Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Where can I buy sustainable lobster?

Look to Massachusetts for the most sustainable lobster around. And look for the green claw band, or ask your fishmonger to get the green band Massachusetts lobster.

Why? Because Massachusetts lobstermen are taking the trouble to reduce harm to whales. Massachusetts lobermen are ahead of lobstermen in some other, perhaps more well-known lobster locations.

What's the problem? Whales getting tangled up in ropes used to catch lobster.

The wheels of government have been slow to respond to whales getting tangled up in the ropes tied to lobster traps. Typical ropes float up in the water and make a spider web that can and does entangle and kill whales. This is a serious problem, especially for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, numbering around 350 individual whales left alive. Death of even a single whale is a risk to the survival of the species.

To help with this problem, the federal government proposed a regulation that all ropes used to connect lobster traps must be made of sinking rope. That way there's no spider web. But, thanks to pressure from Maine senators, this regulation is being delayed after being watered down earlier to exempt large areas in Maine.

The rationale from Maine lobstermen is that things are different in Maine, and sinking ropes won't work. But Maine has been dragging their feet on alternatives to sinking rope too. Well, let's see whether customers prefer whale-safer lobster. No doubt Maine would find a solution quickly if the vaunted Maine lobster brand was being eclipsed by Mass lobster.

It's ironic (perhaps tragic) that this whole effort is playing out while the Maine lobster fishery is trying to get certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. They don't seem to realize that sustainability means not pushing right whales closer to extinction. A Maine lobster website talks about sustainability without so much as mentioning whales. Let's see whether we can help them see that their slogan "here today, here tomorrow" needs to apply to right whales too.

This Mass lobster project is a cooperative effort by the Ocean Conservancy, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Massachusetts Lobstermen.


Anonymous said...

There are also several "cetified sustainable" spiny lobster alternatives, including the Western Australian rock lobster fishery and Mexican Baja California red rock lobster fishery. These are both certified as sustainable to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standardon. In addition, I beleive spiny lobster caught in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve in Mexico are also "certified sustainable", but I am not sure by whose standard. That said, there may still be concerns about the ecological impacts of spiny lobster removal from reef systems.

Jives said...

Go Mass!

Sox, Celts, and now this. If it weren't for the Pats choking we'd be perfect.

BTW, has anyone else heard rumblings about ropeless lobster traps? There was a student presentation about this a few months ago but I can't dig up the details.

Anonymous said...

While MA should be applauded for their efforts, it should also be noted that other lobster-related issues arise in this state... notably the allowance for "targeting" lobsters with otter trawls and gillnets.....

Mark Powell said...

many argument exist about trawl-caught lobster. is it better to discard them as Maine requires? the lobster industry has much to do, and perhaps the desire for sustainable certification will finally motivate all states to improve their fisheries.

Jives said...

awww man. Buzzkill.

Anonymous said...

Recently I was at a presentation where the Maine Lobster industry was presented as an example of a sustainable industry. My father, a Mainiac, was recently telling me that these fishermen are presently having all kinds of trouble because of the low price of lobster and sustainability regularions.I began researching this and ended up here. I suspect the low price is not restricted to Maine, but is also true in Mass. Aren't many industries struggling in this economic time.

My question goes to the heart of the posted question. What is sustainability ? Whose definition will we use ? Should the lobster industry look at sustaining their industry by not overfishing ? Should they consider the whales ? What about the processing plants in Canada ; do we have an obligation to sustain their business ? How about the banks that provide the loans to the fishermen ? or the processing plants ?

So my question, rather than bash Maine's efforts or Mass. efforts, shouldn't all be working together ? Sharing best practices and moving forward to support each other and the ultimately our world environment. We have to start somewhere. One is not ever separate from the rest. To me, that is the heart of sustainability.

Anonymous said...

Mass conservation efforts? I use the question mark because recently it was proposed to shut down the lobster fishery in the waters off Massachusetts.
Mass has been slow to adopt the v-notch and max gauge conservation efforts that maine long ago adopted and has reaped the benefits of for more than a decade.
Water temp does have a huge influence in the recent proposed moratorium, but effort is proposed to be cut from 50-75%.
In terms of whale rules, Mass was pushed into the regs by the Federal Government and most of the bottom off from Mass is soft sandy bottom, with smaller tides than you find off the coast of Maine, which indeed has much more varied bottom structure, check out a chart sometime for downeast maine and look at the depth contours.
in terms of Mass dominating the market, it won't ever happen, b/c Maine catches 3/4 of the Lobster caught in the U.S.. Canada catches more than maine, market truly runs through Canada, that is where the processing is.
Interesting to note the mass lobster project is supported by the Ocean Conservancy, which happens to be one of the big environmental lobby groups pushing for stricter whale rules.
Also google whale rules and note how many researchers find there will be no major benefit from sinking rope.
rope less fishing is a pipe dream, tech does not exist, nor would sufficient funds be pushed toward the goal. tech simply won't ever be up to par with the demand.