- Whole Foods Market has “pause[d] purchasing” of Maine lobster due to a change in third party verifications and ratings from both the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) Seafood Watch program, according to a spokesperson for the grocer.
- MSC announced on Nov. 16 the suspension of its certificate for the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery, effective Dec. 15. After that date, Gulf of Maine lobster will no longer be eligible to be sold as MSC certified sustainable or carry the MSC blue fish ecolabel on products, according to a press release.
- Whole Foods' pause on the seafood product has reignited tensions between Maine politicians, Maine fisheries and environmental groups as they battle over the protection of North Atlantic right whales.
Whole Foods said it will continue to sell Maine lobster that was caught prior to the rating changes implemented by MSC and the MBA Seafood Watch program and noted that it sources MSC certified lobster caught elsewhere, including in Canadian waters.
“[W]e only sell wild-caught seafood from fisheries that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or rated either ‘Green’ or ‘Yellow’ by the MBA Seafood Watch program,” the Whole Foods spokesperson said in a statement. “These third-party verifications and ratings are critical to maintaining the integrity of our standards for all wild-caught seafood found in our seafood department.”
MSC’s press release states that the pause on certification is due to objections during the consultation process for recertification. While MSC said in the press release that the Maine fishery needs to make changes to meet legal regulations and the MSC Fisheries Standard, the most recent assessments showed “no evidence was found that Maine lobster fishery is responsible for the entanglements or interactions with right whales.”
Whole Foods’ statement notes it is “working with suppliers, fisheries, and environmental advocacy groups” as the situation unfolds, but does not indicate if the grocer is pausing purchasing of Maine lobster for reasons other than changes in certification. However, the change has sparked backlash from Maine politicians and Maine fisheries as well as praise from environmental groups.
“We are disappointed by Whole Foods’ decision and deeply frustrated that the Marine Stewardship Council’s suspension of the lobster industry’s certificate of sustainability continues to harm the livelihoods of hardworking men and women up and down Maine’s coast,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said in a Nov. 22 statement.
Whole Foods is not the only food retailer to pull Maine lobster this year. In September, soon after MBA Aquarium Seafood Watch red-listed Maine lobster due to allegations of endangering right whales, Hello Fresh reportedly ceased sales of the seafood as well.