Northeast
Maine lobstermen haul traps in Stonington, the state's lobster capital. Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative/Patrick Daly photo

ME - Lobstermen, supporters push back hard on Seafood Watch ‘red listing’ (with news compilation)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is facing harsh criticism and pushback over its new “red list” designation for Northeast lobster, recommending seafood suppliers and consumers avoid lobster.

The influential Seafood Watch rating system has informed retailers and food service  providers since 1999, listing what it considers sustainable, environmentally responsible fisheries – and what species to avoid.

In February 2022 the aquarium signaled it would consider red-listing Northeast lobster, over the danger of entanglement in vertical trap lines for endangered North Atlantic right whales. The Sept. 6 announcement is provoking a furious campaign to reverse the designation.  

“Your accusation that Maine lobstermen are to blame for the troubles of North Atlantic right whales is flat out wrong,” Maine elected officials declared in a letter harshly rebuking the aquarium. “Right whales are not dying in Maine lobster gear and the report blindly ignores everything that Maine lobstermen have done to create a sustainable industry. Make no mistake, your designation will have a real world impact – with the industry already facing challenges, the inaccurate designation will hurt the thousands of hardworking lobstermen, their families, and businesses across our state.”

The letter from Maine Gov. Janet Mills, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden slammed the aquarium’s new report on lobster as “irresponsible conjecture, a baseless smear, and an egregious violation of the scientific principles you claim to stand for. This is among the most irresponsible actions we have ever seen in our years of public service, and we are deeply disappointed that you have allowed this action to – perhaps irreparably – tarnish the name of your previously-respected institution.”

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Read also

Federal judge turns down lobstermen’s attempt to block right whale rules, National Fisherman, September 9, 2022

Maine leaders react to 'absurd' Seafood Watch red list on lobster, NewsCenterMaine.com WCSH-WLBZ / September 10, 2022

US Officials “Red-List” Lobsters to Help Critically Endangered Whales – Mother Jone, 0Mother Jones / September 09, 2022

Boycotts, backlash over lobster fishery's addition to 'red list', Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel / September 13, 2022

Retailers pull lobster from menus after ‘red list’ warning, FOX 5 San Diego / September 12, 2022

Retailers pull lobster from menus after 'red list' warning, Gloucester Daily Times / September 11, 2022

'An assault on the people of Maine': Maine officials defend lobstermen after ruling, red list, WMTW Portland / September 09, 2022

Governor Mills Blasts Federal Court Decision in Lawsuit Challenging Federal Regulations Hurting Maine's Vital Lobster Industry | Office of Governor Janet T. Mills, Maine.gov / September 09, 2022

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The Seafood Watch report hit as Maine lobstermen and their advocates lost another round in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ruled Friday against their efforts to delay new National Marine Fisheries Service gear and area restrictions.

The next day the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative started a petition on Change.org urging the Monterey Bay Aquarium to reverse course. The petition says the red-list designation “is counterproductive to decades of proactive efforts made by the fishery to ensure the protection of right whales, including new regulations that are still in the process of being implemented.”

“Not a single right whale death has been attributed to Maine lobster gear and there have been no known entanglements in Maine lobster gear since 2004,” the petition says. The aquarium’s “decision ignores a long history of efforts from the fishery designed to protect right whales, including: removal of more than 27,000 miles of floating rope, the use of ‘weak links,’ designed to allow whales to break free in the rare event they are entangled, and distinctive gear marking, as well as compliance and collaboration with state and federal rule makers on all regulations.”

The petition notes the Seafood Watch rankings listed Maine lobster as “a ‘good alternative’ as recently as 2014. Protection measures have only increased since then.”

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