By Daniel Trotta
COJIMAR Cuba (Reuters) - Ernest Hemingway's grandsons sailed into the fishing village that inspired "The Old Man and the Sea" on Monday in a campaign to save game fish like the giant marlin that dragged the fictitious Santiago out to sea.
John and Patrick Hemingway arrived in Cojimar, on the eastern outskirts of Havana, to begin a weeklong visit to try to enlist Cuban marine scientists to join an effort to conserve billfish in the Straits of Florida.
Billfish include species of marlin, sailfish and spearfish that Hemingway was instrumental in cataloging 80 years ago, when he first took his fishing boat Pilar from Key West to Cuba.
"This we feel very strongly about because it ties in with my grandfather and his love for fishing and his love for Cuba," said John Hemingway. "We think it's vitally important that both countries work on this together. Both of them use this water."
More than 100 townspeople, including cheering schoolchildren, greeted the Hemingways' yacht as it sailed into Cojimar from the Hemingway Marina on Havana's western edge.
They laid flowers at a bust of "Papa," who spent years in Cuba, including long stretches in Cojimar, the unnamed hometown of the protagonist in "The Old Man and the Sea." The work won Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953 and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature a year later.
The delegation is commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hemingway's Nobel and the 80th anniversary of the Pilar's journey to Cuba.
Billfish have yet to recover from the reckless overfishing of the 1970s and remain under assault from the commercial fishing industry, said David Die, a scientist with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
Cuba no longer employs a large deepwater fleet, but shallow water fishermen still hook billfish on their long lines, said Die, who is part of the delegation.
He and other fishery experts will meet Cuban counterparts from academia and government to encourage Cuba to join the international commission. Joining would provide Cuba better access to the latest science and conservation techniques.
The Hemingway name provides a valuable boost, Die said.
"You just have to see behind me how many people have shown up," Die said as the town still buzzed from the ceremony. "If I just arrived with my biologist colleagues, nobody would be here."
The United States and Cuba have been rivals since Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and Washington imposed a comprehensive trade embargo on Cuba in 1961, the same year Hemingway died.
Although bilateral relations on immigration and drug interdiction have become more pragmatic, there are no formal government-to-government talks on the environment.
"We're hoping with this delegation we can begin to share more information between Cuban scientists and American scientists, just as we did before the embargo," said Robert Peck, a senior fellow for the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. "We need to get the two governments talking together. Conservation is an issue that knows no political bounds."
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kieran Murray and Gunna Dickson)