Seafood Watch ‘Red Lists’ U.S. American Lobster, Other Fisheries Over Threats to Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales
Oceana Calls on National Marine Fisheries Service to Increase Measures to Save Whales from Entanglement
Press Release Date: September 6, 2022
Today, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program added more than a dozen fisheries, including the U.S. American lobster fishery, to its “Red List” of seafood because they currently pose risks to the survival of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Seafood Watch provides recommendations for seafood buyers based on sustainability criteria. The “Red List” recommends that businesses and consumers avoid purchasing certain seafood because they are caught or farmed in ways that have a high risk of harming wildlife or the environment. As of today, more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors — including Whole Foods, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Cheesecake Factory, Compass Group, and ARAMARK — have committed to using Seafood Watch ratings to guide purchasing and menu choices and to avoid red-listed seafood. Other fisheries added to the “Red List” include the Jonah crab fishery, and other trap, pot, and gillnet fisheries.
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.”
As of today, only around 330 North Atlantic right whales remain, including an estimated 80 breeding females. Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab, and other species is one of two leading threats to this iconic species. Oceana is calling on the federal government to implement stronger measures to protect North Atlantic right whales from deadly fishing gear entanglements in U.S. waters. The Seafood Watch red listing resulted from a lack of government action and need for stronger safeguards for North Atlantic right whales.
Oceana campaign director Gib Brogan released this statement following the announcement:
“It’s unfortunate that the government’s failure to update the safeguards to protect North Atlantic right whales is having such serious consequences on these fisheries. Both fisheries and whales can thrive if the National Marine Fisheries Service takes immediate action and creates effective measures for these whales. Ordering lobster or crab should not mean jeopardizing the future of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales — the National Marine Fisheries Service has delayed stronger protections for long enough. It’s time to update the rules. Every vertical fishing line and gillnet is a threat to the remaining North Atlantic right whales, which face the risk of entanglements every day. To give this species a fighting chance, the agency must reduce the number of vertical lines and gillnets in the water and transition the fishery to whale-safe fishing gear. Fishery managers must increase protections to save North Atlantic right whales so seafood retailers, consumers, and restaurants can put American lobster and crab back on the menu.”
To help remove the red listing and regain market access, Oceana offers the following recommendations to protect North Atlantic right whales while supporting a thriving fishing industry:
- 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.
To view Seafood Watch’s seafood recommendations, click this link.
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 another 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.