GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 24, 2012

Brown urges Whole Foods to back off fish policy

From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is asking Whole Foods to reconsider a decision to no longer sell seafood that it doesn't consider sustainable.

In a letter to Whole Foods co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb, Brown said Monday he was concerned the decision has more to do with political correctness than sound reasoning.

The Massachusetts Republican questioned what he called "uncertain science," and said the decision will hurt Massachusetts fishermen.

Whole Foods Market announced earlier this month it will stop selling fish caught that is not deemed as "sustainable," or that is caught by what the Texas-based grocery chain says are ecologically damaging methods, including octopus, gray sole, skate, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic cod reeled in by trawlers.

Brown said for the past two years, New England fishermen have been struggling under a strict quota management system that limits fishing, along with limitations on gear types and a new fishery management system that continues to drive more of the quota into the hands of larger boat owners while driving smaller, independent fishermen out of business.

Groundfishermen out of Gloucester and elsewhere in New England are also facing a 22 percent cut in the allowable catch for Gulf of Maine cod, due to controversial 2011 data showing a dramatic drop in the species just three years after NOAA's data showed it as nearly recovered.

"... Many of my constituents and the communities that depend on them are struggling to make ends meet," Brown wrote in his letter to Whole Foods. "Adding to this problem is the uncertainty of the science that determines how many fish can be caught. Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, a New England tradition.

"American fishermen operate under some the strictest management rules in the world," Brown wrote. "They are already limited by uncertain and inexact science by the federal agency in charge of regulating the industry. I am deeply troubled that you apparently made this decision without taking into consideration the impact it would have on the fishermen and their families that I represent, and I urge you to reconsider."

Whole Foods Market continues to process fish and transport it from just off Jodrey State Fish Pier on Parker Street in Gloucester.

But industry experts here indicated earlier that the move will likely have little impact on Gloucester's fishing economy, because the boats "will take their catch elsewhere," Monte Rome, owner of Intershell Seafood, told the Times.

Rome said he knew of one boat that sold about 250,000 pounds of cod to Whole Foods last year — worth about $700,000. He estimated there are three or four other boats that haul the same, for a total of up to $2.8 million overall.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.