PORTLAND – There was anger and frustration from Maine’s lobster industry Monday but lawmakers say they have few options to help.
Lobstermen and women protested Whole Foods in Portland after the store decided to stop selling Maine lobster.
“It’s unfair, it’s unjust and the collateral damage is when others follow the lead that is not found in science and is based on fear,” said Rep. Jim Thornesaid.
Whole Foods’ decision was based on the lobster industry losing certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, the company said, and the industry being red listed by Seafood Watch in recent months.
The backlash comes after the federal government took the position that lobstering is contributing to the endangerment of the Atlantic right whale.
“Maine lobster industry is the gold standard of sustainability, and we don’t harm whales,” Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham said.
Many see Whole Foods’ decision as a warning sign for others who might ban lobster.
Two meal kit companies, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, began boycotting lobster earlier this year.
“If they drop lobster from their pre-made meals, that will have an impact,” rally organizer Gina Leduc-Kuntz said.
The long-term future of the industry is just adding to the list of immediate concerns faced by fishermen.
“They’re struggling with fuel prices, bait prices,” Leduc-Kuntz said.
“People are talking about retiring early, selling their boats while they still can get something for it,” Faulkingham said.
Local lawmakers say there’s little that can be done on a state level. They say it’s up to the federal government to save Maine’s lobster industry.
“We’ve pleaded and passed our case on to our Maine delegation in Washington D.C. in hopes that they would be able to do something to persuade change,” Thorne said.
In the meantime, a group of Republican lawmakers unveiled legislation earlier this month to ban Whole Foods from participating in tax programs that benefit retail stores in Maine, as well as ban the state from contracting with Whole Foods.
“Make no mistake, this is a war,” Faulkingham said.