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A coalition representing Maine’s lobster industry has sued an aquarium in California (U.S.) for encouraging seafood consumers to avoid buying a variety of lobster caught mainly in its state.

Industry groups, including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), have sued California’s Monterey -Bay Aquarium for defamation, claiming in a lawsuit filed on 13th March that its prized catch should not be on a “red list” published by Seafood Watch, a conservation program that the Aquarium runs.

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In the past year, Seafood Watch has included U.S. and Canadian lobster on its “red list” of seafood products. However, the endangered species is not lobster, it is the North American right whale. The North American right whale is an endangered species, and the problem between the two comes from the fishing methods used for lobster. Apparently, these whales sometimes become entangled in the nets used to catch American lobster, the prominent species in the U.S. lobster market.

Although the lobster industry claims in Maine District Court that the aquarium’s recommendation is based on erroneous data, the lawsuit asks the court to compel the aquarium to retract the “defamatory statements.”

According to the MLA, there are already measures in place that seek to be environmentally responsible. They include reducing their lines in the water (about 30,000 miles of rope) and the use of weak links in the rigging so that sea mammals that encounter a trap can free themselves.

The “red list” is a drop in sales: what is not sustainable is punished. Stores like Whole Foods and restaurants like Cheesecake Factory will stop selling Maine-caught lobster, according to the lawsuit.

Between lobsters and right whales: the dispute in Maine for the classification
The lobster fishery in Maine. Photo by: Adobe Stock

Not only the rates but also the label

These fishery grading issues have been going on for some time. In September 2022, the California Aquarium announced that the Seafood Watch program would downgrade its rating of Maine-caught lobster from “yellow” -caution- to “red” -avoid-. 

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For its part, the aquarium claims that their recommendations are correct and based on the best available evidence. It claims that right whales are indeed vulnerable to entanglement in nets used for lobster fishing.

However, it is not the first body to make such observations. Marine Stewardship Council late last year suspended a sustainability certification (MSC labels) it had awarded to the Maine lobster industry over concerns about harm to whales.

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