PORTLAND, MAINE — When Maine's first Whole Foods Market opens next week, it will have something no other Whole Foods store has: live lobsters.
The Austin, Texas-based natural foods grocery chain announced in June that it would stop selling live lobsters and crabs in the name of crustacean compassion. But it's making an exception in Maine, a state synonymous with lobster.
Whole Foods Market Inc. decided to sell lobsters at its Portland store after finding a company that met its demands for how the lobsters should be treated.
The lobsters would be kept in private compartments instead of being piled on top of each other in a tank, and employees would use a device that zaps them with a 110-volt shock to spare them the agony of being boiled alive in a pot of water.
Whole Foods' standards for lobsters are similar to those it uses in buying its meat, poultry and other animal products, said David Lannon, president for the North Atlantic region.
Maine's lobster fishermen are skeptical.
First, they were offended by Whole Foods' decision to banish live lobsters from its stores. Now they're offended by its selection of a New Hampshire lobster supplier.
"When they say they buy local and support local fishermen and farmers, and then they tell us we're doing everything wrong, obviously it doesn't sit very well with us," said Tom Martin, a Portland lobsterman.
Whole Foods has contracted with Little Bay Lobster Co. of Newington, N.H., to supply lobsters for its 46,000-square-foot store in Portland, which opens next Wednesday. Little Bay contracts with lobstermen from Vinalhaven, an island off midcoast Maine.
After the lobsters are caught in traps, they'll be placed in crates in individual holding compartments that are designed to reduce stress and handling from the boat to the store.
Store employees will use a countertop machine called a "CrustaStun," which uses an electrical charge to dispatch the lobsters in a matter of seconds rather than minutes it can take in hot water.
Using an electronic zapper to kill the lobster sounds like a gimmick, said Martin, the Portland lobsterman.
"A lobster electric chair?" Martin said. "I wonder how that will sound for their public relations, that they're going to give the lobster the electric chair."