Sweden pushes EU to ban North American lobster imports

Published on
March 22, 2016

The Swedish government has asked the European Union to label North American lobsters as “invasive species,” a move that could lead to a ban on the import from the U.S. and Canada into the E.U. of cold-water lobster species, Homarus americanus, which Sweden calls “Maine lobsters.”
The move comes after 32 Maine lobsters were trapped in Swedish waters, all with their claws still bound with rubber bands containing the logos of U.S. and Canadian lobster companies, according to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.

That prompted the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management to produce a report citing the potential dangers the Maine lobster presented to Swedish ecosystems, which cited the dual threat of the Maine lobsters ability to grow their population and to spread diseases and parasites. The report spurred the Swedish Ministry of Environment and Energy to push for a ban across the E.U. on the import of the species.

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that North American lobster exports to the EU generate about USD 139 million (EUR 123.9 million) and said a the potential E.U. ban “could cripple mutually beneficial trade in lobsters.”

“We will work with our European colleagues to better appreciate their apprehensions. We need to understand how 32 lobsters found in E.U. waters over an 8-year period constitutes an ‘invasion,’” Connelly said. “We will also work to identify credible, science-based solutions to reduce the chances of live North American lobsters entering E.U. waters.”

Europeans releasing live Maine lobsters back into the sea is “a local law enforcement issue,” Connelly said.

“If locals break local laws, let’s not escalate this to a continent-wide ban on trade in lobsters,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents the southern district in Maine, a major lobster exporting state, called Sweden’s response “a complete overreaction.”

“We have safely exported live lobster to dozens of countries for decades, and even if it’s true that a few Maine lobsters have been found in foreign waters, regulators need to look at the problem more carefully and not just jump to conclusions,” she said in a statement. “The idea that somehow lobsters are going to jump out of their tanks and crawl into the sea and survive just doesn’t make sense. Some reports have suggested that it’s actually consumers who have bought lobsters and thrown them in the ocean. Whatever the cause, E.U. officials should figure out what’s really happening before jumping to any conclusions.”

Robert Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, said there is no scientific basis for Sweden’s proposed ban, according to the Press Herald article. He told the newspaper that none of the three diseases mentioned in the Swedish study – epizootic shell diseas, gaffkemia, or “red-tail,” and white spot syndrome – are carried or communicated by the Maine lobsters affected by the potential E.U. ban.

Scientists with the E.U. commission will consider Sweden’s request in the beginning of April, according to The Guardian (U.K.). If approved, the ban would then have to be approved by the World Trade Organization.

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500