Group that claims catching lobsters is harmful to whales draws sharp rebuke in Gloucester

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Nothing says “Massachusetts, or really “New England”, like a lobster.

But our iconic crustacean just got a failing grade from an environmental group.

The Seafood Watch Project, which operates out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, put lobster on their red list. That designation advises consumers not to buy the items on that list due to what they see as a negative impact on the environment from harvesting them.

In this case, the organization says the way lobsters are caught presents a threat to the North Atlantic Right Whale which is an endangered species.

This is devastating news at Cape Ann Lobstermen, a Gloucester facility that processes up to 40,000 pounds of locally caught lobster a day.

“The lobster industry is probably the biggest fishing industry left in this area,” said company president Tessa Browne. “There’s probably 150+ boats in this harbor that come and go on a daily basis who have 1-2 crewmen who support their families.”

The past couple of years have been tough on the lobster industry which has had to deal with the impact of climate change, tariff wars, and COVID.

“It’s hard and it keeps getter harder,” Browne added.

The advisory from the Seafood Watch Project will only make it harder according to Browne.

The Project is advising consumers not to buy lobster for fear that a right whale will get entangled in a lobstermen’s gear.

“No one wants to know that their appetite for seafood is driving a species to extinction,” said Seafood Watch director Jennifer Kemmerly.

The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium estimates the right whale population plummeted 30% between 2011-2021 leaving only about 340 of the giant mammals in existence.

“We’re being unfairly targeted when the main culprit is ship strikes,” said lobsterman Richard Black.

Lobstermen say they’ve already adapted their gear to minimize any threats to right whales.

“They’re entirely misguided, well-meaning people who have not a clue,” Black said. “The likelihood of a right whale going up into my gear is non-existent and yet I still have to comply with all these crazy mandates.

Rules like a reduced season for catching lobsters and using ropes that will break if subjected to more than 17 pounds of pressure.

“We’re already at a 94.8% risk reduction, so a Massachusetts lobsterman is already at a point that the National Marine Fisheries Service is looking for, and they’re getting blamed and lumped in with everyone else,” Browne added.

She worries a tidal wave of bad information could harm a centuries old way of life on the north shore.

Companies like HelloFresh have already dropped lobster.

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