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Sweden Wants to Stop Live American Lobsters From Entering Europe

Europe has quite an appetite for Maine lobsters. Sweden wants to see that change.

<> on July 21, 2012 in Portland, Maine
<> on July 21, 2012 in Portland, Maine

Europe has quite an appetite for Maine lobsters. Sweden wants that to change.

As every able seaman knows, lobsters are best cooked alive, ethics aside. But there’s a problem with live animal importation: Sometimes, a few escape or are released into the wild, where they can cause trouble.

The American lobster, Homarus americanus, is native to the Atlantic coasts of the United States and Canada. On Friday, the Swedish environment ministry asked the European Union to reclassify it as an invasive species, which would lead to a live import ban.

Around 30 American lobsters have been found living in the wild off Sweden’s coast. It’s a problem because they could threaten European lobster populations through diseases or interbreeding.

Invasive species present dire risks to ecosystems and are a leading cause of biodiversity loss. But Sweden may also have another motive: protectionism. Every European who eats an American lobster forgoes, potentially, a Swedish sea delicacy, such as surströmming.

The Swedish embassy in Washington directed questions to a spokeswoman for the Swedish environment ministry, who was not immediately available to comment.

Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, said the environmental concerns were unfounded.

“We are making this a top priority,” she told Foreign Policy. “Thirty-two lobsters over the course of  an eight-year period hardly constitutes an invasion.”

“As far as we know, no juvenile lobsters have been found,” which means that they’re not reproducing, she added. Instead, she called for better wildlife enforcement on the ground.

“If Europeans are throwing live lobsters into the ocean, those people should be prevented from breaking local laws,” she said. “We need to make sure that people aren’t putting live North American lobsters into the wild in the first place.”

Lobsters have been found off Sweden’s coast with their claws still banded, which is the way live American lobsters are sold.

The fate of North Americans lobster exports to Europe is now in hands of EU scientists, who in April will decide if the issue should proceed to consideration by a committee overseeing invasive alien species. That decision has the potential to impact thousands of livelihoods in New England and Canada.

“Lobster fishing is an important industry along the coast of Maine and within the Canadian maritime, and the backbone of many coastal and island communities,” Tselikis said. “In 2015, there were $140 million in live lobster exports from the United States alone.”

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @bsoloway

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