Maine lobster loses 'sustainable' tag as seafood guides warn

Maine lobster loses ‘sustainable’ tag as seafood guides warn


A leading seafood guide announced Wednesday that it no longer considers Maine’s famous lobsters sustainable, as whales on the brink of extinction are dying after becoming entangled in fishing gear.

The decision to revoke the Marine Stewardship Council’s recognizable blue label is a blow to a company that is already feeling an economic pinch amid low lobster prices, high fuel costs and questions about its environmental practices. Conservationists have launched an aggressive campaign to do more to protect critically endangered right whales in the North Atlantic, whose numbers continue to dwindle. Only about 340 individuals remain.

“We are hopeful and looking for the opportunity to work with the fishery and others to find ways to help them move forward,” said Erika Feller, regional director of the Marine Stewardship Council. “Hopefully the fishery can regain certification.”

Environmental journalist Dino Grandoni explains how climate change threatens right whale species. (Video: Dino Grandoni, Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

Retailers across the United States sell seafood rated by the Marine Stewardship Council, a nonprofit organization that uses independent reviewers to determine if a fishery is well-managed and not harming other species or ocean habitats. The announcement comes just a month after another sustainability guide, Seafood Watch, warned against buying lobster caught in US or Canadian waters.

Overall, the removal of sustainability labels puts more pressure than ever on the average restaurant to avoid ordering a lobster roll.

These whales are on the edge of the abyss. Now comes climate change and wind power.

“These are wild animals that we have an impact on,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, vice president of global ocean initiatives at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, which manages Seafood Watch.

But lobster fishermen and their representatives in Congress are furious that eating New England’s famed shellfish is harming the environment.

“It’s not a slap on the wrist,” said Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucus with Democrats, in an interview with the Seafood Watch assessment. “They are literally trying to bankrupt these people.”

According to them, the thousands of licensed lobsters in Maine abide by conservation law and have taken many steps to reduce the risk of ensnaring right whales. There’s little evidence that lobster lowers endangered whale numbers, say Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the state.

“These are neighbors in small communities, on islands and peninsulas who have done all they can to responsibly exploit this resource, which has enabled the next generation and the next generation and the next generation to have the same job,” said Steve Train, a fisherman based in Long Island, Maine.

While right whales face several pressures, including ship strikes and a warming ocean, entanglements in fishing gear are a leading cause of death, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Last year, the agency, which is responsible for protecting the species, updated its protective measures by requiring lobsters to reduce the amount of ropes in the water and restricting lobster fishing during part of the year.

But in July, a district court ruled in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups who argued the government’s new rope rule failed to meet its legal obligations under the Protection Act. marine mammals to protect whales.

The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery lost its MSC certification once before, in 2020, after a similar court case. The suspension will be lifted the following year.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg is expected to issue a ruling on next steps soon. And the National Marine Fisheries Service wants to finalize a stricter rule by 2024.

“We are watching the whale disappear in real time,” said Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. New regulations, she added, “will be difficult, but it’s what needs to be done to save the species.”

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