Why is Europe trying to ban American lobsters?

A Swedish proposal to ban the imports of American lobsters by European Union countries was met with a sharp rebuke from US and Canadian scientists and fishermen. Sweden says the American lobster is an invasive species. 

Pat Wellenbach/AP/File
Cooked lobster claws and tails are available at a store in Portland, Maine, in this 2008 photo. The European Union is considering a ban on the North American lobster, which they say is an invasive species.

US and Canadian scientists and fisherman have reacted strongly to a Swedish proposal to ban the import of American lobsters by the European Union's 28 member countries.

Although Sweden says the American lobsters are an invasive species, US and Canadian fisherman and scientists say the ban would both be unnecessary and have a major economic impact on fisherman, the Associated Press reported. 

A European Union panel is scheduled to meet later this month to discuss Sweden's proposal, which came after Sweden found 32 American lobsters in their waters over a span of eight years – including 26 in 2014. In December, the country issued an 85-page report that stated the American lobsters posed a "very high" risk to their native species, the Boston Globe reported.   

American lobsters have been found off the coast Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, says the report.

In a statement to the Globe, Asa Romson, Sweden's minister for climate and the environment, said the American lobster could form hybrids with the European lobster, spreading negative genetic effects and threatening the survival of the "relatively small and delicate" Scandinavian lobsters. 

"American lobster can carry diseases and parasites that can spread to the European lobster and cause extremely high mortality rate," she said. "It can also compete for the same habitat and food."

On their website, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management list a fatal bacterial shell disease  and that the American lobster can transport "many other diseases" but "the scientific knowledge behind them is still low." Sweden also asserts the American lobster carries parasites that can eat the lobster's eggs that can spread to crabs, but the parasites have not been found in Swedish waters.   

US and Canadian scientists have questioned those claims.

Robert Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine's Lobster Institute, disputed many of the claims in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said the bacterial disease has been dormant for at least 10 years, the shell disease is not contagious, and the parasite is extremely uncommon. 

On Monday, Eileen Sobeck, the assistant administrator for fisheries from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote a letter to the European officials stating that the US and Canada has "serious concerns" about Sweden's proposal, which they said may violate international trade rules. 

"Our initial findings suggest that these conclusions are not supported by the best available science," she wrote.

The ban would also have a major impact on US and Canadian lobstermen, who export $200 million of lobster to Europe annually, the Associated Press reported.

The Journal reported that some in the US and Canadian lobster industry have questioned if the ban proposal is meant to protect Swedish lobster fishing, but Sofia Brockmark, an investigator at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management's unit for biodiversity, said that fishing for Swedish lobster isn't lucrative for local fisherman, and the proposal was "totally an environmental thing." 

Steven Wilson, the deputy direct of NOAA's Office of International Affairs and Seafood inspection, told the Globe that adding the American lobster to Europe's invasive species list would have a "massive economic impact." He refused to comment when asked if the United States could retaliate by banning European seafood. 

"NOAA is not in a position to discuss trade issues," he told the Globe. "We're providing scientific information to show that those [American] lobsters could not thrive in their waters or overcome the native species."

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