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This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them. 

A priest in a white robe swung an incense burner, leading the way for thousands of marchers as they crammed into a winding cobblestone alley decorated with candy-colored streamers in Lisbon’s ancient Alfama neighborhood. 

Behind the priest, six men carried a life-sized statue of St. Anthony, Lisbon’s patron saint, born more than 800 years ago. The musky incense swirled together with the smoke from orange-hot charcoals grilling whole sardines a few streets away. 

The procession moved along, leaving behind just the smell of the sardines. 

In this city, June is the month to celebrate the saints. Almost every neighborhood throws a party, known as an arraial. 

Some are just a scattering of makeshift tables in alleyways. Others cover several blocks and are jammed with tourists and locals alike. The saints are quickly forgotten in the din of pumping pop music, brass bands, chattering families, indiscreet lovers and flirty teens. The sardines are not. They’re the star of every party. 

The fish are so popular here, fisheries managers estimate that the Portuguese collectively eat 13 sardines every second during a typical June — about 34 million fish for the month. 

But as climate change warms the seas and inland estuaries, sardines are getting harder to catch. Just a week before the festival, authorities postponed sardine fishing in some ports out of a fear that the diminishing population, vulnerable to changes in the Atlantic’s water temperatures, was being overfished. 

In the last few decades, the world’s oceans have undergone the most rapid warming on record. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible. But this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life — in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis. 

Effect on communities

Drawing on decades of maritime temperature readings, fisheries records and other little-used data, Reuters has undertaken an extensive exploration of the disrupted deep. A team of reporters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the shores of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing turbulence as a result. 

Here in Lisbon, the decline of the country’s most beloved fish tugs at the Portuguese soul. A nation on Europe’s western edge, Portugal has always turned toward the sea. For centuries, it has sent its people onto the sometimes treacherous oceans, from famous explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama to little-known fishermen who left weeping wives on the shore. 

The St. Anthony’s festival commemorates a 13th-century priest who, church doctrine says, once drew a bay full of fish to hear his sermon. It is the capital’s biggest, most joyous celebration of the year. 

At the bottom of the track where two bright yellow funicular trains begin and end an 800-foot vertiginous trip through the Bica neighborhood, a social club and a local cafe set up for the festival. Mostly locals were present, though a few German and French tourists have found their way to the party. 

Four friends sat around a wobbly plastic table perched outside the G.D. Zip Zip social club. There was just enough room for others to walk past and get to the homemade grill where the sardines were being cooked. Three of the friends had sardine skeletons and heads heaped on their plates. They talked about the fish that’s as iconic in Portugal in the summer as a hamburger on the grill in America. 

This year, however, because of limits on fishing, the available fish were mostly frozen. 

“We listen to it all year round that maybe this year, we will not have sardines,” Helena Melo said. 

Fifteen feet up the hill, Jorge Rito, who has been cooking for the club every June for five years, wiped his watering eyes with the back of his hand. He’d just gotten another order and tossed a dozen whole sardines onto the grill in neat rows. 

As he flipped the silvery fish, each seven or eight inches long, a burst of smoke rose from the charcoal, and he wiped his eyes again. 

“Worried? Yes, of course,” he said, removing the fish from the grill and placing them onto a platter. “It is important for our finances, our economies, for us.” 

 

Youngest sardines vulnerable 

 

Just as the next generation of humans may pay the highest price for climate change, the youngest generation of sardines is at risk. 

Susana Garrido, a sardine researcher with the Portuguese Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute in Lisbon, said larval sardines are especially vulnerable to climate change when compared with other similar pelagic species, such as larval anchovies, which are capable of living in a wider range of temperatures. 

Deep seawater upwelling dominates the waters off the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and keeps the coastal waters cool. But small differences in temperature, especially when sardines are young, can have a significant impact on whether the fish larva dies or grows to maturity, Garrido said. 

Other researchers had tested how well adult sardines survived in a variety of conditions, and there was little evidence that environmental variables such as food abundance and water temperature affected the full-grown fish, she said. So she focused on the larval stage of the species. 

