By CHRISTIAN WADE
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Maine’s congressional delegation wants to cut off federal funding for a California-based seafood group that has called for a nationwide boycott of lobster over concerns about the impact of the industry on endangered right whales.
A resolution filed by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and other Maine lawmakers calls for pulling the plug on funding for the Monterey Bay Aquarium over its list urging consumers to “avoid” lobster caught in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.
The lawmakers say the “red list” urging restaurants and seafood distributors to pull American lobster off the menu is “speculative and conjecture” and not based on scientific data.
“Monterey Bay Aquarium receives millions of federal taxpayer dollars for scientific research and to promote ocean conservation and seafood sustainability, yet the Monterey Bay Aquarium has irresponsibly ignored scientific facts and the lobster fishery’s history of sustainability,” the legislation states.
In a statement, Sen. King called the seafood group’s red listing of lobster a “baseless attack on a proud, sustainable fishery and a clear attempt to put thousands of Maine people out of work.”
“By refusing to provide any evidence supporting their harmful decision and ignoring facts that undercut their conclusion, the Aquarium has made it clear that they are not a serious scientific organization, and certainly not one that deserves taxpayer funding,” Sen. King said.
Rep. Golden accused the seafood group of flouting “evidence and data” and said it “should not receive taxpayer funds.” He said the list “could have a serious impact on the livelihoods of thousands of hard-working lobstermen.”
Rep. Golden was recently criticized by former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who is challenging him in the Nov. 8 elections. Rep. Poliquin says Rep. Golden accepted a $667 campaign contribution in 2020 from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s executive director Julie Packard. Rep. Poliquin has called on Rep. Golden to return the money.
The Monterey Bay group’s latest Seafood Watch, which ranks fisheries based on environmental impact, working conditions and supply chain benefits, recommended restaurants to take lobster off their menus over the potential impact of the industry on critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The group says its mission is to help restaurants and other seafood distributors select “environmentally friendly” seafood.
Responding to the outrage from Maine officials, Seafood Watch stood by its “science-based assessments” and accused officials of spreading “misinformation” that “does not consider the full range of available scientific facts.”
“Seafood Watch uses a robust, globally-accepted approach to determining the environmental sustainability of a fishery,” the group said in a statement. “There is documented serious injury and death due to fishing entanglement in U.S. and Canadian waters, including in recent years.”
Fishing industry groups say federal data shows there hasn’t been a right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster gear in 18 years, and no reported cases of any deaths.
North Atlantic right whales, driven to the brink of extinction in the 20th century by whalers, and are more recently at risk from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. The whales have dwindled to a population of about 340, scientists say.
The lobster fishery is one of the most valuable in the U.S. and was worth more than $900 million at the docks last year in Maine alone.