The Monterey Bay Aquarium is refusing to back down from its recent listing of American lobster on the group's Seafood Watch "Avoid" or "red" list, despite a new effort by US lawmakers to defund the group.
In a response to a move Tuesday by Maine's US Congressional delegation to strip the aquarium of any future federal tax money, the group told the lawmakers it has no plans to change its Avoid listing for the fishery.
"Given these scientific and legal findings, Monterey Bay Aquarium is maintaining our red ratings for all Canadian and US fisheries that use gear with vertical lines that risk entanglement with the endangered North Atlantic right whale, including American lobster," said the Oct. 5 letter, signed by Julie Packard, executive director of the aquarium, and Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, its vice president of global ocean conservation.
On Tuesday, US Congressman Jared Golden and Senator Angus King from Maine announced their intention to introduce the "Red Listing Monterey Bay Aquarium Act" in the US Congress to prohibit federal taxpayer funds from going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Maine Senator Susan Collins and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree will cosponsor the legislation.
The move follows the September decision by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program to list American-caught Atlantic lobster on its Avoid list because of the fishery's interaction with endangered right whales.
The Seafood Watch Avoid ranking instructs retailers, chefs and consumers to curtail purchasing the seafood item in grocery stores and restaurants.
Rep. Golden and Sen. King said the aquarium has received nearly $197 million (€199 million) in federal funding since 2001.
“Institutions like Monterey Bay Aquarium that claim to be scientific but openly flout available evidence and data should not receive taxpayer funds. It’s that simple,” said Rep. Golden.
“There has never been a serious injury or death of the endangered North Atlantic right whale attributed to the Maine lobster fishery, and to make recommendations or regulations in spite of that fact is a slap in the face to lobstermen and their families.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium says US and Canadian fisheries that use gear with vertical lines were red-rated because their governing agencies did not keep them in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
A US District Court said in July that its "findings at this juncture do not dictate that it must immediately shutter the American lobster fishery; indeed, it is cognizant of what a weighty blow that would inflict." Instead, the court ordered additional briefings on potential remedies.
On Sept. 8, NOAA Fisheries announced an environmental impact statement will be prepared to analyze the impacts and find ways to reduce the risk of mortalities and serious injuries to North Atlantic right whales and other large whales caused by incidental entanglement in commercial trap, pot and gillnet fisheries along the US East Coast.
The lawmakers wrote to the Monterey Bay Aquarium shortly after the red listing decision was made public, calling on the organization to immediately reverse the decision and to remedy the significant harm they have already caused the iconic industry.
The Congressional delegation also published an open letter to retailers urging them to continue selling lobster. Senator King continued these calls in a press conference he held shortly after the Red Listing decision.
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