Maine politicians issued a blistering statement after Whole Foods announced the that store would no longer sell lobsters caught off the coast of the New England state in response to environmentalist concerns that the fishing industry allegedly threatens a rare whale.
'We are disappointed by Whole Foods’ decision and deeply frustrated that the Marine Stewardship Council’s suspension of the lobster industry’s certificate of sustainability continues to harm the livelihoods of hardworking men and women up and down Maine’s coast,' Maine Gov. Janet Mills wrote in a joint statement with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden.
Whole Foods announced that it would stop selling lobster from the Gulf of Maine at hundreds of its stores around the country earlier this month. The company cited decisions by a pair of sustainability organizations that pulled their support for the U.S. lobster fishing industry.
The Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch recently pulled their endorsements over concerns about risks to rare North Atlantic right whales from fishing gear. Entanglement in gear is one of the biggest threats to the whales.
Political leaders in Maine, which has the largest lobster fishing industry in the country, slammed Whole Foods' decision, arguing that no right whale has died due to Maine lobster gear and that the fishing community in the state has long worked to protect right whales.
'In an appeal to retailers just weeks ago, we outlined the facts: there has never been a right whale death attributed to Maine lobster gear; Maine lobstermen have a 150-year history of sustainability; and Maine’s lobstering community has consistently demonstrated their commitment to protecting right whales,' the governor and the four other leaders in the state wrote.
'Despite this, the Marine Stewardship Council, with retailers following suit, wrongly and blindly decided to follow the recommendations of misguided environmental groups rather than science. We strongly urge the Marine Stewardship Council and retailers to reconsider their potentially devastating decisions.'
Environmentalists have meanwhile lauded the sustainability organizations and Whole Foods for the moves.
Virginia Carter, an associate with the Save America’s Wildlife campaign at the Environment America Research & Policy Center, said the Whole Foods decision is an 'important action to protect the highly endangered' whale.
'With fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales in existence, the species is swimming toward extinction unless things turn around,' Carter said.
A Whole Foods representative told Fox News Digital that the chain will continue selling lobsters that were caught off the Gulf of Maine under the Marine Stewardship Council's previously active certification program or were rated either 'green' or 'yellow' by the MBA Seafood Watch program.
'We will pause purchasing lobster from the Gulf of Maine and resume when the MSC suspension is lifted or when the MBA Seafood Watch program rating is changed to green or yellow,' the Whole Foods spokesperson said.
The grocery chain added in a statement that the Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch are 'critical to maintaining the integrity of our standards for all wild-caught seafood found in our seafood department.'
'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,' the statement continued.
Meal kit company HelloFresh was among other retailers that pledged to stop selling lobster in September after California-based Seafood Watch placed American and Canadian lobster fisheries on its 'red list' of seafoods to avoid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.