“We did a bunch of experiments varying salinity and all of these other variables, and they survived quite well,” she said. “It was when you change temperature that everything, yes, fell apart. So they have a very narrow range of temperatures where survival is good.” 

Garrido said a recently completed stock assessment showed that the larval sardine population was extremely low. 

“This is getting very serious,” she said. 

The Portuguese sardine population started to fall about a decade ago, even though there were plenty of adults at the time to sustain large catches. And around the same time, southerly species, such as chub and horse mackerel, slowly moved in. 

Chub mackerel, a subtropical species that was once found only in southern Portugal, is now caught all the way up the coast. 

“Probably as a consequence of warming, it is now invading the main spawning area of sardines,” Garrido said. 

Larger forces at work

Alexandra Silva, who works down the hall from Garrido, has been managing the Portuguese sardine stock assessment since the late 1990s — pivotal work that the organization uses to decide the size of the sardine catch. 

When she started, the northern population of the species was in trouble following a period of strong upwelling that brought unusually cold water to the surface. The southern stock, however, was relatively healthy. And in the early years of the century, the species recovered. 

It was not to last. These days, without large numbers of larvae growing to maturity, the population is near collapse all along the coast from Galicia in Spain to the southern end of the Portuguese coast. 

All officials can do is cut down on the fishing. But larger forces, especially climate change, are now affecting the stock in ways that fisheries managers cannot control, the two said. 

Regulators have tried. 

Starting in 2004, they blocked fishing during the spring, when sardines spawn. And for a while, that seemed to work. 

Between 2004 and 2011, the stock remained relatively healthy, with landings ranging from about 55,000 to 70,000 tons, even if the population seemed to be dipping. (From the 1930s to the 1960s, and as recently as the 1980s, fishermen landed more than 110,000 tons in a year.) 

In 2009, the Portuguese proudly announced that the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent monitoring body, had designated the species healthy and sustainable. That year, Portuguese fishermen landed 64,000 tons of the fish. By 2012, however, that number had dropped to 35,000 tons, and the country lost its sustainable certification.  

Since then, fisheries managers have restricted the number of days a week that fishermen can catch sardines, as well as the size of the catch. They’ve also restricted fishing to six months during a year. 

Last year, the catch was limited to about 14,000 tons. 

Further cuts ahead

Earlier this year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, a forum of scientists that advises governments about fisheries management, warned that it would take at least 15 years to restore the stock at current fishing levels.  

After the report, European Union regulators permitted fishermen along the Iberian coast to continue at the current 16,100-ton level. But it also required Portugal, which gets the bulk of the quota, and Spain to submit a plan to restore the stock in October, which may well lead to further quota cuts. 

Fisheries manager Jorge Abrantes handles landings for Peniche, a sleepy fishing town about 60 miles north of Lisbon. He doesn’t think the fishing industry is the culprit. 

For example, Portuguese government stock assessments indicated that the sardine population had decreased by 10 percent to 25 percent in just a few months. Abrantes argued that the dip clearly wasn’t caused by fishermen pulling sardines from the sea, because no sardine nets were in the water during that period. Instead, he said, there are just not enough juvenile sardines to replenish the population. 

In Peniche, fishermen Erbes Martins and Joao Dias sat among piles of nets on a bright but chilly February morning. The two 75-year-old men would have preferred to be fishing for sardines. But the fish were spawning, so they were not allowed to catch them. 

Sure, there were other fish they could catch, but it wasn’t worth it, they say. 

 

Horse mackerel, or carapau in Portuguese, one of the southerly species that now thrive all along the coast, is abundant but doesn’t sell for much at market, Dias said. 

 

“We can’t fish for sardines in October, November, December, January, February, March — six months,” Dias said. “And carapau just doesn’t pay the bills.” 

He said the restrictions on fishing sardines were keeping a new generation from going to sea, because they can’t make enough money. 

 

“When we die,” he said, “no one is going to do the work.” 

‘I would miss this’ 

Lisbon’s Graca neighborhood sits at the highest point in the capital, its pastel homes looking down over the city’s six other hills. For the St. Anthony festival, two stages were set up for music, along with about 20 temporary food and drink stalls. 

