Maine House candidates embroiled in battle over anti-lobster groups donation

Rep. Bruce Poliquin demands Julie Packard return donation from Seafood Watch, who put Maine lobster on a seafood 'red list'

Congressional candidates in a hotly contested Maine race snipped at each other on Tuesday about a contribution from the leader of a conservation group that has discouraged consumers from buying lobster.

Democratic Rep. Jared Golden is defending his seat in Maine's 2nd Congressional District against Republican former Rep. Bruce Poliquin and independent candidate Tiffany Bond. Poliquin's campaign on Tuesday called on Golden to return a contribution of $667 from Julie Packard, the executive director of Seafood Watch.

Seafood Watch, which is based at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California that Packard helped found, added American and Canadian lobster to its "red list" of seafood species to avoid this summer because of the risk fishing gear poses to endangered whales. Poliquin's camp said that listing has caused economic hardship for fishermen in Maine, where most of the U.S.'s domestic lobster comes to the docks.

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"Seafood Watch’s warning to consumers to avoid Maine lobster, on top of forty-year high inflation and fuel prices have gouged Maine lobstermen’s paychecks," said Roy Matthews, a Poliquin spokesperson.

Golden's campaign responded that the congressman has no intention to return the money. The campaign cited Golden's opposition to new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration whale protection regulations as evidence that he has the fishing industry's interests at heart.

Conservation group Seafood Watch, who is actively working to remove Maine Lobster from grocery store shelves, started political turmoil in Maine after donating to independent candidate Tiffany Bond. Pictured: Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2017 (left), and Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in 2018 (right) in Maine.

Conservation group Seafood Watch, who is actively working to remove Maine Lobster from grocery store shelves, started political turmoil in Maine after donating to independent candidate Tiffany Bond. Pictured: Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2017 (left), and Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in 2018 (right) in Maine. (AP Photos/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

"Lobstermen know Jared has led the fight against the outrageous NOAA right whale rules, and has been the staunchest defender of the fishery in Congress," said Bobby Reynolds, a Golden spokesperson.

The race has been an expensive one, with Golden racking up more than $3.3 million in contributions through June 30, and Poliquin trailing at $2.5 million. Both candidates have positioned themselves as allies of traditional industries such as lobstering in the vast, mostly rural district. The 2nd District is the more politically mixed of the state's two districts, as the 1st District is based around liberal Portland and is more reliably Democratic.

The race was scheduled for its sole debate featuring all three candidates on Tuesday night. The same three candidates ran for the same seat in 2018, and Golden won via ranked-choice voting.

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Bond, who came in third in that race, did not respond to a request for comment. Packard also did not respond to a request for comment.