After years of back and forth with environmentalists, government officials, and others over alleged harm to the North Atlantic right whale, Maine’s lobstermen are going to court.
An attorney for the fishermen said they are ready for both sides to lay their cards on the table.
“We would like to resolve this as soon as possible,” Kevin Lipson, attorney for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told The Epoch Times.
On March 13, 2023, the association, Bean Lobster, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Atwood Lobster, and Bug Catcher, filed suit against the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation.
The fishermen accuse the aquarium of “making false and defamatory statements about Maine lobster fishing practices and for misleading consumers and commercial lobster buyers about the integrity of the Maine lobster harvest.”
An aquarium spokesperson issued this statement in response to The Epoch Times’ request for comment, “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.”
In September 2022, the aquarium—through its Seafood Watch program—downgraded Maine lobster from “yellow” to “red.” As a result, the aquarium discouraged restaurants, retail outlets, and consumers from purchasing Maine lobster.
In its Seafood Watch report, the aquarium said lobster fishing was responsible for harming the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
In November 2022, the popular Whole Foods Market grocery chain stopped selling Maine lobster. The company said it decided based on information from Seafood Watch and the London-based Marine Stewardship Council.
Both groups claimed that the method of fishing for lobster was unsustainable and endangered whales.
The lawsuit claims the lobster industry was harmed financially and damaged its reputation.
“And overall consumer demand for Maine-caught lobsters has decreased since September 2022, due in whole or in part to the aquarium’s false statements, depressing the price for lobsters and causing further commercial harm to plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.
Jason Joyce, an eighth-generation lobsterman from Swan’s Island, Maine, said he and colleagues are happy to see the lawsuit. He agreed with Lipson that the aquarium’s claims are not backed by science.
“Many lobstermen have expressed praise for the [association’s] response to what we would characterize as an attack on our coastal communities and way of life,” Joyce told The Epoch Times.
According to the lawsuit, the aquarium claimed to have scientific evidence to back its claims but refused to provide the data when the plaintiffs asked for it.
Lipson said it’s not clear if the aquarium even reviewed the publicly available data.
“Had they done that, they would have reached the opposite conclusion,” he said.
According to the Seafood Watch report, of 36 North Atlantic right whale deaths documented by NOAA, only nine involved entanglements.
And of those, not a single one was linked to Maine lobster gear, Lipson said.
The association claims environmentalists ignore scientific evidence that right whale migration patterns have changed and the whales are moving further away from Maine and the lobstermen.
The lawsuit points out that the lobstermen have implemented many safety measures to protect the whales.
They have changed the type of rope they use on their traps and increased the number of traps on a single rope, reducing the number of lines in the water. They also use weak links in their ropes so that entangled marine life can escape.
Lipson said the data—showing no North Atlantic right whale deaths attributed to Maine lobster gear—could not be ignored.
“The result speaks for itself,” he said.
Joyce points out that this fight comes as whales wash up on both of America’s coasts amid seismic testing for wind turbine farms. Wind industry representatives and government officials deny any connection.
“If Monterey Bay Aquarium would like to truly address concerns for whale safety, we would welcome them to join the fishing community’s concern over the deaths of 20 plus whales along the Mid-Atlantic coast that coincide with seismic and low-frequency sonar used in planning offshore wind ranches,” Joyce said.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the aquarium to withdraw its red listing and to award the lobster an unspecified amount of cash damages.
Lipson said the aquarium might have considered the lobstermen an easy target for legal action. Under Maine law, each lobsterman must be individually licensed and operate his own vessel.
“We’re not talking about giant corporate interests raping the oceans. It’s 5,000 individuals and their families,” Lipson said.
“Teddy Roosevelt would have called these guys rugged individualists.”