Seafood Watch Proposes to ‘Red List’ U.S. American Lobster, Other Fisheries Over Concerns Facing Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales
Oceana Offers Solutions, Calls on Fisheries to Embrace Changes to Save Whales from Entanglement
Press Release Date: February 7, 2022
Today, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program released 14 draft assessments for fisheries that “pose risks to the survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.” This includes proposing that the U.S. American lobster fishery, Jonah crab fishery, and other trap, pot, and gillnet fisheries be added to its “Red List” of seafood, or its classification of seafood that businesses and consumers should avoid because they are caught or farmed in ways that have a high risk of harming wildlife or the environment. Seafood Watch is accepting comments on the assessments until February 28. Currently, more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors — including Whole Foods, Red Lobster, Blue Apron, Disney, and ARAMARK food service — have committed to using Seafood Watch ratings to guide purchasing and menu choices and to avoid red-listed seafood.
As of today, only around 330 North Atlantic right whales remain, including fewer than 100 breeding females. To reverse course, Oceana says North Atlantic right whales must be protected from their greatest threats, including entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with vessels. The National Marine Fisheries Service must implement stronger protections for this iconic species.
Oceana senior campaign manager Gib Brogan released this statement following the announcement:
“When consumers order lobster or crab, they don’t expect it to jeopardize the future of a critically endangered species — it’s beyond time for these fisheries to adapt. Oceana applauds Seafood Watch for flagging concerns about the impact these fisheries are having on North Atlantic right whales and NOAA’s ineffective regulations to protect them. Every vertical fishing line and gillnet is a risk to the remaining North Atlantic right whales, which can cause entanglements around their mouths, fins, and tails; make it difficult for them to swim and feed; cause life-threatening infections; and sever their fins and tails. To give this species a fighting chance, we must reduce the number of vertical lines and gillnets in the water. Inaction has consequences, as demonstrated by these draft assessments from Seafood Watch. Until fishery managers take their responsibility to save North Atlantic right whales seriously and enact meaningful protections, seafood retailers, consumers, and restaurants might be taking seafood from these fisheries off the menu.”
To help avoid a red listing, Oceana offers the following recommendations to reduce the risk to North Atlantic right whales in these fisheries:
- Reduce the number of vertical lines and gillnets in the water and develop alternative fishing gear, such as ropeless and pop-up gear.
- Expand seasonal closures when and where whales are present.
- Improve fisheries transparency and monitoring by requiring public tracking of fishing vessels.
Seafood Watch assessments and recommendations have proven to be a powerful motivator for fisheries with significant conservation challenges to improve their practices, upgrade to “Yellow” or “Green” status, and regain market access. Most notably, in 2015, the Louisiana shrimp fishery worked to change state law to improve sea turtle conservation regulations in order to be removed from the Seafood Watch “Red List.”
To view the draft assessments from Seafood Watch, please visit https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/newsroom/press-releases/seafood-watch-releases-draft-assessments-of-fisheries-that-pose-risk-to-endangered-north-atlantic-right-whale.
North Atlantic right whales were named for being the “right” whale to hunt because they were often found near shore, swim slowly, and tend to float when killed. They were aggressively hunted, and their population dropped from peak estimates of up to 21,000 to perhaps fewer than 100 by the 1920s. After whaling of North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, their population increased to as many as 483 individuals in 2010. Unfortunately, that progress has reversed.
Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab, and other species is a leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths. Around one-quarter of the population is entangled in fishing gear from the U.S. and Canada each year, and about 85% of whales have been entangled at least once. Ropes have been seen wrapped around their mouths, fins, tails, and bodies, which slow them down; make it difficult to swim, reproduce, and feed; and can cause death. The lines cut into the whales’ flesh, leading to life-threatening infections, and are so strong that they have severed fins and tails, and cut into bone.
Collisions with vessels is the other leading cause of North Atlantic right whale injury and death. They are slow, swimming around 6 miles (or 9.5 kilometers) per hour, usually near the water’s surface. They are also dark in color and lack a dorsal fin, making them very difficult to spot. Studies have found that the speed of a vessel is a major factor in vessel-related collisions with North Atlantic right whales. At high speeds, vessels cannot maneuver to avoid them, and they swim too slowly to be able to move out of the way. This puts them at great risk of being struck, which can cause deadly injuries from blunt-force trauma or cuts from propellers.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. Seafood Watch color-coded recommendations indicate which seafood items are best choices (green) or good alternatives (yellow), and which ones you should avoid (red). A wide range of retail, restaurant, and food service providers rely on Seafood Watch to inform seafood purchasing decisions, including some that have committed to not sell red-listed seafood.
To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, please click here.