Is Eating Lobster Illegal In Cuba?

Many things are prohibited on the island of Cuba while some others need official state approval or authorization. But is eating lobster one of them? 

Is Eating Lobster Illegal In Cuba?

We look at the issue of fishing and seafood in the country and how it affects ordinary people there and ask the question, is eating lobster illegal in Cuba?

Cuban Seafood

A country surrounded by sea should have more than enough seafood for its people, restaurants and hotels with the possibility of exporting some as well. This is not the case in Cuba. 

The state runs most of the fisheries, hotels and restaurants either directly or indirectly with partners.

As a result there are limits on the amount of seafood that is harvested and environmental factors have impacted fishing stocks as well. 

Fish numbers have declined and there is a real problem with pollution around the island. One of the offending parties is the distillery where Havana Club rum is made.

The biggest distillery in the country, Ronera Sana Cruz drains waste from its facility into the waters. 

Because of this there are no fish in the area which adds to the shortage. 

Fishing In Cuba

Despite being an island nation the Cuban people eat just a fraction of the global fish consumption per capita.

They now also eat only a quarter of the seafood that they did in the 1980s. 

Why is this the case on an island that is encircled by some of the most bountiful seas in the world?

Between 1976 and 1990 the fishing fleets of Cuba brought in more than 100,000 tons per year from international fishing grounds. 

However, economic crises and the run down of fishing vessels as a result of the sanctions imposed on the country meant that the industry declined to the point where Cubans were eating fewer fish than most people in North America. 

Declining fish stocks are hampering the efforts of local fishermen to maintain the volume of catch they were once used to.

Of the 54 species of fish that Cubans regularly fished for commercially they estimate that numbers have dropped by up to 44% in recent years. 

Grouper and snapper were once the staple fish for these fishermen, but catches have fallen by 70%. Fishing is currently one of the most depressed sectors of Cuba’s economy. 

The dismantling of the long range fishing fleet has hampered the industry.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union which Cuba relied on for machine and vehicle parts they were unable to maintain the fleet, and it fell into disrepair. 

Why Don’t Cubans Eat Lobster?

Is Eating Lobster Illegal In Cuba?

The Cuban government has enacted laws that prohibit and severely restrict the fishing that ordinary Cubans can engage in.

The most recent of these laws were passed in 2019. 

Failure to abide by them results in heavy fines and possible imprisonment if they cannot pay the fines.

The law requires that anyone wanting to fish must have a license to do so but the cost is often prohibitive for a lot of Cubans. 

In effect a Cuban cannot fish for their food from the shoreline or in freshwater. So even if they were able to catch lobster it would be illegal for them to do so. 

The government in Cuba only permits state authorized fisheries to take fish and other seafood from the waters around the island and deliver it to the state-run or state partnered hotels and restaurants. 

To buy lobster at a restaurant or hotel in Cuba is beyond the means of the majority of the ordinary people of the island. 

So the reasons why Cubans don’t eat lobster are because it is illegal for them to catch lobster themselves for consumption unless they have a high fee license and most Cubans do not earn enough money to be able to dine at a restaurant where lobster is served. 

Restaurants In Cuba

Before 1993 all restaurants in Cuba were owned by the government, private ownership was prohibited.

However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union which Cuba had relied on so heavily, the government was forced to allow some privately owned businesses to open up. 

This was designed to help ease the economic pain that Cuba was experiencing. The first privately owned restaurants were still heavily regulated, however.

Known as Paladares they were permitted to seat just 12 customers but had to have at least two employees. 

In successive years the restrictions became even harsher and the state eventually stopped issuing licenses for new Paladares.

This lasted almost ten years until Raul Castro allowed private entrepreneurs to open small businesses once more. 

Conditions for these establishments are difficult still as there are constant shortages of even the most basic ingredients for dishes.

Seafood and lobster is also heavily restricted with some restaurants allowed to serve it and some not. 

Much of the seafood that Cuba produces is exported to help the cash strapped economy and government expansion of fish farming has done little to alleviate the short supply. 

Fishing restrictions are touted as being in response to the need to reduce overfishing and the preservation of this natural resource.

But ordinary Cubans are skeptical about these reasons and wary of their implementation by the regime. 

Other Activities To Avoid In Cuba

Cuba is a beautiful country but full of things that are either prohibited or inadvisable to do. So what are some of the activities that you should avoid in Cuba?

It is illegal for Cubans to criticize the state so stay clear of discussions about politics with locals.

You should never take a photo of the police, authorities or airport staff in Cuba as this is illegal too. 

Bank cards either debit or credit issued by American banks will not be accepted in Cuba so don’t bother to take them with you. 

For currency, it is better to take Canadian dollars, Euros or British pound sterling to Cuba. American dollars are subject to a 13% gravamen which is akin to a grievance tax. 

The $25 CUC departure tax that was once payable when leaving Cuba is no longer applied and is incorporated into the price of your airline ticket.

Some agencies will still try to charge it so be aware. 

If you are suffering from a cold or allergies then make sure you blow your nose in private when in Cuba as doing so in public is considered very rude. 

Finally only use taxis that are licensed.

There are many vehicles on the streets of Cuba that purport to be taxis but only some of them are officially licensed to operate as such.

Both state run and privately owned taxis are licensed. 

Final Thoughts

So although there are a lot of things that are illegal or prohibited in Cuba it  is not illegal to eat lobster.

But only if you are a visitor or tourist dining in one of the hotels or restaurants that are allowed to serve it. 

If you are a Cuban citizen, and you don’t have the state’s authorization to catch lobster however, then you are at risk of being fined or imprisoned for eating lobster.  

We hope this guide to Cuba and eating lobster there has been helpful.

Jim Stanton
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