Maine lobster is losing its ‘sustainable’ label due to risk to whales

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An important seafood guide Announced Wednesday no longer considers the famous Maine lobsters sustainable, given that whales on the brink of extinction they are dying after becoming entangled in fishing gear.

The decision to revoke the Marine Stewardship CouncilThe recognizable blue label of is a blow to a company already feeling financially strapped amid low lobster prices, high fuel costs and questions about its environmental practices. Conservationists have launched an aggressive campaign to do more to protect the critically endangered right whales in the North Atlantic, whose numbers continue to decline. just a estimated 340 individuals stay.

“We are hopeful and looking for the opportunity to work with the fishery and others to figure out how to help them move forward,” said Erika Feller, Marine Stewardship Council regional director. “Hopefully, the fishery can regain certification.”

Environmental reporter Dino Grandoni explains how climate change threatens right whale species. (Video: Dino Grandoni, Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

Retailers in the United States sell shellfish graded by the Marine Stewardship Council, a nonprofit organization that uses independent reviewers to determine if a fishery is well-managed and does not harm other species or ocean habitats. The announcement comes just a month after another sustainability guide, Seafood Watch, warned against buy lobster caught in US or Canadian waters.

Taken together, the removal of sustainability labels puts more pressure than ever on the average diner to avoid ordering a lobster roll.

These whales are on the brink. Now comes climate change and wind power.

“These are wild animals that we are impacting,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, vice president of global ocean initiatives at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, who runs Seafood Watch.

But lobstermen and their representatives in Congress are furious at the suggestion that eating New England’s renowned shellfish harms the environment.

“This is not a slap on the wrist,” Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in a Seafood Watch evaluation interview. “They are literally trying to put these people out of business.”

Maine’s thousands of licensed lobstermen, they say, comply with the conservation law and have taken many steps to reduce the risk of catching right whales. There is little evidence that lobster fishing is reducing the number of endangered whales, say Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the state.

“These are neighbors in small communities, on islands and peninsulas who have done everything possible to harvest this resource in a responsible way that allowed the next generation and the next generation and the next generation to have the same job,” said Steve Train, a lobsterman based on Long Island, Maine.

While right whales face various pressures, including boat strikes and a warming ocean, entanglements in fishing gear are one of the leading causes of deathaccording to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Last year, the agency, which is responsible for protecting the species, updated its safeguards by forcing lobstermen to reduce the number of ropes in the water and restrict lobster harvests for part of the year.

But in July, a district court ruled in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups who argued that the government’s new rope rule failed to meet their legal obligations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect whales.

The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery lost its MSC certification once before, in 2020, after a similar court case. The suspension will be lifted the following year.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg is expected to rule on the next steps soon. And the National Marine Fisheries Service wants to finalize a stricter rule by 2024.

“We are watching the whale go extinct in real time,” said Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. The new regulation, she added, “will be difficult, but that’s what needs to happen to save the species.”

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