Backlash is growing after an environmental watchdog recently urged consumers not to buy lobster, with petitions against the organization and calls to boycott businesses that support it drawing national food retailers Whole Foods Market, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh into the fray.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch added the U.S. lobster fishery to a “red list” of seafood to avoid last week because the group says it’s harvested in ways that are likely to harm wildlife or the environment. American lobster was included because of the risk that endangered North Atlantic right whales can become entangled in vertical lobstering lines. Fourteen types of seafood were added to the list on Sept. 5.

Whole Foods Market says it isn’t pulling lobster from its stores or planning to stop buying lobster because of the red-listing by Seafood Watch. However, Whole Foods’ Portland location, above, is the only store in the country that is allowed to carry live lobsters, the company said. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Members and supporters of the Maine lobster industry, which landed 108 million pounds of lobster in 2021 at a value of $735 million, immediately denounced the listing as unfair. No right whale deaths can be attributed to Maine gear, industry backers said, and there have been no documented entanglements in Maine gear since 2004.

Shortly after the red-listing, meal kit delivery services Blue Apron and Hello Fresh both announced they would no longer include lobster in their menus. In response, calls to boycott those companies began circulating on social media. Whole Foods Market, which is listed as a partner of Seafood Watch on its website, also was targeted.

However, a Whole Foods spokesperson said that while the company is a partner with Seafood Watch, the upscale supermarket chain isn’t pulling lobster from its stores or planning to stop buying lobster because of the listing.

“At this time, we will continue to sell American lobster from fisheries that are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council,” the spokesperson said. “This includes the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery, which is currently MSC-certified.”


Still, the company has been drawing ire from some lobster lovers. On Sunday, Portland restaurant J’s Oyster posted a call on its Facebook page to boycott Whole Foods.

“Whole Foods will stop carrying live lobsters because they say it is inhumane,” the post read. “Stop shopping there!!”

J’s Oyster is closed Mondays and could not be reached for comment. But the post may refer to a 2006 ban Whole Foods placed on live lobster due to concerns about stress the animals experience during shipment. However, the Whole Foods spokesperson said the Portland store – Maine’s only Whole Foods location – is exempt from that ban.

“Our Portland store is the one Whole Foods Market store in the country that has the ability to carry live lobsters,” he said. He explained that the lack of lobsters in the store Monday was because they were out of stock.

Managers and associates at Whole Foods in Portland would not comment on public reaction to the Seafood Watch listing.

Jacob Johnson, a lobsterman fishing out of Tenant’s Harbor, posted on Facebook on Monday that he’s thinking about suing Seafood Watch.


“I’m serious about doing something,” he said. He called the red-listing slander, and said he is trying to pursue a class-action lawsuit. “I feel that something needs to be done. … We’re not doing any harm, and just seems like we’re getting hit hard and it’s not going to end and they suffer no repercussions.”

“I’ve never seen a right whale (in Maine waters),” he said during a telephone interview Monday. “I’ve never even heard of a right whale. They don’t even care about the right whales because if they did, they would have approached it differently. And it’s all about the lobstermen and the right whales and nobody else and nothing else. They don’t care if anybody’s seeing them. They don’t care about them. It’s obvious.”

Meanwhile, Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Janet Mills, who have been vocal about their opposition to the red-listing since its announcement, sent a letter to Seafood Watch on Thursday urging the group to reconsider the listing. The letter said the accusation that Maine lobster fishermen are responsible for right whale deaths is “flat-out wrong.”

Right whales are not dying in Maine lobster gear and the report blindly ignores everything that Maine lobstermen have done to create a sustainable industry,” the letter states. “Make no mistake, your designation will have a real world impactwith the industry already facing challenges, the inaccurate designation will hurt the thousands of hardworking lobstermen, their families and businesses across our state.”

At a news conference about the red-listing, U.S. Sen. Angus King said, “Here’s one of the things that really frosts me. The Maine lobster industry has done a hell of a lot over the past 10-15 years to mitigate whatever risk there is, even though the risk hasn’t been demonstrated.” He read a section of the Seafood Watch report on the red listing that stated that effectiveness of mitigation efforts put forth by the Canadian and U.S. lobster industries has not been proven.

“We got to prove that what we’re doing works – they don’t have to prove a damn thing,” he said. “That’s what I just don’t get. … I’ve never experienced anything like this.”


Virginia Olsen, the Maine Lobstering Union’s director, said the red-listing “does not pass the straight-face test.”

She too pointed out that no right whales have been found entangled in gear that could be attributed to the Maine lobster fishery despite it being the largest fixed-gear fishery, while right whales have been found entangled in gear that is attributed to Massachusetts and Canada.

“I think the hardest part for us is that we’ve already been found guilty and we haven’t had any sort of proof that we’re guilty,” she said.

She claimed that ship strikes cause more right whale deaths than entanglement, yet there was no advisory against products carried in cargo ships, or against vacationing on cruise ships.

The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative also has begun a petition against the Seafood Watch listing on, saying its decision to red-list lobster is not supported by facts and is counterproductive.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s decision ignores a long history of efforts from the fishery designed to protect right whales, including: removal of more than 27,000 miles of floating rope, the use of ‘weak links’ designed to allow whales to break free in the rare event they are entangled, and distinctive gear marking, as well as compliance and collaboration with state and federal rule makers on all regulations,” the petition reads.

“Maine lobster has always been sustainable, and the baseless decision by the Seafood Watch program greatly impacts an industry that is the backbone of the economy in Maine, supporting entire communities, composed of generations of fishermen who have always prioritized the health of the fishery and the Gulf of Maine.”

The petition had more than 1,150 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

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