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Judge dismisses lobster lawsuit, U.S.-caught crustaceans remain on 'Red List'

Lexi Krupp

A California judge has dismissed a case filed by local lobstermen who called foul after a seafood watch group put the fishery on a ”Red List" for its impact on critically endangered right whales.

The California-Based Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Stewardship Council pointed to trap/pot fishing gear used to catch lobsters that has been blamed for the deaths of critically endangered right whales. Today, just about 350 North Atlantic right whales are alive, and entanglement in rope and fishing gear is one of the leading causes of right whale deaths.

The “Red List” decision pushed Whole Foods, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and others to stop selling the shellfish caught in U.S. waters. It’s used by more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors to help guide purchasing and menu choices.

In March, four Massachusetts lobstermen, Arthur Sawyer, Jarret Drake, Eric Meschino, and Bill Souza, filed a class action lawsuit saying the conservationists’ move caused monetary harm.

But Judge Beth Labson Freeman wrote that they didn’t establish this as a class action lawsuit.

“While Plaintiffs brought this action as a class action, no class has been certified. Plaintiffs have not sought certification, nor has certification been proposed for purposes of this dismissal,” she wrote.

Rebecca Kaufman, lead counsel for the Aquarium, described the outcome as a victory.

“The dismissal is both a victory for the critically endangered right whale,” she said, “and for the free speech of those committed to protecting vulnerable species and preserving the ocean for future generations.” 

But a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association defended the plaintiffs in a statement that read, in part: “After lengthy discussions among the named individuals in the suit, they agreed to dismiss the Class Action Suit, as a win in the California court is highly unlikely and extremely costly. The laws in California would ultimately hold these individuals financially responsible for the defendant’s legal fees should they prevail."

In addition, the Massachusetts lobstermen plan to monitor a defamation lawsuit filed by a handful of Maine lobstermen’s groups against the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the same “Red List” decision.

The Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association statement further states: “The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association will continue to monitor the Maine defamation suit as it moves through the court. Should the defamation suit be ruled on favorably, we would then conjoin this action for our members."

That Maine defamation case is still pending.  

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.