 

Luis Diogo Sr., his wife, Rita, and their two children, Luis Jr. and Vera, came out to join the party. Luis Sr. looked across a picnic table at his son, who was well into his third plate of sardines. 

“This is a country between Spain and the sea, so we went to the sea very soon in our history,” he said. The talk turned to the present, and the dwindling catch of the city’s favorite seafood. 

Luis Jr. didn’t pay much attention to his father. He was too focused on his sardines. 

 

“I would miss this very much,” the 17-year-old said, wiping his lips clean after polishing off the last sardine on his plate. 


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This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them. 

A priest in a white robe swung an incense burner, leading the way for thousands of marchers as they crammed into a winding cobblestone alley decorated with candy-colored streamers in Lisbon’s ancient Alfama neighborhood. 

Behind the priest, six men carried a life-sized statue of St. Anthony, Lisbon’s patron saint, born more than 800 years ago. The musky incense swirled together with the smoke from orange-hot charcoals grilling whole sardines a few streets away. 

The procession moved along, leaving behind just the smell of the sardines. 

In this city, June is the month to celebrate the saints. Almost every neighborhood throws a party, known as an arraial. 

Some are just a scattering of makeshift tables in alleyways. Others cover several blocks and are jammed with tourists and locals alike. The saints are quickly forgotten in the din of pumping pop music, brass bands, chattering families, indiscreet lovers and flirty teens. The sardines are not. They’re the star of every party. 

The fish are so popular here, fisheries managers estimate that the Portuguese collectively eat 13 sardines every second during a typical June — about 34 million fish for the month. 

But as climate change warms the seas and inland estuaries, sardines are getting harder to catch. Just a week before the festival, authorities postponed sardine fishing in some ports out of a fear that the diminishing population, vulnerable to changes in the Atlantic’s water temperatures, was being overfished. 

In the last few decades, the world’s oceans have undergone the most rapid warming on record. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible. But this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life — in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis. 

Effect on communities

Drawing on decades of maritime temperature readings, fisheries records and other little-used data, Reuters has undertaken an extensive exploration of the disrupted deep. A team of reporters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the shores of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing turbulence as a result. 

Here in Lisbon, the decline of the country’s most beloved fish tugs at the Portuguese soul. A nation on Europe’s western edge, Portugal has always turned toward the sea. For centuries, it has sent its people onto the sometimes treacherous oceans, from famous explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama to little-known fishermen who left weeping wives on the shore. 

The St. Anthony’s festival commemorates a 13th-century priest who, church doctrine says, once drew a bay full of fish to hear his sermon. It is the capital’s biggest, most joyous celebration of the year. 

At the bottom of the track where two bright yellow funicular trains begin and end an 800-foot vertiginous trip through the Bica neighborhood, a social club and a local cafe set up for the festival. Mostly locals were present, though a few German and French tourists have found their way to the party. 

Four friends sat around a wobbly plastic table perched outside the G.D. Zip Zip social club. There was just enough room for others to walk past and get to the homemade grill where the sardines were being cooked. Three of the friends had sardine skeletons and heads heaped on their plates. They talked about the fish that’s as iconic in Portugal in the summer as a hamburger on the grill in America. 

This year, however, because of limits on fishing, the available fish were mostly frozen. 

“We listen to it all year round that maybe this year, we will not have sardines,” Helena Melo said. 

Fifteen feet up the hill, Jorge Rito, who has been cooking for the club every June for five years, wiped his watering eyes with the back of his hand. He’d just gotten another order and tossed a dozen whole sardines onto the grill in neat rows. 

As he flipped the silvery fish, each seven or eight inches long, a burst of smoke rose from the charcoal, and he wiped his eyes again. 

“Worried? Yes, of course,” he said, removing the fish from the grill and placing them onto a platter. “It is important for our finances, our economies, for us.” 

 

Youngest sardines vulnerable 

 

Just as the next generation of humans may pay the highest price for climate change, the youngest generation of sardines is at risk. 

