Senator, Whole Foods duel on fish ban

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is dueling with Whole Foods Market over the grocer’s policy to stop selling seafood that is not caught in a “sustainable” way.

Brown claimed that the move by Whole Foods, which has a store at 413 Centre St. in Jamaica Plain, is based on “political correctness” and will “hurt Massachusetts fishermen and their families,” as he put it in an April 23 letter sent to the grocer.

Whole Foods replied that it has science on its side and opened its own seafood facility in Gloucester 16 years ago to support local fishing, according to an April 23 response letter from President and Chief Operating Officer A.C. Gallo provided to the Gazette by Brown’s office. A Whole Foods regional spokesperson did not respond to Gazette questions.

Overfishing is a major environmental concern for impacts on ocean ecology and the long-term survival of the fishing industry. On April 22—Earth Day—Whole Foods announced it has completed a two-year plan to stop selling wild seafood that is overfished or caught in ways that “harm other marine life or habitats,” according to a company press release.

“I’m concerned that your decision has more to do with political correctness than sound reasoning,” Brown wrote to Whole Foods, complaining about “uncertain science.”

However, his letter focused on “onerous government regulations” that restrict the fishing industry. He cited conflicting studies on the population of Gulf of Maine cod as one type of scientific “uncertainty” that has impact the industry. Atlantic cod that is caught by trawling fishing methods is among the items Whole Foods has banned.

Gallo responded that Whole Foods’ sustainability ratings are based on the “best available science.”

Whole Foods relies on seafood ratings from three organizations: the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries; the Blue Ocean Institute, a New York State-based nonprofit conservation organization; and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif. The Marine Stewardship Council certifications sometimes have been controversial for alleged bias in favor of the fishing industry, according to the New York Times and other national media reports.

Gallo said Whole Foods has worked actively with Massachusetts fishermen on sustainable practices, and believes that the “handful of boats from which we no longer buy” are finding other buyers.

Brown has not had a further response to Whole Foods, according to his spokesperson, John Donnelly.

Seafood no longer stocked by Whole Foods includes: Atlantic cod, Atlantic grey sole, Atlantic halibut, octopus, skate wing, sturgeon, tautog and turbot, along with certain types of rockfish, swordfish, shrimp and tuna.

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