Shell(fish) Shocked: Why Retailers Are Pulling Lobster off the Menu


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The crustacean has fallen onto a “red list” by an environmental group.

We hope you got your fill of lobster rolls this summer…because the shellfish might not be on the menu in some restaurants or sold by a number of retailers soon. 

Lobsters have been officially “red-listed” by Seafood Watch, a conservation group based at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California that issues sustainability guides for consumers and businesses. The organization said in a report that catching the crustaceans poses a threat to North Atlantic right whales, a critically endangered species. 

The number of these aquatic behemoths has shrunk by 30 percent over the last decade, and today fewer than 340 of them are left. North American right whales were hunted to the brink of extinction by the early 1890s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and modern fisheries have continued to threaten the species. 

The two leading hazards to the whales, which migrate from Florida to Canada, are ship strikes and fishing gear, in which they frequently become ensnared. Currently, there are more than 1 million fishing pots and traps spread across the waters along the East Coast, the Guardian reports. The lines are so ubiquitous along the whales’ migration route that more than 80 percent of species have become entangled in fishing gear at least once. The ropes can cut into their skin, sometimes fatally injuring them. 

Seafood Watch flagged the American and Canadian lobster fisheries because their “current management measures do not go far enough to mitigate entanglement risks and promote recovery of the species.” 

According to the Associated Press, there are thousands of businesses that rely on Seafood Watch’s reports to assess which fish they should sell and which ones to avoid. Already, some have pledged to stop selling lobster. Meal kit companies Blue Apron and HelloFresh have both committed to not selling lobster since the report’s release, per the AP.

The U.S. lobster fishery sector reels in more than $900 million annually, and members of the trade contend that their practices aren’t a danger to whales. 

“Lobster is one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world due to effective stewardship practices handed down through generations of lobstermen,” the executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association told the AP.

But environmental groups like Oceana beg to differ. “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,” the head of Oceana says.