Cuba gets fishery management advice in Provincetown
By Doug Fraser
October 20, 2014
PROVINCETOWN — It might seem odd: Cuban fisheries managers and
scientists seated around a table in this fabled but faded Cape Cod
fishing port, sharing their stories of managing crocodiles, manatees and
reef fish while trying to absorb the successes and failures of the New
But, as Elisa Garcia, Cuba’s director of fishing regulations and science
put it, there is universality to the problems nations encounter in
managing fish stocks.
“We all gain from the exchange and the experience of my colleagues from
the United States,” Garcia said through a translator during a break in a
conference last week featuring fisheries experts from Cuba, the United
States and Mexico, at the Center for Coastal Studies. “We are talking
about different places and species but the problems are similar,” she added.
The Environmental Defense Fund, a national and international
environmental advocacy organization, sponsored the Provincetown
conference as one of five meetings with international fishery experts
they hold each year that are intended to address issues in Cuban
fisheries management, where the EDF has been working for almost 15
years. The United States, Mexico and Cuba have been working together,
both through official and unofficial channels, on Gulf of Mexico
fisheries issues and sustainable fishing practices.
EDF staffers believe the New England experience, both positive and
negative, could be valuable for the Cubans. As lifting the 54-year-old
U.S. embargo of Cuba is hotly debated, and some say imminent,
Provincetown is an example of how the pressure from tourism and
development can affect fishing’s shoreside facilities such as piers,
supply shops and processing plants.
“We learn from each country, even if the fishery is different,” said
Stuart Fulton, an oceanographer from Great Britain, working on marine
conservation with a Mexican environmental organization.
Most of the rest of the Caribbean islands’ ecosystems have been
devastated by development, but the U.S. embargo has helped to insulate
Cuba, the region’s largest island, said Les Kaufman, a Boston University
biology professor and specialist in marine biodiversity.
“Cuba is the jewel of the Caribbean,” he said.
Still, the participants at the Provincetown conference were well aware
that they only have a finite period to protect what they have before it
is sorely tested when the embargo is eventually lifted, Kaufman said.
“As soon as the embargo is lifted, this wonderful opportunity to get it
right will be rolled over like a steamroller.”
While Kaufman described some Cuban fishery management as
forward-thinking, such as linking land conservation with marine
protected areas, other experts said sustainability is still an issue.
“They are playing catch-up in terms of fishery management,” said Daniel
Whittle, EDF’s director of their Cuban program.
The Cuban lobster fishery is the major revenue producer, similar to New
England where lobster vies with scallops here for the No. 1 spot. But,
unlike in New England, home to the longest continuously running survey
of fish species in the world, Cuba knows very little about its other
fish populations, Whittle said.
Garcia said her contingent was primarily interested in learning how to
manage their extensive network of marine protected areas. While on paper
they protect 25 percent of their marine waters — 17 percent are
completely protected from fishing and other activities — Cuba has
problems enforcing those bans, Whittle said.
And, Cuban officials don’t know if they are protecting the right areas,
although EDF is trying to help them to use information from fishermen on
catches and do some catch sampling to help identify how vulnerable each
species is and where it is being caught.
Meanwhile, New England’s closed areas are, in part, protected by
requiring nearly all fishing vessels to have satellite tracking devices
on board. With 8,000 private fishing craft and 749 in fleets affiliated
with the government, the Cubans are interested in protections that come
from fishermen themselves. They heard how New England developed its
fishing cooperative system in 2010, when fishermen formed groups that
then developed a plan to sustainably manage the amount of quota
allocated to each membership.
Catherine O’Keefe, a researcher with the University of Massachusetts
School of Marine Science and Technology, demonstrated how fishermen and
other stakeholders could contribute to managing a fishery by using
available real-time data such as water temperature, or catch reports, to
avoid hot spots with negative consequences to the environment or a
particularly depleted species.
“It can be no-tech,” O’Keefe told the conference. “The idea is
communicating information. Boat-to-boat. Captain-to-captain.”
Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter: @dougfrasercct.
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