocean currents for an average of 53 days, so they may be seeding areas long distances away.
Juvenile Habitats – Juvenile bonefish require protected bays with sand or sand-mud bottoms. These bays are near deeper channels that provide access for larvae coming in on ocean currents. In addition, these bays must be near to the adult foraging habitats. These specific characteristics make identification and protection of these habitats critically important.
Education – Education is needed on two levels.
– First, a comprehensive guide training program is required. This should include extensive training for new guides in all aspects of guiding in the bonefish fishery as well as the tourism industry, as well as marketing, business planning, fishing etiquette, safety, and equipment maintenance.
– For established guides, training and refresher courses on proper handling practices for catch and release should be required, and such courses funded by fees derived from fishing licenses. At present, too few guides are using proper handling techniques, which is likely increasing the mortality of bonefish after release. The fishery is only sustainable if post-release survival of bonefish is high, which can be accomplished with proper handling and release techniques (with proper handling and low abundance of predators, survival is well above 90%).
– Second, a comprehensive curriculum should be created for Bahamas schools. The focus of this curriculum should be twofold: 1) the ecology and conservation of the flats habitats and bonefish; 2) the history of bonefish in the Bahamas and the cultural and economic value and importance of fishing guides and the fishery. This curriculum could also provide a method and pathway moving forward for young Bahamians interested in a career as a professional guide.
– Establish National Parks. The goal of these Parks should be to protect the habitats that are critical to the bonefish life cycle, and thus critical to the fishery.
Identify and protect foraging habitats. These are typically the flats and adjacent habitats where the recreational fishery occurs.
Identify and protect spawning migration pathways. Typically, these are outside of the flats and are susceptible to netting.
Identify and protect spawning locations. Due to the proximity of shallow bays to deep water, these areas are attractive for development. However, if spawning locations are lost or degraded, the fishery will be damaged on a large spatial scale.
Identify and protect juvenile bonefish habitats.
Design and implement a comprehensive guide training and education program for certification of all new guides. This should include an apprentice program.
Conduct Catch and Release handling training workshops for all guides.
Design and implement a national bonefish and flats education curriculum for Bahamian elementary and middle schools.
– Maintain the current system whereby permits for scientific research are evaluated and controlled by Department of Marine Resources.
– Implement a permit system for education programs that is similar to that used for scientific research. This will allow the continuation of education programs that include flats fishing as part of the curriculum without the logistical and cost burden of obtaining licenses and requiring guides. This permit should be under the auspices of the Department of Marine Resources. This will allow flats-related education programs (e.g., Bahamas National Trust, Cape Eleuthera Institute, Friends of the Environment) to continue, which will increase stewardship of the bonefish fishery and habitats.
Regulations and Enforcement
Guide Certification – Similarly, already in place is a requirement that fishing guides are Bahaman citizens. However, there is no requirement for guides to be certified. This impacts the bonefish fishery negatively since there are numerous so-called guides who have neither the skill nor knowledge required to provide good service to clientele. The occupation of Fishing Guide must be defined and penalties defined for a non-certified guide who undertakes guide activities without supervision by a certified guide or a fishing lodge.
Coastal Development – Greater consideration of the bonefish fishery must be given when coastal development plans are being considered. This is not an argument about the appropriateness of coastal development per se, but rather about where and how coastal development should occur so as not to impact the bonefish and their habitats. The economic impact of the recreational bonefish fishery will continue in perpetuity will little investment needed beyond the protections recommended in this document, and with few of the infrastructure costs associated with standard development.
Lodge Ownership – The recreational bonefish fishery in the Bahamas has developed over the years based on the collaborative imputs of Bahaman and non-Bahaman investments, knowledge, and intellectual contributions. This same approach has been followed in the creation and success of flats fisheries in other locations, including Belize, Mexico, and Cuba. The future of the fishery is dependent upon continuing to follow this model. When compared to standard tourist hotels, a larger portion of lodge income remains in the Bahamas. It should also be noted that the established bonefish lodges throughout the country – both Bahamian owned and those with foreign investors or partners – are the strongest stewards of the resource, going to great lengths to protects their fishing areas, the gamefish and the ecosystem as a whole.
Fishing License – Most locations where recreational fishing occurs require that all people who engage in fishing purchase and possess a fishing license, with different fee schedules for residents and non-residents. The purpose of the fishing license system is to: track the number of anglers, which, in conjunction with other data, is useful for assessment and management; generate funds that are applied to research, enforcement, and management. At present, the Bahamas does not require a recreational fishing license. However, it is essential that if a license program were to be implemented, that license fees go toward conservation of bonefish habitats, education, fishery and habitat management, and enforcement of regulations. It is also important that licenses be available to all anglers via an easy, effective on-line purchase platform.
Existing Regulations – Important regulations to protect the bonefish fishery are already in place – netting bonefish and commercial sale of bonefish are illegal – but are not enforced. These regulations must be enforced.
- Regulation and Enforcement Recommendations:
– Institute a guide education and certification program for new guides. Current guides should be exempt from new certification requirements and should be given certification.
– Implement regulations that only certified guides and lodge employees are eligible to guide clients for hire.
Administration and oversight of guide education, certification, and enforcement should be within the Department of Marine Resources.
– Institute a catch and release education program for current guides
– Incorporate the bonefish fishery and associated habitats into evaluations of proposed coastal development.
– Remove regulations aimed at limiting foreign investment in the fishery
– Implement a logbook system so that catch per unit effort can be tracked over time. This will help to determine the capacity of the fishery on each island (how much effort the bonefish population can support).
– Implement a recreational fishing license for individuals, with all funds allocated to conservation, management, and enforcement of the bonefish fishery and habitats. The fishing license should be available online only to make it more efficient to manage funds. Individuals with fishing licenses may fish for bonefish on their own or hire a certified guide.
– Implement a license for foreign registered vessels to cover the vessel and accompanying skiffs. If the foreign registered vessel has more than one skiff it should pay a 4% charter fee (as do U.S. charter vessels that do business in the Bahamas), and the vessel and each skiff should be licensed. If there is more than one skiff, a certified Bahamian guide should be required on each additional skiff.
– The fishing licenses should be available in these time increments:
1 day (suggest $20)
1 week (suggest $100)
1 year (suggest $250)
License funds should be allocated at two levels:
Each island should have a designated conservation fund to cover expenses for enforcement, habitat protections (e.g., hire enforcement officers, boat and travel expenses) based on their portion of total license sales.
Funds should be allocated at the national level to cover expenses associated with the guide education and certification program. These funds may be further allocated to island programs.
– Implement an annual operator’s fee for certified guides and lodges.
$150/year for certified guide
$250/year per lodge-owned boat
All fees are deposited in the conservation fund
– Improve and expand current enforcement of bonefish fishery regulations.
Hire enforcement officers
Purchase skiffs for patrols
Provide material and administrative support
– Improve and expand enforcement of habitat protection regulations and of regulations in National Parks.
– Fishing lodges and certified guides should be able to apply for customs duty exemption for importing items associated with fishing operations.
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