Sustainability is on the Hook as Cuba Adopts New Fisheries Law, EDF Says

Law will protect fish populations, ocean ecosystems and fishing communities

July 14, 2019
Matt Smelser (202) 572-3272,

(HAVANA – July 14, 2019) The government of Cuba enacted sweeping reforms of its fishing laws over the weekend, putting the island nation on a course to increase protection for some of the world’s most important and vibrant marine ecosystems while also ensuring a future for its fishers.

The new law, which is the first national change in more than 20 years (Decree Law 164 of 1996), represents a major shift in Cuba’s current fisheries policy. It includes provisions to curtail illegal fishing, recover fish populations and protect small-scale fishers in coastal communities. Its passage will also help ensure coordinated management of marine resources between Cuba and other countries in the region, including the United States.

At the center of the law is a mandate for a science-based, adaptive conservation approach to managing depleted fish populations, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which has been working actively in Cuba over the past two decades to help foster greater sustainability and conservation in the country’s fishery resources.

“Cuba has made a great leap towards adopting best management practices for its fisheries,” said Dan Whittle, Caribbean Director, Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s important for the people of Cuba, and also a significant step in international efforts to preserve some of the world’s most important coral reefs, sharks, rays and other marine life.”

Cuba already protects approximately 25 percent of its coastal waters, boasting some of the Caribbean’s most spectacular marine ecosystems and successful conservation strategies. However, declining fish populations have remained a serious problem, putting the country’s food security, thousands of jobs and healthy ecosystems at risk. Many of Cuba’s most important commercial fish stocks, including several species of grouper and snapper, have declined in recent years.

Under the new law, Cuba will expand the use of data-limited methods, introduced by EDF experts, to track the health of dozens of important finfish, shark and ray species. The approach, called Framework for Integrated Stock and Habitat Evaluation (FISHE), allows fishery managers to assess which fish species are the most vulnerable to overfishing, even when scientific data on the specific stocks are scarce. The FISHE methodology is now being used in other countries in the Caribbean and around the world.

The creation of the new law was the result of a multi-year collaborative process, which brought together administrators, fishers, the seafood industry, scientists, conservationists and government officials to explore new conservation approaches and tools for collecting better data. EDF is proud to have participated in and supported these collaborations, like the SOS Pesca project, that brought fishers’ and coastal communities’ voices to the forefront of discussions about sustainable fishing and conservation.

“The law reflects the important progress Cuba has made to protect its natural environment and will advance the country’s goals to have more fish in the future, maintain fishing jobs and protect marine ecosystems,” said Valerie Miller, Senior Manager of EDF’s Cuba Oceans Program.

A key feature of the law is a new licensing and management framework for the growing private commercial fishing sector, established in 2009 to increase seafood production and create jobs. This sector, which now is comprised of 18,000 private commercial fishers operating out of 160 fishing ports around the country, provides seafood to state markets and plays an important role in local economies.

The new law is designed to prevent overfishing within this sector and provide benefits to private commercial fishermen that are already available to others in the self-employed sector.  Finally, the law includes a process for updating rules and licensing systems for the emerging recreational fishing sector. 

“We look forward to supporting Cuba’s fishers, scientists, managers and other stakeholders in making these news rules successful for the ocean and the communities who depend on it,” said Miller.

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