The governor of Maine and the state's US congressional delegation are criticizing US retailer Whole Foods for its decision to pause purchasing of Maine lobster until the popular shellfish regains its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification or is removed from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch red list.

In a joint statement released Tuesday by Maine Gov. Janet Mills, US Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, the lawmakers said they are disappointed by Whole Foods’ decision and deeply frustrated that the MSC suspension of the lobster industry’s sustainability certification "continues to harm the livelihoods of hardworking men and women up and down Maine’s coast."

"In an appeal to retailers just weeks ago, we outlined the facts: There has never been a right whale death attributed to Maine lobster gear; Maine lobstermen have a 150-year history of sustainability; and Maine’s lobstering community has consistently demonstrated their commitment to protecting right whales," the lawmakers said in the statement.

"Despite this, the Marine Stewardship Council, with retailers following suit, wrongly and blindly decided to follow the recommendations of misguided environmental groups rather than science. We strongly urge the Marine Stewardship Council and retailers to reconsider their potentially devastating decisions.”

Some good news

Despite its recent challenges, the Maine lobster industry got a bit of good news last week, when a US federal judge ruled that new lobster fishing restrictions designed to conserve whales will be delayed until 2024 to give the government time to design them.

Judge James Boasberg's ruling follows a ruling in July that rejected a bid by the Maine lobster sector to delay new restrictions aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales, according to the Associated Press.

The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery was first certified in December 2016, but in September a third-party group that certifies the fishery to the MSC standard conducted an expedited audit of the fishery based on "significant new information" regarding the protection of North Atlantic right whales.

Despite the suspension, there is no recent evidence that the Maine lobster fishery is responsible for entanglements or interactions with right whales, said the MSC.

The September red listing of Maine Lobster by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program touched off a firestorm of criticism. Maine's US Congressional delegation took steps to strip the aquarium of any future federal tax money.

It is unclear which other retailers may follow Whole Foods lead in removing the shellfish from its stores. However, the Associated Press reported previously that home deliver services Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are no longer selling Maine lobster because of its impact on whales.