Susana Garrido, a sardine researcher with the Portuguese Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute in Lisbon, said larval sardines are especially vulnerable to climate change when compared with other similar pelagic species, such as larval anchovies, which are capable of living in a wider range of temperatures. 

Deep seawater upwelling dominates the waters off the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and keeps the coastal waters cool. But small differences in temperature, especially when sardines are young, can have a significant impact on whether the fish larva dies or grows to maturity, Garrido said. 

Other researchers had tested how well adult sardines survived in a variety of conditions, and there was little evidence that environmental variables such as food abundance and water temperature affected the full-grown fish, she said. So she focused on the larval stage of the species. 

“We did a bunch of experiments varying salinity and all of these other variables, and they survived quite well,” she said. “It was when you change temperature that everything, yes, fell apart. So they have a very narrow range of temperatures where survival is good.” 

Garrido said a recently completed stock assessment showed that the larval sardine population was extremely low. 

“This is getting very serious,” she said. 

The Portuguese sardine population started to fall about a decade ago, even though there were plenty of adults at the time to sustain large catches. And around the same time, southerly species, such as chub and horse mackerel, slowly moved in. 

Chub mackerel, a subtropical species that was once found only in southern Portugal, is now caught all the way up the coast. 

“Probably as a consequence of warming, it is now invading the main spawning area of sardines,” Garrido said. 

Larger forces at work

Alexandra Silva, who works down the hall from Garrido, has been managing the Portuguese sardine stock assessment since the late 1990s — pivotal work that the organization uses to decide the size of the sardine catch. 

When she started, the northern population of the species was in trouble following a period of strong upwelling that brought unusually cold water to the surface. The southern stock, however, was relatively healthy. And in the early years of the century, the species recovered. 

It was not to last. These days, without large numbers of larvae growing to maturity, the population is near collapse all along the coast from Galicia in Spain to the southern end of the Portuguese coast. 

All officials can do is cut down on the fishing. But larger forces, especially climate change, are now affecting the stock in ways that fisheries managers cannot control, the two said. 

Regulators have tried. 

Starting in 2004, they blocked fishing during the spring, when sardines spawn. And for a while, that seemed to work. 

Between 2004 and 2011, the stock remained relatively healthy, with landings ranging from about 55,000 to 70,000 tons, even if the population seemed to be dipping. (From the 1930s to the 1960s, and as recently as the 1980s, fishermen landed more than 110,000 tons in a year.) 

In 2009, the Portuguese proudly announced that the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent monitoring body, had designated the species healthy and sustainable. That year, Portuguese fishermen landed 64,000 tons of the fish. By 2012, however, that number had dropped to 35,000 tons, and the country lost its sustainable certification.  

Since then, fisheries managers have restricted the number of days a week that fishermen can catch sardines, as well as the size of the catch. They’ve also restricted fishing to six months during a year. 

Last year, the catch was limited to about 14,000 tons. 

Further cuts ahead

Earlier this year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, a forum of scientists that advises governments about fisheries management, warned that it would take at least 15 years to restore the stock at current fishing levels.  

After the report, European Union regulators permitted fishermen along the Iberian coast to continue at the current 16,100-ton level. But it also required Portugal, which gets the bulk of the quota, and Spain to submit a plan to restore the stock in October, which may well lead to further quota cuts. 

Fisheries manager Jorge Abrantes handles landings for Peniche, a sleepy fishing town about 60 miles north of Lisbon. He doesn’t think the fishing industry is the culprit. 

For example, Portuguese government stock assessments indicated that the sardine population had decreased by 10 percent to 25 percent in just a few months. Abrantes argued that the dip clearly wasn’t caused by fishermen pulling sardines from the sea, because no sardine nets were in the water during that period. Instead, he said, there are just not enough juvenile sardines to replenish the population. 

In Peniche, fishermen Erbes Martins and Joao Dias sat among piles of nets on a bright but chilly February morning. The two 75-year-old men would have preferred to be fishing for sardines. But the fish were spawning, so they were not allowed to catch them. 

