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close this bookCERES No. 114 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
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View the documentPromising results as Cuba reshapes fishing industry

Promising results as Cuba reshapes fishing industry

In 1985 the Cuban fishing fleet extracted a total of 219 000 tons of fish from national waters (marine and fresh) and international waters (the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans) combined.

That figure, contained in the Anuario Estadico de la Repa de Cuba, or Cuban statistical yearbook, published by the Government of Cuba (cf. FAO, Cuba Basic Data 1984-85), is very significant. It demonstrates that the fishing industry of the Caribbean island has returned to and surpassed the high levels attained at the end of the 1970s, which is to say before the international 200-mile limit went into effect.

The limitations on coastal fishing introduced by the Law of the Sea had brought about a real collapse in the Cuban fishing industry: the total quantity of fish captured within and out side Cuban territorial waters fell back to only 153 900 tons, a little more than the level of six years before, in 1973. Then there was a comeback: 186 400 tons in 1982; 199 800 in 1984. In 1985 the figure shot more than 5 000 tons past the record of 213 200 tons reached in now-distant 1978.

The 1985 yearbook contains some other data on the Cuban fishing industry which, carefully examined, give a good picture of the state of apparent robust health which this important branch of the island's economy seems to be enjoying. The success of the considerable work of modernization, reorganization and expansion promoted in the last five year period by MIP in the various branches of the sector also emerges from a reading of the data.

Next to the quantity of fish captured in 1985, the yearbook gives the total production of the relatively young aquaculture industry - 15 400 tons. That figure represents a rise from 12 500 tons in 1983 and 14 500 tons in 1984. Therefore the 1985 total is important not only in absolute terms, but also be cause it confirms a phase of constant and marked growth in a sector of the fishing industry that was almost nonexistent until the middle of the 1970s. Faced with reduced prospects in fishing along the coasts of Latin American or African countries, the Cuban industry, to its credit, knew how to employ fresh energies in aquaculture, obtaining brilliant results and opening new perspectives for the entire sector.

The yearbook, with the meagreness of the figures registered (in-shore fleet, 1 526 vessels; high seas and internal waters fleets, 187 vessels), does not convey the profound changes that have occurred regarding the make-up and subdivision of the fishing fleet in this sector of primary importance in the fishing industry.

Although in the last decade the total number of vessels, large and small, for fishing in Cuban and international waters has remained around 2 000 units, the dimensions of the individual fleets have undergone heavy variations. The typology of the vessels belonging to each of the fleets has also changed.

The old division into In-shore Fleet, Gulf Fleet, and High Seas Fleet has been replaced by a new one. There are still three different types of fleet but the old Gulf Fleet has been eliminated. Since 1980 the more than 100 fishing boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico and which dedicate themselves to the catching of shrimp (the highly valued camarones) have been converted to other fishing operations. The dismantling of the Gulf Fleet was the first serious and irreversible consequence of the introduction of the 200-mile limit by the new Law of the Sea.

The large High Seas Fleet has been doubled: the Atunera de Cuba, specializing in the capture of the large tunas in the open seas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Cubana de Pesca, for other species of fish, such as hake, using trawl-nets. This fleet in 1974 had only 18 large boats but has increased, in the middle of the 1970s, to 36 units in 1978; but from then the number of boats has remained practically frozen at 35. The old vessels, however, have gradually been replaced by real gems of fishing technology with the most modern equipment for the processing and freezing of the captured fish.

The number of vessels assigned to tuna-fishing has remained almost unchanged in the last decade. The tuna fleet consisted of 24 large units in 1974 and maintained that number until 1978. Since then it has lost three units. Today it has 21, of which one is a tanker for refuelling the others on the high seas.

