Several groups representing Maine’s iconic lobster fishing industry announced Wednesday they have filed a defamation lawsuit against an environmentalist non-profit that has called the fishery unsustainable.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, through its non-profit Seafood Watch, said last year that it was placing Maine lobster on it’s so-called Red List, a list of items it says good observant environmentalists should not eat.
The activists urge supermarkets and restaurants not to buy or sell items on its list.
The London-based Marine Stewardship Council, another group that sells its logo like a “stamp of approval” for seafood, followed suit.
As a result, some restaurants and supermarkets, including Cheesecake Factory and the Jeff Bezos-owned Whole Foods, stopped selling Maine lobster.
Whether the nonprofits’ advocacy campaign against the Maine lobster is having a big impact is hard to say, but the Maine lobstermen are fighting back.
Republican lawmakers have introduced bills in the current session of the legislature that would strip companies of tax-breaks if they boycott Maine lobster.
And now, a coalition of groups, including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, are suing Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch.
According to the lobstermen, Seafood Watch’s analysis of sustainability is based on unsound, bogus science.
It remains to be seen whether that argument translates into a successful defamation case.
The bogusness of some lobster-related science has been the topic of intense political debate for more than a year in Maine and Washington, D.C.
Environmental activists, including some employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have said more stringent regulations are needed on the gear used by Maine lobstermen to protect the endangered right whale.
But Maine lobstermen have pointed out relentlessly that NOAA and the activists can’t even prove that Maine lobstering gear has caused a single whale death. And that’s using NOAA’s own science.
For lobstermen, the whole affair smells fishy, especially when it turns out NOAA scientists and many environmentalists are fervent supporters of offshore wind power.
Last year, Bloomberg obtained emails that showed NOAA scientists privately expressing concerns that offshore wind-power development could threaten endangered mammals.
But that same agency has only ever publicly attacked the lobster.
Will the crustacean defamation claim prevail?
It’s a high bar to pass. The lobsterman will have to show that Seafood Watch knew that it was making false claims, or should have known, and acted negligently or malevolently.
Maine’s congressional delegation secured a temporary moratorium on new lobster regulations last year as part of a larger omnibus bill.
But left-wing lawmakers have already introduced legislation to undo the temporary pause.