ELLSWORTH — Last month, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, violated federal environmental protection laws several years ago when a “biological opinion” it issued failed to give adequate consideration to the risk the lobster fishery posed to endangered right whales.
On Monday, the Maine lobster industry was back in federal court in Washington, D.C., as the judge began the hearing testimony on what remedies he should impose to bring the fisheries service, and the lobster fishery, into compliance with those laws.
At risk for Maine fishermen is the continued use of lobster traps marked by vertical buoy lines.
Last Saturday, the Maine Certified Sustainable Lobster Association (MCSLA) announced that the lobster fishery’s Marine Stewardship Council certification will be suspended during proceedings in the federal case known as Center for Biological Diversity v. Ross. According to the association, the certificate has been suspended despite the continued sustainable management of the Maine lobster fishery.
NOAA is expected to release a draft of a new biological opinion as early as this month. In a statement released Saturday, the association said that once the 2020 biological opinion is approved by the court and implemented, the group “will work to quickly regain its MSC certification.”
The official MSC suspension became effective on Aug. 1 and allows lobster processing to continue for 30 days beyond that date. The group chose to have MSC suspend the certificate “in an effort to notify all stakeholders and ease transition for customers,” according to the association’s statement.
“Although we don’t have any direct role in the outcome of this federal case and the ultimate impact to our industry, we are confident we will regain MSC certification through our ongoing efforts to uphold the highest standards of sustainability,” said Craig Rief, president of MCSLA. “We will actively participate with the upcoming biological opinion and provide any necessary resources to assist NOAA, MSC and our stakeholders in our steadfast commitment to protect threatened and endangered marine life while providing the highest quality product to all consumers.”