Revolutionary Apartheid: Illegal fishing on the rise in Cuba

By Armando de Armas in Martí News:

Illegal fishing on the rise in Cuba

In Cuba, it’s revolutionary apartheid. Common folk get catfish, while the privileged get shrimp and lobster.

Fishermen in Havana's bay

In 2013, Cuba reported a total of 2,959 cases of illegal fishing or trapping of protected marine species, such as crocodiles, turtles, seafood and manatees–more than double those reported the previous year, according to state-run media.

Last year 972 more cases were recorded than in 2012. The figure also increased when compared to 2011, when 996 cases were recorded .

The government largely blames the increase in illegal activity to the high demand of products such as lobster and shrimp in the informal market, which supposedly goes against the fundamental lines of the nationalized economy and the ecosystem.

But the reality is that these actions are a desperate response from the island’s people. There are contributing factors. For example, there’s the decline of basic staples, due to an unresloved economic crisis resulting from a socialist system that represses private initiative, or allows it narrowly. After his timid reforms, General Raul Castro prevented the abundance of fish from fresh and marine waters of the island to pass from the rivers and seas to the tables of the island’s consumers.

In their attempt to monopolize and control fishing and trade in species such as lobster and shrimp, the authorities began to impose severe fines, and in some cases, severe prison sentences for those who were found guilty of the fishing, transport, use or sale of these species.

To replace the consumption of the mentioned marine delicacies among the population, the regime sought to promote the consumption of plebeian species. Official government data indicate that in 1962, a million carp were on the island were obtained and released, along with one million tilapia. In Cayo Largo del Sur, the possibility was studied to adapt tilapia to salt water for possible use as live bait for bonito fish.

Given the shortage of food in the country, tilapia production increased, and Cuba sought advice from other countries with experience in breeding freshwater fish. Tench and catfish were eventually introduced in late 1990. The latter is a danger to other species and the ecosystem in general.

Thus, tight statist monitoring along with a pedestrian rationalism that intended to change the course of rivers and seas with impunity, has ended up damaging not only the food supply, but also the means to produce food in a suitable environment. So in a city like Cienfuegos, whose symbol is none other than shrimp (the ancients believed that in the bay, this species could be fished up with hands), it ended up being an endangered species during the revolutionary era. Extinction would come as a result of changing the channel to the Arimao river in order to build a dam. It would be easier to find a mermaid in Cienfuegos than shrimp.

But Raul Castro’s government has tried to change things with rationalism and repression. In 2013, according to official figures, 1,696 boats and 160.8 kilometers of massive fishing nets were seized , along with several hundred kilograms of marine and terrestrial species, including turtles and crocodile meat, which are supposedly endangered species.

Several thousand kilograms of edible fish species such as snapper and grouper were also seized.

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