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Whole Foods to 'pause' sales of Maine lobster after sustainable label downgrades

Many of the small companies that give Whole Foods its local-food image may look at Jeff Bezos' Amazon, which changed the way people shop, and see a hint of their own desire to shake things up in the food industry.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Many of the small companies that give Whole Foods its local-food image may look at Jeff Bezos' Amazon, which changed the way people shop, and see a hint of their own desire to shake things up in the food industry.

The grocery chain Whole Foods will stop purchasing Gulf of Maine lobster after the Marine Stewardship Council suspended the fishery's certification last week.

The Marine Stewardship Council suspended the fishery's certification last week, only months after the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program red-listed the lobster because of risks to endangered North Atlantic right whales. The MSC says its decision was based on an independent audit of the fishery's risk to the whales.

Marianne Lacroix, the executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, called the news "disappointing," and said it could hurt lobstermen who've been working for decades to adapt their gear.

"The fishermen have been working for 25 years to ensure that their gear is safe for right whales. So for a major customer not to carry the product, it's not just disappointing but obviously can also impact their businesses," Lacroix said.

A Whole Foods spokesperson said that the chain will resume purchasing Gulf of Maine lobster when the fishery is certified by the MSC again, or if its Seafood Watch rating moves from red to green or yellow.

"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," the spokesperson said. "We continue to sell Gulf of Maine lobster in our stores that was procured while still under the active MSC certification (prior to suspension) or under an active MBA yellow rating. We are closely monitoring this situation and are committed to working with suppliers, fisheries, and environmental advocacy groups as it develops."

Whole Foods has more than 500 locations across the country, including one in Portland.