Recertification of Lobster Fishery Would Harm Right Whales, Mislead Consumers

Groups object to MSC certification of lobster fishery with risk of entangling critically endangered right whales

NEW YORK – Conservation groups acted today to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale by formally objecting to a determination that the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery should be recertified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability standard. MSC certification is widely recognized in grocery stores with a “blue fish tick” ecolabel.

The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery had its MSC certificate temporarily suspended in 2020 after a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government had violated the Endangered Species Act in authorizing the fishery. The certification was reinstated in 2021 after the development of new management measures, even though the fishery still posed a direct threat to right whales.

The recommendation that the fishery be recertified, made by the assessment body, MRAG Americas, is at odds with both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, and ignores the best available science on the deadly entanglement risk that the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery poses to the rapidly declining whale species. NRDC, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and Defenders of Wildlife, articulated these concerns in a formal written objection submitted to the MSC. 

“If the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery was certified as sustainable at this time, consumers of MSC-certified lobster could be unknowingly hastening the demise of one of our most emblematic and endangered species,” said Francine Kershaw, a senior scientist at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) “There could not be a more blatant way to further erode consumer confidence in the MSC as a sustainability certification program.”

The MSC ecolabel has come under increasing scrutiny by marine scientists and conservationists who believe weaknesses in the MSC standard have allowed for the certification of fisheries with significant marine wildlife bycatch problems. Current lobster fishery management measures fail to address the risk the fishery poses to North Atlantic right whales through entanglement in commercial fishing gear–the leading cause of death, serious injury, sublethal impacts, and overall decline of the species. The conservation groups believe that the recommendation to label this fishery as sustainable is unsound and incongruous with national and international concern for the impact that lobster and crab fisheries in the Northeast U.S. are having on large whales.

“It is unconscionable that the leading seafood certifier in the world would give its seal of approval to a fishery that poses grave threats to a critically endangered species,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant for AWI. “Given that MSC’s new fisheries standard — approved Friday — does not even require fisheries to achieve a progressive reduction in bycatch, the label is in serious jeopardy of losing its credibility.”

The objection filing will trigger the start of a multi-step resolution process. The objection will be evaluated by an independent adjudicator, who will either confirm the original determination, allowing the certification to proceed, or uphold the objection. 

“The MSC label certifies to consumers that a fishery is complying with applicable laws and the best available scientific data,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Despite showing that the U.S. government has ignored both the law and the science in authorizing this fishery, our concerns have fallen on deaf ears in MSC’s rush to recertify.”

Entanglement is a conservation issue with a viable remedy. MSC must do its part to encourage fisheries to lean into the available solutions, particularly on-demand fishing systems that eliminate the need for the ropes connected to lobster and crab traps to be suspended for long periods of time in the water column, by withholding sustainability certifications from fisheries whose practices continue to harm endangered whales.  

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC. 

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

 The Animal Welfare Institute ( is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow uson Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

Related Press Releases