YORK, Maine — Whole Foods announced it will pause the selling of Maine lobster after the industry had its certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) suspended.
The MSC label is one of two criteria the supermarket uses to rate its wild seafood. The other criterion is a positive rating by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which the lobster industry lost earlier this fall.
Lobster fishermen have long sustained they are not the problem, and that the industry is unfairly regulated compared to shipping companies and high-speed boaters.
Jeff White, a lobsterman of 30 years out of York Harbor, said lobstermen from Maine are not hitting or having gear tangled in the endangered North Atlantic right whale's path, which is the basis for all the increased regulations and legal battles in the first place.
"Anyone using this body of water, interacting with the right whales, needs to sit at the table... you can't just pick one, especially one that has no impact," White said. "If you are interested in rebuilding the right whale population that is the wrong road to take."
But if the lobster industry wants to be taken off Monterey Bay Aquarium's red list, and to be taken off suspension from the MSC, what exactly needs to be done?
NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to both of the organizations for an interview.
MBA declined but provided a statement, saying it looks forward to the federal government's new regulations for the industry. Those regulations are set to take up to two years in a recent federal judge ruling and are expected to contain remedies to reduce the risks lobster traps have to a whale if it became entangled in lines.
MSC, which is based in London, did not respond. But according to its website, the decision was made due to the original ruling by the federal judge earlier this summer, that ruled the regulations for the lobster industry were out of compliance and did not do enough to protect the right whale. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's website cites similar reasons.
So, to be recertified and be viewed in a positive light by these seafood organizations, the industry may have to wait two years before those regulations set in.
Lobster fishermen are also waiting on an appeal from the Maine Lobsterman's Association, which would reverse the judge's decision ruling the industry was not doing enough to protect the whale in the first place.
No right whale has been proven to be tangled in Maine lobster gear since 2004, and no deaths have been attributed to Maine lobster gear. However, there is no way to know for sure the full extent vertical lined traps pose to right whales.
"It's a difficult situation. They're continuing to work on new regulations and the fishermen are doing everything they can," Marianne LaCroix, executive director of the Lobster Marketing Collaborative, said. "At this point, we just need buyers and consumers to work on showing off their track record."
LaCroix said the decision to pull lobster from Whole Foods is another blow to the industry, which comes at a frustrating time for fishermen as they deal with ongoing legal battles.
"No year is the same as another year, but this is fairly unique in the challenges coming from so many directions... Fishermen have been compliant."