The U.S. State Department is adding its muscle to help resolve an impending trade dispute between exporters of live Maine lobsters and the European Union.

Responding to a letter from Maine’s congressional delegation, officials in the Obama administration have committed the State Department to address the trade threat. In March, Sweden announced it was attempting to ban live North American lobsters from the 28-country EU, citing concerns that some of them have been found in European waters and are an “invasive species” that threatens Europe’s native lobster species.

“The State Department is on our side,” Sen. Angus King said Friday evening, “and I think they’re going to be aggressive.”

King said the response from the State Department was strong and suggested a concerted effort with other U.S. agencies to offset the risk of a ban. According to a letter from the State Department, the EU would have to consider the economic impact of a ban, along with the science, before blocking imports of U.S. lobsters.

King said the government “needs to press on all levels” to try to keep the EU from banning imports of live North American lobster, also known as Maine lobster.

“The seriousness of the restriction should be proportional to the science and there’s no sense that this is an imminent threat or an emergency,” he said.


Maine directly exports more than $10 million worth of lobster annually to the EU. The bulk of live lobster – $125 million in 2015 – was shipped from Massachusetts, but includes much of Maine’s export catch, which is flown out of Boston’s Logan airport.

Julia Frifield, the State Department’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said in the letter to the delegation that the department is “actively working to ensure that the European Commission does not impede the legitimate trade of live lobsters, including those from Maine,” according to a joint release from Maine’s congressional delegation.

“The administration is in close contact with European officials to try to ensure the U.S. exports of live lobster are not unjustifiably restricted, and we are working through our missions in Europe to emphasize that the EU should only take measures based on sound science,” Frifield said in the letter.

Any sort of EU ban would take months to approve, according to trade specialists.

Maine scientists and others are skeptical of Sweden’s claims that North American lobster diseases and parasites are a threat to their European cousins. Thirty-two North American lobsters have been found in Swedish waters since 2008.

The proposed ban has sparked protests among European chefs, who want the option of serving the larger North American lobsters to their customers.

Members of the National Fisheries Institute and the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association have speculated that the proposed ban has more to do with manipulating trade markets in favor of European lobsters than it does with containing an environmental threat.


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