Canadian lobster, snow crab backers defend fisheries after “red listing”

Lobster Council of Canada Executive Director Geoff Irvine.

The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador and several Canadian fishing organizations are speaking out in support of the sustainability of Canadian lobster and snow crab after the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program downgraded the species to “red/avoid.”

Seafood Watch’s new rating of North American lobster and Canadian snow crab was primarily due to potential impacts the fishery could be having on North Atlantic right whales.

“This decision is unwarranted, irresponsible, and not fact-based,” Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture Derrick Bragg said in a press release. “North Atlantic right whales are not commonly found in waters adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador and the risk of gear entanglements is minimal.”

The provincial government is “closely monitoring this situation to determine potential impacts on industry, and we support efforts by industry stakeholders to have snow crab and lobster removed from the list, “Bragg said.

Management of Snow crab and lobster fisheries in the province’s waters is “based on sound science and the principle of sustainability and snow crab has achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification – the world’s most-recognized seafood sustainability standard,” Bragg said.

Everyone needs to “stand up and push back on what Seafood Watch represents: activism masquerading as science,” Lobster Council of Canada Executive Director Geoff Irvine and Lobster Processors Association Executive Director Nat Richard said in an editorial provided to SeafoodSource.

“Canada and the United States have a proud record of global leadership on seafood sustainability. Cooler heads must prevail. We need more science, and less politics; more bi-national collaboration, less finger-pointing. Ensuring a sustainable future for the right whale knows no borders and needs to be addressed bi-nationally,” Irvine and Richard wrote.

Canada has “spared no effort” to protect right whales since 2017 and “not a single right whale mortality” has occurred for the past three years, Irvine and Richard said.

“We implemented a broad suite of measures, including comprehensive closure protocols, mandatory speed restrictions for fishing and large vessels, unprecedented de-icing resources to allow for early crab fishing before [right whales] arrive, massive aerial and at-sea surveillance with cutting-edge detection technology, elimination all floating horizontal lines, ‘trawling’ up to reduce vertical lines, 100 percent gear marking for all fixed gear fisheries, and more recently, a major push to remove ghost gear,” they wrote.

Separately, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence Allied Fisheries said in a press release that “we won't hide our disappointment from this new rating.”
The group understands that the North Atlantic right whale “will likely remain a critically endangered species that needs all of our sustained efforts,” it said.

However, Seafood Watch’s recommendation that consumers avoid Canadian seafood products is “ignoring all of the tremendous ongoing efforts,” the group said.

“Both Canada and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence snow crab fishery have been internationally recognized for their proactivity, commitment, and multi-stakeholder efforts,” it said.

The Fisheries Council of Canada also said in a press release that its lobster and crab members are “subject to some of the highest federal standards for sustainability and marine mammal protection in the world, and have voluntarily gone above and beyond to certify the sustainability of their fisheries against the global best standard of the MSC,” FCC President Paul Lansbergen said.

“By all accounts, Canadian lobster and snow crab remain responsible choices,” Lansbergen said. “Significant attention is given to gear innovation and best practices for the protection of marine mammals. By contrast, it is important to note that Seafood Watch is not subject to any significant level of third-party review and do not meet any global best practices, such as the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative.”

The only snow crab fishery in Atlantic Canada that is not MSC-certified is in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, according to the FCC.

“That fishery has moved into a very robust fishery improvement project focused on advancing new gear technology to reduce [and eventually] eliminate the entanglement of right whales in the snow crab fishery,” Lansbergen said.

The Sustainable Fishery Partnership, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Publix grocery store chain are among the backers of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence FIP, Gulf of Saint Lawrence Allied Fisheries said.

“Important retailers and brokers like BSF, Eastern Fish, Whitecap, Groupe MDMP and International Seafood and Bait are involved sponsors, to name just a few,” the organization added. “Time and effort are needed to advance our fisheries to achieve the goal of providing a sustainable environment for whales while allowing NARWs and fishing to co-exist. The Gulf of Saint Lawrence Allied Fisheries are committed to this. Supporting our products will support our efforts that would be meaningless without consumer approval and engagement. Otherwise, all goods consumed that are shipped by cargo through [North Atlantic right whale] pathways should also be avoided.”

As a whole, the Canadian seafood industry “boasts some of the best sustainability metrics in the world,” FCC noted. Fisheries and Oceans Canada reports that 98 percent of Canadian fisheries are harvested at sustainable levels, and its sector holds the second-highest rate of MSC sustainability certifications among large countries globally.

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