In January 1985, the director of the Cubana de Pesca, Roberto Ferrer, announced at a press conference that for the first time in its 22 years of activity the fleet had registered, for 1984, a profit of 2.7 million Cuban pesos, equivalent to about US $3 million. The announcement caught everyone by surprise, especially since the Cubana de Pesca had estimated a balance in the red of about 8.6 million pesos, or about $9 million, for 1984. To the Cuban journalists who seemed a bit sceptical, Ferrer explained that the exceptional result was made possible by a triple effort on the part of the boats' crews: the choice of fishing grounds nearer to Cuba; better selection of fish to go after and repairs to the boats made in record time in Cuban dockyards instead of in the much more costly ones of Europe and South America.

The last important statistic for the 1985 fishing industry contained in the Cuban yearbook is the average quantity of fish consumed per caput by Cuban citizens: 11 kilograms a year. This figure is extremely important for two reasons. It shows that the Cuban population must now be counted among the largest consumers of fish products, and it demonstrates irrefutably that the Cuban revolutionary government has in 20 years succeeded in modifying - for the better - the eating habits of the island's people. In 1959 fish consumption was far below one kilo a year. Altogether in 1984 to the population was distributed a quantity of fish equal to 116 000 tons. A part of this fish (33 000 tons was imported in order not to cut into the percentage of high quality fish caught by the Cuban fleets for export.

Overall the data reported in the Cuban yearbook provide more than enough information to make a positive analysis of the state of the Cuban fishing industry at the end of a real five-year period of fire, begun in 1980 with the introduction of the 200-mile limit and concluded in 1985 with the international economic crisis (the problem of heavy debts owed by the developing countries of the South, including Cuba, to the industrialized countries of the North).

Confirmation comes from the fact that the fishing industry is now counted among the five items of the Cuban economy that are earning a profit: sugar, tobacco, nickel, and tourism.

Whether the fishing industry is really in the black is difficult to say (the same is true for other sectors of the Cuban economy). It probably is not, or is not yet. Furthermore, it employs 42 000 workers and disposes of an army of 13 400 fishermen. The sale and distribution of fish to all the sectors of the population, furthermore, achieved in the face of difficulties of every sort, especially logistic, fills social requirements and surely affects negatively the profitability of the industry as a whole.

But bear in mind that the announcement made proudly by the director of the Cubana de Pesca was followed by similar announcements. The promising aquaculture sector could very soon show a profit: according to the magazine Mary Pesca... there have been real production explosions in aquaculture (from 165 to 330 kg per hectare of water surface) at Lom de Tierra, Cotorro, near Havana, and Las Tunas Bezaza in the Gulf of Guacayanabo, in the south-central part of the country.

In his report to the third Communist Party Congress Fidel Castro was able to present the fishing industry as one of the most promising sectors of the entire economy of the country - one of the sectors which, in the 25 years since the beginning of the Revolution, have been able to construct solid bases for the immediate and long-term future.

Castro cited both the imposing and articulated complex of infrastructures which today MIP has (the large fishing port with its modern naval installations, the plants for processing and freezing the fish, canneries) the important research centres of the CIP (Centre for Fisheries Research) and CITIP (Centre for Technological Fisheries Research), both at Havana, the Oceanological Institute of the Academy of Sciences, the three schools for the training of new generations of fishing technicians (Instituto de Pesca, Escuela tica, Escuela de cualificaciica) attended as well by hundreds of youths from the Third World.

The Cuban leader could cite with pride the giant steps made by the Cuban dockyards toward full autonomy in construction and repair of fishing boats of all sizes. Cuba has constructed thousands of boats longer than ten metres, in both ferrocement and plastic, and is able to equip them with sophisticated instruments suitable for many kinds of fishing, whether coastal or on the high seas.

Among the chief objectives of the Cuban fishing industry, Castro indicated the following: 1) maximum exploitation of the fish resources of Cuban waters; 2) development of aquaculture in the inland waters of the island and starting up of projects for marine fish farming; 3) maintenance of the levels of fish of the seagoing fleets at, however, lower costs; 4) maximum utilization of the national capacities for better industrial processing of fish products, for better exploitation of exports and for the construction and repairs of the vessels.

Pino Cimo