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Guest Column: Shining A Light on Maine Lobster Fishery's Values

Demand for Maine lobster was strong last year, as evidenced by the record value set for the fishery. Yet we know fishermen are facing serious headwinds in the coming months and years. On the critical right whale issue, industry groups are handling the regulatory and legal aspects while the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) is working on maintaining consumer confidence in the Maine lobster brand. This is important to ensure that people continue to buy Maine lobster.

While sustainability has always been a central component of the Maine lobster fishery, buyers are hearing other perspectives from environmental groups. Seafood Watch, a seafood sustainability rating organization, announced that their most recent assessments will put both the U.S. and Canadian lobster fisheries on their ‘do not buy’ red list due to their potential to harm right whales. The Marine Stewardship Council, another sustainability label, suspended the Maine lobster fishery’s certification in 2020 because of the ongoing lawsuit around right whales, although the certification was reinstated when NOAA released its 10-year whale plan last spring. These third-party labels combined with negative general publicity have the potential to shake buyer confidence in the Maine lobster industry’s sustainability efforts.

The MLMC is prioritizing efforts to make sure that wholesale buyers and consumers continue to have confidence in the brand by emphasizing the fishery’s environmental stewardship. For the wholesale audience, this will include a fact sheet and a webinar to address any concerns about sustainability labels and to educate the buyers on extensive changes within the fishery that have successfully improved right whale protections. We will also highlight facts that tend to be overlooked, such as the data that show that no right whale death or serious injury has ever been attributed to Maine lobster gear and that right whales began moving out of the Gulf of Maine in 2010 following a shift in their food sources.

For the consumer audience, the MLMC will focus on a message of broader environmental sustainability. We have a number of tactics planned that will educate people on the work being done by industry members to protect the future of the ocean environment and coastal communities. These messages will help to ensure that people feel good about buying Maine lobster. The MLMC conducts an annual national consumer survey to determine public awareness of right whales and other issues associated with Maine lobster. While the surveys have shown little awareness and no impact on purchase behavior, we will continue monitoring for any changes. This year we are adding a Maine-specific survey to capture the sentiment among local residents.

The MLMC is producing a video series that will shine a light on the industry’s steadfast commitment to sustainability. Each video will include voices from the industry to put faces to the issues. Topics will likely include the long-standing cooperation between fishermen and scientists to understand and preserve the Gulf of Maine and support programs such as gear grabs and beach clean-ups. We also will highlight the importance of fishermen to Maine not only from an economic standpoint, but also as integral members of coastal communities in their roles as volunteer firemen, coaches, etc. We will put paid advertising behind the videos to make sure that they reach a wide targeted audience.

Last year, lobsterman Chris Welch did a satellite media tour for the MLMC that included a heroic 22 media interviews conducted in one day. Through scripted questions, Chris was able to share information about the Maine lobster fishery and sustainability with audiences in 348 media markets and three national broadcasts resulting in over 25 million impressions (number of times that people had the chance to see the content). Because of that program’s success and our ability to ensure the public hears our message, the MLMC plans to run two satellite media tours in 2022. We are also planning several similarly scripted editorial pieces showcasing the industry’s commitment to sustainability and protecting the marine environment. The editorial pieces will be shared in various target publications.

As part of our issues management strategy, the MLMC will continue to manage media inquiries, conduct media interviews and provide media training for industry spokesmen. We continually collaborate with industry groups and members to ensure that our marketing program is aligned with industry priorities and as effective as possible.

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