The European Union has decided the American lobster isn’t an invasive species after all, averting a ban on the live import of Maine’s iconic crustacean.

The EU’s Committee on Invasive Alien Species told Sweden, the member nation that had sought the ban after discovering American lobsters off its coast, that it would not list Homerus americanus for technical reasons, even though Sweden’s argument had persuaded the forum of EU scientists who study alien species to pursue the listing just one month ago.

Instead, the committee – which is the political side of the alien species issue as compared to the forum, which is the scientific side – told Sweden that it couldn’t find support for an invasive species listing, which would trigger an import ban among member countries, according to an EU Commission source. However, it might one day explore other measures to protect the European lobster that wouldn’t be as disruptive to trade.

American lobster industry officials celebrated the apparent victory Friday, saying the decision had saved a $200 million-a-year export industry.

“This would have had a massive impact throughout the industry, from the fishermen on up to the processors to the restaurants who serve our lobsters and consumers who eat them,” said Annie Tselikis, marketing manager for Maine Coast Co. and a spokesman for the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association. “We are thrilled. We don’t have specifics about the decision, but are thrilled the European market is not in question.”

COLLABORATIVE LOBBYING

Tselikis said the United States and Canada had been mounting an aggressive campaign to stop the Swedish proposal, with government, industry, trade and scientific representatives working closely with allies in Europe’s biggest lobster importing nations to squelch the Swedish proposal. She said European importers worried about the potential ban had started postponing business investments, such as additional hiring.

Last month, the Scientific Forum on Invasive Alien Species confirmed the validity of Sweden’s scientific risk assessments of the American lobster, Officials from the EU said the issue would not reach its conclusion until the spring, at the earliest, after further consideration of the science and a review of the trade implications, notably the consequences of banning imports to 28 EU nations.

Canadians and Americans originally hoped to squelch the listing with science, saying there was no proof that American lobsters found there can breed with their smaller European cousins and produce fertile offspring, or carry any of the diseases that Swedish scientists say they do. But they began to focus on the economic implications after the forum’s September ruling.

The European Union Commission would not release the forum’s actual decision or vote, nor say which countries’ scientists had voted in favor of an alien species listing. It did say that the forum’s scientists had reached a consensus on the validity of Sweden’s proposal. Without knowing which arguments proved persuasive, it was difficult for American and Canadian scientists to respond.

Instead, American and Canadian politicians, trade officials and industry groups began to focus on the cost of a ban.

A listing would have only affected import of live lobsters, Sweden argued, not frozen or cooked lobster products. The United States said such a move would cripple the lobster industry, and threatened to bring its complaints to the World Trade Organization.

Both nations had alleged that Sweden was trying to shield its domestic lobster market from American exports.

While industry officials like Tselikis put the U.S. export market to Europe at about $200 million a year, WISERTrade.org, which uses U.S. Census data to track exports, put live lobster exports to the EU’s 28 member nations at $140.7 million in 2015, steadily declining since 2011. Maine industry groups say that Maine accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all live U.S. lobster exports.

Canada sells another $75 million a year, according to export data.

Despite European declines, live lobster exports are up globally this year, driven by increases in the Asian market, export data shows. Ironically, Sweden’s mid-year import of live American lobsters has soared 523 percent.

SEEING A THREAT

Sweden set the wheels in motion in March when it announced it had found 32 American lobsters in the country’s waters in recent years and sought a ban, claiming they pose a threat to native crustaceans. Sweden backed up its claims with an 85-page risk assessment, focusing on the threat of crossbreeding, including one female lobster carrying hybrid eggs, and the transmission of disease.

These lobsters were often banded, and found near floating lobster pounds where imported live American lobsters are kept before being shipped to different countries within the EU.

That led Swedish scientists to conclude that most of the 32 American lobsters had escaped from the pounds, which are supposed to be tightly regulated, or were released by animal rights groups after being bought at the supermarket.

 

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