A coalition of lobster companies and Maine industry groups filed a federal lawsuit this week accusing a powerful environmental group that dispenses “sustainability assessments” of libel.
The coalition, led by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), argued that the California-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation made defamatory statements about Maine’s lobster fishing practices, and misled consumers and commercial lobster buyers about the state’s lobster harvest, the lawsuit said. Monday in U.S. District Court in Maine.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program makes recommendations to consumers and major seafood retailers about where to purchase products. Last year, the group — which has pledges from companies like Blue Apron, Cheesecake Factory, Hello Fresh, and Whole Foods — downgraded Maine lobster from “good alternative” to “avoid,” citing the risks the state’s fisheries pose. for the endangered North Atlantic right whales.
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They conducted this investigation, this analysis based on what they characterized as all scientific data and a rigorous and transparent science-based process. But the facts are the exact opposite,” Kevin Lipson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Fox News Digital in an interview. “The facts are that lobster fishing practices in Maine have contributed to the sustainability not only of the lobster fishery, but also of the North Atlantic right whales.”
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Pictured is the Bridges family, which includes the fourth, fifth, and sixth generation lobstermen of Corea, Maine. Bryan Bridges says if he can’t sell lobster it will cause “extreme hardship” for his family. (Cheryl Clegg/Cheryl Clegg Photography)
“There is no science-based analysis to support the red list and the impact is really dramatic, not just for the 5,000 fishing families who make a living lobstering, but it has a reverberating effect on the entire Maine economy,” Lipson continued. “The effects of this ripple across Maine’s economy — whether real estate, auto sales, food sales, employment, tourism — because Maine is synonymous with lobster and an attack on Maine lobsters is an attack on a traditional way of life , a multigenerational way of life.”
Lipson added that the coalition had twice contacted the Monterey Bay Aquarium and asked for their records showing that Maine lobsters were a threat to the whales. He said the request was ignored, forcing them to eventually file the lawsuit.
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“The truth is that Maine lobster fishers have engaged in innovative practices that have actually contributed to whale survival,” Lipson said.
“They’ve taken 30,000 miles of rope out of the ocean, they’ve got areas where they don’t fish, they’ve limited the number of traps, they’ve made weakened ropes — which can break loose any species that goes through the ropes.” And it’s those innovations that have actually contributed to whale survival and sustainability.”
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Workers carry containers of lobsters at The Lobster Co. in Arundel, Maine, in January 2022. (Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images)
In November, shortly after Seafood Watch changed its ratings for lobster caught in the Gulf of Maine, commercial buyers arrived including whole foods stopped purchasing the product.
Whole Foods explained at the time that the standards required that “all wild-caught fish sold in our stores must come from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or labeled ‘green’ or ‘yellow’. classified by the MBA Seafood Watch program.” The MSC also determined last year that the lobster fishery in Maine posed a threat to the right whale species.
But the MLA argued that Whole Foods’ rating and subsequent move would threaten the state’s massive, small-business-dominated lobster industry. The Maine lobster industry generates more than $700 million annually and supplies the US with approximately 90% of its lobster supply, making the industry one of the most important economic drivers in the state.
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And under state law, lobstermen are required to own and operate their own ship, meaning it’s made up solely of thousands of small business owners. Therefore, actions targeting the industry would primarily impact and close small businesses vital to rural communities along the Maine coast, the MLA said.
Lobsters catch a lobster trap while fishing off the coast of South Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
“This harm is intentional: The Aquarium told businesses and consumers to ‘avoid’ and ‘bypass’ purchasing Maine-caught lobster and lobster products based on its false statements,” the lawsuit said. “In doing so, the Aquarium leveraged its significant influence over public opinion and the commercial decisions of major lobster buyers, using its public platform to pressure those parties to drop business with plaintiffs.”
“As a result, several major companies that had purchased lobsters from plaintiffs in the past have announced that they will no longer carry Maine-caught lobsters because of the Aquarium’s statements,” it continued. “This has caused plaintiffs economic loss in the form of lost business.”
Maine lobstermen have also argued, like Lipson, that their practices endanger Atlantic right whales or other whale species are wrong.
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“Lobster lobsters have come under constant attack in recent years. Still, the science is clear: whales don’t die in Maine lobster gear,” Patrice McCarron, the MLA’s director of policy, said in a statement. “In fact, the opposite is true; innovations by Maine lobstermen have been instrumental in minimizing harm to whales.”
According to the MLA, federal records show that no whale death caused by lobster fishing equipment has ever been recorded in Maine and that the last recorded entanglement by whale equipment was more than two decades ago.
Maine lobster fishermen bring in their latest catch off the state’s coast. (Maine Lobstermen’s Association/Marketing Collaborative)
“I am a sixth-generation lobsterman. I work hard to support my family and depend on a healthy ocean for my livelihood,” said Gerry Cushman, the owner of the Maine-based small business Bug Catcher Inc. and a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed. against the Monterey Bay Aquarium this week.
“Like my fellow lobster people, I will continue to do everything I can to protect the ocean and wildlife, just as my forefathers did,” Cushman added. “Our stewardship practice is a tradition that defines what Maine is all about. The barrage of lies about fishing practices in Maine must be confronted and defeated by the truth.”
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John Petersdorf, the CEO of Bean Maine Lobster Inc., said the lawsuit would help eradicate the “damage done by people who have no idea of the care lobstermen take to protect the ecosystem and the ocean. “
However, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation called the lawsuit “meritorious” and said there was evidence that lobster fishing equipment posed a risk to whales.
“These meritless lawsuits ignore the extensive evidence that these fisheries pose a serious risk to the survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and they seek to curtail the First Amendment rights of a beloved institution that educates the public about the importance of a healthy ocean.” a spokesperson for the group told Fox News Digital.
Thomas Catenacci is a political writer for Fox News Digital.