Lobster was not always a delicacy. There are American myths about dockhands striking over meals of lobster. Of prisoners declaring that being served lobster more than twice a week was cruel and unusual punishment.
Today lobster is more a luxury for special occasions or fancy restaurants. But a luxury you won’t find at Whole Foods anymore. Not if that lobster is from Maine.
The reasons behind this are a little complicated.
Climate change has altered the migration routes of right whales. These protected marine mammals are now swimming in the commercial fishing waters of the Gulf of Maine. Federal regulators found that lobster fishing gear, which is left unattended in the water, could affect passing whales, and therefore decided that lobster fishing operations did not align with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. An independent audit by MRAG Americas determined that lobsters sourced from the Gulf of Maine will no longer be qualified to be sold as Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable or carry the MSC blue fish ecolabel because their harvesting is no longer in step with Federal laws.
Whole Foods is committed to purchasing only certified seafood. And although the certificate is just suspended for further assessments the company is upholding its commitment.
To be clear, this decision has negative impacts. Whole Foods will lose some sales. Lost sales will also hurt fishing communities in Maine.
But there is a positive here. The certification system worked. Everyone met their obligations, even if there are consequences to doing so. As a Whole Foods spokesperson said, “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.”
For now the issue is in the hands of regulators and courts. Hopefully the relevant agencies will find an appropriate balance of regulations that both protects whales and allows certifiably sustainable lobster fishing in Maine to continue.
You can read a statement from the Marine Stewardship Council on its decision here.
Maine’s governor, senators, and representatives released this response.