State/National/WorldEl Reporte

U.S. Boats Scuttled from Cuba Billfish Tournament

MIAMI—At the last minute, the U.S. State Department squashed year-long plans for the first team of U.S. anglers and their 40 U.S. flagged sport-fishing boats to participate in the annual Hemingway International Billfish Tournament, held off Havana, June 9-15.
“Final word from the U.S. government was, sorry, the 40 boats are not permitted to go to Cuba this month, but all the team anglers can go.” This announcement was made by Toni Zamora, the Miami attorney representing the U.S. team of boats and about 100 anglers. Due to this glitch, many of the registered participants will fly down to Havana on a charter plane – as legally licensed members of the U.S. team – but none of their boats can go.

Instead, the anglers will charter whatever boats are available at Hemingway International Yacht Club, said Zamora. Members who are flying to Havana for this year’s tournament said they still intend to give the scheduled seminars on environmental issues of fishing, such as the use of circle hooks for releasing fish, and that they will still supply electronic tags to the Cuban angler so released fish can be tracked.

Bruce Kessler, one of the seven fleet leaders of the U.S. team, said, “I’m sorry that our plans to be the first group of boats authorized by the U.S. government to go to Cuba have been stopped, again.” Kessler, a circumnavigator home ported at Marina del Rey, is the founder of the FUBAR power boat rally to Mexico.

“Last year, all the boats and participants were okayed to go, but – due to the federal sequester – it did not get approved in time. This year, they blame an internal-timing glitch and their own handling of our application,” said Kessler.

“The State Department claims,” said Kessler, “that because this year’s application was mishandled, by them, it would take another 30 days for our boats to be approved to go. For me and all the boat owners involved, this was another huge disappointment from working with government bureaucracy.”

Asked if he would make another attempt next year if invited, Kessler said, “Yes, my team has told me that they would still like to be part of the first U.S. approved boating event allowed to go to Cuba.”

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