Sure, there were other fish they could catch, but it wasn’t worth it, they say. 

 

Horse mackerel, or carapau in Portuguese, one of the southerly species that now thrive all along the coast, is abundant but doesn’t sell for much at market, Dias said. 

 

“We can’t fish for sardines in October, November, December, January, February, March — six months,” Dias said. “And carapau just doesn’t pay the bills.” 

He said the restrictions on fishing sardines were keeping a new generation from going to sea, because they can’t make enough money. 

 

“When we die,” he said, “no one is going to do the work.” 

‘I would miss this’ 

Lisbon’s Graca neighborhood sits at the highest point in the capital, its pastel homes looking down over the city’s six other hills. For the St. Anthony festival, two stages were set up for music, along with about 20 temporary food and drink stalls. 

 

Luis Diogo Sr., his wife, Rita, and their two children, Luis Jr. and Vera, came out to join the party. Luis Sr. looked across a picnic table at his son, who was well into his third plate of sardines. 

“This is a country between Spain and the sea, so we went to the sea very soon in our history,” he said. The talk turned to the present, and the dwindling catch of the city’s favorite seafood. 

Luis Jr. didn’t pay much attention to his father. He was too focused on his sardines. 

 

“I would miss this very much,” the 17-year-old said, wiping his lips clean after polishing off the last sardine on his plate. 


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The Trump administration is adding new names to a list of Cuban tourist attractions that Americans are barred from visiting.

 

The 26 names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beachside resorts far from the capital. All are barred because they are owned by Cuba’s military business conglomerate, GAESA.

 

Travel to Cuba remains legal. Hundreds of U.S. commercial flights and cruise ships deliver hundreds of thousands of Americans to the island each year. And nothing prevents the government from funding its security apparatus with money spent at facilities that aren’t owned by GAESA and banned by the U.S. But the sanctions appear to have dampened interest in travel to Cuba, which has dropped dramatically this year.

 

 


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The Trump administration is adding new names to a list of Cuban tourist attractions that Americans are barred from visiting.

 

The 26 names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beachside resorts far from the capital. All are barred because they are owned by Cuba’s military business conglomerate, GAESA.

 

Travel to Cuba remains legal. Hundreds of U.S. commercial flights and cruise ships deliver hundreds of thousands of Americans to the island each year. And nothing prevents the government from funding its security apparatus with money spent at facilities that aren’t owned by GAESA and banned by the U.S. But the sanctions appear to have dampened interest in travel to Cuba, which has dropped dramatically this year.

 

 


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The ride-sharing and delivery company Uber continues to lose money, with growth slowing as it prepares to go public some time next year.

The San Francisco-based company announced it lost just over $1 billion from July through September, a 20 percent increase from the previous quarter.

Uber’s revenue rose 38 percent in the third quarter from a year ago to $2.95 billion, down from a gain of 51 percent in the second quarter.

Uber is seeking to expand in freight hauling, food delivery and electric bikes and scooters, as growth in its now-decade-old ride-hailing business dwindles.

Uber is intent on showing it can still grow enough to become profitable and satisfy investors in an initial public offering.

“We had another strong quarter for a business of our size and global scope,” said Nelson Chai, Uber’s chief financial officer, who joined the company in September after the job had been vacant for three years. He emphasized the “high-potential markets in India and the Middle East, where we continue to solidify our leadership position.”


$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

The ride-sharing and delivery company Uber continues to lose money, with growth slowing as it prepares to go public some time next year.

The San Francisco-based company announced it lost just over $1 billion from July through September, a 20 percent increase from the previous quarter.

Uber’s revenue rose 38 percent in the third quarter from a year ago to $2.95 billion, down from a gain of 51 percent in the second quarter.

Uber is seeking to expand in freight hauling, food delivery and electric bikes and scooters, as growth in its now-decade-old ride-hailing business dwindles.

Uber is intent on showing it can still grow enough to become profitable and satisfy investors in an initial public offering.

“We had another strong quarter for a business of our size and global scope,” said Nelson Chai, Uber’s chief financial officer, who joined the company in September after the job had been vacant for three years. He emphasized the “high-potential markets in India and the Middle East, where we continue to solidify our leadership position.”


