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March 21, 2016

Swedish officials push to label 'Maine lobsters' as invasive species

A renewed call by the Swedish government to ban imports of live North American lobsters could amount to a $10 million loss to Maine's lobster industry, a ban that some industry leaders and lawmakers in the U.S. are calling an overreaction.

The main concern from the Swedish government is that imported North American lobsters — or "Maine lobsters" as they are referred to – could carry shell diseases and parasites that could be transmitted to native European lobsters. Also of concern is the notion that European and North American lobsters could interbreed, creating an offspring that may not be viable for sale.

So far, EU officials say they have yet to see signs of interbreeding, though it's possible, according to The Guardian.

"This is a complete overreaction on the part of Sweden," U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement about the ban. "We have safely exported live lobster to dozens of countries for decades, and even if it's true that a few Maine lobsters have been found in foreign waters, regulators need to look at the problem more carefully and not just jump to conclusions."

The Swedish environment ministry reported that more than 30 "Maine lobsters" have been found along the western coast of Sweden in recent years. In the United Kingdom, two dozen confirmed reports of North American lobsters in local waters have been reported in recent decades, with many still wearing rubber bands on their claws identifying the exporting company — leading some to believe they are being held in waters for future consumption.

"The idea that somehow lobsters are going to jump out of their tanks and crawl into the sea and survive just doesn't make sense," Pingree added. "Some reports have suggested that it's actually consumers who have bought lobsters and thrown them in the ocean."

The request to ban North American lobsters and label them as an invasive species will be brought before European officials next month. Any ban ultimately would need approval from the World Trade Organization.

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