Do You Understand What You Can Bring Home?
Taking a trip to the Bahamas is a great adventure and provides excellent fishing opportunities. With that said, when you return to federal waters of the U.S., all state and federal waters apply, so if you are planning to go for a week and return with a boat load of fish, please read on….
The first thing you need to know is that within 24 hours of entering Bahamian waters, you are required to visit a Port that has a Bahamian Customs Office and file an Inward Declaration and Application for Cruising Permit (Form C2A). In addition to completing the application, you will be required to provide proof of citizenship/identification (passports) for all persons on the vessel, and no passengers can disembark the vessel until the permit is issued. You will also be required to pay the appropriate permit fee and passenger taxes. The permit fee is $150 for boats less than 35 feet in length and $300 for larger vessels. A copy of the processed application will serve as your Cruising / Fishing Permit while you are in the Bahamas.
While in Bahamian waters, you are required to follow Bahamian fishing regulations, and when you return to federal waters of the U.S. will apply to the fish you have on board. Bahamian regulations cover relatively few species and are structured to cover broad groups of fish rather than individual species. Keep in mind that U.S. regulations will apply for all species when you return to U.S. waters.
With regard to snappers and groupers, Bahamian regulations allow you to possess up to 60 pounds of fillets or 20 whole scale fish PER VESSEL. No minimum size limits or individual daily bag limits are established. State and federal regulations require snapper, grouper and many other regulated species caught in state or federal waters to be landed in whole condition with the exception of gilling and gutting. Because U.S. and Bahamian regulations are inconsistent with regard to filleted snapper and grouper, an exception has been included in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (50 CFR 622.38(h)) to allow snapper and grouper fillets that were legally obtained in Bahamian waters to be brought back to Florida by vessel through federal waters, if the fish meets all other state and federal regulations. While its not required, if you are bringing back fillets, you should consider leaving the skin on and packaging the fillets in a manner that allows species identification without thawing a large block of fish. This is especially important because the number of snapper and grouper fillets cannot exceed the daily recreational bag limit in federal waters.
Bahamian regulations for Migratory / Pelagic Species apply only to wahoo, king mackerel, dolphin and tuna. These regulations provide a VESSEL possession limit of 18 fish in any combination, but do not include any minimum size limit or any individual daily bag limit. Bahamian and U.S. regulations also require that these species be maintained in whole condition until they are landed. Queen conch can also be harvested recreationally in the Bahamas and there is a vessel possession limit of six conchs.
There is a common misconception that anything legally caught in Bahamian waters can be brought back through federal waters and landed in Florida. This is absolutely not the case, so make sure you understand the regulation before you make the trip.
So what can you legally bring back to Florida by vessel? When returning from the Bahamas with fish that were legally caught and possessed in the Bahamas, those fish must also comply with all individual bag limits, size limits, vessel limits, closed seasons in the federal waters of the Atlantic. The only exception is the allowance of the possession of filleted snapper and grouper and you will need to show your Bahamas Cruising / Fishing Permit to verify that the fish were caught in the Bahamas. Basically, when returning from a two week trip to the Bahamas you still cannot possess any fish, conch, or lobster that you could not have harvested that day on a quick 4 hour trip off the coast of Florida in your center console. Also, if a species is closed or prohibited in federal waters of the Atlantic, you cannot bring that species back, even if it was legally harvested in the Bahamas. Another minor exception allows lobster harvested by spear to be brought back if they are in whole condition and meet all other federal and state rule requirements.
Legally harvested or purchased fish, conch and lobster that cannot be brought back by vessel can be legally shipped by common carrier back to the U.S. so that may be an option to consider.
For further information please contact the Bahamas Customs Department Headquarters at: P.O. Box N 155, Thompson Boulevard, Nassau, The Bahamas; (242) 325-6551(9); Fax: (242)325-7409; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday to Friday, except on public holidays.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.