The Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation is under fire and now being sued by the Maine’s Lobsterman Association, the Maine’s Coast Fishermen's Association and local lobster-based businesses for putting the caught lobster on the “red list” of foods to avoid. According to the fishery associations, there were false accusations and defamatory statements made regarding the lobsterman's fishing practices. This has misled consumers and commercial lobster buyers into believing their practices are not sustainable or hold integrity. Last year, the aquarium’s Seafood Watch program placed the lobster fisheries in the “red,” downgrading from the “yellow” list – lowering all rates for fisheries that use pots, gillnets, and traps. Coming from the claim that the Canadian and US management measures were not doing enough to reduce the risk of North Atlantic whale net entanglements.
Previously designated to the “yellow,” or the “good alternative” list, the lobster fisheries are making public claims against the Foundation stating they are false and damaging. Their economic stability has since faltered and harm has come to Maine’s fishing industry. The three main fisheries in the lawsuit have lost about $75,000 collectively in revenue. One of the independent plaintiffs, Atwood Lobster, lost a major purchaser and another plaintiff, Gerald Cushman has stated that his revenue is down 20% – all according to the lawsuit. Collectively the Maine lobstermen brought in the lowest valued caught product in over a decade, with size and price-per-pound substantially low.
In a legal response, the aquarium stated, “ignore the extensive evidence that this fishery poses a serious risk to the survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and they seek to curtail the First Amendment rights of a beloved institution that educates the public about the importance of a healthy ocean.”
So what does all this mean for the ocean, and the potential harm to wildlife? Well, there's supposed collected science to challenge the Maine lawsuit. During the Seafood Watch announcement, they acknowledged that the vast majority of environmental incidents cannot be linked to a particular fishery or type of fishing gear. Stating that until there is more validated evidence of a specific fishery commencing in negative practices, all fisheries that use that set fishing gear are to be a risk. Unfortunately, the aquarium neglected to provide examples of negative practice and supporting science.
The lawsuit demands the aquarium to reverse the defamatory claims and injunctions against the fisheries, for there has never been significant evidence presented.
“This is a significant lawsuit that will help eradicate the damage done by folks who have no clue about the care taken by lobstermen to protect the ecosystem and the ocean. Lobstermen are very responsible stewards of the ocean. We cannot sit back and let lies to the contrary prevail,” stated CEO of Bean Maine Lobster Inc., John Petersdorf.
The initial controversy caused uproar between consumers and suppliers. The lobsterman called for the boycott of food suppliers and stores that discontinued their product relationship, removing the Main lobster for purchase. Collaboratives and congressional authorities have contacted the Seafood Watch urging to remove the accusations. The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative has also started a petition against the listing, stating that it was placed under false pretenses and not supported by evidence. The petition has received 27,500 signatures thus far.