MSC suspends Maine lobster fishery certification

Published on
August 4, 2020

The Maine Certified Sustainable Lobster Association (MCLSA) has announced that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for the Maine lobster fishery has been suspended due to a recent decision on a federal court case.

The case, the Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross, found that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to include an “incidental take statement” for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. As a result, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg found that the U.S. lobster fishery is in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“The certificate suspension is occurring despite continued sustainable management of the Maine lobster fishery and remains the direct result of NOAA’s 2014 biological opinion on the impact that lobster fishing has on right whales,” the MSCLA wrote in a press release.

That court decision based on the biological opinion, according to the MCLSA, is the reason that the MSC plans to suspend the lobster fishery’s certification. The association added in a press release that an upcoming NOAA draft biological opinion, planned to be made public some time this August, should fix the oversight, and the association plans to “work quickly to regain its MSC certification."

“Although we don’t have any direct role in the outcome of this federal case and the ultimate impact to our industry, we are confident we will regain MSC certification through our ongoing efforts to uphold the highest standards of sustainability,” MCSLA President Craig Rief said. “We will actively participate with the upcoming biological opinion and provide any necessary resources to assist NOAA, MSC, and our stakeholders in our steadfast commitment to protect threatened and endangered marine life while providing the highest quality product to all consumers.”

Other NGOs backed the MSC’s decision to suspend the fishery.

“Oceana agrees with the Marine Stewardship Council’s decision to suspend certification for the Maine lobster fishery because of its failure to comply with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act to assess and limit impacts to North Atlantic right whales,” Oceana Campaign Director Whitney Webber said. “With only about 400 of these critically endangered whales left, fisheries must change now to protect these whales.”

Maine’s lobster fishery has been working on a plan that will satisfy the needs of the NMFS and maintain the fishery. A plan submitted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources was rejected earlier this year, which Maine officials later countered that by saying the NMFS decision didn’t give Maine’s plan enough credit. As pressure mounts for some sort of regulatory action, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association has initiated a campaign to protest the federal ruling and any further rulemaking that could severely impact lobstermen.    

Most recently, The Pew Charitable Trusts has submitted a petition calling for complete vertical-line fishing closures in areas to protect right whales, which would impact the lobster industry. Maine’s Governor Janet Mills objected to that petition, saying the current rulemaking process has had broader stakeholder input.

The continued effort to create some form of regulation for the lobster industry comes in the wake of multiple right whale deaths attributable to entanglement in fishing lines. 

Photo courtesy of Sandi Cullifer/Shutterstock 

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