The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery is no longer seeking renewal of its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label, according to documents filed Friday by the certification group.

The fishery was seeking an expedited re-assessment following a suspension of its certificate in November.

The certification was suspended after the third-party body responsible for assessing the fishery determined new information on the endangered right whale population demonstrates the fishery is no longer in compliance with the MSC standard.

The decision was based on a July 2022 federal court ruling -- Center for Biological Diversity v. Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce -- that found regulations intended to reduce the risk of the Maine lobster fishery to right whales do not meet the legal requirements of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act for fixed-gear fisheries.

Last June, the Natural Resource Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute lodged an objection to the fishery's certification. Under the MSC process, objections are reviewed by an independent adjudicator.

In a letter dated Feb. 1, an adjudicator investigating objections filed by NGO groups against the re-instatement of the eco-label stated that the certification body representing the Maine Certified Sustainable Lobster Association (MSCLA), the client group for the fishery, had been instructed by the group to "stop the re-assessment process currently underway and in the objections phase.”

As a result, the adjudicator wrote, “as there is no ongoing assessment, the objections process is no longer applicable, and we consider the matter closed.”

In a joint statement Friday, the Natural Resource Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute said the withdrawal was "the right move for North Atlantic right whales and for seafood consumers, who deserve to be able to trust the ecolabels they rely on."

A massive fallout

Following the MSC announcement last year, US retailer Whole Foods said it would halt purchasing of Maine lobster until the popular shellfish regains its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

The decision brought outrage from Maine lawmakers and fishermen alike, who expressed disappointment and noted the decision "harms the livelihoods of hardworking men and women up and down Maine’s coast."

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.

A 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.

Make Stewardship Count, a coalition of more than 90 marine conservation experts, organizations, and researchers, has asked the MSC to revise its overall certification standards to better-protect right whales and other species.

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