BY OLIVIA CAMERON- Just 50 miles from the east coast of Florida rest the western islands of The Bahamas, an archipelagic state that has consistently thrived off of tourism and fishing until the pandemic created a domino effect on the economy and public safety.
According to USA Today, over 590,000 boaters frequented The Bahamas during 2018, but as coronavirus safety protocols expanded early in the year worldwide, the Bahamian government officially closed off the border on March 27, prohibiting both visitors and citizens from entering.
Fishermen who were turned away retreated to Gasparilla Island and have added to its fishing traffic over the past few months.
Dockmaster Jeff Dietrich at the Boca Grande Marina has gotten used to it.
“The way I understand it, The Bahamas were not allowing people to stay toward the end of March. If boaters left the dock for a day, they weren’t allowed to come back. Fishing here has been busier than normal. There was the pent-up desire for everyone to get out on the water. Backwater and tarpon fishing have been great.”
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and The Bahamas Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee put phase one of opening the islands into action on June 15. This phase opened The Bahamas to boaters, yachters and private aviation.
The Bahamas have also allowed for the return of citizens, residents and immediate family members. International visitors are allowed to travel to the islands with 48 hours’ advance notice and a recent negative COVID test result. Visitors are also required to fill out numerous forms. Since June 15, however, post-entrance quarantine is not required.
Even a week after The Bahamas enacted phase one, Gasparilla Island fishing has remained a hot spot. The Bahamian government will make phase two effective on July 1 but is prepared for a busy holiday.
“It looks like it’s going to be a strong Fourth of July out on the water,” said Jeff.