Why Whole Foods pulled Maine lobster from stores and what’s next
Whole Foods’ decision to halt Maine lobster purchases has sparked protests from state elected officials and the lobster industry.
Whole Foods’ decision, which was announced this month, was prompted by changes to the sustainability ratings of Maine lobster fisheries by independent seafood monitoring groups: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, based in California, and the London-based Marine Stewardship Council.
Both point to a recent US court decision indicating that equipment used to harvest lobsters off Maine may put North American right whales at risk. Whales have been listed as an endangered species since 1970, with fewer than 350 believed to remain.
In a joint statement last Tuesday, Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Janet Mills said they were disappointed by the decisions, saying they hurt “the livelihoods of hard-working men and women throughout Maine’s coast.”
“There has never been a right whale death attributed to the Maine lobster team,” they said. “Maine lobstermen have a 150-year history of sustainability, and the Maine lobster community has consistently demonstrated its commitment to protecting right whales.”
They said the Marine Stewardship Council “wrongly and blindly decided to follow the recommendations of misguided environmental groups instead of science,” adding: “We strongly urge the Marine Stewardship Council and retailers to reconsider their potentially devastating decisions.”
Maine lobsters are a billion-dollar industry that provides at least 5,900 direct jobs and indirectly supports many more, according to the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, which coordinates media for the state’s lobster industry.
Maine’s restaurant industry is also expressing its dismay.
“Maine lobster has always been sustainable and that hasn’t changed with MSC’s recent announcement,” Steve Kingston, owner of The Clam Shack in Kennebunk, Maine, said in a statement. “I will continue to proudly support Maine Lobster and would encourage retailers, buyers and customers to educate themselves on the nuances of these decisions.”
A Monterey Bay spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the Marine Stewardship Council could not immediately be reached for comment.
Whole Foods said the sales pause would last until at least one of the environmental groups changes its rating. The company said its stores would continue to sell Marine Stewardship Council-certified lobsters caught elsewhere.