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Like most business people, the change in US Cuban diplomatic relations spurs folks to consider the possibility of the trade embargo being lifted and how it might impact their business. For Key West, which is closer to Cuba than any place else in the US, and with whom many locals share a heritage that stretches back many generations, the question looms large.

On Charter Boat Row this week captains and mates talked about possible changes for both Cubans, in general, and the Key West fishing industry in particular, if the trade embargo were lifted.

Captain Richie Gomez, owner of the Captain Conch and president of the Key West Charter Boat Association weighs in on the possibility of Cuba opening up.

“You know, I’m from Cuban heritage,” said Richie Gomez, president of the Key West Charter Boat Association, “and I think it’s something that we need to do. I think it has to happen for the Cuba relations to get better. ..Here’s a country 90 miles from us that is ready to become part of the rest of the world, and for us to keep this embargo in place, it’s really defeating the purpose. The purpose is to make that a free country, but, you know, Castro and that whole regime is kind of holding on to [the communist system] out of pride, I think.”

For Cuba, the change would be dramatic, Captain Richie said. “I guarantee you, once that embargo is lifted there’s going to be major changes in Cuba. And most of them for the better. I think the people there will become freer and little by little, we’ll be able to … to politically motivate them to do the right thing. Because they don’t want to see another embargo so they’re going to be very willing to work with us. I think it’s win win, but, you know, a lot of the Cubans are holding on to their pride, their remembrance of how it used to be and how it still is.”

Until about a decade ago, many local captains still fished in Havana tournaments, but when President GW Bush tightened travel restrictions, that happy relationship ended, and few charter boat captains cross the Florida Straits to fish.

When President Barack Obama first started talking about the possibility of relaxing the embargo – one of his campaign pledges – and when he made a first step by easing travel restrictions shortly after his inauguration, some Key West business people worried that opening Cuba would draw away tourist dollars. But on Charter Boat Row, the captains and mates don’t seem concerned.

“Cuba’s just one more island. There are dozens of islands in the Caribbean,” said Southbound Mate Ben Garfield. “It’s not Key West or Cuba, it never has been.”

The Key West tourist development council already has the slogan, “Two Nations, One Vacation,” said Garfield. ”You know, that’s catchy.”

Shawn Thomas, a captain for the Fish Check, thinks it would be “awesome” to take fishing charters from Key West to Cuba.

Shawn Thomas, a captain on the Fish Check agrees.

“I think when it really opens up it will be great. It will give us a lot more business, people will be coming in and out of here a lot more,” Captain Thomas said. “I think the option of a three day trip where you spend the night on the boat and go fish Cuban waters would be awesome.” Captain Thomas said he would happily trade up for a bigger boat with better sleeping quarters to take advantage of anglers who will want to fish Cuba out of Key West.

Captain Joe Mercurio, Jr. of the Jolly Roger said, “Obviously, it’s a good thing.”

“Obviously, it’s a good thing,” said, Joe Mercurio, Jr. of the Jolly Roger. “Like they say, fifty four years, it hasn’t worked… I see more people coming here to get there. You could fish your way over there. You know, it’s only 90 miles. With this boat [the Jolly Roger], with only 600 horsepower and twin diesels, you could fish halfway there and run the other half. We do it to [the Dry] Tortugas and that’s 70 miles. Cuba is only 90 miles.”

Of course, the embargo may take many more years to be lifted, but Cuba opening up can only be great Captain Joe Jr. said.

“It would be awesome, and it would be good for [the Cuban] people,” said Capt. Joe Jr. “It ain’t all about us.”

The complete interview with Captain Richie Gomez, owner of the Captain Conch and president of the Key West Charter Boat Association.

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