When the U.S.-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program red listed Canadian lobster and crab as seafood to avoid due to entanglement risks with North American right whales (NARWs) in September, it didn’t take long for Atlantic Canadian industry stakeholders to react.
“We need to stand up and push back on what Seafood Watch represents: activism masquerading as science,” say the Lobster Council of Canada (LCC) and the Lobster Processors Association in an opinion piece.
“We won’t hide our disappointment from this new rating,” says the Gulf of St. Lawrence Allied Fisheries. “Avoiding our products (and therefore, our fishery) is ignoring all of the tremendous ongoing efforts. Both Canada and the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery have been internationally recognized for their proactivity, commitment and multi-stakeholder efforts.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture Derrick Bragg said the decision “is unwarranted, irresponsible and not fact-based. North Atlantic right whales are not commonly found in waters adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador and the risk of gear entanglements is minimal. We are closely monitoring this situation to determine potential impacts on industry and we support efforts by industry stakeholders to have snow crab and lobster removed from the list. The fact is snow crab and lobster harvesting fisheries in our waters are based on sound science and the principle of sustainability and snow crab has achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification — the world’s most recognized seafood sustainability standard.”
The Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) said it stands in continued support of the Canadian lobster and snow crab sectors and “is confident in the sustainability and ongoing dedication to innovation that the Canadian lobster and snow crab fisheries demonstrate and are proud to promote their products as a responsible choice.”
As the FCC pointed out, the vast majority of snow crab and lobster fisheries in Canada remain certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as the global standard and are committed to stewardship of vulnerable species. Significant attention is given to gear innovation and best practices for the protection of marine mammals. By contrast, it is important to note that Seafood Watch is not subject to any significant level of third-party review and do not meet any global best practices such as the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI).
“Our lobster and snow crab members are subject to some of the highest federal standards for sustainability and marine mammal protection in the world and have voluntarily gone above and beyond to certify the sustainability of their fisheries against the global best standard of the MSC,” said Paul Lansbergen, President, FCC.
“By all accounts, Canadian lobster and snow crab remain responsible choices.”
Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said the Alliance was “extremely disappointed with this designation and immediately joined other industry groups, most notably the Lobster Council of Canada and the Lobster Processors Association, as well as harvester associations and colleagues throughout the Maritimes, to respond both through government and in the media to make certain the real story behind how we are protecting the right whales becomes widely known. We will continue to pursue this approach with the hope that the designation will be reversed as quickly as it should be,” he said.
The FCC says under federal guidance, Canada has implemented significant management measures to mitigate marine mammal interactions in all Canadian Atlantic fixed-gear fisheries.
Canadian fisheries work diligently to constantly reduce harm to marine mammals as part of their sustainability programing and to maintain market access. Beyond this, the only snow crab fishery in Atlantic Canada that is not MSC certified is in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. That fishery has moved into a very robust fishery improvement project (FIP) focused on advancing new gear technology to reduce/eliminate the entanglement of right whales in the snow crab fishery.
“In fact, the pace of innovation with popup buoys in both the lobster and snow crab fisheries is unprecedented. Continuing to buy Canadian lobster and snow crab will support these innovation efforts,” said Lansbergen.
Geoff Irvine, executive director of the LCC, said the Lobster Council is leading a working group made up of harvesters and shoreside companies focused on advocating for the Canadian lobster industry.
“This advocacy includes driving our message through media channels throughout North America and providing our customers with the tools they need to understand all of the work being done in Canada on gear trials, including low breaking strength rope, ropeless fishing gear, mitigation measures such as dynamic closures and slowing down shipping. The tactics include organizing webinars with key DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) officials to present the measures in detail, new fact sheets focused on American and Canadian consumers, social media posts to raise awareness and working with our colleagues in the United States to ensure a positive message,” said Irvine.
As of late September, the red list designation hadn’t had much of an impact on market demand, said Irvine. “However, we are working with the entire sector and governments to ensure that our customers know the significant measures we are taking in Canada to avoid NARW interactions and we remain certified to the gold standard of sustainability certifications — the Marine Stewardship Council, a peer reviewed, third party eco-certification.”
Muise said while being red listed has had relatively little direct economic impact to date, “what will flow from this in the weeks ahead is very concerning. We do not think this Seafood Watch designation is substantiated by the facts and the science. We are satisfied the improvements the Canadian government and seafood sector has introduced to protect the right whale population has done so to the greatest extent possible.”