Environmental groups are once again at odds with politicians and fishermen in New England over a decision by Austin-based Whole Foods Market to stop selling Maine lobster.
Whole Foods said it will soon stop selling lobster from the Gulf of Maine at hundreds of its stores around the country. The company cited decisions by a pair of sustainability organizations to withdraw their support for the U.S. lobster fishing industry.
The organizations, the Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch, both cited concerns about threats to North Atlantic right whales from fishing gear. Entanglement in gear is one of the biggest threats to whales.
The decision by Whole Foods is “an important step to protect this critically endangered whale,” said Virginia Carter, associate director of the American Wildlife Campaign at the Center for Environmental Research and Policy.
“With fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales left, the species is swimming toward extinction unless things change,” Carter said.
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In a statement, Whole Foods said it is monitoring the situation and is “committed to working with suppliers, fishermen and environmental advocacy groups on progress.”
However, the company’s decision to stop selling lobsters drew immediate criticism in Maine, home to the nation’s largest lobster fishing industry. State Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, and the four-member congressional delegation said in a statement that the Marine Stewardship Council’s decision to suspend certification for the Gulf of Maine Lobster Bay comes despite years of advocacy by Maine fishermen and whale conservation efforts.
“In our appeal to retailers weeks ago, we laid out the facts: There has never been an actual whale fatality at Maine Lobster Marsh, Maine lobstermen have a 150-year history of sustainability, and the Maine lobster community has demonstrated their continued commitment to protecting right whales,” said Mills and his delegation. “Despite this, the Marine Stewardship Council, followed by retailers, has mistakenly and blindly decided to follow the advice of misguided environmental groups rather than science.”
Whole Foods wasn’t the first retailer to take lobster off the menu over sustainability concerns. HelloFresh, a meal kit company, was among several retailers that pledged to stop selling lobster in September after California-based Seafood Watch placed American and Canadian lobster fisheries on its “red list” seafood list.
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Whole Foods is one of Austin’s most successful startup stories. The company It started in 1980 with one store on North Lamar Boulevard. It went public in 1992 and debuted on the Fortune 500 list in 2005. By the time it was sold to Amazon in 2017, it had grown to a chain of over 460 stores. The deal is worth $13.7 billion.
Today, Whole Foods has more than 500 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Whole Foods co-founder and longtime CEO John Mackey stepped down as CEO in September. He is succeeded by Jason Buchel, who was the company’s chief operating officer.
The report includes material from The Associated Press.