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Is Fishing in Cuba Still Legal for Americans?

You have probably heard that the Trump administration has tightened the screws on travel to Cuba by banning cruises there, as well as trips via private airplane and boat. So, what about fly fishing trips with Avalon and other operators? The answer to that question is complicated and much is still being learned at this point, but here is what we do know:

According to the Treasury Department’s official notice, “The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement portions of the President’s foreign policy toward Cuba. This amendment removes an authorization for group people-to-people educational travel, but provides a ‘grandfathering’ provision to authorize certain group people-to-people educational travel that previously was authorized where the traveler has already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019.”

Since the Treasury Department made its announcement, many outfitters and operators have been scrambling to find out what it all means. When we reached out to Jim Klug of Yellow Dog Fly Fishing, he said, “Moving forward, there may continue to be legal ways to travel to Cuba. We are exploring those options, looking at all possibilities, and engaging the services of the most knowledgeable attorneys that specialize in OFAC laws and regulations. We will only book trips and handle itineraries that are 100 percent legal, above-board and in compliance with OFAC regulations and US laws. That is Yellow Dog’s position, and that is the way that we do things. As the situation continues to develop, we will have more information for our existing customers as well as those anglers interested in fishing Cuba in the future.” (More at https://www.yellowdogflyfishing.com/regions/fly-fishing-cuba/)

Other outfitters, such as Orvis, have ceased all of their operations in Cuba. Andrew Pierce of Orvis told us, “Orvis is no longer booking trips to Cuba as of June 4, 2019. According to the statement released by OFAC, anyone that has completed at least one travel-related transaction (flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019, will be grandfathered in; at least that is how we understand it as of now. Of course, Orvis has only ever booked 100 percent legally compliant trips, so, at this point, we are stopping any further trips to Cuba.” That’s because Orvis has previously booked its trips through the “people-to-people” category, but what about other non-US outfitters?

When we reached out to Cuba’s largest outfitter, Avalon (https://cubanfishingcenters.com/), their representative, Filippo Invernizzi, told me he believes the changes will not affect Avalon’s ability to conduct lawful bookings to Cuba for US citizens because they offer their trips through a category of legal travel (“workshops, clinics, and public performances”) that was not affected by the recent changes.
At this point, the grandfathered trips seem to be the last batch of legal trips for many of the US-based outfitters. Yellow Dog says that they have something over 100 clients booked on grandfathered trips, and much like Orvis, they will be halting future bookings until further notice.

It is worth noting, that the people-to-people trips were the most prominent form of travel to Cuba from the United States, and these changes are estimated to have affected some 800,000 people just in the form of cruise ship passengers. There will no doubt be large consequences to the local economy, as hundreds of thousands more will now not be traveling to Cuba in the months to come. It remains to be seen if operators will be able to change their licenses to another grouping such as “Support for the Cuban People” or some other legal categorization.

It appears that the current administration is attempting to cripple the newly found US tourism market in Cuba by cracking down on what it believes to be unessential or vacation-based travel to Cuba. Aside from clamping down on cruise ships, private aircraft, and boat travel, the announcement also highlighted the new term “veiled tourism,” which could point to the department’s intention to eliminate both vacation tourism and tourism that is supposed to be beneficial travel but that holds no real value to the participants and the island nation. We can only hope, for the sake of its people and its natural resources, that trips categorized under “workshops” with a conservation basis hold up to further scrutiny by this administration. It is entirely possible that our little trips around the Cuban coastline will go unnoticed and unaffected, but only time will tell.

On the face of it, the rule change has left most categories of travel (journalistic activity, educational activities, humanitarian activities, workshops, etc.) unscathed, and in the past all sorts of programs have been put together around these categories, but it remains to be seen if/when US-based companies like Yellow Dog will find new legal ways to send clients to Cuba, or if there will be further policy changes made that eliminate travel completely. We, of course, will keep you updated on this situation as it develops. – Seth Fields, Editor
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Do you have a grandfathered trip coming up or an experience with these recent changes to report on? Just have a general report on another trip? File it at www.anglingreport.com/file-a-trip-report.

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