Whole Foods to stop buying Maine lobster, pleasing sustainability groups, angering the industry

Environmental groups again are at odds with politicians and fishermen in New England after a decision by high-end retail giant Whole Foods to stop selling Maine lobster.

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A lobster rears its claws after being caught off Spruce Head, Maine.

A lobster rears its claws after being caught off Spruce Head, Maine.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

PORTLAND, Maine  — Environmental groups are again at odds with politicians and fishermen in New England after Whole Foods, the high-end grocery giant, announced it would stop selling Maine lobsters.

Whole Foods said it will stop selling lobster from the Gulf of Maine at hundreds of its stores around the country, citing moves by two sustainability groups to take away their endorsements of the U.S. lobster-fishing industry.

The organizations — Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch— cited concerns about risks to rare North Atlantic right whales from fishing gear. Entanglement in gear is one of the biggest threats to the whales.

The decision by Whole Foods was an “important action to protect the highly endangered” whale, said Virginia Carter, an associate with the Environment America Research & Policy Center.

“With fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales in existence, the species is swimming toward extinction unless things turn around,” Carter said.

Whole Foods has said it’s monitoring the situation and “committed to working with suppliers, fisheries and environmental advocacy groups as it develops.”

Its decision to stop selling lobster has drawn criticism in Maine, home to the U.S.’s largest lobster-fishing industry. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, and its four-member congressional delegation said Marine Stewardship Council’s decision to suspend its certification of Gulf of Maine lobster came despite years of stewardship and protection of whales by Maine fishermen.

“Despite this, the Marine Stewardship Council, with retailers following suit, wrongly and blindly decided to follow the recommendations of misguided environmental groups rather than science,” Mills and the delegation said in a written statement

Whole Foods isn’t the first retailer to take lobster off the menu over sustainability concerns. HelloFresh, the meal-kit company, was among numerous retailers to pledge to stop selling lobster in September after California-based Seafood Watch placed American and Canadian lobster fisheries on its “red list” of seafoods to avoid.

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