Maine lobster industry groups are suing the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California over a recommendation to avoid buying a type of lobster mostly harvested in their state. The aquarium's conservation program, Seafood Watch, placed lobster from the US and Canada on its "red list" of seafood to avoid due to the threat to endangered North American right whales from entanglement in the fishing gear used to harvest American lobster. The industry groups argue that the recommendation relies on bad science and defames their prized catch. The lawsuit seeks to force the aquarium to remove "defamatory statements" from its website and materials.
The aquarium argues that its recommendations are based on the best available evidence and that right whales are indeed vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear. Marine Stewardship Council suspended a sustainability certification it awarded to Maine's lobster industry last year due to concerns about harm to whales. Some retailers have stopped selling lobster as a result of the loss of sustainability recommendations.
This is not the first time that the U.S. lobster industry has been impacted. It was also down by trade tensions with China, which is a major market for American lobsters. In 2018, China imposed a 25% tariff on American lobster imports in response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. This led to a significant decline in exports of American lobsters to China and a decrease in prices for U.S. lobster fishermen.
The US lobster industry is primarily based in Maine and brought in about 98 million pounds of lobster to the docks last year, historically a high number. However, endangered North American right whales number only around 340 and have declined in recent years. The lawsuit raises important questions about the impact of fishing practices on endangered species and the responsibilities of conservation programs in making recommendations that affect industries and communities.