Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 23, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, November 23, 2022
Another enviro group decertifies lobster
MSC withdraws sustainability label due to court decision
by Leslie Landrigan
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced on November 16 that it is suspending Gulf of Maine lobster certification as a sustainable fishery. The suspension, which takes effect on December 15, means Maine lobster won’t be eligible to carry a blue MSC label. That indicates it doesn’t meets MSC’s standards for “compliance with all relevant laws,” according to an MSC press release. Those laws are aimed at protecting the endangered right whale.
Maine lobster fell out of compliance with relevant laws because of a July 8 judge’s decision. Federal District Judge James Boasberg ruled then that new federal rope-fishing rules violated the Marine Mammals Protection and the Endangered Species acts.
However, MSC’s auditors also concluded “there has been no recent evidence that the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery is responsible for entanglements or interactions with right whales.”
Pressure from enviros
Following Boasberg’s ruling, three environmental groups—Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute—pressured the MSC to decertify Maine lobster, according to MSC spokesperson Jackie Marks. All three have been involved in lawsuits over federal whale rules.
London-based MSC then turned to its auditing team, a private consulting group overseen and accredited by Accreditation Services International, based in Bonn, Germany, according to Marks.
MSC’s audit relied on the information presented in the court case, according to Marks.
“The judge’s ruling triggered the audit because it was new information pertaining to the fishery,” she wrote in an email.
The auditing team restated Boasberg’s conclusion that the new whale rules violate federal laws protecting endangered species.
But they also found “the Gulf of Maine LMA 1 lobster fishery is unlikely to be hindering the recovery of these whales, based on existing evidence.”
Finally, auditors chided the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a lack of transparency. Auditors wrote that formal reporting to all interested stakeholders does not provide comprehensive information on the fishery’s performance and management.
On November 16, a press release announced the decertification of lobster. It stated, “Over the last decade, climate-driven shifts in habitats and food sources have impacted right whale migration patterns, contributing to more interactions between right whales, fishing gear, and shipping vessels.” Maine lobstermen argue the warming of the seas has sent right whales outside of the Gulf of Maine, making entanglement with Maine fishing gear unlikely.
The MSC’s Marks said the auditors did not take into account recent climate change science—just the July 8 court ruling.
The authors of the audit that led to suspension of the certification are Amanda Stern-Pirlot and Erin Wilson, who work for St. Petersburg, Fla.-based MRAG Americas, a consulting group.
The audit notes that both Stern-Pirlot and Wilson meet competency criteria for auditing the lobster fishery because they have appropriate university degrees and experience researching fisheries. Judge Boasberg has degrees in history and law.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association in a statement called the decertification “unfortunate” and blamed it on the “federal government’s overreach and its misuse of science in overestimating risk from the Maine lobster fishery.”
The auditors said stakeholders, including Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR), were informed of the audit. No stakeholder requested a meeting during the reassessment process, according to the auditors.
DMR Commissioner Pat Kelliher said in a statement that the decertification of Maine lobster “is in no way a reflection on Maine’s lobster industry, but instead is based on a legal technicality.”
MSC’s action follows the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s delisting of lobster on its Seafood Watch List in September. The aquarium refused to disclose the author of its anonymous report, its peer-review process or who peer-reviewed the report, despite several requests for the information.
Seafood brands, retailers and food-service organizations license the right from MSC to use the blue label on products consumers can see. That licensing revenue accounted for 87.8 percent of MSC’s $35 million in revenue for the year ending March 31, 2022, according to its website.
MSC calls the groups that use the blue label its “client group.” They include Atwood Lobster, Cape Bald Packers, Cape Seafood, Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods, Cozy Harbor Seafood, East Coast Seafood, Eastern Traders, Inland Seafood, Ready Seafood, Maine Fresh, Maine Shellfish, NOCA Canadian Seafood Buyer, South Shore Seafoods and Westmorland Fisheries.