Whole Foods says its ban on lobster sales will stand -- except in Maine
Whole Foods will require special handling for lobsters it sells in Maine. (AP photo)
When Maine’s first Whole Foods Market opens next week, it will have something no other Whole Foods store has: live lobsters.
In June, the Austin, Texas-based natural foods grocery chain said it would stop selling live lobsters and crabs — in the name of crustacean compassion. But it’s making an exception in Maine, a state synonymous with lobster.
Whole Foods decided to sell lobsters at its Portland store after finding a company that met its demands for how the lobsters should be treated.
Lobsters will be kept in private compartments instead of being piled on top of each other in a tank, and employees will use a device that zaps them with a 110-volt shock, to spare them the agony of being boiled alive.
Whole Foods’ standards for lobsters are similar to those it uses in buying its meat, poultry, and other animal products, said David Lannon, regional president for the North Atlantic region.
‘‘We’re taking up animal compassion in all species,’’ Lannon said.
Maine’s lobster fishermen are skeptical.
They were offended by Whole Foods’ decision to banish live lobsters; now, they’re offended by its selection of a New Hampshire lobster supplier.
‘‘When they say they buy local and support local fishermen and farmers, and then they tell us we’re doing everything wrong, obviously it doesn’t sit very well with us,’’ said Tom Martin, a Portland lobsterman.
Whole Foods has contracted with Little Bay Lobster Co., of Newington, N.H., to supply lobsters for its 46,000-square-foot Portland store, which opens next Wednesday. Little Bay contracts with lobstermen from Vinalhaven, an island off Maine, who use its sea-to-store handling process that gives lobsters the royal treatment, including individual holding compartments to reduce stress.
Whole Foods will use color-coded rubber bands around the lobsters’ claws to identify how long they’ve been in the store. If they haven’t sold after seven days, they will be cooked for use in lobster salad, lobster pizza, and other value-added products.
Whole Foods doesn’t plan to sell live lobsters at any of its other 191 stores, Lannon said, because they aren’t close enough to the lobster grounds to meet the company’s standards.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would prefer that Whole Foods not sell live lobsters, but it said the company should be commended for ensuring that the animals are being treated humanely.
‘‘Our expectation is that all Maine stores that sell live lobsters will have to implement animal welfare protocols in order compete with Whole Foods, which would be a good thing,’’ Matt Prescott said from PETA’s offices in Norfolk, Va.
Kristen Millar, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, said she’s pleased Whole Foods is selling live Maine-caught lobsters. But she’s insulted it’s using a New Hampshire company when it could use any of several lobster dealers in Portland.
The Maine lobster industry should be lauded, not punished, for its tradition of conservation and stewardship, Millar said.
‘‘I think it’s unfair to suggest that the 7,000 lobstermen and hundreds of lobster dealers and retailers don’t know how to handle a Maine lobster,’’ she said.
Martin, the Portland lobsterman, said using an electronic zapper to kill the lobster sounds like a political gimmick.
‘‘A lobster electric chair?’’ Martin said. ‘‘I wonder how that will sound for their public relations, that they’re going to give the lobster the electric chair.’’