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With chronic shortages of basic goods afflicting her native Venezuela, Veronica Perez used to drive from supermarket to supermarket in her grey Chevrolet Aveo searching for food.

But the 54-year-old engineer has abandoned the practice because of shortages of something that should be abundant in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves: gasoline.

“I only do what is absolutely necessary, nothing else,” said Perez, who lives in the industrial city of Valencia. She said she had stopped going to Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, just 20 miles (32 km) away.

Snaking, hours-long lines and gas station closures have long afflicted Venezuela’s border regions. Fuel smuggling to neighboring countries is common, the result of generous subsidies from state-run oil company PDVSA that allow Venezuelans to fill their tank 20,000 times for the price of one kilo (2.2 pounds) of cheese.

But in late October and early November, cities in the populous central region of the country like Valencia and the capital Caracas were hit by a rare wave of shortages, due to plunging crude production and a dramatic drop in refineries’ fuel output as the socialist-run economy suffers its fifth year of recession.

Venezuela produced more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude last year but by September output had fallen to just 1.4 million bpd. So far in 2018, Venezuela produced an average of 1.53 million bpd, the lowest in nearly seven decades, according to figures reported to OPEC.

Bottlenecks for transporting fuel from refineries, distribution centers and ports to gas stations have also worsened, exacerbating the shortages.

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Venezuela’s oil and communications ministries.

Relatively normal supply has since been restored in Caracas and Valencia after unusually long outages but the episode has forced Venezuelans to alter their daily habits.

That could hit an economy seen shrinking by double digits in 2018. For Venezuelans coping with a lack of food and medicine, blackouts and hyperinflation, the gasoline shortages could also increase frustration with already-unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.

“My new headache is fearing I might run out of gasoline,” said Elena Bustamante, a 34-year-old English teacher in Valencia. “It has changed my life enormously.”

Production Shortfall

Venezuela’s economy has shrunk by more than half since Maduro took office in 2013. The contraction has been driven by a collapse in the price of crude and falling oil sales, which account for more than 90 percent of Venezuelan exports.

Three million Venezuelans have emigrated – or around one-tenth of the population – mostly in the past three years, according to the United Nations.

Despite a sharp drop in domestic demand due to the recession, Venezuela’s collapsing oil industry is struggling to produce enough gasoline.

Fuel demand was expected to fall to 325,000 bpd in October, half the volume of a decade ago, but PDVSA expected to be able to supply only 270,000 bpd, according to a company planning document seen by Reuters.

A gasoline price hike – promised by Maduro in August under a reform package – could further reduce demand but it has yet to take effect.

Venezuela’s declining oil production has its roots in years of underinvestment. U.S. sanctions have complicated financing.

The refining sector, designed to produce 1.3 million bpd of fuel, is severely hobbled. It is operating at just one-third of capacity, according to experts and union sources.

Its largest refinery, Amuay, is delivering just 70,000 bpd of gasoline despite having the capacity to produce 645,000 bpd of fuel, according to union leader Ivan Freites and another person close to PDVSA who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

PDVSA has tried to make up for this by boosting fuel imports, buying about half of the gasoline the country needs, according to internal company figures.

In the first eight months of 2018, Venezuela imported an average of 125,000 bpd from the United States, up 76 percent from the same period a year earlier, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show.

But delays in unloading fuel cargoes have contributed to shortages, since Venezuelan oil ports are more oriented toward exports than imports, according to traders, shippers, PDVSA sources and Refinitiv Eikon data.

One tanker bringing imported gasoline mixed with ethanol was contaminated with high levels of water, forcing PDVSA to withdraw the product from distribution centers, a company source said, directly contributing to the shortages in Caracas.

The incident was the result of PDVSA seeking fuel from “unreliable suppliers,” in part because the U.S. sanctions have left many companies unwilling to do business with Venezuela, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The shortages last week prevented Andres Merida, a 29-year-old freelance publicist in Valencia, from attending client meetings.

