As top predators, sharks are an essential component of healthy marine ecosystems, but over the past 50 years, many populations have declined dramatically because of overfishing.
Cuba is home to some of the healthiest and most extensive coral reefs in the region. Cuban scientists and regulators there recognize that sharks play a critical role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. EDF has a long history of scientific collaboration in Cuba. Our efforts to solve some of the ocean's most pressing environmental issues continue to bridge the relationship between two countries that rarely work together. In recent years, sharks have become a centerpiece of this work. With the support of EDF, Cuba developed a National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Sharks.
In October 2015, Cuba joined both the U.S. and Mexico in having a National Plan of Action and management measures for sharks and became the first island nation in the Caribbean to complete their plan.
Completing the NPOA is a pivotal step for shark conservation in Cuba and provides a clear policy mandate for future regulatory and management actions taken to protect sharks. Since that step was taken, managers, scientists and fishers have been working hard to implement the plan. EDF has continued to work with Cuba’s Department of Fisheries Regulations and Sciences to bring people together from across the country to share advances in shark science and understand which species are most vulnerable.
Across the Gulf of Mexico region, our long-term aim is that improved international cooperation, science and management will lead to the recovery and long-term health of shark populations. Success here could provide a roadmap for advancing sustainable management of sharks and other highly migratory species around the globe.
EDF has been working to advance shark conservation in Cuba since 2010. A major focus has been to undertake biological and socioeconomic research on shark populations and shark catch, where little scientific information exists. Our partners in Cuba have been conducting research to better understand what is happening in their waters. Researchers at the Center for Marine Research with the University of Havana and with the Ministry of Food are meeting fishermen at ports and spending time onboard vessels to find out which shark species are most vulnerable to fishing.
We also work with the Cuban government to train fishers and boat captains in shark data collection and monitoring. Like many places in the world, much is still unknown about sharks in Cuba, and the most basic information is needed. This baseline information is critical to establishing an understanding of the status of shark populations in order to determine the most effective steps to manage and conserve them.
As we advance the science, we also work in partnership with the Cuban government to develop a policy framework for sharks. This National Plan of Action for shark conservation is a guiding document that leads to improved management and research measures. Designing and implementing specific management measures will take time, but Cuban officials have already begun to enact measures to protect sharks and collect better data, including new rules prohibiting finning and requiring fishermen to land sharks whole.
Involving fishermen, boat captains and port employees in the collection of scientific data and in the development of management measures is vital, but virtually unprecedented in Cuba. Our joint project to implement the NPOA using this strategy and the emerging partnership between scientists, managers, conservationists and fishermen can lead to effective models of co-management, which can then be replicated in other fisheries in Cuba.
The foundation of our shark conservation work in Cuba is the exchange of knowledge and expertise among the countries in the Gulf of Mexico region, where many shark species migrate throughout the water of the three countries — the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. We have forged strong relationships with government officials, influential scientists and fishery managers in all three Gulf of Mexico countries and our partnerships will continue to play a key role in developing policy and management solutions for sharks in Cuba and the region as a whole.
Cuba's advancement in sustainably managing and conserving sharks is helping inform other priorities in the country, like multispecies fisheries management.