NEWS RELEASE: We can ‘save the right whale, eat lobster too’

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BOSTON — Environmental groups launched a new campaign on Thursday, three days before World Whale Day, calling on Red Lobster and Whole Foods to commit to purchasing lobster caught by practices that will not harm the 340 or so remaining North Atlantic right whales. The leading cause of death and serious injury for right whales is entanglement in fishing lines. However, Congress delayed a related court ruling that would protect this critically endangered species, so the green groups are pushing for responsible action from corporations that buy and sell significant amounts of lobster.

“Congress is doing the right whale wrong, so we are asking companies to make the right choice,” said Virginia Carter, Environment America’s Save America’s Wildlife campaign associate. “We’re urging restaurants and grocers, especially those with existing sustainability policies, to protect this majestic marine mammal by committing to buying lobsters sustainably caught with whale-safe ropeless gear.” 

Scientists warn that to avoid the extinction of right whales, we can’t afford to lose even one right whale a year to non-natural causes. Yet, since 2017, right whales have suffered an ongoing “unusual mortality event.” In that time, 60 whales have been documented with new entanglements; of them, 29 have died or are likely to die from their injuries.

Red Lobster and Whole Foods both are already committed to sustainability in their sourcing. In addition, Whole Foods made news by following the recommendations of marine experts and pausing its purchase of lobster from New England. 

The environmental groups sent a letter and an email to each chain in January, asking them to adopt a plan to save the right whale and provide lobsters for their customers, too. The letter asks each company to commit, by March 1, 2023, to purchasing lobster caught with ropeless gear for 50% of its lobster by the close of 2025 and 100% by 2030. The letter also asks both companies to incorporate these commitments into purchasing contracts and make them public to spur others to follow suit and help lobstermen prepare for change. 

“The extinction of the North Atlantic right whale—Georgia’s state marine mammal—hangs in the balance. But we can prevent it,” said Alice Keyes, VP of coastal conservation for One Hundred Miles. “We have a moral obligation to act with urgency to protect them. Commitments by grocers and restaurants to invest in whale-safe products are a major component to saving our beloved right whales.”

This past fall, Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council advised against purchasing New England lobster due to the threats that lobster ropes, which run from traps on the seabed to the ocean’s surface, present to whales. Entanglement threats will largely disappear if the industry transitions to ropeless gear, but the industry has been slow to do so. 

“American consumers care about the planet and increasingly, they’re making decisions about where to eat and shop based on the sustainability values of businesses,” said Steve Blackledge, Environment America’s senior director of conservation campaigns. “This could be a win-win-win for grocers and restaurants: save the right whale, polish their green ‘cred’ with consumers and create a market for the hard-working lobstering community to sell sustainably caught lobster.”

Other groups signing the letter and asking grocers and restaurants to commit to buying ropeless gear are: CALPIRG Students, Endangered Species Coalition, Florida Atlantic University Marine Biology Club, Inland Ocean Coalition, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Mighty Earth, One Hundred Miles, NY4WHALES, Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket, Ocean Conservation Research, Oceanic Preservation Society, Texas Tech University Environmental Toxicology Student Association and Tulane for UNICEF. 

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