Why Was Lobster Red Listed? Defending Lobster Fishing


Why Was Lobster Red Listed? Defending Lobster Fishing

In the early 1970’s I was the youngest licensed lobsterman in the state of Connecticut (10 years old). I put my traps out off of Stamford harbor, pulling them in my 10′ Boston Whaler with a 8hp Envinrude. Sales of the lobster kept me in gas. Baiting the traps and dealing with the catch (mostly ghost crabs) put me off of crustaceans.

I also love whales, although they do scare me ever since one bumped the boat I was sailing in the Gulf of Maine in the summer of ’81.

So I had to read this The New York Times article: To Save Whales, Don’t Eat Lobster, Watchdog Group Says – The New York Times (nytimes.com). And it’s….terrible.

Firstly, is how the headline isn’t supported by the content of the article. It would have been incrementally more accurate, but not as “clicky” to say “To Save Whales, We Need to Stop Catching Lobster The Way We Have for Centuries”. But even that is not true.

It is true that Seafood Watch has put Northeast US lobster on the “red list” as lobster fishing has put the right whale in danger of extinction. But it is the method of fishing that is the issue, not the consumption of lobster, per se.

Moreover, the problem is that the whales get caught in the lobster trap lines.

It is not a pretty sight. Per Seafood Watch, on average 5.7 right whales die from fishing entanglement each year. Then two more from vessel strikes. That’s 7.7 out of a population of under 350.

Now we get to where a reporter with some math skills might have shaped the article a bit differently. Annie Roth reports that Seafood Watch says that for the right whale species to survive, less than one can be killed each year. But she spends much of the article on ropeless lobster fishing, and the implication of her article is that Maine lobsterman are just too cheap to switch from traditional pots to this new method that will save the whales.

But if the Seafood Watch math is right, it won’t. It will only save 5.7 of the 7.7 whales killed each year. Every lobsterman could go to ropeless pots, and the right whale still faces extinction. The two per year from vessel strikes (which she doesn’t report on but I am will to bet are container ships and tankers, not lobster boats) still doom the right whale.

A quick google search: there are 3mm lobster pots of the coast of Maine.
Lobster pots

They cost in the range of $50-200. A ropeless pot costs $2000-4000. Complete conversion would cost at least $6bn, and as much as $12bn. So, we could take the implication of this article, force lobstermen to pay $6-12bn, and still the right whale will be extinct from the vessel strikes that have zero to do with anyone eating lobster.

Or, we could just say, “no more lobster for you!” as the headline states. Kill a $725mm industry. Put 4,000 people out of work. And still, the right whale will become extinct.
1903, Rhode Island

I don’t know how to save the right whale–and I would really really like to.

However, the New York Times isn’t really helping with an article like this. I wonder why she focused on lobstermen and not on containerships?

We need better reporting.

Written by Perry Boyle

Why Was Lobster Red Listed? Defending Lobster Fishing