Cuban fishermen set up ranchos in Manatee

Starting in the early to mid-1700s, Cuban fishermen began sailing north to the Gulf Coast of Florida.


They would set up seasonal camps and fish with nets for four to six months. They would dry their catch in the sun, pack the fish with salt in barrels and bring it back to Cuba.


The rancho fishing season ended in January or early February so they could return to Cuba by Lent, when demand for fish would be at its highest.


In the summer they would use their boats to transport salt from Cayo Sal, an island between Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas. They would use the same salt to preserve their fish later in the year.


When we talk about Cuban fishing ranchos at the Florida Maritime Museum, people often ask why they journeyed all the way to Florida? Weren't there fish in Cuba?


The reason is twofold.


First, when the fishing ranchos began, there were no major settlements on the Gulf Coast aside from Pensacola and Key West.


This meant the fisheries were still untouched, unlike coastal Cuban fisheries fished heavily for more than a century at that point.


Second, the expansive bays created the perfect environment for inshore net fishing, the technique favored by Rancho fishermen.