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Updated: August 5, 2020

Maine lobster fishery to lose sustainability certification

A sustainability certification awarded to the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery in 2016 will be suspended as of Aug. 30.

The suspension by the Marine Stewardship Council came in response to a U.S. District Court ruling in April, which found the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration violated the Endangered Species Act when it authorized the lobster fishery without appropriately analyzing its impact on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The decision was made in a lawsuit brought by a group of environmental organizations. 

The ruling triggered an expedited audit of the fishery, according to a news release. The audit found the fishery no longer met principles established by the Marine Stewardship Council that are related to endangered, threatened and protected species.

Certification, which is voluntary, allows the fishery to sell its catch with a blue Marine Stewardship Council label.

The council, headquartered in the U.K., is an international nonprofit that uses it “ecolabel” and “fishery certification” programs to recognize sustainable fishing practices. According to its website, advantages of certification include enhanced reputation and promotional opportunities.

The council doesn’t manage the certificate or determine the fishery’s suspension status; this is done by a third-party assessor who undertakes the audit. 

The assessor in this case was MRAG Americas, which determined that, due to the district court ruling, information on North Atlantic right whale deaths is less certain, impacting outcomes, information and management. MRAG also determined that it might be necessary to re-score performance indicators related to endangered, threatened and protected species, thereby triggering the audit.

The process of expedited audits and suspensions allows the suspended fishery an opportunity to make improvements to maintain their certificate.

The fishery must notify customers of the suspension and cease selling product as “MSC certified.” To reinstate certification, the fishery must appropriately address the cause of suspension and provide a documented corrective action plan.

To obtain certification, a fishery must meet the council’s main principles relates to sustainability of the stock, minimizing environmental impact, and effective and responsive fisheries management.

The Gulf of Maine fishery certification is actually held by the Maine Certified Sustainable Lobster Association — a group of New England lobster wharf operators, processors, dealers and wholesalers that submitted the fishery for assessment in 2014. In a separate release, the association said it would work to regain the fishery’s certification after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a new analysis regarding impacts to right whales. 

In July, the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature moved the North Atlantic right whale from its “endangered” to “critically endangered” list, calling the species “one step from extinction.”

Climate change appears to be exacerbating the threats to the whales, the organization said in a release. Warmer sea temperatures have likely pushed their main prey species further north during summer, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the whales are more exposed to accidental encounters with ships and also at high risk of entanglement in crab-pot ropes.

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