EU proposal to ban American lobsters to move forward

Robert F. Bukaty/AP file photoLive lobsters are packed for overseas shipment to European countries. Sweden is calling on the European Union to ban the import of live American lobsters as an invasive species.

Sweden's push to list live American lobsters as an invasive species and ban their import by the full European Union is "an excessive and unscientific response" that jeopardizes its $125 million lobster trade with Massachusetts, according to Rep. Seth Moulton, Sen. Edward J. Markey and the remainder of the state's congressional delegation.

In a letter sent today to the EU's directorate-general for the environment that listed Moulton and Markey as the lead signatories, the Bay State delegation picked up where many North American scientists and fisheries regulators have left off in the escalating international trade tiff.

"Isolated reports of individual American lobsters found in European waters do not constitute the invasion of an alien species," the delegation wrote to Daniel Calleja Crespo. "This possible designation is not merited because, as indicated in the data provided to the (EU) Scientific Forum by the United States and Canada, there is no evidence that American lobster can reproduce in waters as warm as those of coastal Europe."

They also insist that the initial Swedish risk assessment, which serves as the basis for the Swedish claim, "failed to demonstrate that interbreeding between European and American lobsters produces fertile offspring" and an "outright ban of the importation of live American lobster to the EU is an excessive and unscientific response."

The import ban, they argued, would dismantle the $200 million trans-Atlantic lobster trade between Canada and the United States with the 28 members of the EU and severely and negatively impact the Massachusetts lobstermen and lobster sellers who annually send about $125 million worth of live American lobsters to the EU.

"This commercial relationship with the EU is an important source of income for the Commonwealth's 1,169 permitted commercial lobstermen, in addition to lobster dealers, vessel and trap manufacturers, restaurants and other shoreside businesses," they wrote.

The issue exploded in March, when Sweden first petitioned the European Union to begin the process of designating the American lobsters, or Homarus Americanus, as an invasive species. The Scandinavian country claimed the increasing numbers of the American lobsters being discovered in Swedish waters posed a threat to the country's indigenous lobsters.

The U.S. and Canada followed with a scathing rebuttal of the Swedish 85-page risk assessment. However, on Sept. 6, the EU's Scientific Forum on Invasive Alien Species ruled the risk assessment provided enough evidence to move forward with a more formal review of the Swedish proposal to list the larger American lobsters as an invasive species.

Now, the issue will go before the EU's Alien Species Committee. If that body sides with Sweden, the proposed ban will go before the entire European Union Commission for final deliberation, probably some time next spring.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.

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