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Cuba moves to protect sharks

  • After years of economic isolation, Cuba contains some of the region’s most pristine marine habitats.
  • The plan enacts new protections for the country’s most vulnerable shark species and measures to prevent overfishing of all sharks in Cuban waters. It also anticipates a series of protected zones for critical shark habitats.
  • Since sharks migrate thousands of miles, the plan should have a positive effect on shark populations in the U.S., Mexico, and Caribbean.

Cuba, home to about one-fifth of the world’s roughly 500 shark species, moved to protect the fishes last week. The Cuban government released a “National Plan of Action” to conserve and sustainably manage sharks, which have been declining rapidly around the globe in recent years.

The plan, released last Wednesday, was crafted by Cuban scientists working with international institutions, according to a press release from the U.S.-based NGO Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the contributors to the plan.

After years of economic isolation, Cuba contains some of the region’s most pristine marine habitats. The plan enacts new protections for the country’s most vulnerable shark species and measures to prevent overfishing of all sharks in Cuban waters. It also anticipates a series of protected zones for critical shark habitats.

Since sharks migrate thousands of miles, the plan should have a positive effect on shark populations in the U.S., Mexico, and Caribbean, according to the press release.

“This plan is a huge step forward for Cuba and the rest of the region,” said Elisa Garcia, director of Cuba’s Office of Fishing Regulations and Science, in the press release. “It lays the foundation for coordinated data collection to understand the threats sharks face and to take conservation actions by setting limits on fishing, establishing closures, and protecting juveniles and critical habitat.”

The plan comes on the heels of other measures Cuba has taken to study and protect sharks. Since 2010, scientists at the University of Havana have been working with fishermen to document which shark species are most common and which are most vulnerable in the country. Earlier this year, Cuba banned shark finning, in which a fisherman cuts off a shark’s fins and throws the living animal back into the sea. The fins command a high price as a key ingredient in a luxury soup in Chinese communities.

“Next steps include implementing a national system to gather data on sharks from fishing ports and adopting new regulations to protect juvenile sharks, set limits on total catch, and reduce shark bycatch,” the press release states.

“This plain [sic] aims to ensure that Cuba’s shark population is healthy, that shark fishing is sustainable, and that Cuba continues to move toward non-consumptive uses of sharks, like ecotourism,” said Robert Hueter, director of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s Center for Shark Research in Florida in a press release. Hueter contributed to the new plan.