retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports that "American lobster may be a beloved and delicious splurge, but it is no longer a sustainable seafood choice and consumers should avoid eating it, according to Seafood Watch, a group that monitors how fish and other seafood are harvested from the world’s oceans.

"The organization made the announcement last week, motivated by concerns that the ropes used to fish for lobsters and some other seafoods often entangle critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The marine mammal’s population has fallen to the low hundreds, and federal wildlife authorities say it faces extinction in the near future … Seafood Watch put American lobster, as well as some species of crab and fish, on its red list because of the effect fishing for the species has on North Atlantic right whales.

"The organization hopes that telling people to avoid American lobster, which is harvested off Maine, Canada’s maritime provinces and in other parts of the Northwest Atlantic, will raise awareness about the right whale’s condition and put pressure on fishery managers and lawmakers to do more to protect the imperiled mammals."

According to the story, "Lobster fishers and their allies in Congress say that Seafood Watch’s decision is unfair given the industry’s consistent compliance with state and federal laws aimed at protecting the whales. It is unclear whether Seafood Watch’s actions will have the intended effect because major sellers and distributors of American lobster may be hesitant to halt sales of the beloved seafood."

KC's View:

It'll be interesting to see the degree to which this recommendation gets traction, even among purveyors that might be ordinarily expected to be sympathetic.  The story quotes a spokesperson for Whole Foods, "which partnered with Seafood Watch in 2010," as saying that "it has no plans to stop selling American lobster, but that the company is 'closely monitoring the situation' and is 'committed to working with our suppliers, local fisherman and fisheries, fishery managers and environmental advocacy groups as the situation develops'."

The story also makes the point that there appear to be solutions - but they're expensive.  Maybe prohibitively so.  "One proposed solution to this problem is a transition to ropeless fishing gear, which is used in Australia and is being tested in American fisheries. It works like a traditional crab or lobster pot, but it can be brought to the surface using a remote-controlled float, no rope required … However, such gear is not yet widely available, and each ropeless trap can cost $2,000 to $4,000, while a traditional lobster trap costs between $50 and $180."

What's really required is a consideration of all the costs - not just of ropeless gear, but of the extinction of a species.