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In class action lawsuit, lobstermen fight efforts to 'red list' their catch

Lexi Krupp

Four Massachusetts lobstermen have filed a class action suit against the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Marine Stewardship Council, groups that urged distributors and grocery stores to avoid purchasing lobster because of the fishery's impact on North Atlantic right whales.

"We've always been like the punching bag for, like, the whale people. So I’m glad we're finally striking back," said plaintiff Jarrett Drake, a lobsterman who fishes out of New Bedford, "because it gives us a chance to try to at least defend ourselves."

In September, the seafood watch groups argued that “red listing” American lobster is necessary because entanglement in trap pot gear used for lobster fishing is a leading cause of death for the critically endangered whales. Their population now stands around 340.

The “Red List” is used by more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors to help guide purchasing and menu choices.

"When [Montery Bay Aquarium] chooses to tag a product as one to be avoided (“red-list”) on Seafood Watch, it acts with near certainty that the companies it collaborates with will immediately discontinue that product," the plaintiffs say in their complaint.

After Gulf of Maine lobster was "red-listed," Whole Foods, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and others pulled U.S. lobster from their product lines, causing “monetary harm” to the lobstermen, according to the complaint.

"We don't know what the long term economic impacts are going to be because it just happened," said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association. "But we are very concerned for the future of our fisheries and our lobstermen ability to earn a living."

In an email, a spokesperson for the Monterey Bay Aquarium called the lawsuit "meritless."

"[It] ignores the extensive evidence that this fishery poses a serious risk to the survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and it seeks to curtail the First Amendment rights of a beloved institution that educates the public about the importance of a healthy ocean," the spokesperson wrote.

The plaintiffs, Arthur Sawyer, Jarrett Drake, Eric Meschino, and Bill Souza rely on trapping of lobsters in the northern Atlantic Ocean for their sole source of income and have been lobstering for a combined 146 years, according to the complaint.

According to Casoni, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association is looking into being an intervenor in the case and more lobstermen will be able to join. They're are seeking damages in excess of $75,000.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.