Cuba’s many lakes offer potential for U.S. boating industry
Mention boating in Cuba and most people think Hemingway, big-game fishing and lolling about on yachts. Only a handful recognize that Cuba also has alpine lakes, oceanfront lagoons and a series of Soviet-built reservoirs that cover the countryside from Havana to Santiago de Cuba.
While no Cuban lives more than 50 miles from the sea, very few live more than 10 miles from a freshwater lake. Once the U.S. trade embargo is over, investments to supply inland boating products may well be among the fastest growing industries, given the huge gap between present supply and potential demand.
Cuba’s Soviet-built lakes are everywhere in the country and just large enough to support family boating.
For example, a dozen reservoirs dot the 30 miles separating San Cristobal and Consolación del Sur in Pinar del Río, one of which is four miles long. In that area, no one lives more than a couple of miles from a nice-sized lake.
All told, Cuba has about 100 reservoirs large enough to support motorized boating, as well as a number of natural lakes in coastal areas, called “lagoons” in Cuba.
Laguna la Redonda and Laguna de la Leche (so named because mineral deposits cloud the water) near Camagüey are examples of such lagoons. La Redonda is brackish and has a concentration of largemouth bass introduced long ago, not to mention a small marina and canal connecting it to Bahia de los Perros.
So-called “top predator” largemouth bass eat every aquatic animal they see, and flourish in tropical lakes. Fishermen throughout Pinar del Río often bicycle to nearby reservoirs in the morning, then return at the end of the day to sell their catch to friends and neighbors.
Sustained activity, like these small-business commercial fishermen, requires a large bass population.
Laguna de la Leche, also near Camagüey, has a flourishing population of largemouth bass, snook, tarpon and other predominantly saltwater species that came into the lake when it was connected to the ocean by a since-closed channel.
A game preserve — one of a handful in Cuba — also awaits hunters willing to pay. Boaters can rent rowboats at Laguna de la Leche, but will find fewer facilities at similar low-lying lakes west of Pinar de Río.
West of Pinar del Río city, in the sparsely populated Huanahacabibes Peninsula, sit a number of lakes including Laguna Pesquero, Laguna El Sabalo, Laguna La Lisa and others that are seldom visited, with few facilities.
Another hunting lodge can be found at La Cubana rice plantation at Maspaton, 62 kms east of Pinar del Río — complete with its own small lakes. Again, all of these facilities are mostly rustic and will require new equipment once the embargo is lifted.
With free trade restored, U.S. boat manufacturers can look forward to brisk business in imported smaller boats suitable for lake and coastal waters.
While Cubans have limited cash income that will constrain sales, there is strong potential demand. At present, Cuban inshore commercial fishermen build small boats from discarded construction materials ranging from corrugated iron to Styrofoam scraps.
In the longer run, U.S. businesses can expect to supply Cuba with a full range of boating products. Presently, Cuban lakes lack boat ramps, modern marinas or boat and motor dealers. Boat ramps will require engineering services, marinas will require floating docks from America’s 30-odd dock building companies, and boat and motor dealers will sell aluminum skiffs and small motors.
Fishing tackle sellers will also profit, as Cuba’s only tackle market is a three-block informal market along Havana’s Malecón.
Could a more underserved market for recreational marine products exist anywhere?
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