Vermont company launches fishing trips to Cuba

Orvis to start hosting guided fly-fishing excursions to Cuba later this year

MANCHESTER, Vt. (NECN) —In a sign of the slowly thawing relations between the United States and Cuba following decades of Cold War-style hostilities, a Vermont-based company has announced it will host a series of guided excursions to the island nation starting in October.

Orvis, the retailer known nationally for its fishing gear, apparel, and home accessories, will arrange travel for fly fishermen to explore Cuba starting this October.

“It’s becoming easier and easier to travel from the U.S. to Cuba and to experience the country in a legal and compliant way,” Simon Perkins of Orvis said in an interview at the company’s Manchester flagship store. “There’s still a right way and a wrong way to do it, legally speaking, but I think people are becoming more comfortable with the idea that Cuba is a destination and a place they can put on their bucket list and go experience.”

Perkins explained that, due to standing restrictions on tourism between the U.S. and the Communist-led nation, the Orvis-arranged trips will be classified as cultural, person-to-person experiences. In addition to exploring Cuba’s rarely fished saltwater flats, travelers will also learn about Cuba’s music, history, and natural resources, Perkins said.

Earlier this month, Fathom’s Adonia, a vessel owned by the Carnival Corporation, became the first cruise ship in 50-plus years to depart Florida for Cuba. Many observers viewed that historic cruise as an indication of the loosening of tension following decades of bad blood between the U.S. and the Communist-led country.

Last year, the U.S. and Cuba announced they would reopen respective embassies in Havana and in Washington, D.C., after the one-time foes resumed diplomatic relations.

This week’s announcement from Orvis drew praise from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, both of whom traveled to Cuba earlier this year as part of a U.S. delegation.

“I’m delighted that Orvis will be offering these trips, not just because this is a Vermont-based company but also because Orvis has an exemplary track record of environmental conservation and sustainable recreation,” Leahy said in a written statement. “Fly fishing, as practiced by Orvis, is all catch and release, with small groups and local guides, and Orvis invests a share of its profits each year in conservation projects. It’s a win-win proposition for Orvis to bring its Vermont expertise in low-impact outdoor recreation to Cuba. We also have much to learn from the Cubans, who have kept their coastal resources in remarkably good shape.”

“It’s a great economic opportunity for a Vermont company, a great cultural opportunity for anybody who’s going to go fishing, and obviously, it’s good for Cuba,” added Welch. “I definitely would want to see more of this, and in fact, that’s what the president’s new policy of opening up diplomatic relations is going to unleash.”

Welch noted for U.S.-Cuban commerce to really blossom, Washington would have to lift a trade embargo, a move he said he suspects election-year politics will stall.

Orvis said it has been working on orchestrating the excursions to Cuba for 18 months.

See video here.

Jack Thurston,

May 10, 2016

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