Lobster Fishermen Are Fighting Back Against Whole Foods' Lobster Ban

With a strong focus on sustainability and how our food is sourced, especially seafood, there was bound to be a moment of conflict between those whose job it is to catch the food and those who protect the environment.

The Maine lobster industry has been downgraded by two seafood-monitoring groups that certify the sustainability of certain seafood products. Seafood Watch, which is operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, labeled Maine lobster "red" in September. Citing the potential entanglement risk lobstermen's gear caused to the endangered North Atlantic right whale, the group recommended that consumers avoid Maine lobster (via Monterey Bay Aquarium). In November, the Marine Stewardship Council said they would suspend the sustainability certificate for the Gulf of Maine lobster industry. The group acknowledged that there's no substantial evidence that the industry has harmed right whales but revoked the certification because "the fishery is no longer in compliance with all relevant laws [and] does not meet the MSC Fisheries Standard." The fishing gear in question is fixed-gear, meaning vertical ropes are continuously in the water (via Marine Stewardship Council). The ban has affected Whole Foods and now fishermen are speaking up.

Whole Foods' decision led other companies to do the same

The downgrade has led Whole Foods to stop buying Maine lobster, as the supermarket chain relies on Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council to certify its seafood products. Whole Foods has quality and sustainability standards products must meet, and with this downgrade, Maine lobster no longer qualifies, and therefore Whole Foods will no longer be purchasing Maine lobster.

This decision didn't sit well with the lobster industry and politicians. Lobsterman Jason Lorde appeared on Fox News to argue that Whole Foods should "do their homework" and consider the livelihoods of the fishermen before deciding not to purchase Maine lobster. "...we have done our due diligence. We were conservationists before conservationists was [sic] cool," Lorde said. He also pointed out that no right whale has been harmed in over 150 years of lobster fishing (via Fox News). Coming to the defense of the Maine lobster industry was governor of Maine, Janet Mills, and the state's representatives in Congress. In a joint statement, they said, "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" (via State of Maine). In a further blow to the industry, meal kit companies Hello Fresh and Blue Apron have stopped purchasing Maine lobsters until the industry can be re-certified (via CBS Boston).