Securing a sustainable future for Cuba’s fisheries
A partnership with Cuban stakeholders founded in science
Noel López Fernández
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 up to 60% of its commercially valuable fish stocks are already in critical condition.
EDF’s history in Cuba
The resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba in 2014 opens up a new level of collaboration and exchange with the Cuban partners that we have cultivated for more than 16 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 nationwide network of more than 100 marine protected areas and have supported the work of Cuba’s leading marine scientists and conservationists.
One clear example is the signing of a “Sister Sanctuaries Agreement” and an “Environmental Accord”, two of the first three agreements signed between the countries in over half a century.
Focus on sustainable fishing
Though Cuba boasts some of the Caribbean’s most intact marine systems, overfishing threatens thriving coral and fish ecosystems. Cuban fishing is an important source of income and food security. But, like in other parts of the world, Cuban fishermen lack incentives to be resource stewards, instead catching as many fish as quickly as they can.
Any strategy to secure healthy, resilient marine ecosystems in Cuba requires getting fisheries right. While fisheries pose the greatest short-term threat to these ecosystems, they also present the best opportunity to build science-based policies, strong management institutions and broad-based support for conservation and sustainable development.
Our goal is to support Cuban partners in establishing new approaches for managing fisheries that are built on sound science, strong partnerships, integration of spatial and fishery management tools and seafood markets to create effective stewardship among fishery stakeholders.
The Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea support 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 are estimated to have plummeted more than 75% due to overfishing. This is a problem because sharks are essential to healthy coral reefs, coastal communities and tourism in Cuba.
EDF and our partners are studying sharks in Cuban waters and have helped officials develop the country’s first-ever National Plan of Action for Shark Conservation and Management. This plan provides a strategy for rebuilding shark populations through harvest controls, protected areas and management tools that incentivize fishermen to leave sharks alive in the water. We are working with scientists, managers and fishers to identify sharks, understand which species are most vulnerable to overfishing and find ways to ensure healthy shark populations.
Marine protected areas
Cuba’s remarkable coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove swamps provide essential habitats for an extraordinary array of marine mammals, fish and migratory birds. Cuba’s government is committed to protecting these resources and has designated some of the largest coastal and marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Caribbean.
Over the years EDF has worked with Cuban scientists to identify the most important marine habitats for conservation and strategies for coastal zone management. This collaboration resulted in an ambitious plan to turn 25 percent of Cuba’s coastal waters into MPAs. Today, Cuba is more than halfway to their goal, with more than 100 MPAs established, and they are continuing on their way.
EDF works to align fisheries management and marine protected areas to recover declining fish populations. Since 2012 we have worked with the Cuban government to involve fishing communities in the planning and management of marine protected areas. These valuable alliances have created new stewards of marine resources.