Maine's congressional delegation introduces bill to strip Monterey Bay Aquarium of federal funding
Two U.S. representatives of the state of Maine – U.S. Senator Angus King and U.S. Representative Jared Golden – have introduced a bill that would pull federal funding from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in response to its decision to red list Maine lobster.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch released a new set of updates in September 2022 that criticized the North American lobster fishery by placing it in the “avoid” category – largely due to the potential danger its lines pose to the approximately 300 remaining North Atlantic right whales left on earth.
The decision met immediate backlash from Maine’s congressional delegation and from provincial governments in Canada, with each calling the decision irresponsible.
Now, Maine’s congressional delegation is directly targeting the aquarium for its decision to red list lobster via a bill titled the “Red Listing Monterey Bay Aquarium Act” that would prohibit federal tax dollars from going to the aquarium. According to a release from King’s office, the aquarium as received nearly USD 197 million (EUR 200 million) in taxpayer dollars since 2001. The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senator Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.
“The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ‘red-listing’ of Maine lobster is a baseless attack on a proud, sustainable fishery and a clear attempt to put thousands of Maine people out of work. By refusing to provide any evidence supporting their harmful decision and ignoring facts that undercut their conclusion, the aquarium has made it clear that [it is] not a serious scientific organization, and certainly not one that deserves taxpayer funding,” King said. “The Red Listing Monterey Bay Aquarium Act would ensure that Maine people’s hard-earned tax dollars aren’t funding the aquarium’s pseudoscientific assault on our lobstering communities. It sends a clear message that we will not stand for this outrageous approach to scientific research.”
Golden called the Seafood Watch decision a “slap in the face to lobstermen and their families.”
“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,” Golden said.
The aquarium has defended its decision to red-list Maine's lobster fishery, and refuted the assertion that it made the decision without evidence. It said the U.S. lobster fishery is currently violating U.S. law based on a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg that found the fishery violates the Endangered Species Act.
In response, NOAA released a new set of rules – harshly criticized by the lobster industry – to try and bring the fishery back in line with federal law. But another ruling by Boasberg in July 2022 found that NOAA hadn’t gone far enough and that the fishery still violates the law.
“Our science-based assessments integrate and fully cite all relevant available data, including the latest government stock assessments, peer-reviewed science, and all state, provincial, and federal management measures,” the aquarium said. "We also gathered input from scientific, government, industry, and conservation experts and through a public comment period. All comments were reviewed and incorporated consistent with the Seafood Watch Standard for Fisheries. Much of the information used in Seafood Watch’s assessment has been recently confirmed by a court ruling as the best available science.”
Despite the court ruling, lobstermen and Maine’s congressional delegation continue to point out that there hasn’t been a right whale death directly attributable to the lobster industry since 2004, and no right whale death has ever been documented to be attributed to Maine lobster gear.
“Our lobstermen are incredible conservation leaders, and our iconic Maine lobster industry is sustainable. There is zero evidence to justify this absurd decision by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch,” Collins said. “Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be funding this kind of activism, which aims to deter restaurants and retailers from selling Maine lobster, threatening the livelihoods of hardworking men and women across the state of Maine.”
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia