A proposal seeks to ban the import of American lobsters by the 28 member-nations of the European Union (EU). The move comes after Sweden found 32 of these lobsters in its waters, deeming them invasive species that are likely to overtake the native lobster populations and spread diseases.
American fishery officials expressed disagreement with the plan, with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck penning a letter for EU officials and highlighting the proposal’s lack of scientific basis.
The letter includes NOAA's and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ data analysis and a paper from University of Maine scientist Robert Steneck — both arguing against the Swedish findings.
But why do American lobsters suddenly have a bad rap in Europe?
Spread Of Diseases, Parasites To Native Lobsters
“American lobster can carry diseases and parasites that can spread to the European lobster and cause extremely high mortality rate,” said Swedish climate and environment minister Asa Romson in a statement, adding that it will also compete for local food and habitat.
The 85-page report on American lobsters posing a “very high” risk to native species came after Sweden discovered 32 American species in their waters in an eight-year period, including 26 in 2014. These foreign lobsters have also been seen off the coast of Denmark, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom, the report went further.
Four of the American lobsters found were said to carry eggs, including those with traits from both American and Swedish lobsters. It will be “impossible to eradicate” the established species due to natural dispersal capability, the report stated.
According to Romson, Scandinavian lobsters are quite small and delicate, and any hybrid formed with their American counterparts can result in “negative genetic effects” and threaten the European variety.
The Swedish marine and water management agency listed a deadly bacterial shell disease on its website as a potential consequence, although adding that evidence behind the link remains low. The country also cited parasites eating American lobsters’ eggs as a potential threat to crabs and other seafood.
Not Backed By "Best Available Science"
U.S. and Canadian authorities, however, were quick to question the report claims.
“Our initial findings suggest that these conclusions are not supported by the best available science,” wrote Sobeck, not dismissing the idea that the proposal could be violating international trade rules.
Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, also disputed many of the report's claims. Bacterial disease has remained dormant for at least a decade now while shell disease is not contagious, he said.
Europe imports around 13,000 metric tons of American lobsters annually. The goods are delivered alive in order to preserve their freshness.
The possible ban is expected to deliver a hard blow to the American and Canadian lobster market, which export $200 million of their fresh products to Europe every year.
NOAA, too, refused to comment on whether retaliation will follow in the form of banning European seafood imports.
Steven Wilson, its Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection’s deputy director, said the agency is not in a position to elaborate on trade matters — only tasked to scientifically vouch for how American lobsters will not thrive on those overseas waters or overcome the native species.
Photo: Ed Bierman | Flickr