Engaging with Cuban fishing communities

Collaborating for long term sustainability

Cuba's magnificent marine biodiversity supports an important commercial fishing industry that produces highly-desired export products like lobster and shrimp, supplies the country with a critical food source and provides over 32,000 jobs in coastal communities around the island. Our goal is to support Cuba's efforts to establish fisheries management plans that are built on sound science, strong partnerships and coastal communities’ involvement.

Cuba has a long legacy of fishing and its waters present an opportunity for a resilient and diversified fishing industry. This industry represents an important source of income for fishing families, supports remote coastal communities and is critical for food security. Cuba is home to some of the Caribbean's most intact marine systems which host a wide array of marine life, including over 100 commercial species.

However, overfishing plays a significant role in this ecosystem, contributing significantly to the decline of once pristine coral reefs and thriving fish populations, thus threatening local livelihoods. Cuban scientists estimate that up to 60% of commercially important fish species are overfished. To reverse this trend, EDF works with resource managers, scientists, government officials and fishers to find new ways to sustain Cuba's fishery resources while also improving the livelihoods of its communities.

SOS Pesca

As in many parts of the world, Cuban fishermen often lack opportunities to meaningfully participate in the planning and management of fisheries and marine areas. SOS Pesca represents Cuba's first attempt to develop community-based marine management programs that align fishermen and their families, federal administrators, protected area officials and local governments towards a shared vision of sustainable fisheries. With the support of a strong international team led by the Cuban ministries for the environment and food, this project involved two fishing villages along Cuba's south coast, Playa Florida and Guayabal.

Through SOS Pesca, EDF collaborated with managers, scientists and fishermen to conduct the first national assessment of marine fisheries, analyzing 34 fish species. This study integrates scientific data and local knowledge around the biology, ecology, fishing activity, economics and management of stocks to identify the species that are most vulnerable to overexploitation. Partners have now identified priority species to monitor and develop science-based catch limits, they have also identified species of highest concern that warrant precautionary management measures to support their recovery.

SOS Pesca also created an exchange program between Cuban, Colombian, American and Mexican fishery stakeholders to explore sustainable fisheries management strategies. As one of the fishermen said, "we can all relate in fishing, it's a common language, it doesn't matter the country or the system where you live." Cuban fishermen learned about utilizing spatial management tools, catch limits, co-management, fishery associations and other rights-based management approaches from cooperatives in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in Quintana Roo, Mexico. They also visited other fishing communities in Cuba that were committed to sustainable fishing and had experience creating economic alternatives. Partners also attended an "Integrating Spatial Management with Fisheries Management" workshop in Boston to share experiences in Cuba, Mexico and the U.S.

Learning network

Building upon the results of SOS Pesca, Cuban officials, with support from EDF, are scaling up these and other efforts across the island through the new Learning Network for Sustainable Fisheries in Cuba. This network is a vehicle to create a common vision for the future of Cuban fisheries and coastal communities with a strong focus on fishermen participation.

This newly formed initiative strengthens existing networks by facilitating the exchange of information and identification of common interests around fisheries sustainability. It fosters collective action by bringing together a myriad of stakeholders across the archipelago who would normally have restricted interactions due to geographic or technological isolation.

This approach, also applied by EDF in Chile, “has created an interesting platform for communication and over time has provided the tools needed to make fishing more sustainable,” noted Reynaldo Pino, Cuba’s director of platform fisheries, at the recent Encuentro where the network was officially launched.