Portland restaurant walks back 'misinformation' about lobster sales

Sep. 13—A day after calling for a boycott of Whole Foods Market, claiming the supermarket chain was discontinuing lobster sales, Portland seafood restaurant J's Oyster appears to be backtracking.

In a Facebook post Sunday, the restaurant had posted a picture of the Whole Foods logo over the word "boycott" and wrote: "Whole Foods will stop carrying live lobsters because they say it is inhumane. Stop shopping there!! This is Portland Maine!! We were built on the fishing industry."

The post came after an environmental group, Seafood Watch, placed lobster on a "red list" of seafood to avoid because of concerns that U.S. lobster fishery practices might endanger North Atlantic right whales. Seafood Watch, a project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, says the vertical lines used to catch lobster pose a high risk of entangling the whales.

Facebook commenters and the Press Herald pointed out that Whole Foods had stopped carrying lobster in 2006, except at the supermarket in Portland. A company spokesperson said Maine's single Whole Foods store is also the only one in the 513-store chain to sell live lobster, because its harvesting in the Gulf of Maine fishery meets sustainability standards of the Marine Stewardship Council.

On Facebook late Monday, J's Oyster responded, saying it was aware that the decision by Whole Foods had been made nearly two decades ago.

"We realized early on that the Whole Foods article that was circulating was an older story. We decided to leave the post up because it generated discussion about the lobster industry today. Whole Foods will not carry live lobsters in any stores except the Portland Maine store. ... Maybe this will make Whole Foods start carrying lobsters in all their stores!!!"

By Tuesday afternoon the post had generated over 160 reactions, some accusing J's Oyster of creating confusion about the red-listing.

"Supporting the lobster industry is incredibly crucial to Maine's economy and livelihoods — also, too, limiting the spread of misinformation is important as well," posted a Facebook user identified as Ally Holland.

Another user, Bud Philbrick, wrote in a post, "While I support all Maine fisheries, it's posts like yours spreading bad information that cause so many problems."

The J's Oyster post is among a variety of strong reactions to Seafood Watch's red-listing. Maine lobstermen, trade groups, restaurants, the state's congressional delegation, the governor and others have spoken out against the listing, pointing out that no right whale death or serious injury has been attributed to Maine lobster gear.