‘Red list’ warning removes lobster from menu

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By Patrick Whittle | Associated press

PORTLAND, Maine — Some retailers are removing lobster from the menu after an assessment by an influential conservation group that harvesting the seafood poses too much risk to rare whales and should be avoided.

Whales can suffer injuries and deaths when they become entangled in gear that connects to lobster traps on the ocean floor. Seafood Watch, which rates the sustainability of different seafood, said this week it added US and Canadian lobster fisheries to its “red list” of species to avoid.

The organization, based at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, said in a report that the fishing industry is a danger to North Atlantic right whales because “current management measures are not going well. far enough to mitigate the risk of entanglement and promote the recovery of the species.”

Thousands of companies use Seafood Watch’s recommendations to inform their seafood purchasing decisions, and many have pledged to avoid any redlisted items. A spokesperson for Blue Apron, the New York meal kit retailer, said the company had stopped offering a can of seasonal lobster before the report, and that all seafood it currently uses follow Seafood Watch guidelines. HelloFresh, the German meal kit company that is the largest such company operating in the United States, also pledged soon after the announcement to stop selling lobster.

“HelloFresh is committed to responsible sourcing and follows the guidelines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program,” said HelloFresh spokesperson Saskia Leisewitz.

Seafood Watch assigns ‘best choice’, ‘good alternative’ and ‘avoid’ ratings to more than 2,000 seafood products based on their sustainability. The organization’s recommendations have been influential in the past, such as when it redlisted Louisiana’s shrimp fishery, prompting better protection for sea turtles. The fishery was subsequently removed from the red list.

The lobster fishing industry has come under scrutiny from Seafood Watch due to the threat of entanglement in fishing gear. North Atlantic right whales number fewer than 340 and entanglement is one of the two biggest threats they face, along with ship strikes, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric have said. Administration and other groups. The population of the giant animals, which were decimated during the era of commercial whaling generations ago, has declined in recent years.

Members of the lobster fishing industry, which also face increased federal restrictions on fishing to protect whales, pushed back on the Seafood Watch rating. The lobster industry in Maine, where most American lobsters come ashore, has not had a documented interaction with a right whale in nearly two decades, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. .

“Lobster is one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world due to effective stewardship practices passed down through generations of lobster fishers. These include strict protections for lobster resources and right whales,” McCarron said.

American and Canadian lobster fishermen target the same species, American lobster, which is popular as live seafood and in processed products such as lobster rolls and lobster ravioli. The vast majority of the world’s American lobster comes ashore in New England and Eastern Canada, and shellfish are both a key part of the economy and a cultural marker in both places.

Lobster fishing in the United States is also one of the most lucrative in the country and was worth more than $900 million at the docks in 2021, when fishermen caught more than 130 million pounds (59 million kilograms) of shellfish.

Seafood Watch partners with many major seafood buyers on its recommendations. Some of the buyers, such as Compass Group and Cheesecake Factory, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. A spokesperson for one, Mars Petcare, said the company does not have lobster in its supply chain.

Environmental groups said Seafood Watch’s decision shines a light on fishing and the need to do more to protect whales.

“Fisheries managers must strengthen protections to save North Atlantic right whales so that seafood retailers, consumers and restaurants can put American lobster and crab back on the menu,” the director said. Oceana campaign, Gib Brogan.

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