In the first visit to the U.S by a significant foreign leader during President Joe Biden’s tenure, he and President Emmanuel Macron of France demonstrated remarkable comity that can without cliche be characterized as a lovefest, despite minor differences in their support of Ukraine and economic competition that should not be surprising in a world that is shrinking from globalist ambitions and reverting to economic nationalism even within the most liberal (small “d”) democracies.
As it happens, the most controversial aspect of the French leader’s visit arose not from any political contretemps but out of the choice of the menu for the formal state dinner hosted by Mr. Biden. But the rift is not the result of traditional French culinary snobbery, as Mr. Macron seemed perfectly happy with the 200 live Maine lobsters, simmered in butter and smothered in American Osetra caviar and garnished with celery crisp. No, the fact is that Maine lobster itself is under siege, the subject of a brewing battle between a fading lobster industry and environmental groups that, supported by the research group Seafood Watch, believe that the traditional method of lobstering, involving ropes attached to crude wooden boxes lying on the seabed, is entangling right whales and contributing to that species’ endangered status.
The battle has taken on global dimensions, as Amazon-owned Whole Foods has cited the environmentalists’ concerns in its decision to stop buying Maine lobsters in its stores, setting off a Nor’easter on the state’s rocky coast and threatening one of Maine’s largest industries. The industry’s cause has not been helped by a ruling by a U.S. District Judge in July 2022 finding “that all pot/trap and gillnet fisheries in this region with vertical lines in the water are in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”
Maine’s Congressional delegation has naturally come to the support of the lobstermen with Sen. Angus King (I) saying that Seafood Watch’s science is flawed and that the listing is an “overt effort to put thousands of people out of work,” that has “no evidence upon which to impose any penalty, let alone one as drastic as this.”
It is difficult to discern who holds the higher ground as there is no direct evidence that lobster lines actually strangle the whales since dead whales are rarely found and Seafood Watch is mainly relying on anecdotal evidence of their diminishing numbers. However, as a part-time resident of the Pine Tree State, I can attest to the close association between its lobsters and the related tourist industry as I rarely have guests inquire about the availability of fiddleheads, that strange springtime delicacy that only true Mainers can appreciate.
No, the lobster, boiled or steamed or poached, whole or in rolls, stews or smothered in strange sauces, over pasta or in mac ‘n cheese, still rules. Even the high falutin’ French know that.