Maine Lawmakers: End Tax Breaks for Companies That Pull Lobster

The proposal would prohibit any business from using the state’s business equipment tax reimbursement or exemption programs if they ban, boycott or restrict sale of a legally harvested Maine product due to a third-party certification

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Two lawmakers in Maine want to change laws to prevent the state from offering tax breaks or contracts to companies that stop selling lobster after sustainability organizations raised concerns.

The Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch removed their endorsements of the U.S. lobster fishing industry this year, citing concerns about risks to rare North Atlantic right whales from fishing gear. Some retailers, including supermarkets and meal kit companies, responded by pledging to pull lobster from their inventories.

Maine’s proposed law would prohibit any business from utilizing the state’s business equipment tax reimbursement or exemption programs if they ban, boycott or restrict sale of a legally harvested Maine product due to a third-party certification, said Republican Sen. Trey Stewart and Republican Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham on Tuesday. The proposal would also ban the state from entering into any contracts with the businesses.

Following an announcement from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that there will be a suspension of its certificate labeling the Gulf of Maine lobster as sustainable, Whole Foods Market said that it would "pause" purchasing additional Gulf of Maine lobster products while continuing to sell items containing the iconic crustacean that it had on hand before the label change

“It is going to take all of us standing together combined with many others throughout Maine to preserve the ability of lobster fishing families to earn a living, conserve the resource, and create jobs for thousands of Mainers,” said Faulkingham, who is also a commercial lobsterman.

Maine is by far the most important lobster fishing state in the U.S. The lawmakers specifically cited changes announced by Whole Foods, the natural foods giant that has hundreds of locations nationwide, including one in Portland, Maine. The company said last month that it would stop selling lobster from the Gulf of Maine.

It was unclear on Wednesday if Whole Foods benefits from either of the tax incentives in Maine that would be changed by the proposal. A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company said in a statement in November that “third-party verifications and ratings are critical to maintaining the integrity of our standards for all wild-caught seafood found in our seafood department.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, a change.org petition submitted by the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative urging Seafood Watch to "reconsider" had more than 2,600 signatures, with hundreds of them being added in a matter of hours.

The right whales number about 340 in the world and they are vulnerable to injury or death from entanglement in fishing rope. Another major threat to the mammals is collision with large ships.

Members of conservation group Oceana, which supports stricter rules for lobster fishermen and shippers, said Tuesday that the whales are especially vulnerable during calving season and that the federal government must move quickly to apply new rules.

“We are sounding the alarm for our government to step in and establish immediate protections for North Atlantic right whales during the calving season,” Oceana campaign director Gib Brogan.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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