Fish If You Can

Underwater fishing

By Lorenzo Martin

HAVANA TIMES – “If you cry at night because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars,” Tagore wrote in his book of poems Stray Birds.

Last week, I told you that I was getting paid to stand watch over people’s places in line at the gas station in their cars. The story began with my neighbor, and I already have a few more clients. It seems that this crisis is going to last a while, so I have some nice income guaranteed to cover food expenses at least for a while. 

Well, in this very same line, I met some young men, while playing dominoes, who go underwater fishing on the weekend. We started talking about it and I told them that I used to also underwater fish when I was younger, but I stopped because my fishing buddy left the country, like anyone else who can, and they jokingly invited me to go with them as soon as we finished up filling the gas tank.

I hesitated when accepting because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, much less scare the hell out of myself. Fishing with young men can be dangerous. Underwater fishing is risky business if you don’t take the right precautions. I like to know and build trust with the person I go fishing with because you need to know each other’s real physical abilities and it’s very important for us to be able to communicate with just a few gestures.

Something else that made me hesitate was the fact that I’m not 20 years old anymore and between my age and cigarettes, my breathing capacity and general physical wellbeing have declined a great deal. But there’s nothing better than a couple of swigs of alcohol to let loose. I agreed to go with the boys, Ivan and Ariel, on an adventure as soon as we finished up in the line.


Gasoline didn’t come in until Tuesday so we went fishing on the Wednesday. I still have an old pneumatic speargun (a small underwater fishing gun with compressed air inside) which I had maintained and still worked perfectly by some miracle. The mask/goggles and snorkel were still in good condition because I’d kept them stored away in industrial talc that really looks after plastic and rubber. My old flippers were no longer useable, but the boys lent me some and they fit perfectly. 

Brisas del mar

We initially talked about going fishing in Jibacoa, but the transport and fuel crisis made us rethink our plans. We chose to go to Brisas del Mar, in Guanabo, instead. Brisas is an area at the end of Guanabo where young people from Havana used to go camping on the weekend back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, with a tent and we’d have a great time. The first couple of times I went underwater fishing was also in Brisas.

We got to the beach at about 5 AM and we were in the water by 5:30 AM. The boys were really in good shape and fast in deep water, which means swimming quite a bit out at this beach because the water is quite shallow. I settled for swimming around 100 m offshore and started looking between the sea grasses that are abundant there. Despite being a shallow and sandy area, there are normally quite a few fish thanks to these sea grasses and a river nearby, although I wasn’t expecting much to tell you the truth.

Yellowtail snappers

I was surprised that I was able to go down five or six fathoms at this point in life and hold my breath for a minute still nearly. It wasn’t long before I discovered a small shoal of Yellowtail snappers and that changed all of my expectations: I wasn’t going to come out empty-handed this time. I got to chasing them and left the larger fish to the boys.

Despite being young, these young men know how to fish and look after each other thank God, as that was one of my main concerns. We came out of the water at about 10 AM and we’d all got a decent catch. They’d managed to fish some larger fish and more than me, but I really was happy with my catch.

I hadn’t eaten fresh fish in a long while, not even frozen, so tonight was going to be a banquet. I separated the fish onto two skewers weighing 5-6 pounds each, 7 or 8 gutted fish. The boys did the same and we hadn’t even reached the bus stop before they’d sold everything to passers-by who asked how much they were and paid without bartering.

The catch

I thought about taking a skewer to my mom and leaving one for me, but the price convinced me, and I sold one. We were paid 350 pesos per pound of fish and we calculated the skewers were about 6 pounds each. We earned 2100 pesos in just a few hours of fishing and having fun.

I’ve always thought about fishing as a way to have fun, and to eat fish of course, but I’ve never sold it before. When I used to fish, it was hard to sell it because the police would persecute underwater fishing and they’d take away your equipment, catch and give you a fine if they caught you. The young men told me that the police didn’t give them any problems recently, that they turned a blind eye and that in the worst case, they’d check they weren’t selling a barracuda because they’re toxic and dangerous, and ended up taking a couple of fish away as a gift, leaving them in peace.

The feast

I took the fish I had left to my mom’s house and here I am waiting, while my old lady is cooking them up in the kitchen, to serve the banquet in a little while. I just hope my sister and her husband don’t show up because they never turn down a meal and I don’t want to share it, let their beloved Revolution give them fish.

Ever since late 2019, the economic situation in Cuba has fallen into ruin and my own has hit rock bottom a few times. I’ve spent a lot of this time complaining and that’s stopped me seeing the opportunities that flourish in every crisis. Tagore was definitely right: I’ve just discovered another activity I can develop that will give me food first, and a bit of extra money. Plus, socializing with young people is always a burst of energy.

Read more from Lorenzo Martin here.

Lorenzo Martin Martines

I am one more Cuban living his 5th decade of life. I am a worker, educated, lover of the family and of my land. But it happens that I am also loyal and faithful to my ideals, committed to life, and above all I use the ability to think that God gave me. These are characteristics that make my thinking totally incompatible with the ideology promulgated by the Havana regime, with lies and hypocrisy. In view of this situation, which is already traumatic, I write this diary as a form of catharsis. I write it from my deepest ideals, from my guts. If reading some truths seem too harsh, imagine living them.