Whole Foods to Stop Buying Maine Lobster Amid Risk to Endangered Whales

Whole Foods has said it plans to stop buying Maine lobster, citing concerns from environmental groups that endangered North Atlantic right whales have become entangled in fishing gear.

The decision prompted a swift response from the congressional delegation and the governor of Maine, who questioned the science behind it and urged Whole Foods to reverse course and resume buying the famous crustacean from the state.

Whole Foods said it made the decision in mid-November after two groups it trusts to certify the sustainability of its wild-caught seafood downgraded its ratings for Maine lobster.

One such group, the Marine Stewardship Council, announced on November 16 that it was suspending your certificate for the Gulf of Maine lobster amid continuing concerns about declining right whale populations.

North Atlantic right whales were nearly hunted to extinction by 19th century whalers, and the latest preliminary estimate suggests fewer than 350 remain, according to to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA said that entanglement in fishing gear Y ship crashes were the leading causes of death for North Atlantic right whales.

Whole Foods also cited Seafood Watch, which is part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. In September, the group, which monitors how seafood is harvested, assigned a “red rating”—the worst rating—on US lobster, warning consumers to avoid shellfish if they were caught on vertical ropes that can entangle right whales.

Whole Foods sells wild-caught seafood only from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council or rated “green” (“buy first”) or “yellow” (“buy but be aware” of concerns) by Seafood Watch, the the company said in a statement.

“These third-party verifications and qualifications are critical to maintaining the integrity of our standards for all wild-caught seafood found in our seafood department,” the statement said.

Whole Foods said it would stop buying Maine lobster on December 15, but would not remove the product from stores at this time.

The company added that it was not singling out Maine lobster, but was instead advocating for a responsible sourcing standard it implemented for all wild-caught seafood in 2012. It said it would resume buying Maine lobster if the Marine Stewardship Council or Seafood Watch changed. your evaluation.

“We are closely monitoring this situation and are committed to working with suppliers, fisheries and environmental advocacy groups as it develops,” Whole Foods said.

In a joint statementThe four members of Maine’s congressional delegation, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, along with the state’s governor, Janet Mills, strongly criticized the decision to stop buying Maine lobster.

“We are disappointed by Whole Foods’ decision and deeply frustrated that the Marine Stewardship Council’s suspension of the lobster industry’s sustainability certificate continues to harm the livelihoods of hard-working men and women throughout coastal Maine.” the statement said.

The statement also said the delegation recently appealed to retailers that there had never been a right whale death attributed to Maine lobstering gear. He also said lobster-fishing Mainines had a “150-year history of sustainability” and had “consistently demonstrated their commitment to protecting right whales.”

“Despite this, the Marine Stewardship Council, with retailers following suit, wrongly and blindly decided to follow the recommendations of the misguided environmental groups instead of science,” the statement said. “We strongly urge the Marine Stewardship Council and retailers to reconsider their potentially devastating decisions.”

Jane P. Davenport, an attorney with the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, said it was misleading for Maine political leaders to say no right whale deaths had been attributed to the Maine lobstering crew. She said most of the dead whales were found with unmarked ropes, making it difficult to tell where the entanglement occurred.

Ms Davenport said she hoped industry leaders, regulators and others would embrace new technology that could make it possible to retrieve lobster traps without leaving a rope permanently suspended in the water, where it can snag a passing whale.

“It’s not easy, but it’s doable,” said Ms. Davenport, whose group has been involved in a lawsuit that claims federal regulations meant to protect right whales from deadly entanglements fail to protect endangered species.

In July, a federal court sided with Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups, concluding that federal regulators had violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act when they issued rules last year aimed at protecting right whales from deadly entanglements. The court also found that federal officials had violated the Endangered Species Act, another landmark law protecting right whales.

In explaining its decision to suspend its sustainability certification for Maine lobster, the Marine Stewardship Council referred to the federal court ruling. The council said an outside group that asked to assess fisheries compliance with its standards found no evidence that Maine lobster fishing was responsible for entanglements or interactions with right whales.

However, the council said that over the past decade, climate-driven changes to habitats and food sources have affected right whale migration patterns, leading to more interactions between right whales, fishing tackle and transport boats.

“This serious and tragic situation is of great concern to all involved in the fishing industry and to the MSC,” the council said in a statement. a declaration on November 16.

Marianne LaCroix, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, an industry group, said she had no data to quantify how much of an impact Whole Foods’ decision would have on the state’s lobster industry. Whole Foods said it did not share sales figures for its products. But LaCroix said: “We hate to lose any partner that we’re selling to as an industry.”