Lobster fans will soon be unable to load up on the crustaceans at Whole Foods since a prominent fishery has lost its Marine Stewardship Council certificate.
According to a press release from the council, third-party assessor MRAG Americas announced last Wednesday that the Gulf of Maine fishery’s MSC certificate would be suspended effective Dec. 15.
After that point, “Gulf of Maine lobster will not be eligible to be sold as MSC certified sustainable or carry the MSC blue fish ecolabel on products,” said the MSC.
“As part of our commitment to responsible sourcing, we only sell wild-caught seafood from fisheries that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or rated either "Green" or "Yellow" by the MBA Seafood Watch program,” said a statement Whole Foods provided to NECN. “These third-party verifications and ratings are critical to maintaining the integrity of our standards for all wild-caught seafood found in our seafood department. We continue to sell Gulf of Maine lobster in our stores that was procured while still under the active MSC certification (prior to suspension) or under an active MBA yellow rating. We are closely monitoring this situation and are committed to working with suppliers, fisheries, and environmental advocacy groups as it develops.”
Gulf of Maine Fishery was first certified in December 2016 and it is currently at the center of the U.S. lobster industry, the MSC explained. It accounts for more than two thirds of lobster landings in the country (Maine actually supplies 80% of the world’s lobster, according to the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative). Lobsters are caught by the fishery with baited traps that are subject to regulations, which include the MSC Fisheries Standard.
Per the MSC, a court decision and audit of the Gulf of Maine fishery found that it was not in compliance with Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules providing conservation of marine mammals, including right whales. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is responsible for implementation of the rules.
However, no evidence was found that the Gulf of Maine Fishery is responsible for entanglements or interactions with right whales. There may be fewer than 350 total right whales remaining and the NOAA describes them as one of the world’s most endangered large whale species.
“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,” said the MSC. “This serious and tragic situation is of grave concern to all those involved in the fishing industry.”
Previously, the Gulf of Maine fishery had its certificate suspended in August 2020 for similar reasons. That suspension was lifted after about a year later.
“The fishery remains suspended until the cause for suspension has been resolved,” said the MSC of the current suspension. “If information about NOAA Fishery’s management of right whales changes or new information becomes available, another review could occur with the potential to change the status of the certificate.”
In order to have the certificate reinstated, the fishery must publish a corrective action plan within 90 days of the suspension.