Maine pols, lobster industry digging in on Sweden ban call

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

Maine lobster industry representatives, politicians and scientists said on Friday that they will dig in against a Swedish proposal to ban imports of American lobster into Europe.

The international dispute started when Sweden announced that it had found 32 American lobsters in the country's waters earlier this year and that they pose a threat to native crustaceans. The Swedes want a ban on lobster imports into the European Union, but lobster industry leaders and scientists in the U.S. and Canada say the request isn't based on sound science.

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U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, said the group will pressure the U.S. government to keep opposing the proposed ban that's wending its way through the European Union. The U.S. State Department said earlier this year that it would work to make sure exports of lobsters are not restricted without justification.

"We believe in our lobsters. Our lobsters are strong, and great," King said. "But they're not going to take over all of Europe."

The EU announced this month it will conduct a more extensive review of the proposal after a scientific panel concluded Sweden raised valid points in its request to declare the American lobster an invasive species. It won't likely be completed until at least next spring.

Three members of Maine's congressional delegation spoke out against the proposal at a news conference at a Portland lobster dealer on Friday, and the other member is also on board with the push. Industry representatives said the fight against the ban is important to protect jobs and preserve a key piece of the state's economy.

Robert Steneck, a marine ecologist with the University of Maine, said concerns over the possibility of American lobster emerging as an invasive species in European waters are overblown, because there isn't evidence that American lobsters can reproduce and thrive in Europe.

"The best available science says this does not meet the measure of an invasive species," he said.

Maine is the biggest lobster fishing state in the U.S. America exports about $150 million of lobster to the European Union every year. Canada also sells lobster to Europe.