Maine Lobstermen Furious After Environmental Group Adds American Lobster to ‘Red List’

by Emily Morgan

The environmental group Seafood Watch recently designated lobsters as a “red list” species. Now, they’re discouraging the sale and purchase of the Gulf of Maine lobster. However, lobstermen in the state are fighting back.

Seafood Watch, which partners with big-box companies such as Whole Foods to classify products that may harm marine animals, recently gave the American lobster an updated red-colored “avoid” rating.

The group points out the impact of lobster traps on North Atlantic right whales. The whales are listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and worldwide.

In contrast, many lobstermen argue that their traps are regulated in the United States. In addition, they believe it’s so regulated that they consider it near impossible for the whales to get caught.

According to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Maine lobstermen have not interacted with right whales in nearly two decades.

In addition, the new classification came out during Maine Lobster Week. Now, Maine lobstermen and officials such as Maine’s governor are denouncing Seafood Watch for attacking Maine’s struggling lobster industry.

Main Governor denounces new lobster classification

“Seafood Watch is misleading consumers and businesses with this designation,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. She said generations of Maine lobstermen have worked endlessly to fight for the sustainability of the lobster fishery. She added that they have taken historic steps to protect the right whales.

“Efforts that the federal government and now Seafood Watch have failed to recognize,” Mills continued. “This designation is flat out wrong.”

However, Mills’ opponent in the upcoming election, former governor Paul LePage, also released a statement denouncing the designation. He said if he were governor, he would condemn the federal regulatory policy “aimed at destroying the livelihoods” of Maine lobstermen.”

He added, “Now more than ever, our lobster industry needs a steady, proven ally.”

Seafood Watch later said they updated their Gulf of Maine lobster designation because getting trapped is “the leading cause of serious injury and death to North Atlantic right whales.”

Seafood Watch said that lobster pots, or traps, usually have few impacts on their environment. However, they said that the overall effects of large-scale fishing are “likely underestimated.”

They gave the same red-label classification to the American lobster in 11 other parts of the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, the right whale issue is being fought in federal court. The Maine Lobstermen Association has sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over recent strict regulations on lobstermen.

This week, a judge ruled to allow the regulations to be implemented.

“The federal district court and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have failed Maine’s lobster industry,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen Association. “But this is not the end. We won’t go down without a fight.”