ME - Maine lobster industry sues California aquarium for 'red list' that led to boycott

Several Maine lobster industry members are suing the Monterey Bay Aquarium for defamation over its decision to downgrade American lobster to its red list, which resulted in boycotts.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, and four other groups filed the lawsuit Monday against the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation in the U.S. District Court of Maine. They allege the aquarium has made false and defamatory statements about Maine lobster fishing practices and misled consumers about the fishery’s impact on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The lawsuit claims Seafood Watch, a program of the aquarium, urged food sellers and consumers to avoid eating lobster caught in the Gulf of Maine and George’s Bank in Maine. That caused stores including Whole Foods to drop the sale of Maine lobster, and eateries across the country like Cheesecake Factory followed suit.

“The Aquarium has falsely depicted the Maine lobster fishery as being directly responsible for right whale injuries and mortalities,” the lawsuit states.

The suit is also filed by Bean Maine Lobster, Inc., Bug Catcher Inc., Atwood Lobster, LLC and Maine Lobster and Processing, LLC. The suit seeks to force the aquarium to remove “all defamatory statements concerning the Maine lobster industry and its fishing practices” from its websites and other published material. It also asks the aquarium to pay damages including, “the value of all business Plaintiffs have lost or will lose in the future” as a result of “defamatory statements.”

Seafood Watch said they changed their designation for Gulf of Maine lobster because entanglement in fishing gear is “the leading cause of serious injury and death to North Atlantic right whales.” They said that lobster pots, or traps, typically have few impacts on their environment, but that cumulative effects of large-scale fishing are “likely underestimated.” They gave the American lobster found in 11 other parts of the Atlantic Ocean the same designation.

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