Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch has moved American lobster on to its "avoid" list, provoking a backlash among industry and politicians.
The self-appointed seafood ratings guide from the California-based NGO, still heavily referenced by foodservice and retail buyers in the country, made the call last week to change its advice on the species following a blanket rating it is applying to all fisheries that are "known to entangle the endangered North Atlantic right whale," including pots or set gillnets.
"Entanglement in fishing gear is the leading cause of serious injury and death of North Atlantic right whales, and current management measures do not go far enough to mitigate entanglement risks and promote recovery of the species," it said.
Politicians in Maine, where the lobster industry contributes substantially to the local economy, have called on the organization to reverse what they call an "irresponsible decision."
In a news release Friday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, and representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden urged Seafood Watch to "remedy the significant harm they have already caused the iconic industry."
In a letter to the Aquarium's board, led by King, the Maine leaders highlight what they describe as the "significant factual omissions" of Seafood Watch’s lobster report, criticize the organization for holding the Maine lobster industry to an impossible “guilty until proven innocent” standard, and call for answers on several key questions.
“The recent decision by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch to 'red list' Maine lobster with scant evidence of impacts on right whales is a reckless piece of activism that will inflict substantial negative real-world consequences on an important and iconic industry in Maine,” it reads.
“In a courtroom, we require evidence before convicting someone of a crime; but you are seeking to sentence Maine’s lobstermen with conjecture, assumptions, and guesswork instead of hard facts. If anything, the publicly available facts rebut this aggressive action that will impact the livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine, and make it clear that you should immediately reverse the irresponsible designation.”
The Maine leaders said several facts were left out of Seafood Watch’s “Red List” assessment, noting that there has not been a right whale entanglement with Maine lobster gear since 2004 and that right whale impacts have never been attributed to Maine lobster gear.
The legislators noted that Maine lobstermen had eliminated all floating rope (the type most likely to entangle whales), and further alleged Canadian vessels were responsible for the majority of the recent right whale deaths or accidents.
“By ignoring these clear facts, Seafood Watch isn’t encouraging safe fishing; instead, you are damaging the reputation of your certification process by misleading consumers," they wrote.
"There’s an easy way to fix this – now that you’ve seen the facts, reverse your decision and take lobster off the ‘red list.'"
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