This is in response to Nancy Griffin’s Working Waterfront article “Is ‘green’ certification an answer?” (November, 2008).

As the daughter of a retired lobsterman who has spent over 50 years on the water, I’ve personally seen the rise, prosperity, and decline of the Maine lobster industry over the last 30 years.

I felt disbelief and then concern to read that it “is partly through the process of achieving certification as a sustainable fishery, led by an enthusiastic group of processors and harvesters.” Why does the Maine lobster industry need to be “certified”?

In the article, John Hathaway is quoted as saying, “In 2011, Wal-Mart will only buy certified seafood…You have to listen to the customers or they won’t buy what you have.” What gives Wal-Mart the right to demand that the lobster they purchase have a “certified” label or else they won’t buy them? Won’t this demand create a need to buy “certified” where it didn’t exist before? In this scenario, Wal-Mart and possible other corporations would basically be determining what is “certified,” “green,” or “sustainable.”

Is this preposterous demand by corporate America supposed to strike fear in lobsterman that have long fought-and continue to fight-against excessive rules and regulations? Does Wal-Mart apply those standards to their own business practices? Do the food, clothing, and toys they carry meet such stringent standards?

The irony is profound for a corporation that employs most of their staff part-time at less than sustainable wages with little or no benefits and forbids union membership. Next time you are in there, take a spin through the aisles and check out the labels of where things are made. It will be China, or Asia, for the most part, with tragic reports of recalled products made under child and/or sweatshop labor out of potentially hazardous and/or poisonous materials. Is that how Wal-Mart defines “green” or “certified”?  The answer for the most part is no. Then why should Maine lobstermen let such a draconian standard be placed on their livelihood?

Some of us fear that corporate demands to buy “certified” seafood will force a vulnerable industry in these desperate times to comply. Are Maine lobstermen ready to let a corporation call the shots for an industry that has proven itself for over a century by being a “green” and sustainable industry long before it became trendy? Up until recently lobstermen were able to support their families and supply the nation’s demand without any help, thank you, from outside corporations whose bases are far away from here, and who operate under different business practices and standards than our lobstermen. Forcing lobstermen to adopt unnecessary, expensive, and artificial labeling over a five-year certification period borders on insane.

I am all for preserving and conserving our natural resources and think most people would agree we as a nation need to do so. The real irony is that Maine lobstermen don’t need to be told how to do it. The way I see it, it is inevitable that vast amounts of money (watch out taxpayers) will be spent on certification and restrictions and new laws and regulations and before you know it, lobstermen will be sporting corporate logos on their sterns rather than the names of their wives or daughters.  This scenario could take awhile, as corporations tend to work in slow, insidious ways, but you can bet if this passes, corporate America will control and dictate how Maine lobstermen work.

Loss of control over something so inherently Maine would affect our identity as a state and lobstering as a cherished institution. Mainer’s take pride in being independent and clever and have a history of resisting authority at all levels, lobstermen and fishermen in particular. Do they really want Wal-Mart to determine what labels the seafood they catch will say?

This isn’t the first time there have been dire economic problems facing the industry, and it will be some time before they lessen. Under those circumstances it makes this issue even more critical to debate. For now, I sincerely hope that lobstermen can ride out the so-called “Perfect Storm” and stay true to themselves and their heritage.  

Submitted by A.Waldron, Union, ME

A. Waldron is a resident of Union, Maine.