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A California Aquarium Told Visitors Not to Eat Lobster. Maine Lobstermen Are Suing.

Last week, a group of Maine lobster industry advocates filed a lawsuit against the Monterey Bay Aquarium for warning its visitors not to purchase American lobsters. The California aquarium had stated that lobster fishing equipment can harm the endangered right whale. Boycotting American lobster, it suggested, was among the best ways to help protect the whale. Representatives from the lobster industry apparently disagreed.

Over the last few decades, North American right whale populations have suffered drastic declines. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, “entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes,” are among the biggest culprits. Lobster pots are traditionally connected to surface buoys via long ropes. When whales swim near the pots, they can become entangled.

While some lobster fishers have tried new technologies or taken other measures to help protect whales, their populations don’t appear to be rebounding. Over the last few months alone, more than a dozen dead whales have washed up along the East Coast, evidence that things may be getting even more dire.

In 2021, Seafood Watch, a watchdog group affiliated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, advised Americans to stop purchasing lobster. The goal of the boycott was to pressure the fishing industry to come up with more environmentally-friendly technologies, reports The New York Times. But instead of simply responding to public pressure, the industry also decided to file a lawsuit.

Right whales photographed in the South Atlantic. Image by Julian Gunther/Getty

The suit accuses the Monterey Bay Aquarium of defamation. It says the red-listing of the American lobster is unnecessary and may cause permanent damage to Maine businesses that rely on the annual lobster catch for their livelihoods. (The vast majority of lobsters caught in the U.S. come from Maine.) Lobster fisheries around the world are already threatened by climate change and overfishing. Changing public appetites could further damage Maine’s lobstering economy.

So far, the aquarium seems prepared to defend its decision, reports NPR. While the lobster industry plaintiffs claim that the aquarium relied on “bad science” to make its red-listing recommendation, the aquarium says its research is sound.

Located along the coast of central California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been educating the public and rehabilitating marine life for nearly 40 years. It’s a beloved local institution and a popular site for visiting tourists. In 2017, it won a World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Award for its work in protecting marine species.

American lobster, is one of the most popular varieties harvested in Maine. Image by Alina Bitta/Getty
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  1. Corey,
    Why did you only praise the aquarium with flawed science without a peep of concern for the Maine lobstermen and their families who are suffering because of their careless recommended not to eat Maine lobster.
    How about listing the fact that ONLY 1 RIGHT WHALE has been lost due to Maine lobster gear in 20YEARS. ONE!
    Mike H.
    Casco Bay, Maine

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