Hemingway as a Naturalist: Preserving Marlin and Tuna in the Florida Straits
By Jeffrey Boutwell
Jeffrey Boutwell is a board member of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund based in Washington, DC. He is an avid Keys flats fisherman and has organized previous international science workshops in Cuba on issues such as biotechnology and medical research.
The gleaming bust of Ernest Hemingway, sparkling in the warm Caribbean sun, greeted us as our fishing boats rounded the point and headed into the harbor of the small fishing village of Cojimar, just east of Havana. On board were two Hemingway grandsons, John and Patrick; one a novelist and writer, the other a photographer. They had come to Cuba to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their grandfather’s Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in no small part for The Old Man and the Sea, which Hemingway had based on the people and setting of Cojimar. It was in Cojimar that Hemingway had moored his beloved fishing boat, Pilar, from the late 1930s up to 1960, and it was to the people of Cojimar that he donated his Nobel Prize medal, which still resides in Cuba to this day.
Ready to greet John and Patrick and our three sport fishing boats that had sailed down the coast from Havana were a small flotilla of Cuban fishing boats and more than a hundred townspeople. Schoolchildren in their traditional uniforms as well as octogenarian fishermen, some of whom had know Hemingway in the 1940s and 1950s when they were teenagers, were treating the event as a national holiday. Thanks to the efforts of Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich of the Hemingway International Yacht Club in Havana, our group had secured the necessary permission to sail to Cojimar to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first time Hemingway sailed Pilar from Key West to Cuba.
John and Patrick Hemingway came to Cuba in early September 2014 as part of a group that included several marine biologists and naturalists, as well as Marty Arostegui, a world renowned sport fisherman and trustee of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). Our mission was to both celebrate Hemingway as an adopted son of Cuba and commemorate the scientific work Hemingway did in 1934-35 with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia to observe and catalog marlin, tuna and other game fish in the Florida Straits.
Few people know about this ‘naturalist’ side of Hemingway, who is more often remembered for his big game hunting exploits in Africa and his marlin fishing around Key West, Cuba and Bimini. From his earliest days fishing in the streams and lakes of central Michigan, Hemingway was an astute observer of the environment around him. He continued this tradition in the summer of 1934 when he hosted two men on board Pilar for more than a month of marlin and tuna research in the Florida Straits. Noted ichthyologist Henry Weed Fowler and Academy managing director Charles Cadwalader were so grateful to Hemingway for his involvement that they established a Hemingway archive at the Academy’s museum in Philadelphia, which you can still visit to this day to see the correspondence, records, and specimens that Hemingway provided (see illustration), as well as a new species of scorpionfish discovered by Fowler that he named after Hemingway, Neomerinthe hemingwayi
Since that time in the 1930s, overfishing, pollution and environmental degradation have combined to call into question the health of the marlin, tuna and other game fish populations. Groups like the IGFA are seeking to learn more about the current situation through marlin tagging programs. And international organizations such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) seek to promote regional cooperation to preserve the marlin, tuna, and spearfish which are so vital to the health of the commercial and sport fishing industries.
Unfortunately, 50+ years of the US embargo against Cuba and the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries have blocked needed cooperation on issues related to natural resources and the environment. Cuba is not a member of ICCAT and the difficulty of American and Cuban scientists working together on marlin issues impedes the efforts of the IGFA and others to fully understand the current game fish situation in the Florida Straits.
It is this situation that John and Patrick Hemingway would like to help resolve. By celebrating their grandfather’s joint American and Cuban heritage and highlighting the joint reliance of both Cuba and the U.S. on healthy game fish stocks in the waters between the two countries, the Hemingway grandsons are seeking to break down the barriers that prevent US-Cuba ocean resource cooperation. Accordingly, our trip to Cuba also involved meetings with Cuban scientists at the Center for Marine Research, University of Havana, and the National Aquarium of Cuba. In the US, other groups involved in joint US-Cuba projects include the Bonefish Tarpon Trust and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Under the auspices of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund of Washington, DC, and by working with a variety of US and Cuban marine scientists and organizations, we hope to promote US-Cuban cooperation on protecting the ocean resources of the Florida Straits that were so important to Ernest Hemingway during his lifetime. No less than the health of the fishing and tourism industries, and the economies and ecological wellbeing, of Cuba, Florida and southern United States are at stake.
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