Recertification of the lobster fishery would harm right whales and mislead consumers

New York – Conservation groups acted today to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale by formally opposing a decision that the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery should be recertified under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability standard. MSC certification is widely recognized in grocery stores with a “blue fish tick” eco-label.

The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery had its MSC certificate temporarily suspended in 2020 after a federal judge ruled the US government violated endangered species law by allowing the fishery. Certification was reinstated in 2021 after new management measures were developed, although fishing still posed a direct threat to right whales.

The recommendation that the fishery be recertified, made by the assessment body, MRAG Americas, contradicts the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and ignores the best available science on the deadly entanglement risk that the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery poses to rapidly declining whale species. The NRDC, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Defenders of Wildlife expressed these concerns in a formal written objection submitted to the MSC.

“If the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery were certified sustainable at this time, consumers of MSC-certified lobster could unknowingly be accelerating the demise of one of our most iconic and endangered species,” said Francine Kershaw, senior scientist at the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) “There couldn’t be a more egregious way to further erode consumer confidence in MSC as a sustainability certification program.”

The MSC eco-label is coming under increasing scrutiny from marine scientists and conservationists who believe that weaknesses in the MSC standard have allowed the certification of fisheries with significant problems bycatch of marine animals. Current lobster fishery management measures fail to address the risk the fishery poses to North Atlantic right whales due to entanglement in commercial fishing gear – the leading cause of death, serious injury , sublethal impacts and general decline of the species. Conservation groups believe the recommendation to label this fishery as sustainable is unfounded and inconsistent with national and international concerns about the impact that the lobster and crab fishery in the northeast United States is having on the big whales.

“It is unconscionable that the world’s leading seafood certification body should give its stamp of approval to a fishery that poses serious threats to a critically endangered species,” said consultant Kate O’Connell. in marine fauna for AWI. “Given that the MSC’s new fishing standard – approved on Friday – does not even require fisheries to achieve a gradual reduction in bycatch, the label is at serious risk of losing credibility.”

Filing an objection will trigger the start of a multi-step resolution process. The objection will be assessed by an independent arbitrator, who will either uphold the original decision, allowing certification to proceed, or uphold the objection.

“The MSC label assures consumers that a fishery complies with applicable laws and the best available science,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “While it showed the US government ignored both law and science in allowing this fishery, our concerns fell on deaf ears over the MSC’s rush to recertify.”

Entanglement is a conservation problem with a viable remedy. The MSC must do its part to encourage fisheries to look into available solutions, particularly catch-on-demand systems that eliminate the need to hang ropes attached to lobster and crab pots for long periods in the column of water, withholding sustainability certifications from fisheries whose practices continue to harm endangered whales.

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The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international non-profit environmental organization with over 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health and the environment. The NRDC has offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Defenders of Wildlife celebrates 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

The Animal Welfare Institute (www.awionline.org) is a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing human-caused animal suffering. AWI engages policy makers, scientists, industry and the public to achieve better treatment for animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal welfare news.

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