Europe seas

Government scientists in the U.S. and Canada say the science behind a Swedish proposal to classify the American lobster as an invasive species is so thin it doesn’t merit a political debate, much less a full-scale European Union import ban.

A group of American scientists, including the chief lobster scientist from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans released reports Monday that say the classification is “not supported by the best available science.”

The number of lobsters found in European waters over the past decade – fewer than 100 off Sweden, Norway and Great Britain – does not constitute an invasion, especially when Sweden doesn’t have any proof that the lobsters can produce fertile offspring in those waters, the scientists say.

“Their assessment talked about less than a hundred total, which is nothing,” said Steven Wilson, a deputy director in the fisheries arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s not an issue of saying they have evidence they are alive. They have to show they can thrive.”

Sweden believes the American lobster’s large crusher claw and earlier hatch date would allow it to steal food, shelter and mates from its smaller European cousin, should their numbers increase more because of accidental releases during international transport.

Scientists in Europe have found some female European lobsters carrying American lobster fertilized eggs, which indicates cross breeding in the wild has occurred, Wilson acknowledged. But no one has been able to tell if those eggs would grow up to be fertile lobsters.

American and Canadian scientists point to organized efforts to introduce the American lobster into western American and Canadian waters, Japan and the Bay of Biscay off Spain and France to no avail, despite large government investments over multiple years.

Scientists here think most EU waters are too warm, fished too hard and too full of predators, such as crabs, snapping shrimp and squat lobsters, for Homarus americanus to even gain a toehold in Europe, much less overwhelm the European lobster population.

If the American lobster was going to invade, it would have already done so, the scientists say. It has had ample opportunity over decades of sales to Europe, but it has only managed to muster a few dozen, the scientists say, and has not passed on any deadly diseases, either.

“All the evidence that we have today indicates that the American lobster is not currently, and may not be capable of, ever meeting the definition of ‘invasive,’ ” said Robert Steneck, a University of Maine professor of marine biology whose report was included in NOAA’s documentation Monday. “I see no support for the arguments that it poses a clear and present danger to European waters.”

Sweden wants to bring its proposal up for discussion at a June 20 meeting of the environmental arm of the 32-member trade organization. If approved, the EU would vote at the end of the year, with a possible ban on the import of live North American lobsters going into effect in March.

But the U.S. and Canada would like to stop the proposal now, on scientific grounds, Wilson said. “It becomes more political,” he said. “We are trying to keep it on a scientific level.”

If Sweden is able to get an environmental hearing, Canada and the U.S. will continue to oppose the invader classification with help from EU members and interest groups that support continued import of American lobsters, such as restaurants, dealers and distributors.

But the tenor of the discussion would change at that time, Wilson said. “The EU is a body that is comfortable with minority views having a strong voice,” he said.

Maine politicians, from Sen. Angus King of Brunswick to Rep. Chellie Pingree of North Haven, argue that the Swedish risk assessment is an effort to protect European lobstermen, not the European lobsters, from the rebounding North American lobster industry.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH


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