Norwegian and Cuban scientists with backgrounds in oceanography and biology met in Havana spring 2013 to exchange knowledge and experiences. The COLLABORATE project (see fact box) is designed to prepare Cuba for current extreme weather and future climate change.
A Norwegian coastal model for Cuban waters
At the heart of the project lies the development of regional ocean models for Cuba’s coastal waters. For many years, The Institute of Marine Research and The Norwegian Meteorological Institute have been working to develop models that can be used in a coastal landscape that is varied, and at times challenging. Now the Cubans have the chance to benefit from their experiences. These kinds of models can help to optimise emergency planning for extreme weather events and oil spills, provide a basis for estimating the consequences of future climate change and be used to simulate the drift of eggs, larvae and juveniles for important marine species such as lobster and shrimp. One of the key topics of discussion in Havana was access to data – both in terms of what Cuban data is available and what new data is needed.
– The biggest challenge will be to obtain sufficiently good data, says Erlend Moksness. He is a research director at The Institute of Marine Research, and is the project manager for COLLABORATE.
Lobsters and spiny lobsters
Fishing is the third biggest export industry in Cuba. The tuna, shrimp and spiny lobster are the most important fishery resources.
Both in Norway and Cuba, lobsters are a sought-after delicacy. They are heavily targeted, and both countries are experiencing sharp declines in their catches. In Norway, official lobster landings have fallen dramatically since the golden age of the 1950s and 60s. In those decades, the annual catch was almost 1,000 tonnes, whereas in 2012 the official catch was only 47 tonnes. Since the start of the millennium, Cuban spiny lobster catches have almost halved; in recent years the catch has been around 4,500 tonnes. For Cuban fishers, the value of the annual catch is almost 70 million dollars. Most lobsters are exported, but part of the catch is served to tourists at local hotels and restaurants.
More frequent and more intense hurricanes
– The decline in the catch may be due to a number of factors, explains Rafael Tizol Correa, who heads the Cuban fisheries research centre (CIP). This fishing resource supports a heavy fishing pressure and the fishing pressure must take some of the blame. However, the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones has also greatly increased in recent decades, and they may have destroyed important breeding and nursing grounds for the spiny lobster. Tizol also points out that damming rivers and other fresh water sources has altered the flow of fresh water and nutrients elements to the coast, and hence also the environmental conditions and food availability for the spiny lobster.
Efforts to rebuild stock
The Cuban lobster fishery has a limited season. Continuous assessments are made in order to determine when the season should start, and what the minimum and maximum sizes should be. Maximum sizes have been introduced in order to protect the biggest and oldest individuals to guarantee reproduction and future recruitment. Quotas and the size of the lobster fleet are also up for debate, but it is more difficult to restrict them, as the lobster fishery is one of the most profitable fisheries in Cuba. With good models for the drift of juveniles and larvae, scientists hope to learn more about which areas are particularly important to the spiny lobster. That will be an important tool for efforts to rebuild stocks.