BAR HARBOR — With new rules for the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery put in place to protect North Atlantic right whales, state lobster dealers will again be able use a special label on their products that signifies that they came from a sustainable fishery.
The Marine Stewardship Council suspended the sustainable certificate for the Maine lobster fishery last August after a federal court found that the National Marine Fisheries Service did not appropriately comply with the Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect the critically endangered whales.
The council, a London-based nonprofit organization that sets standards for and certifies sustainable fisheries, said the suspension was pending improvements to the management system “pertaining to interactions between the lobster fishery and the North Atlantic right whales.”
At the beginning of this month, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enacted new rules on the lobster fishery, the council retroactively reinstated the sustainable certification as of Sept. 1.
Lobster dealers can now place the council’s blue fish label on their products. The label indicates that the seafood comes from fisheries that ensure the long-term health of the species and well-being of the ocean. The label is often sought out by high-volume lobster buyers and discerning customers looking for help picking a product.
Though the label can be slapped back on products, Maine lobstermen have long maintained that they are one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world and have enacted several protections for both the continuance of the lobster and whales.
“It’s been incredibly sustainable for a really long time,” said Marianne LaCroix, the executive director at the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. “The fishermen know that, people know that, but some buyers like to have a third-party label to verify that.”
About 15 companies across the state use the label and they tend to be the larger dealers, LaCroix said.
The fishery has largely done the same thing it did at the time of the suspension, though several new regulations will be implemented over the next year. A 967-square-mile seasonal closure of offshore fishing ground from Mount Desert Island to Casco Bay will go into effect later this month. It will run annually from October to January for all traditional lobstering. There will also be new rules for gear marking and weaker fishing ropes. All were enacted by the federal government to help the endangered species of whale.
The lobster fishery has touted its efforts to preserve both lobsters and whales and LaCroix said “it’s nice to have a third-party verify what we know,” but it’s not needed to prove the fishery’s work.
“There’s a great story to tell about sustainability, regardless of the label,” she said.