Reposted from Maine Lobster Festival
A snapshot of the “Perfect Storm” challenges facing the industry
Unless you’ve been closely following the news in Maine, you probably don’t realize that lobstering as an industry is getting assailed on all sides — and it is deeply and negatively impacting nearly 5,000 lobstermen and their families up and down the coast.
In early September, the environmental group Seafood Watch assigned a “red rating” designation, which discourages individuals and organizations from purchasing Maine and Canadian lobster. The group claims that lobster gear may be responsible for harming the endangered North Atlantic right whales.
This rating system has influenced retailers and food service providers since 1999. Since this designation, several national companies have stopped buying lobster for their products, which has negatively impacted lobstermen already having a rough summer with high fuel and bait prices, as well as low prices per catch.
This is on top of the National Marine Fisheries Service rule implementing new regulations under the federal government’s whale protection plan. The fishermen implemented the new regulations in 2022, but NMFS is in the process of developing additional regulations that will go into effect within the next two years. Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) sued NMFS, arguing that NFMS acted arbitrarily and that the plan doesn’t utilize an objective assessment of the best available data. They maintain that the plan will all but eliminate the lobster fishery, yet still fail to save the endangered whales. On Sept. 8, a federal judge rejected MLA’s lawsuit challenging the data, a ruling that MLA and the State appealed in federal court. MLA submitted a motion for expedited consideration of its appeal, which the federal court granted on Oct. 18.
FACT: There has not been a single known right whale entanglement in Maine lobster gear in almost 20 years.
FACT: Maine lobster gear has never been linked to a right whale death.
FACT: Maine lobstermen have been implementing whale conservation efforts for the last two decades, including modifying and developing innovative gear solutions — at their own expense.
In compliance with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) regulations, lobstermen have, “applied gear markings; implemented sinking ground lines; have moved to weaker lines; inserted ‘weak links’ into vertical lines; and increased the size of their trawls to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water. Through these efforts, the Maine lobster fishery has removed an estimated 30,000 miles of line from the water in order to protect whale species,” according to a statement by Maine Independent Senator Angus King.
For generations, lobstermen have committed to the long-term sustainability of the ocean and the fishery, and care deeply about the preservation of the right whale species. They know their territories like the back of their hands and use colored markings on their lines, so if a right whale ever became entangled, federal officials would know where it occurred.
Except it hasn’t. That’s the point Maine lobstermen like Scarborough lobsterman Greg Turner recently made in a WGME article: Maine lobster gear has never been linked to a right whale death.
“I’ve seen gear that they’ve retrieved from these whales,” Turner said. “And I’ve gone and looked at it. And none of it come from anything that we would use.” Turner pointed out what most lobstermen have been telling officials and at public hearings, “that most right whale deaths are from ship strikes and entanglements in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
According to a statement by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, “NMFS has overestimated the lobster industry’s risk to right whales by cherry-picking the science by using unsupported assumptions and ‘worst-case scenarios’ to justify its mandate for Maine’s lobster fishery to reduce its already minimal risk to right whales by 98 percent. MLA claims that NMFS also failed to follow mandatory legal requirements to assess the economic and social costs of their action.”
While the litigation is ongoing there are ways you, a private citizen, can help preserve this industry from a catastrophic shutdown.
How Can You Help
You know who is going to thank you for serving lobster as the main dish this Thanksgiving?
Turkeys and Maine lobstermen.
With everything up against Maine’s lobstermen lately (as discussed in our recent blog on the mounting challenges facing the lobster industry) and the biggest price drop seen in years, this is the year to switch up your traditional Thanksgiving menu.
As the first Thanksgiving meal eaten by pilgrims in November, 1621, it’s wholly appropriate to serve lobster as the main dish or as one of the sides. We have included a few recipes below.
If you live in Maine buy lobster directly from a lobsterman or from a reputable seafood store. Or if you live out of state, buy them online from a sustainable fishmonger like Luke’s Lobster or Maine Lobster Now.
Main Dish: Stuffed Lobster Tails
A more sophisticated (and lighter calorie) main dish uses stuffed lobster tails in place of the traditional bird with one tail per person. This video shows you the most humane way to dispatch a lobster and this tutorial shows you how to separate the tail from the body and butterfly the meat.
The Thanksgiving flavors come out when stuffed with herbed breadcrumbs and drizzled with white wine reduction, as described by Cooking Light’s Executive Food Editor Ann Pittman. Broil one to two minutes and drizzle with sauce.
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Side: Lobster Stuffing
Instead of traditional stuffing—let lobster take center stage! Combine center-cut bacon, one loaf sesame semolina bread cut into half-inch cubes, and seven ounces of fresh-picked lobster meat. With sautéed yellow onion and garlic lending a savory fragrance to this dish, a little lobster goes a long way in this comfort dish, serving eight people.
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Side: Lobster Mashed Potato
Talk about decadent! This will be the dish your guests dig into the most. Start with a 1½ pound boiled lobster—and save the stock. After shelling and chopping up the meat, put some of the shells in a new pot of boiling water with 1½ pounds of chopped Yukon Gold potatoes to enrich the flavor. The additional step of lightly browning the cooked lobster meat in butter adds a rich layer to traditional mashed potatoes.
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Side: Green Bean and Lobster Casserole
Lobster is like the little black dress of the culinary world—it can be dressed up and accessorized with just about any food. In this case, with a plain old green bean casserole, it’s not just a side dish—it’s a statement. This side calls for two cups of fresh, sliced green beans, ½ cup button mushrooms, and 1 pound cooked lobster meat. Layer in a can of cream of mushroom soup with the crunch of Ritz crackers and fried onions, and you’re good to go.
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This Thanksgiving, put lobster on the menu and you will be supporting Maine families when they need it most.
The Maine Lobster festival (August 2-6, 2023) will be free again next year. Follow our website for more details: https://mainelobsterfestival.com/
Reprinted from the Maine Lobster Festival blog.
Columns and news about the subculture of Maine lobstering.