Maine politicians deride Seafood Watch "avoid" listing as businesses stop selling lobster

Maine Governor Janet Mills

Elected representatives from the U.S. state of Maine have derided a recent Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Program listing that downgraded North American lobster (Homarus americanus) from a “good alternative” to a species to “avoid.”

The revised ranking came due to potential risks the fishery poses to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a decision that Seafood Watch proposed making in February 2022.

Maine Governor Janet Mills derided the decision, calling it “flat out wrong.”

“Seafood Watch is misleading consumers and businesses with this designation. Generations of Maine lobstermen have worked hard to protect the sustainability of the lobster fishery, and they have taken unprecedented steps to protect right whales – efforts that the federal government and now Seafood Watch have failed to recognize,” Mills said. “No right whale death has been attributed to Maine gear, and there has not been a right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster gear in eighteen years.”

Mills called the designation as a species for consumers to avoid an “insult” to “thousands of hardworking lobstermen.”

“Consumers and businesses must see through this list and recognize that lobstermen are partners in conservation and sustainability and that the delicious Maine lobster can and should continue to be enjoyed,” she said.

U.S. Senator Angus King joined Mills in the criticism of the new Seafood Watch listing, calling it “absurd.”

“Today's decision by Seafood Watch to 'red list' Maine lobster is simply absurd and flies in the face of common sense,” King said. “The Maine lobster industry – one of our state's most-important economic drivers and a source of pride – has long been committed to environmentally conscious, sustainable fishing.”

Kings also pointed out that no right whale entanglements have been directly attributed to Maine lobster gear since 2004, and no documented right whale deaths have ever been directly attributed to lobster gear.

“By ignoring these facts, Seafood Watch isn’t encouraging safe fishing; All they’re doing is damaging what’s left of their reputation and hurting Maine people unnecessarily in the process,” King said. “Make no mistake, this decision will have a real-world impact – with the industry already facing challenges, the accusations of the designation will hurt thousands of families and businesses across our state.”

King’s prediction of real-world impact has already proven true. In the wake of moving to the red list, the Associated Press reported some retailers are taking lobster off the menu, including Germany-based HelloFresh – the largest meal-kit operator in the U.S.

Lobster is a key economic driver in Maine, with the fishery earning a record USD 724.9 million (EUR 727 million) in 2021. That total will likely be lower this year after a steep drop in prices, but lobster still represents a significant chunk of the state’s economy.

“I hope the millions around the world who enjoy the delicious crustacean will see through this farce, continue to support the iconic industry, and join me in pushing for Seafood Watch to reverse this irresponsible decision and take lobster off the so-called 'red list,’” King said.  


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