Maine petitioners ask California seafood group to remove lobster listing

Maine's lobster industry has launched an online petition seeking to convince a California-based seafood group to back off its calls for a boycott of the popular crustacean food.

The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative's petition calls on the Monterey Bay Aquarium to remove lobster caught in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank from its "red" list of food to avoid, saying the designation is "not supported by the facts."

"Maine Lobster has always been sustainable, and the baseless decision by the Seafood Watch program greatly impacts an industry that is the backbone of the economy in Maine, supporting entire communities, composed of generations of fishermen who have always prioritized the health of the fishery and the Gulf of Maine," the petition reads.

The industry group points to federal data showing there hasn't been a right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster gear in 18 years, and no reported cases of any deaths.

As of Wednesday, the change.org petition had collected more than 18,400 signatures. The group set a goal of 25,000 signatures when it posted the petition last week.

The Monterey Bay group’s latest Seafood Watch, which ranks fisheries based on environmental impact, working conditions and supply chain benefits, recommended restaurants to take lobster off their menus over the potential impact of the industry on critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The group says its mission is to help restaurants and other seafood distributors select "environmentally friendly" seafood.

North Atlantic right whales were driven to the brink of extinction in the 20th century by whalers, and are more recently at risk from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. The whales have dwindled to a population of about 340, scientists say.

The rancor over the list comes as the lobster industry fights new regulations requiring them to make modifications including “ropeless” fishing gear to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water and setting a 950-square-mile section of the Gulf of Maine off-limits to traditional lobstering during the lucrative winter months.

The lobster fishery is one of the most valuable in the U.S. and was worth more than $900 million at the docks last year in Maine alone.

The Maine Lobstermen's Association filed a lawsuit seeking to block the new rules, but a federal judge two weeks ago issued a ruling rejecting the legal challenge and siding with the National Marine Fisheries Service that the rules should be allowed to go into effect.

On Tuesday, the industry group filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court asking justices to take up the case.

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