Some Customers Are Suing Red Lobster Over Its Sustainable Seafood Claims

Red Lobster said they "stand behind our Seafood with Standards commitments" in response to allegations made in the proposed class-action suit.

Cheddar Bay Biscuits may get all the hype, but an important part of Red Lobster's marketing efforts is their promise of "Seafood with Standards." The front page of the chain's website touts their "traceable, sustainable and responsible" approach with videos on "Sourcing Our Catch" and "Sustaining Maine Lobster." We've covered how they teamed up with California's Monterey Bay Aquarium and found homes for rare lobsters that ended up in their restaurants. But a recently proposed class-action lawsuit filed in federal court is calling those claims into question.

The lawsuit -- filed on June 11 in the Central District of California -- alleges that Red Lobster uses "deceptive marketing" to sell its Maine lobster and shrimp products because these items are described as "sustainable" when "they may be sourced from suppliers that use environmentally harmful and inhumane practices."

Specifically, the claim (which can be seen here) states that the Maine lobster menu items "are sourced from suppliers that use environmentally destructive practices that threaten endangered populations of North American right whales." Additionally, the shrimp is allegedly "sourced from industrial shrimp farms that do not employ the highest environmental or animal welfare standards," including suppliers that "use inhumane practices including routine eyestalk ablation, a practice in which the eyestalk gland of female shrimps is crushed, burned, or cut off -- without painkillers -- in order to increase reproduction."

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The suit further states that Red Lobster's sustainability claims allow the chain to sell more seafood at higher prices and, as a result, the plaintiffs believe they are entitled to monetary compensation. The filing also wants Red Lobster to cease these alleged deceptive practices.

Reached via email, a spokesperson from Red Lobster stated that the company "cannot comment on pending litigation or the specifics of the claims." However, they did add, "What we can say is that we stand behind our Seafood with Standards commitments as well as our support for scientific research and continuous improvement efforts to ensure there's seafood to enjoy, now and for generations."

Speaking with the news organization Maine Public, Marianne LaCroix -- executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative -- also called the suit into question. "The fishermen and the state have been working to protect right whales for over 20 years now and have made great strides," she was quoted as saying. "The fishermen have made a lot of changes in the gear that they use and the way that they fish in order to make it safer for right whales."

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