Maine's political leadership has come together in a bipartisan show of support for the state's lobster industry after a conservation group called for the state's catch to be avoided and the rejection of a federal lawsuit over regulations designed to protect the endangered right whale.

Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch issued a report on Monday, adding American and Canadian lobster fisheries to its "red list" because the group believes their management measures do not go far enough to reduce the risks to the remaining 340 North Atlantic right whales. The group blames the use of pots, traps, and gillnets for causing the whales to become entangled.

The report has resulted in businesses using Monterey Bay Aquarium's recommendations to guide their seafood buying decisions to consider looking elsewhere for lobster or stop selling it altogether.

Also this week, a federal court tossed the Maine Lobstermen’s Association lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service's new regulations that would restrict where and how lobsterman can catch in federal waters.

Maine Sen. Angus King speak at an event in defense of the lobster industry
Maine Sen. Angus King speak at an event in defense of the lobster industry (Sen. Angus King)

Consider All the Facts

Gov. Janet Mills, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden called on Friday for Monterey Bay Aquarium to take Maine off their "red list." In a letter to the group's board of directors, the politicians said there are several facts they did not consider.

"If you are going to make claims that will do concrete harm to a proud, responsible industry, you should have – and present – concrete facts to support these claims; not assumptions, not inferences, not possibilities, but evidence. But as you admit in your report, due to a lack of information, it is often not possible to assign entanglements to a specific fishery," they wrote in the letter.

The "red list" designation will have "substantial negative real-world consequences on an important and iconic industry in Maine," they wrote.

According to the letter:

  • There has not been a right whale entanglement with Maine lobster gear since 2004, and no right whale death has been attributed to Maine lobster equipment.
  • The majority of right whale deaths since 2017 have been due to vessel strikes in Canada
  • The Maine lobster industry has already eliminated floating rope and 30,000 miles of line from the water.

King: Trying to Put Maine Lobster Industry Out of Business

The Maine delegation in the letter accused Monterey Bay Aquarium of "guilty until proven innocent" reasoning. During a press event on Friday, an angry King called the group an "arrogant fish zoo in California" that is making decisions for Maine lobstermen.

"They're telling us what we can and can't do in our lobster fishery. The heart of the issue is that they have made a decision which is a knife in the back of the lobster industry in Maine, with no evidence," King said.

King recalled a conversation he and the governor had with Monterey Bay Aquarium two years ago where he asked if there was any evidence of right whale entanglement because of Maine lobster gear. The answer was no, according to the senator.

He also pointed out that in Monterey Bay's report, they state that blame could not be assigned to a specific fishery because of a lack of evidence, but rather lumped both the U.S. and Canada together.

"More than 90% of entanglements cannot be linked to a specific gear type, and only 12% of entanglements can be linked to a specific location,"Until there is more evidence, all of the fisheries using this gear are considered a risk," Monterey Bay wrote in its report.

King said that if Monterey Aquarium does not take another look at the data, the state will have to decide what the next step will be.

In another release Friday, Monterey Aquarium defended its report and reiterated that there is no data to show one fishery has less impact than another.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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