N.Y. DEC Seizes Price Chopper Lobsters

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has confiscated more than 1,100 pounds of undersized lobsters from Price Chopper/Market 32 in three separate inspections over the past four months, the agency said on July 28.

“Price Chopper takes compliance – local, state and federal – very seriously,” Mona Golub, the grocer’s VP of public relations and consumer services, told Progressive Grocer, explaining that the company had “unknowingly received” the undersized product as part of a shipment of 6,000 lobsters from a longtime supplier based in Massachusetts’ Cape Cod. Price Chopper is no longer using the supplier, with which it worked for more than 30 years. Although the grocer performs random checks of product received from suppliers, she noted, when it comes to large shipments, this can be an onerous task.

The supplier, identified as Bourne, Mass.-based Lobster Trap, has taken full responsibility for the undersized lobsters. “It’s entirely our fault that some of our packers mixed 3- [and] 1/4-inch lobsters earmarked for other Northeastern states. with the shipment bound for Price Chopper,” said co-owners Logan Clarke and Dave Madden. “It’s important for people to understand that Price Chopper didn’t knowingly accept short-length lobsters from us. We delivered them in error.”

The case began in March when environmental conservation officers discovered short lobsters at two Price Chopper stores in Binghamton, according to DEC. During May, the agency said that officers conducted random checks at the retailer’s stores across the Empire State, with similar results.

On July 26, officers inspected Price Chopper’s distribution center in its hometown of Schenectady, measuring 297 cases of lobsters. The officers determined that 820 lobsters – about 15 percent of the inventory – were under the legal size limit set by state law. At least 105 undersized lobsters were seized at the stores, with a total seizure value of more than $7,000, the agency noted.

Golub said that the bulk of the lobsters were confiscated at the retailer's warehouse, not the stores, so that most of them were never available for purchase by customers.

Under the law, lobsters taken, possessed, bought, sold, imported and exported in New York must measure between 3 and 3/8-inches and 5 and 1/4-inches from the eye socket to the end of the body shell. Size restrictions were placed on lobsters to prevent population declines caused by overfishing; allowing them to grow to maturity augments the fishing stock.

According to Golub, while lobster specifications vary by state, New York’s are among the most stringent. In any case, the difference between the size of the lobsters seized and the legal size is a matter of “millimeters,’ she pointed out, adding that the size differential isn’t visible to the eye, but must be measured.

Price Chopper faces fines for violations of Environmental Conservation Law provisions of the Fish and Wildlife Law of up to $100 for every lobster confiscated. DEC said it would attempt to work out a settlement with the grocer in the near future.

Golub asserted that Price Chopper would transfer any fines levied to the supplier involved.

The department donated the seized lobsters to a food bank in Latham.

The Golub Corp. owns and operate 135 Price Chopper and Market 32 stores in New York, Vermont, Conncecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

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