Securing a sustainable future for Cuba’s fisheries

A partnership with Cuban stakeholders founded in science

School of fish

Noel Lopez Fernandez

Cuba’s magnificent coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests teem with marine life—including sea turtles, many species of reef fish, sharks, dolphins and manatees. Fishing is vital to the nation’s economy, but the majority of its commercially valuable fish stocks are already in critical condition.

EDF’s history in Cuba

President Obama’s decision in 2014 to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba opens up a new level of collaboration and exchange with the Cuban partners that we have cultivated for more than 13 years.

We’re one of the few U.S. organizations that have built the strong local relationships essential to success. We helped design Cuba’s massive network of more than 100 marine protected areas and have supported the work of Cuba’s leading marine scientists and conservationists.

Focus on sustainable fishing

Though Cuba boasts some of the Caribbean’s most intact marine systems, overfishing has significantly contributed to the decline of once pristine coral reefs and thriving fish populations. Fishing in Cuba is an important source of income, supports remote coastal communities, and is critical for food security. But, as in many parts of the world, Cuban fishermen lack the incentives to behave as stewards of the resource, and are instead motivated to catch as many fish as quickly as they can.

EDF collaborates with Cuban scientists, managers and fishermen to develop recommendations for proven sustainable fishery management policies.

Fishing pilot programs are underway, including a community-based project called SOS Pesca that helps local leaders manage fisheries sustainably by combining fishing rights with science-based catch limits and marine reserves.

Our goal is to establish new management for Cuba’s fisheries that is built on sound science, strong partnerships, integration of spatial and fishery management tools and market reforms to create an irreversible sense of stewardship among fishery stakeholders.

Saving highly migratory sharks

The Gulf of Mexico is home to nearly 100 shark species—many of which migrate throughout the waters of the United States, Mexico and Cuba. In the Gulf of Mexico, some shark populations have plummeted by more than 90% because of overfishing. This is an ecological red flag because sharks, as top predators, are essential to healthy coral reefs, marine food webs and coastal communities.

EDF and our partners are studying the status of shark species in Cuban waters and helping officials develop the country’s first-ever National Plan of Action for Sharks. That plan will provide a road map for rebuilding shark populations through harvest controls, new areas of protection, and rights-based tools that give fishermen the incentive to leave more sharks alive in the water. Our work in Cuba is closely tied to similar efforts to conserve sharks in the US and Mexico. Ultimately, improved international cooperation on science and management will lead to the recovery and long term health of shark populations throughout the Gulf.