In this morning’s New York Times you may have read an article about supermarket giant Whole Foods’ decision to stop selling certain species of fish – many of which are harvested in the Northwest Atlantic fishing grounds of the Gulf of Maine and George’s Bank. (If not, click here). According to the article, Whole Foods will take Gray Sole, Skate, and Atlantic Halibut off their shelves entirely, and they will cease purchasing Atlantic Cod unless it is hook and line or gillnet caught. (A variety of other non-domestically harvested species are also mentioned as being banned.)Their decision is reportedly the result of sustainability ratings published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute, conservation groups which contend that consumers should avoid purchasing such species due to the depleted state of their stocks and the impact that certain types of fishing have on marine habitats. If you are an existing Lobster Place customer, or if you’re contemplating buying fish from us, you may very well be wondering what our stance is on this issue.
First, to the extent that Whole Foods’ decision is a principled commitment to sustaining the ocean’s resources, we applaud the company for their conscientious approach to sourcing and marketing their products. However, we at The Lobster Place – while equally committed to conscientiousness and transparency in our sourcing decisions – take a somewhat different angle on this complicated problem. It’s our feeling that effective conservation policy must engage industry in a way that encourages continuous improvement to the way we manage our resources. When significant evidence exists that a resource can be sustained without the real economic consequences that an outright “boycott” causes – as it does in this case, we feel that continuing to market a species while following government regulations and educating the consumer is the most responsible way forward.
In the case of the species identified by Whole Foods, information on NOAA’s website, http://www.fishwatch.gov/index.htm (an excellent resource) suggests that the Federal Government is taking a common sense approach to management of these resources – an approach that engages ALL stakeholders with the goal of preserving seafood for tomorrow while minimizing economic impact today. This approach makes tough – and often very unpopular – decisions about what needs to be done in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. (For example, new management measures for the Gulf Of Maine Atlantic Cod fishery will go into effect next month which will drastically reduce landings of that species.) At The Lobster Place, we pay close attention to those decisions and follow the rules that get laid down as a result.
There’s no doubt that we as a nation have made mistakes in the way that we manage natural resources – fish in particular – over the past century. However it’s our sincere feeling that when it comes to fisheries management, the Federal Government is largely getting it right by soliciting the research of independent scientists; engaging industry; and marshaling significant resources to enforce the law. So – as long as NOAA continues to permit the harvesting and marketing of the species singled out by Whole Foods, The Lobster Place will continue to market them – AND educate the consumer about the science and regulatory processes behind our decisions.