Cuba's fishing communities fight hardships with sustainable practices


Fishing boats at Playa Florida.

Dan Whittle

On the surface, the remote, tightly knit village of Playa Florida—on Cuba’s south central coasthasn’t changed much over the last 50 years.

Most of the town’s 514 inhabitants either fish or depend on fishing for their livelihoods. State-owned shrimp trawlers, many decades old, still ply the rich waters of the Gulf of Ana Maria. And private fishermen use the same small wooden fishing boats their parents and grandparents used to fish for lane snapper and other species in mangrove-fringed lagoons and around nearby keys.  Some of these boats have motors built before the 1959 Cuban Revolution; others are powered only by muscle and wind.

But amid so much continuity, locals say, Playa Florida faces challenges that threaten its economy and way of life.


At a recent gathering at the town’s elementary school, one woman said she and her husband were fishing longer and longer hours, but coming home with fewer and fewer fish. Another fisherman said there is less diversity in his catch than in previous years and the fish tended to be smaller. “Some of the big fish are simply gone,” he said.

Local residents who serve as crew on the shrimp boats said they were making less money because shrimp harvests in the Gulf were declining. And finally, many pointed to sea level rise that is eroding shorelines and jeopardizing the town’s bustling summer tourism trade.

Playa Florida is not alone. Fishing communities throughout Cuba are facing similar challenges.

While Cuba boasts some of the Caribbean’s most intact marine ecosystems, for the past several years overfishing has significantly contributed to the decline of once pristine coral reef systems and thriving fish populations. Cuban scientists estimate that more than 40% of commercially important fish species are overfished – posing a major threat to Cuba’s fishing industry, food security and marine biodiversity.

Fighting back with sustainable fishing

The good news is that the Cuban government is taking steps at the national, regional and local levels to make fisheries more sustainable.

For example, earlier this year the Cuban government authorized the use of cooperatives in a range of economic sectors, including fisheries. Well-designed fishery cooperatives in other developing countries have shown to be effective in achieving social, economic and conservation goals. They can work in Cuba too.

In a couple of months, the National Assembly is expected to enact a new fisheries policy that places conservation and sustainability on an equal footing with production. Hopefully, science-based catch limits and measures to reduce illegal fishing will be featured in the new law. Finally, national park officials have proposed several new marine protected areas (MPAs) aimed at conserving coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove forests, all of which are important habitats for marine species.

At the regional level, scientists and managers are developing programs along Cuba’s southern coast to better integrate MPAs and fisheries management. This initiative includes a proposal to expand the legendary Gardens of the Queen national marine park, the largest marine park in the Caribbean and an important sanctuary for sharks and other large fish.

At the local level, a new community-based sustainable fisheries initiative called SOS Pesca is designed to give two small fishing communities on Cuba’s southern coast a more direct role in the management of fisheries and protected areas. Playa Florida is one of the project’s two communities, along with Guayabal, a town of 4,200 in Las Tunas province.

The principal goals of SOS Pesca are to conserve critical coastal and marine habitats in and around the two villages through new and expanded protected areas, to end overfishing through more sustainable fishing practices and management approaches, and to identify alternative livelihoods for those who wish to exit the fishery.

Fishermen in both communities will be examining how fishery cooperatives and other tools can be used to improve fishing conditions, increase revenues and sustain healthy fish stocks for future generations. SOS Pesca is supported by a grant from the European Union and is being implemented by the Cuban National Center for Protected Areas, the Italian NGO COSPE, World Wildlife Fund-Netherlands, and a variety of Cuban institutions. EDF is providing scientific support and fisheries expertise to the initiative.

Cuba’s biodiversity on land and sea is among the richest in the Caribbean. Many of its coral reefs are healthy and still teeming with abundant populations of big fish not commonly seen elsewhere in the region.  The government is now trying to preserve that natural heritage, and the traditional ways of life that have coexisted with it in places like Playa Florida. Getting communities and fishermen directly involved in that process is critically important.

As we were leaving our meeting in Playa Florida, I met a fishermen who told me he had seven children and all of them wanted to fish for a living.  “Fishing’s what we do. It’s our future,” he said.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

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Daniel Whittle

Daniel Whittle

Daniel is the Senior Director of EDF's Cuba Program, and focuses on advancing conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean island nation.

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People in Cuba can be put in jail for just being in possession of lobsters.
They are often fined for fishing for their survival.
Cuba's fishing fleet is decrepit. Massive pollution and invasion of foreign species (catfish) have destroyed lots of habitat for fishes. The destruction of the mangroves also contributed to loss of fishing grounds.

See: (with online translation to English available on the pages)

If it had been true, what "Cubaverdad" says, than a big percentage of Cubans would be in jail. Obviously they are not. Any tourist can go to private restaurants and eat lobster. But even if this would have been the worst thing about Cuba, it still would have been quite OK.
Cubaverdad is contradicted, not only by reality, but also by numerous investigations from domestic and international expertise in environment, ecology, sustainability etc. By this I do not want to say that everything is perfect. Far from it! The one biggest reason for the hardship is the continuing cruel US-blockade, that has been going on for more than half a century. Recently condemned again by the UN by 188 votes against two (USA and Israel). To see the beautiful coral reefs you only have to go there and check it out!

I am not lying. You are contradicted by:

The international press:
"Cuba: Life in the slow lane", Tuesday 5 Oct 2010 1:16 pm
We were approached by a lady with more fingers than teeth. 'Señor, you like lobster?' she whispered, checking around for the secret police – in Cuba it's illegal to serve langosta in private homes.

"Lobster served in Casa Particulars" 03 July 2010, 19:54
It is illegal to serve lobster to tourists in Casa Particulars (even though they all do)."

World-wide renowned and award winning blogger Yoani Sanchez
Posted: April 12, 2009 12:03 AM
In Cuba Eating Lobster is a Crime and Succeeding in Business Can Land You in Jail"

And indeed this is not the worst thing about Cuba. This site will provide you with the information you need about things that are "worse". This isn't the forum to discuss that.

The hardship in Cuba isn't continuing because of the trade sanctions. It is the result of dogmatic mismanagement of the country by the Castro regime. Before Castro Cuba was a net exporter of food. Now it imports 80% of the food it needs.
Even Raul Castro admits that:
"Castro took a few swipes at the U.S. trade embargo that has been in place since 1962, but made it clear Cubans have only themselves to blame for agriculture shortages."

It is you that is contradicted by all.

While ,on holiday last year in Cuba fishing is very popular in Sol Cayo Guillermo on Cuba's north west coast and is where Ernest Hemingway loved to fish. For those who do prefer fresh water fishing there are plenty of lakes in Cayo Coco. When reef fishing you may catch snapper and barracuda grouper, offshore you may catch wahoo, dolphin tuna and sailfish, whilst bay fishing will give you the opportunity to catch yellow jack and tarpoon.