Attacks on the Maine Lobster: Unfounded


I hate talking about lobster. In large part because it screams Maine and it’s, like, one thing, that is associated with ALL of Maine. Maine has myriad things. Lobsters, people from away eating said lobsters, people from away criticizing the lobster industry. You get the picture.

In September the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a California program which gives advice to consumers on what seafood to avoid, added the lobster to their “avoid” list. The rationale behind the decision stems from the risk to the North Atlantic right whale posed by lobstering lines. Ah yes, now the people from away are making sense! Or are they?

There has never been a documented case of lobstering gear killing right whales, with the last entanglement incident occurring in 2004. Although, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful, right?

Perhaps not. Since 1997, lobstermen have removed 30,000 miles of rope from the water, as well as weakening remaining lines and removed a large share of traps. Curt Brown, a lobsterman and marine biologist, said “Maine lobstermen have probably put in more effort, more time and more money than any group in this country to protect right whales.” 

This is not to say that sustainability isn’t a perpetual goal, but it certainly comes at a cost to lobstermen. Recently members of congress Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree secured $14 million in federal funding for lobstermen to comply with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regulations. However, as Congressman Golden notes, the efficacy of these regulations have yet to be substantiated, and adds additional costs to lobstering.

What seems to be an issue of environmental protection begins to look more and more like a foreign imposition–one which is as detached as it is impassioned. That isn’t to say that the work of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is wholly misguided, rather that it fails to grasp the weight of its decision alongside the weight of the Lobster industry in Maine. And it is this disconnect that must be reconciled in issues of global importance, that bring seemingly disparate parties together. That is, if Maine lobstermen are asked to protect right whales, it must be followed up with support from all parties. 

And at risk of sounding holier than thou, I will say that much of what plagues society today is our insistence that we are speaking the same language. It is only when we personalize our conceptions of reality that we find the critical overlaps, the novel notions. Perhaps the question of lobstering isn’t that deep, but at present it appears dreadfully surface level.