The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Fact checking Donald Trump on lobsters

This past Wednesday, Donald Trump lied about lobsters:

Trump is demonstrably wrong. As Dr. Jessica Gephart pointed out, a quick Google search for data shows that both lobster landings and profit peaked in 2016, the last year of Obama’s presidency. Soon after, Trump’s trade war with China tanked the fishery; the industry is down about 40 million dollars since 2016.

Trump’s tweet was probably a reaction to learning that, earlier in the day, his administration decided to compensate Maine lobstermen for their revenue declines caused by tariffs in his trade war, following a similar policy that subsidized affected American farmers. However, it is unclear how the money will be distributed or accessed as the funding is through the Department of Agriculture which has little experience dealing with fisheries.

Assisting struggling lobstermen and women is undoubtably a good thing, hopefully the money gets distributed quickly and fairly.

Connecting some other dots

Trump followed his lobstering tweet with another, alluding to his decision two weeks ago to dismantle the Northeastern Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a marine protected area (MPA) set up by former President Obama.

Trump probably believes that by ending the MPA he will increase lobster catches and profit, however he is wrong.

The marine monument is 100 miles offshore and, before the monument was established, saw very little fishing or lobstering pressure. It has little importance to commercial fisheries, though several fishing companies appreciated the change.

My previous criticism of large, open-ocean MPA’s (namely that they are an empty political gesture meant to make politicians look “environmental”) works in reverse here. Just as there was little scientific or economic reason for Obama to create the MPA, there was little reason for Trump to end it—he is simply undoing Obama’s legacy.

What about offshore drilling?

It is reasonable to point out the Republican party’s embrace of the fossil fuel industry and surmise that ending the MPA to expand offshore fossil fuel drilling is really what’s going on. Though possible, I don’t fully buy it.

Under Obama’s leadership, the U.S. increased fossil fuel production by over 30% and became the world’s top oil producer. While campaigning for president, in office, and post-office, Obama took tons of money from the fossil fuel industry and ensured their continuing success. In 2018, he proudly took responsibility saying, “That whole suddenly America’s the biggest oil producer — that was me, people.”

With the previous administration being accommodating and production capacity at all-time highs, it’s hard to believe that the fossil fuel industry is behind Trump’s interest in “lobstering.” It is also unlikely that Trump, like me, gets annoyed when large, open-ocean MPAs are used by politicians to cover up environmental legacies.

My best guess is that Trump just seized an unusual opportunity to trash Obama, one of his favorite things to do.

Max Mossler

Max Mossler

Max studied environmental perception & policy in grad school. He thinks a lot about how other people think about the planet. He is the managing editor at Sustainable Fisheries UW.

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