Are Maine lobsters invading Sweden?
The crustaceans could be labeled an "invasive species" in Europe if the EU approves a petition from Sweden, which seeks to ban live lobster exports to Europe.
The nation alleges about 30 Maine lobsters have been found along Sweden's west coast over the last eight years. The Swedish Ministry of Environment and Energy said American lobster harbors different bacteria, and could carry diseases that kill European lobster.
If the EU approves the petition, it could end Maine lobster exports to 28 nations in Europe and shut down a $134 million market.
"This is a complete overreaction on the part of Sweden," said Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. "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."
Pingree questioned how the lobsters got in the Swedish waters in the first place.
"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," Pingree said. "Some reports have suggested that it's actually consumers who have bought lobsters and thrown them in the ocean. Whatever the cause, EU officials should figure out what's really happening before jumping to any conclusions."
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Maine and Canadian officials are working together to stop an all-out ban.
"We expect the European Commission to use the least costly solution to address any issue," said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers' Association. "If Europeans are throwing live lobsters into the ocean, after arrival from North America, they should be punished for breaking local laws. This would be the equivalent of the Swedish banning all drivers because one person ran a stop light."
Exporters say the Swedish proposal would have a major impact on the Maine lobster industry.
"We definitely see it as a problematic thing," said John Leavitt, vice president of sales at Ready Seafood in Portland. "We feel like because the European market is so strong, it would definitely take a bit of shuffling around to figure out how we're going to keep afloat."
Leavitt said it sounds like the issue in Sweden is more of a "small infraction" – and not a foreign lobster invasion.
Tselikis said she hopes to learn more about the potential ban at the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels this April.