Representatives of Maine's fisheries, apples, seed potatoes and vegetable seeds traveled to explore export opportunities in Cuba. After a first visit in May, an expanded delegation will return in October.
Those delegates from Maine agricultural growers and fisheries met with buyers and officials from the Cuba Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG) to develop a pipeline of Maine agricultural products for export to Cuba.
The delegation was developed by Doyle Marchant, president of Cedar Spring Agricultural Co., at the direct invitation of the Cuba Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG).
"It was important for Maine growers and producers to act on this unique invitation for Maine to build a reliable source of products and begin a normalization of relations between the two countries," said Marchant. "The primary currency in Cuba is not money but building trust that can benefit both Maine and Cuba."
While in Havana, letters of support for the delegation from Maine lawmakers Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Rep. Jared Golden were presented to Sr. Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, vice minister of Ministry of Foreign Relations for the Republic of Cuba. The meetings also coincided with an important announcement by the Biden administration to lift certain restrictions on Cuba.
Maine products from the sea and the fields
The delegates were assembled to represent key agricultural industries from Maine, including frozen fish products, apples, seed potatoes and vegetable seeds. Maine fisheries delegates met with buyers to introduce a novel species of fish to Cuba, Cape Shark – known to U.S fisheermen as spiny dogfish –which provides a provide a tasty source of inexpensive protein, as well as other frozen fish products.
Marchant, told National Fisherman that “the fisheries portion of the delegation was formed to present the Cape Shark as a potential high-protein, low cost fish for Cuba. Developing this species for export expands the fishery for Maine coastal fishermen, processors and cold storage facilities. The Cape Shark can be shipped as processed loins or as minimally-processed whole fish to provide food and allow for processing the by-products in Cuba into fertilizer for crops.”
Vegetable seeds and seed potatoes were presented to MINAG officials to help Cuba develop a more self-sufficient agricultural system. Maine apples were proposed to provide nourishment to Cuba which has been hit hard by the pandemic and trade restrictions.
Phineas Sprague Jr., founder of Portland Yacht Services, Inc., served as advisor to Cedar Spring Agricultural Co. Sprague provided invaluable guidance in selecting the team of fisheries delegates to represent the full scope of introducing Maine fish products to Cuba, from landing, processing, freezing and storage. Cedar Spring Agricultural also relied upon its partner Ramiro Triana Abreu in Havana to assist in Cuba to coordinate high-level meetings during the delegation visit.
- Joshua Miller, International /Wholesale Territory Manager, Johnny’s Selected Seeds
- Suzannah Raber, Sales & Operations Manager, New England Fish Co.
- Angelo Ciocco, President, Nova Seafood
- Robert Odlin, Owner, Odlin Family Seafood/ Sea Method Fertilizer
- Stephanie Cheney Marchant, Vice President, Cedar Spring Agricultural Co., representing Ricker Hill Farms
Reconfirming a Maine-Cuba relationship
Spanning more than two decades, Marchant has a long history of working to bring Maine products to Cuba. This May 2022 effort has taken on special significance considering the devastating impact the covid-19 pandemic had on the Cuban economy.
Heavily dependent on tourist trade, the Cuban economy came to a nearly complete halt. As a result, the government has initiated new steps to develop a more self-sustaining economy.
“Our mission to reinvigorate the links between Maine and Cuba through agricultural and fisheries exports,” said Marchant, “is one that will benefit the growers and producers of Maine and the people of Cuba.”
On the photograph that illustrates this story, Maine agricultural delegates display a Maine State Flag at the Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine on the Malecón Boulevard in Havana, Cuba. The group met with Cuban buyers and high-level government officials to develop a new trade pipeline of agricultural and fisheries products from Maine to Cuba.
Pictured are (l-r) Joshua Miller, Johnny’s Selected Seeds; Suzannah Raber, New England Fish Co.; Stephanie Cheney Marchant, Cedar Spring Agricultural Co; Mrs. Ramiro Triana Abreu; Doyle Marchant, Cedar Spring Agricultural Co.; Ramiro Triana Abreu, Cedar Spring Agricultural Co.; Phineas Sprague, Jr., Portland Yacht Services.
An expanded delegation plans to return Oct. 8 to resume negotiations for Maine agricultural and fisheries products.
“The expanded delegation in October will include representatives in the forest products and livestock medical products industries. At this time, Maine fisheries are well represented for the October delegation,” said Marchant.