By PATRICK WHITTLE | The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine — A world nonprofit organization that sets sustainability standards for business fishing management has suspended a certification it awarded Maine’s lobster industry over concerns about harm to whales.
Representatives for Marine Stewardship Council, which is predicated in London, said Wednesday that the suspension of the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery’s certificate will go into effect on Dec. 15. The organization said in an announcement that the danger North Atlantic right whales face from entanglement in fishing gear is a “serious and tragic situation” of “grave concern to all those involved within the fishing industry.”
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MSC’s decision to remove its certification from the U.S. lobster fishery represents the second time a sustainability organization has downgraded the industry’s status this yr. Seafood Watch, based at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, said in a report in late summer that it has added the American and Canadian lobster fisheries to its “red list” of species to avoid over concerns about risks to whales.
Some retailers removed lobster from their inventory after Seafood Watch’s decision, and the industry could suffer more repercussions from MSC’s move. MSC runs the biggest seafood certification program on the earth, and its logo, a blue and white fish, features prominently at many seafood counters.
A 3rd-party assessor that monitors fisheries’ conformance with MSC standards conducted an audit of the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery in September and located the fishing industry out of compliance, MSC said in an announcement. The auditor found the fishery out of compliance due to a federal court decision that said the principles governing the industry don’t satisfy the Endangered Species Act or the Maine Mammal Protection Act, the organization said.
“To satisfy the necessities of the MSC Fisheries Standard, fisheries must comply with all relevant laws,” the MSC statement said.
Right whales number about 340 and their population is falling. They’re vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with large ships.
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The whales give birth off Florida and Georgia and are available north to the waters off Recent England and Canada to feed. Once abundant, they were decimated in the course of the business whaling era generations ago. More recently, warming oceans have emerged as a threat to the species, as scientists have said that has led the the animals to stray from protected areas looking for food.
The U.S. lobster fishery is primarily based in Recent England and is probably the most lucrative fishing industries within the country, valued at greater than $700 million on the docks in Maine alone last yr. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association feels the MSC decertification is the “direct results of the federal government’s overreach and its misuse of science in overestimating risk from the Maine lobster fishery,” MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron said Wednesday.
The lobster fishing group has an energetic lawsuit against the federal government over lobster fishing rules.
The MLA “is working to carry the federal government accountable through our lawsuit and force them to revise their plan in order that it actually protects whales without leaving Maine’s historic lobster fishery in ruins and inflicting unnecessary economic harm on our state and hundreds of working families,” McCarron said.
The whales are also a serious focus of conservation organizations. Some U.S. fisheries, including the lobster industry, “are happening in seasonal hotspots where North Atlantic right whales are known to be found, they usually are using excessive gear, which creates an unacceptable, illegal risk of entanglement,” said Gib Brogan, a fisheries campaign manager at nonprofit conservation organization Oceana.