Energy & Environment

With lobster ‘good enough for the White House,’ Maine delegation highlights fishery dispute

White House executive chef Cris Comerford holds dishes during a media preview for the State Dinner with President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. The dinner will include a butter poached Maine lobster, beef with shallot marmalade, American artisanal cheeses, and an orange chiffon cake for desert. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

If it’s good enough for the White House, surely it’s good enough for Whole Foods.

The White House’s decision to plate lobster for its Thursday night state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron has served up some veiled — and not so veiled — comments from Maine lawmakers upset by a tumultuous few weeks for the state’s favored fishery.

Maine lobster temporarily lost its sustainable seafood certification from the Marine Stewardship Council two weeks ago, due to a recent court ruling in the battle to protect the right whale.

It’s a move that has been heavily bashed by Maine’s political leaders, who point to language from the counsel noting that “no evidence was found that the Maine lobster fishery is responsible for entanglements or interactions with right whales.”

Still, the temporary pull was enough to push Whole Foods to suspend their sales of Maine lobster – and made lobster a particularly important selection for the state dinner in the eyes of Maine’s delegation.

“Delicious, sustainable Maine lobster is an excellent choice for the main course for the president’s first State Dinner. If Maine lobster is good enough for the White House to serve, it’s good enough for every seafood retailer — including Whole Foods — to sell,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote on Twitter.

The Maine lobster industry has for years been battling with environmental groups over efforts to protect the endangered right whale, whose estimated population stands at under 350.

Many have been struck by boats at sea, others have died after becoming entangled in fishing gear from various fisheries, including one whale last spotted off the coast of Massachusetts.

But the Maine lobster industry argues they have been unfairly targeted and asked to undertake draconian measures to save whales that have died after strikes with various types of vessels.

“If the Biden White House can prioritize purchasing 200 Maine lobsters for a fancy dinner, @POTUS should also take the time to meet with the Maine lobstermen his administration is currently regulating out of business,” Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who represents the district that includes Maine’s largest lobster port, wrote on Twitter.

The delegation recently spoke out against new regulations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, arguing new regulations on the shipping industry have been softer than those targeting the lobster fishery.

“Through this proposed rule, it is clear that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is holding Maine’s lobster industry to a much more stringent standard than other sectors,” the four-member delegation wrote in a letter.

Whole Foods is one of the few major grocery chains to have strict requirements for its seafood, claiming it has “seafood standards like nowhere else.”

The grocer has said it will resume its purchasing of Maine seafood if the Marine Stewardship Council renews its certification. Maine has lost and regained such a certification before as a result of shifting policy following court rulings.

“These third-party verifications and ratings are critical to maintaining the integrity of our standards for all wild-caught seafood found in our seafood department,” a Whole Foods spokesperson told The Washington Post

“We are closely monitoring this situation and are committed to working with suppliers, fisheries, and environmental advocacy groups as it develops.”

The White House bought 200 lobsters for the dinner, with a posted menu listing “butter poached Maine lobster” among the offerings — along with beef with shallot marmalade, American artisanal cheeses, and an orange chiffon cake for desert.

But there was one through-line from the lawmakers in reaction to the Macron state dinner: sustainability, even as Maine’s own certification hangs in suspension.

“Glad @POTUS and @EmmanuelMacron are supporting Maine lobstermen and the thousands of small businesses that work our waters,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) wrote on Twitter.

“There is no better meal than sustainable, delicious Maine [lobster] to represent our country on the world stage.”

Tags Emmanuel Macron Emmanuel Macron Jared Golden Joe Biden Maine lobster State Dinner
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