“I had someone who used to take me from place to place but in light of the gasoline issue he would not give me a lift even when I offered to pay him,” he said. “He said he would prefer to save the gasoline and guarantee it for himself.”


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With chronic shortages of basic goods afflicting her native Venezuela, Veronica Perez used to drive from supermarket to supermarket in her grey Chevrolet Aveo searching for food.

But the 54-year-old engineer has abandoned the practice because of shortages of something that should be abundant in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves: gasoline.

“I only do what is absolutely necessary, nothing else,” said Perez, who lives in the industrial city of Valencia. She said she had stopped going to Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, just 20 miles (32 km) away.

Snaking, hours-long lines and gas station closures have long afflicted Venezuela’s border regions. Fuel smuggling to neighboring countries is common, the result of generous subsidies from state-run oil company PDVSA that allow Venezuelans to fill their tank 20,000 times for the price of one kilo (2.2 pounds) of cheese.

But in late October and early November, cities in the populous central region of the country like Valencia and the capital Caracas were hit by a rare wave of shortages, due to plunging crude production and a dramatic drop in refineries’ fuel output as the socialist-run economy suffers its fifth year of recession.

Venezuela produced more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude last year but by September output had fallen to just 1.4 million bpd. So far in 2018, Venezuela produced an average of 1.53 million bpd, the lowest in nearly seven decades, according to figures reported to OPEC.

Bottlenecks for transporting fuel from refineries, distribution centers and ports to gas stations have also worsened, exacerbating the shortages.

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Venezuela’s oil and communications ministries.

Relatively normal supply has since been restored in Caracas and Valencia after unusually long outages but the episode has forced Venezuelans to alter their daily habits.

That could hit an economy seen shrinking by double digits in 2018. For Venezuelans coping with a lack of food and medicine, blackouts and hyperinflation, the gasoline shortages could also increase frustration with already-unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.

“My new headache is fearing I might run out of gasoline,” said Elena Bustamante, a 34-year-old English teacher in Valencia. “It has changed my life enormously.”

Production Shortfall

Venezuela’s economy has shrunk by more than half since Maduro took office in 2013. The contraction has been driven by a collapse in the price of crude and falling oil sales, which account for more than 90 percent of Venezuelan exports.

Three million Venezuelans have emigrated – or around one-tenth of the population – mostly in the past three years, according to the United Nations.

Despite a sharp drop in domestic demand due to the recession, Venezuela’s collapsing oil industry is struggling to produce enough gasoline.

Fuel demand was expected to fall to 325,000 bpd in October, half the volume of a decade ago, but PDVSA expected to be able to supply only 270,000 bpd, according to a company planning document seen by Reuters.

A gasoline price hike – promised by Maduro in August under a reform package – could further reduce demand but it has yet to take effect.

Venezuela’s declining oil production has its roots in years of underinvestment. U.S. sanctions have complicated financing.

The refining sector, designed to produce 1.3 million bpd of fuel, is severely hobbled. It is operating at just one-third of capacity, according to experts and union sources.

Its largest refinery, Amuay, is delivering just 70,000 bpd of gasoline despite having the capacity to produce 645,000 bpd of fuel, according to union leader Ivan Freites and another person close to PDVSA who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

PDVSA has tried to make up for this by boosting fuel imports, buying about half of the gasoline the country needs, according to internal company figures.

In the first eight months of 2018, Venezuela imported an average of 125,000 bpd from the United States, up 76 percent from the same period a year earlier, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show.

But delays in unloading fuel cargoes have contributed to shortages, since Venezuelan oil ports are more oriented toward exports than imports, according to traders, shippers, PDVSA sources and Refinitiv Eikon data.

One tanker bringing imported gasoline mixed with ethanol was contaminated with high levels of water, forcing PDVSA to withdraw the product from distribution centers, a company source said, directly contributing to the shortages in Caracas.

The incident was the result of PDVSA seeking fuel from “unreliable suppliers,” in part because the U.S. sanctions have left many companies unwilling to do business with Venezuela, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The shortages last week prevented Andres Merida, a 29-year-old freelance publicist in Valencia, from attending client meetings.

