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September 14, 2010

Whole Foods agrees to halt 'red' fish sales

Whole Foods Market, a leading green supermarket chain with a major buying presence on the Gloucester waterfront, has announced a commitment to stop selling seafood that does not carry the seal of approval by one of two rating services that are enemies of trawling — the primary fishing method of the New England fleet.

The publicly traded company announced an "in-store color coded sustainability rating system" in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute, with a commitment to stop selling "red rated species by Earth Day 2013."

The Whole Foods' deadline for ending its commerce in seafoods burdened with the "red "label is more than two years off — Earth Day is in April. But based on current ratings of the two services, Whole Foods would no longer carry fresh cod, monkfish, hake and most haddock — the basis of the groundfishing industry, which is gasping for survival under unprecedented government catch limits, and hemorrhaging jobs.

A nascent proposal for a boycott of the chain was floated across commercial fishing's blogosphere Monday night after news of the agreement of Whole Foods to adhere to Monterey and Blue Ocean ratings.

"Here's a company that needs a dose of reality," wrote Jim Kendall, a leading seafood consultant in New Bedford. "They have been so very willing to swallow any bait that the ENGOs (environmental non-government organizations put out there, that it is nothing but a slap in the faces of fishermen everywhere."

Kendall ended his e-mail to a core of industry activists who organized a national protest demonstration at the U.S. Capitol by about 5,000 last February with the suggestion:

"How about we label 'Whole Foods' as 'red' and therefore to be avoided at all costs," he wrote. "After all, we have our own environment to protect."

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