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Seeing Red Over Lobster Fishery Proposal

From all reports, the lobster season in this region is chugging along and is on par with last year.

Speaking of last season, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recently reported that lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33 and 34 recorded landings of 27,395 tonnes, for an approximate landed value of $515 million. That total equates to a whopping 62 per cent of total Canadian landings of lobster.

There is no doubt that these are exciting times for the lobster fishery in Southwest Nova Scotia.

However, it might be an understatement to mention that the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program might not exactly be a fan of our valuable and sustainable fishery.

The California-based conservation organization recently proposed adding the American lobster fishery to its “Red List.”

The Seafood Watch Program states that it was “created to support sustainable seafood across the globe to not only provide advice to consumers, but work with businesses and governments to improve practices and policies.”

Seafood Watch breaks down species into four categories: Best Choice, Certified, Good Alternative and Avoid. The Avoid category is also known as the Red List. According to Seafood Watch, consumers should not buy species that are listed in the Avoid category because they’re “overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.”

The website for Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program has 642 results for the Avoid category, including amberjack from Mexico and Japan, striped bass from the U.S., certain types of salmon, as well as the Atlantic cod off eastern Canada’s shores.

A few weeks ago, the program released 14 draft assessments for fisheries that “pose risks to the survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.”

The proposal calls for the U.S. American lobster fishery, as well as the Jonah crab fishery and other trap, pot and gillnet fisheries, to be added to the Red List.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium cited studies that say there are fewer than 360 North Atlantic right whales in existence today and that the number decreases every year.

“These whales can get entangled in fishing gear, which can lead to injury or death. And according to another study, over 80 per cent of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once. After reviewing the available science-based information, Seafood Watch updated 14 of its assessments, which resulted in draft red ratings for gear types of concern, notably pots, traps, and gillnets,” a press release from Monterey Bay Aquarium stated. “The draft red ratings are driven by the risk to the North Atlantic right whale and the ineffectiveness of management measures to address this risk.”

It might be an understatement to say that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s proposal is going over like a lead balloon with our lobster fishing brethren south of the border.

In a press release, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) responded with “Maine lobster is one of the most sustainable seafoods in the world, harvested with care and dedication by people that have steadfastly sought to protect the health of the lobster stock and the vitality of the marine environment. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s decision would ignore the industry’s long history of adapting gear and fishing practices to protect North Atlantic right whales and undermines the newly enacted federal regulations designed to provide additional protections.”

The MLMC went on to say that “every day on the water, Maine lobstermen contend with the implications of climate change, including impacts on right whales, lobsters and other species critical to the trade. Industry members will continue to closely collaborate with a range of stakeholders — from policymakers and regulators to scientists and advocates — to ensure that Maine lobster remains a locally-sourced sustainable product, enjoyed by millions of global consumers, caught by fishermen committed to doing things the right way.”

It is certainly a safe bet that fishermen in this region firmly stand behind their colleagues in Maine on this issue. Atlantic Canadian lobster harvesters are leading the way in sustainable fishing practices, and it is more than troublesome when a conservation group comes out with a blanket statement that could potentially do harm to such an important industry. No wonder that many stakeholders are seeing red over this controversial proposal.