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NARW not impacted by NL lobster, snow crab

A lobster and trap pulled from Port aux Basques harbour in Sept. 2022. Last month, the Monterey Bay Acquarium Seafood Watch added Newfoundland and Labrador harvested lobster and snow crab to its ‘avoid’ list. © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ST. JOHN’S — Last month, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (MBASW), a US based organization that aims to help people make better seafood choices through recommendations and collaborations with businesses, governments, and consumers, added snow crab and lobster harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador to their ‘avoid’ list.

The reason behind the rating has nothing to do with sustainability concerns. Instead it centres around the potential impact of fishing gear entanglements with the North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW).

According to a statement released by The Lobster Council of Canada (LLC) on Sept. 16, all Canadian lobster was previously listed under their ‘good alternative’ category. LLL also stated that this new rating doesn’t consider significant efforts being made by lobster harvesters and DFO to avoid NARW interactions in Canadian lobster fisheries.

“Since 2017 and with modifications every year, Canadian lobster sector stakeholders and regulators have implemented world leading measures to avoid the NARW. These measures include dynamic closure protocols that identify individual whales and quickly close geographical grids to all fixed gear fishing activity, universal gear requirements, defined lobster seasons with trap limits, ongoing “Whale safe” gear trials and implementation and mandatory speed reductions for shipping.

“The justification for the new “avoid” rating does not reference any of this significant action by Canadian lobster fishery stakeholders, does not identify any pathway toward achieving a better evaluation and only tells the fishery to “do more”. The Canadian lobster sector is constantly working on solutions and will continue to innovate to protect the NARW. The new Seafood Watch rating tells us that Monterey Bay Aquarium is not working collaboratively to help fisheries improve.”

They go on to say that this rating scheme attempts to use the power of the ratings to depress markets and force changes within fisheries.

“While programs of this nature can be helpful if a fishery is not acknowledging a problem, the lobster sector and government of Canada understand the importance of this issue and have invested millions of dollars annually to reduce risk and potential harm to the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. Depressing markets for lobster will not make the sector move faster. It will only take resources away from those who are working on the problem.”

The provincial government issued a similar statement, calling it unwarranted and irresponsible. That statement pointed out that the MBASW judgment fails to recognize that the NARW is not commonly found in traditional snow crab and lobster fishing grounds that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians frequent.

The seafood industry, which employees over 17,000 people from over 400 communities across the province, has had seven consecutive years of surpassing $1 billion in seafood products, making it an invaluable part of the economy.

Derrick Bragg, Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture said the decision is not fact-based.

“North Atlantic Right Whales are not commonly found in waters adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador and the risk of gear entanglements is minimal. We are closely monitoring this situation to determine potential impacts on industry, and we support efforts by industry stakeholders to have snow crab and lobster removed from the list. The fact is snow crab and lobster harvesting fisheries in our waters are based on sound science and the principle of sustainability and snow crab has achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification – the world’s most recognized seafood sustainability standard.”

Jason Spingle, Secretary-Treasurer with FFAW (Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union), agreed that the decision is unnecessary because the lobster fishery as a whole is not harming the NARW.

“There’s no proof of it at all. It’s mainly a coastal fishery, and to us specifically, there have only been two or three right whales ever seen in the past several years in Newfoundland waters, and not one entanglement. I just heard Wayne Ledwell, who is with the Whale Rescue Program for over 30 years in the province, clarify just that. So this is totally unfounded and unfair. This group is not looking at all of the facts that are well outlined,” said Spingle. “All of the facts in respect to fisheries management and right whale management is well documented. So for them to come out and make that blanket statement is irresponsible really.”

Spingle said a significant continual upswing in lobster is being seen, particularly when it comes to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We don’t have any right whales, not traditionally, and our lobster fishery is continuing to improve year after year and this is just too important to – not just our members, our harvesters – but to our province. The economic basis that it provides for our coastal communities and our province, to have this type of designation in an unfounded fashion? We will point out the facts and hopefully they will look at removing this listing.”

Spingle said the worry is always there that something like this could negatively impact the lobster fishery, but he believes anyone that would be impacted by this designation will look at the facts.

“I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to help – in any reasonable fashion – with the recovery of North Atlantic Right Whales, but it’s not a Newfoundland and Labrador problem at all,” said Spingle. “It’s really not even a Canadian problem. The species spends more of its time in American waters, but I think harvesters in the United States have done a lot to mitigate the impacts out that way. There is no evidence that these fisheries are impacting the recovery of the right whale overall. There’s a lot of other factors that are impacting it, but it’s not these fisheries. I hope consumers will look into this and see that is the case.”

Newfoundland and Labrador have already been attacked for using ‘inhumane’ or ‘violent’ practices when it comes to the seal hunt, which has negatively impacted the livelihoods of people in the province by the global market. Spingle said the lobster fishery and the sealing industry are obviously different, but it’s frustrating when people don’t look at the facts.

“If you want a lobster or snow crab that has never had one incident of any kind of interaction with right whales, it’s Newfoundland and Labrador snow crab and lobster. That is what I would say to consumers, first and foremost. I would also say it to the people at Monterey Bay. I’m sure they are aware of the press releases we have out, that Lobster Canada has out, and I hope they will look at the facts for what they are.”

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