“I had someone who used to take me from place to place but in light of the gasoline issue he would not give me a lift even when I offered to pay him,” he said. “He said he would prefer to save the gasoline and guarantee it for himself.”


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Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and Mexico’s tequila producers could be headed for a collision after the agave-based drink’s industry group opposed the flamboyant billionaire’s efforts to trademark an alcoholic drink dubbed “Teslaquila.”

One of the world’s richest people and chief executive of Tesla, Musk is known for ambitious and cutting-edge projects ranging from auto electrification and rocket-building to high-speed transit tunnels.

Now it seems that Musk could be setting his sights on disrupting the multibillion-dollar tequila industry.

On Oct. 12, he tweeted “Teslaquila coming soon” and an accompanying “visual approximation” of a red and white label with the Tesla logo and a caption that stated “100 percent Puro de Agave.”

Not so fast, said Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT).

It argued that the “name ‘Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila … (and) Tequila is a protected word.”

The CRT keeps tabs on producers to assure they adhere to strict denomination of origin rules, which dictate the spirit must be made in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit or Tamaulipas, among other requirements.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, Tesla has filed an application to trademark “Teslaquila” as a “distilled agave liquor” and “distilled blue agave liquor.”

Similar applications have been filed in Mexico, the European Union and Jamaica.

“If it wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute,” said the CRT in a statement.

“Otherwise it would be making unauthorized use of the denomination of origin for tequila,” it said, adding that the proposed name “Teslaquila” could make consumers confuse the drink with tequila.

Tesla did not respond to several requests for comment.

Other high-profile celebrities have cashed in on tequila’s new-found international appeal, as the sprit moves into the ranks of top-shelf liquors and sheds its image as a fiery booze drunk by desperadoes and frat boys.

Last year, Diageo Plc bought actor George Clooney’s high-end tequila brand Casamigos for up to $1 billion.

Other recent deals in the industry include Bacardi Ltd’s January deal to buy fine tequila maker Patron Spirits International for $5.1 billion.

After years of speculation, Mexico’s Beckmann family launched an initial public offering of Jose Cuervo in 2017, raising more than $900 million.


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Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and Mexico’s tequila producers could be headed for a collision after the agave-based drink’s industry group opposed the flamboyant billionaire’s efforts to trademark an alcoholic drink dubbed “Teslaquila.”

One of the world’s richest people and chief executive of Tesla, Musk is known for ambitious and cutting-edge projects ranging from auto electrification and rocket-building to high-speed transit tunnels.

Now it seems that Musk could be setting his sights on disrupting the multibillion-dollar tequila industry.

On Oct. 12, he tweeted “Teslaquila coming soon” and an accompanying “visual approximation” of a red and white label with the Tesla logo and a caption that stated “100 percent Puro de Agave.”

Not so fast, said Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT).

It argued that the “name ‘Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila … (and) Tequila is a protected word.”

The CRT keeps tabs on producers to assure they adhere to strict denomination of origin rules, which dictate the spirit must be made in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit or Tamaulipas, among other requirements.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, Tesla has filed an application to trademark “Teslaquila” as a “distilled agave liquor” and “distilled blue agave liquor.”

Similar applications have been filed in Mexico, the European Union and Jamaica.

“If it wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute,” said the CRT in a statement.

“Otherwise it would be making unauthorized use of the denomination of origin for tequila,” it said, adding that the proposed name “Teslaquila” could make consumers confuse the drink with tequila.

Tesla did not respond to several requests for comment.

Other high-profile celebrities have cashed in on tequila’s new-found international appeal, as the sprit moves into the ranks of top-shelf liquors and sheds its image as a fiery booze drunk by desperadoes and frat boys.

Last year, Diageo Plc bought actor George Clooney’s high-end tequila brand Casamigos for up to $1 billion.

Other recent deals in the industry include Bacardi Ltd’s January deal to buy fine tequila maker Patron Spirits International for $5.1 billion.

After years of speculation, Mexico’s Beckmann family launched an initial public offering of Jose Cuervo in 2017, raising more than $900 million.


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