PORTLAND, Maine — An international organization has given its seal of approval to the Maine lobster fishery designating it as sustainable, Maine Gov. Paul LePage announced Sunday.
The London-based Marine Stewardship Council said the fishery meets its strict standards for responsible fishing practices. The announcement was made at the annual International Boston Seafood Show, with LePage surrounded by lobster fishermen, MSC representatives and others.
The MSC has been in the business of encouraging responsible fishing practices since 1997 and has now certified nearly 200 fisheries worldwide representing more than 10 percent of the global seafood harvest. Fisheries that make the cut can use the MSC's ecolabel, a seal that assures consumers that the seafood was not overfished or harvested in a way that harms the ocean.
The designation allows the industry to market itself as sustainably run and to differentiate itself from the Canadian lobster fishery, said John Hathaway, president of Shucks Maine Lobster, a processing company in Richmond.
Surveys show that 80 percent of seafood buyers expect their seafood to come from sustainable resources, and retailers and restaurants are listening, Hathaway said. Wal-Mart has committed to buying only MSC-certified seafood, and McDonald's announced in January that all fish menu items at its 14,000 U.S. locations will carry the organization's ecolabel.
"We're very lucky to be in the position today where Maine lobster is going to be ahead of the curve," Hathaway said by telephone from the Boston Seafood Show.
Maine fishermen catch lobsters in traps that are placed on the ocean bottom. With trap limits and rules that ban catching lobsters that are too small and too big, along with egg-bearing females, Maine's lobster fishery for years has been cited as a model. The new certification now makes it official.
The industry can use all the help it can get marketing its product. Maine lobstermen last year caught a record 126 million pounds of lobster worth a record $338 million, but they received an average of only $2.69 per pound, the lowest price since 1994.
"This places greater emphasis on the need for effective marketing and highlights the unique marketing advantage MSC certification provides," LePage said in a statement.
Kerry Coughlin, regional director for MSC, said Maine has one of world's most famous and iconic fisheries.
"The Maine lobster fishery has operated for centuries and today's announcement indicates the fishery's commitment to be viable for centuries to come," she said.