A LOBSTER BOAT heads out to sea at sunrise, off Kennebunkport, in August 2015.

A LOBSTER BOAT heads out to sea at sunrise, off Kennebunkport, in August 2015.

PORTLAND

Maine lobster dealers are concerned about what a proposed ban on live lobster imports from America and Canada to Europe could mean for the industry.

According to a report earlier this month by the Associated Press, the European Union will conduct a more extensive review of a proposal to ban lobsters imported from the U.S. and Canada after a scientific panel concluded Sweden raised valid points in its request to declare the American lobster an invasive species.

 

 

The international dispute started when Sweden announced it had found 32 American lobsters in the country’s waters earlier this year and that they pose a threat to native crustaceans, according to the AP.

It could be spring of next year before a decision is made by the EU, according to the director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association.

Earlier this month, the EU’s Scientific Forum on Invasive Alien Species opened up a broader review of Sweden’s request.

“We’re taking it seriously,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told The Times Record on Tuesday. “This is $100 million worth of business for Maine — $200 million for the entire region, so it’s a serious issue.”

Someone is trying to tell people in Europe who like North American lobster they can’t buy it anymore, said King. Yet the science seems to indicate there’s no reason to take such a drastic step.

King said Sweden should tighten regulations regarding the handling of lobster if it is worried about lobsters getting loose in its waters.

“The response to a problem should be based first upon a clear scientific analysis of the problem,” he said. “If there is a demonstrated problem, the response should be tailored to the situation and not a shotgun approach that inadvertently causes serious economic consequences.”

King also had a stern warning to the EU: “They need to be careful. If they act arbitrarily unreasonably, they’re inviting some kind of retaliation. … This is how trade wars start.”

University of Maine’s Professor Bob Steneck helped prepare a brief for the EU in response to European concerns. He told The Times Record that a species is considered “invasive” if it harms other species, the ecosystem or human health.

“Of course it must be able to reproduce and have a growing population to meet that definition,” he said. “The American lobster has been shipped live to Europe since the 1960s. They used to be kept in ocean pens and often they escaped.”

Steneck said the American lobster appears incapable of sustaining a population outside its native range.

“If it was truly invasive, we would know about it by now,” he said.

A ban could have drastic impacts on Maine companies that ship lobsters overseas, such as Portland’s Ready Seafood Co.

According to a Ready European market sales representative, who asked that his name be withheld, a ban would ruin the company’s business in Europe.

Although the Asian lobster market is growing, Ready has always relied on selling to Europe, which doesn’t produce enough lobsters to meet demand, he said. Italy is one of the company’s biggest importers, followed by Spain and France.

“Anytime we’re talking about limiting trade between one another, it is an important issue,” said Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association Executive Director Annie Tselikis.

Dealers, who are responsible for exporting lobster, would be the first impacted by a ban which would ripple through a supply chain that includes wharves and the lobstermen themselves.

Tselikis added that while the lobster industry has been very fortunate to be in a growth pattern concerning demand, a diverse market is important for any economy and especially lobster as consumer tastes change.

According to Tselikis, Sweden is advocating for the ban out of a sense of caution, even if the perceived threat of invading North American lobsters cannot be scientifically proven.

“We think (a ban) is not the best move,” Tselikis said. “We think the science is in our favor and not theirs and that the economics of this is huge.”

[email protected]timesrecord.com


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