Maine officials are ripping the recommendation of California-based nonprofit Seafood Watch to try to save whales by stopping fishing for lobster.
The group argues that lobster fisheries in American and Canadian waters use vertical lines that can entangle the endangered North Atlantic right whales.
“Seafood Watch determined that current Canadian and U.S. management measures do not go far enough to mitigate entanglement risks and promote recovery of the North Atlantic right whale. As a result, Seafood Watch assigned a red rating to those fisheries using pots, traps, and gillnets,” the organization recently announced.
The “Red List” designation means that the nonprofit, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, recommends that the species stop being fished in a designated fishery area.
Seafood Watch designated all fisheries in Canada and the U.S. where lobster is harvested to be avoided by those restaurants and distributors that abide by Seafood Watch recommendations.
According to Oceana, entities that have pledged to follow Seafood Watch recommendations include Whole Foods, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Cheesecake Factory, Compass Group and ARAMARK.
A letter by Maine’s Congressional delegation and Governor Janet Mills says that the group’s “Red List” designation for American lobster is “a reckless piece of activism that will inflict substantial negative real-world consequences on an important and iconic industry in Maine… you are seeking to sentence Maine’s lobstermen with conjecture, assumptions, and guesswork instead of hard facts.”
Maine’s lobster fishery, in addition to being a lynchpin in the state economy, is the most valuable fishery in the United States.
Maine leaders, including two U.S senators, congressmen and Gov. Janet Mills, wrote in a letter to Seafood Watch that entanglement deaths of North Atlantic right whales have little to do with the activities of Maine lobstermen.
“There has not been a right whale entanglement with Maine lobster gear since 2004, and right whale deaths or serious injury have never been attributed to Maine lobster gear,” the states’ letter explains.
They concluded that the “Red List” designation by Seafood Watch was not factual, seeking a blanket ban on lobster fisheries in the region due to unattributed right whale entanglements.
“You have appointed yourself Judge, Jury, and Executioner of the Maine lobster industry – ignoring clear facts, and not meeting even the most basic burden of proof before coming to a conclusion. Your report repeatedly confesses that there is not any hard evidence to back your claim, and admit that Maine lobster is being ‘Red Listed’ not on a factual basis,” the letter said.
Seafood Watch’s case to save the over 300 extant North Atlantic right whales rests on three statistics.
The group explains that “U.S. and Canadian fisheries, combined, deploy up to 1 million vertical lines throughout North Atlantic right whale migratory routes, calving, and foraging areas,” that “over 80 percent of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once,” and that “more than 90% of entanglements cannot be linked to a specific gear type, and only 12% of entanglements can be linked to a specific location.”
Maine’s lobster industry is also speaking out against the Seafood Watch designation.
“They have increased the amount of regulation changes and gear changes and additional restrictions in the last 20 years. To have Seafood Watch red list lobster is incredibly frustrating and not accurate,” Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealer’s Association, told the Bangor Daily News.
Baxter Key, co-owner of The Highroller Lobster Co. restaurant in Portland, Maine, told the Portland Press Herald that “The majority of entanglements have been farther north in Canada, where the laws are different, so it seems like we’re already being pretty proactive in the preservation of them in my opinion. Obviously, I don’t want right whales to get hurt or go extinct, because they are a vital part of our ecosystem, but I do think there’s a balance to be struck.”
Other marine life nonprofits have called on the government to update their regulations on what equipment fisheries are allowed to use.
“Both fisheries and whales can thrive if the National Marine Fisheries Service takes immediate action and creates effective measures for these whales… Fishery managers must increase protections to save North Atlantic right whales so seafood retailers, consumers, and restaurants can put American lobster and crab back on the menu,” Oceana campaign director Gib Brogan said in a statement.