Whole Foods is pausing its purchasing of Maine lobsters on Dec. 15, after sustainability organizations said fishing of the species poses a risk to right whales.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) suspended its certification of the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery on Nov. 16. That came after the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) Seafood Watch Program downgraded Maine lobsters to its red list. The concern is that entanglement in lobster fishing gear is causing serious injury and death to the whales.
Whole Foods said the decision to stop buying Maine Lobster was made to uphold its responsibility to sourcing standards established in 2012, which pledged that wild-caught seafood sold in its stores must be from fisheries that are certified by the MSC or rated “green” or “yellow” by MBA.
The US grocer, which is owned by Amazon, also sources lobster outside of the Gulf of Maine, including from Canada. The upscale supermarket chain will resume selling Maine lobster once it meets the standards again. “We are closely monitoring this situation and are committed to working with suppliers, fisheries, and environmental advocacy groups as it develops,” said Nathan Cimbala, a spokesperson for Whole Foods. The company said it will sell its remaining supply of Maine lobsters.
The ban could have a powerful influence on fisheries and governments as the lobster industry prepares for new US regulations on lobster fishing gear that are expected to go into effect 2024. “What we’ve seen in the past is that these fisheries want to see the benefits of these premium markets and will push governments to move forward with these regulations,” said Gib Brogan, the fisheries campaign manager at Oceana, an ocean conservation nonprofit.
What makes Maine lobster unsustainable
Between 2015 and 2019, about 30 Atlantic right whales have died each year, with as many as 11% due to fishery entanglements, according to to estimates by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (pdf). Fewer than 366 Atlantic right whales exist on Earth, one estimate shows.
The source of the injuries from entanglements used to be challenging to discern—until regulations in 2020 in Maine and other states targeted for whale conservation required that lobster fishing gear show colored markings —for Maine, it is purple—to distinguish the source of the traps.
Though data collection still can be challenging, the idea is to mitigate the risks of right whale entanglement in lobster-fishing hotspots like Maine, as the warming climate pushes right whales to go north in search of food.