Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ernest Hemingway's Cuba logs could be source for deep-sea fish data

Cojimar is a small fishing village east of Havana, forming a ward (consejo popular) part of the Habana del Este municipality.
It was an inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.
(GeoCuba nautical chart with the Marine GeoGarage
Marina Hemingway in the left bottom corner))

From Sydney Morning Herald by Michael Weissenstein

A dozen tiny, ageing fishing boats bobbed in the wake of the massive, gleaming white sport-fishing yacht taking Ernest Hemingway's grandsons to the village that inspired the Nobel laureate's greatest work.
Fishermen waved to the Hemingways and hundreds waited on shore Monday to greet the descendants of a man who fished from Cojimar for decades, hauling in marlin, sharks and tuna from the warm waters off the Cuban coast.
"He was a fisherman," grandson Patrick Hemingway said, looking at the men gathered to greet him. "He considered them his brothers."

John Hemingway (left) and Patrick Hemingway (right), grandsons of the US author Ernest Hemingway, pay tribute to their grandfather at his statue in Cojimar village, Havana.
Photo: Reuters

Along with a team of US researchers, Hemingway and his brother John are on a five-day mission to leverage their famous name to encourage closer ties fbetween the United States and Cuba and, hopefully, open the way for scientists to gain access to the writer's fishing logs, a long-concealed and potentially valuable source of knowledge about the area's massive predatory game fish.

Researchers gathered little information about the health of deep-sea fish populations in the years before industrial fishing devastated populations of tuna and other highly desired big species in the second half of the last century.
That leaves sport fishermen's records as some of the only resources for marine scientists seeking a benchmark to measure population declines.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1960 in a villa on lush, orchard-filled grounds in the village of San Francisco de Paula on the south-east edge of Havana.
From Cojimar, he often launched his boat, the Pilar, with first mate Gregorio Fuentes, who helped inspire the ageing fisherman who battles a giant marlin in the Pulitzer-winning Old Man and the Sea.
One of the earliest and most prolific sport fishermen in the Florida Straits, Hemingway may inadvertently have created an unparalleled scientific resource as he prowled some of the world's richest fishing grounds.
Hemingway assembled thousands of books, photographs and journals, many of which deteriorated over decades of exposure to Cuba's baking heat and high humidity, and the longstanding neglect of the estate known as Finca Vigia.
The logs are now kept by Cuba's National Cultural Heritage Council which, in order to protect the fragile documents, only allows conservators to handle them.

Hemingway proudly displays a marlin trophy in Havana Harbour (July, 1934)

Fishing logs typically contain details of the numbers of fish caught, the location of the catch and weight of the fish.
Hemingway's obsessive record-keeping, combined with the thousands of hours he spent on the water, have researchers hoping his logs could provide essential details about deep-sea fish populations over the last 75 years in the Straits.

"Hemingway was there in Cuba for 20 years. If he did keep log books for that long, having 20 years - even if it is only for a single vessel - would be very valuable," said Dr David Die a US-based fishery scientist.
"It would be a record of relative changes in the size and the abundance of fish over a period where we do not have any other records. It's exactly the type of information that we use nowadays when we assess populations of fish in the ocean."

The great white shark caught off Cojimar in 1945 which is allegedly 6.4 m (21 ft) long and weighed an estimated 3,175 kg (7,000 lb).

The US-based Finca Vigia foundation is working with the Cuban council to preserve the house and Hemingway's many documents.
Mary Jo Adams, executive director of the Boston-based foundation, said she has seen some pages of Hemingway's fishing logs, which list everything from what Hemingway and his guests ate for lunch on a certain day to how many fish they caught and the timing of the tides.

The foundation is helping Cuban curators preserve and digitise thousands of the most significant documents in the Finca Vigia.
Ms Adams said she believes many of the fishing logs may be bound and at less risk of deterioration since they have not yet been studied closely.

 Photo of Hemingway and Elicio Arguelles posing alongside a giant marlin, 
signed and inscribed in fountain pen :
“To J. C. De Clairmont from his and Wheerler’s friend, Ernest Hemingway.
This fish caught by Elicio Arguelles, Cuban sportsman, Old Man and the Sea Expedition, Cabo Blanco, northern coast of Peru, May 1956.”

Cuba's National Cultural Heritage Council declined an Associated Press request to see the logs ahead of the scientists' trip, saying only conservators could enter the storage room where most of Hemingway's documents are kept.
Apart from the fishing logs, the scientists and game-fish experts travelling with the Hemingways have other goals: 
 They hope Cuba will agree to participate in an ocean-wide program of genetically sampling white marlin and spearfish to better track them and measure the health of the species across the Atlantic. They would like organisers of an annual Cuban fishing tournament named after Hemingway to require anglers to use circular hooks, which are less-damaging and make it easier to catch and release fish.
They also hope Cuba will allow scientists to import satellite trackers which could be attached to fish caught during the tournament in order to study their movements once they are released.
The researchers acknowledge the difficulty of winning approval to bring in such equipment, which is looked at with suspicion by Cuban authorities.

Ms Adams said, however, that Dr Die's hopes of finding scientific information in the logs may be well founded.
"He kept records of everything," she said.
"I suspect the fishing logs would be just as detailed."
Dr Die acknowledged it remains far from clear whether he'll gain access to the logs, although he expects to know more after meeting with Cuban scientists and cultural officials later this week.
"Whether they even allow us to touch them, it depends on the curators," he said.
"It's an open question."

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