Japan Holds Up Lobster Shipments Over FDA Advisory


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
July 30, 2008

Japan is holding up shipments of American lobster due to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration consumer advisory, which Maine's lobster industry calls a misunderstanding.

On Monday, the FDA warned consumers to avoid eating tomalley due to potentially dangerous levels of toxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning. The FDA advisory came after similar advisories were issued earlier this summer in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Canada, following an outbreak of red tide in parts of the region.

U.S. and Canadian lobster exporters learned Wednesday afternoon that their shipments were on quarantine in Japan because Japanese officials misunderstood the FDA advisory, says Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council.

Titled "FDA Advises Against Consumption of American Lobster (Maine Lobster) Tomalley," the advisory states that lobster meat is "unaffected" by toxins that can accumulate in tomalley. Somers emphasizes that lobster meat is perfectly safe to eat.

"It's frustrating," says Somers, adding that it took him six and a half hours last night to reach an FDA official.

At the request of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the U.S. Department of State is reaching out to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to clear up the matter, which remained unresolved as of Thursday morning, says Somers.

Somers says he doesn't know how much product is being held up. About 250,000 pounds of lobster worth more than $1 million is exported weekly to Japan, Bonnie Spinazzola, executive director of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen's Association in Bedford, N.H., told the Associated Press.

Somers says he fears other countries will react to Japan's quarantine, creating a domino effect.

In an e-mail to its members Thursday morning, the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., stressed that lobster meat is safe to eat and offered talking points to handle consumer inquiries about tomalley. NFI has reached out the Japanese Embassy to find out exactly what the quarantine involves and says the FDA is looking at clarifying its advisory.

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