Swedish environment ministry says Maine lobster could wipe out European species with deadly diseases
Oversexed, overfed and over here: that, in a nutshell, is what the Swedes think of the American lobster from Maine, New England. It may be much sought after in restaurants but Sweden does not want the American crustacean to darken EU waters in case it spreads diseases and kills off its smaller cousin.
The Swedish environment ministry on Friday asked the EU to list the Maine lobster as an invasive species and ban the import of the live creatures.
While the more cynical may see the Swedish move as disguised protectionism, such concerns are not entirely misplaced. Wildlife experts say the American lobster, which may also be slightly larger and different in colour to the native European lobster, brings dangers to European lobsters.
“They pose several potential risks for native species, competing for space and resources, they can interbreed with local species and produce hybrid species, which we don’t know will be viable or not,” said Dr Paul Stebbing of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture science.
The Swedish environment ministry says more than 30 American lobsters have been found along Sweden’s west coast in recent years and that they can carry diseases and parasites that could spread to the European lobster and result in extremely high mortality.
British experts say there have been 24 confirmed reports of the American lobster in UK waters in recent decades. They are not believed to be reproducing, although this is possible. Sightings are believed to be as a result of the deliberate release or escape of specimens from captivity.
As for American lobsters in Swedish waters, the environment ministry said: “We have reason to believe that lobsters are put in coastal waters perhaps for later consumption. Some of the American lobsters found by fishermen in the sea outside the west coast of Sweden were still wearing rubber bands round their claws with the exporting company name on the rubber band.”
The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association is jittery at any European ban as the export of lobsters to the EU is worth $134m (£93m) annually.
“It is an important trade so this is concerning,” said Beth Casoni, executive director of the association, adding that it would mobilise US lawmakers and scientists to refute claims that American lobsters spread disease. “If they found 30 American lobsters over eight years, how is that an invasion,” she said.
Casoni also faulted European residents for releasing American lobsters into the wild: “They are the ones breaking the law. We don’t buy European species and let them free.”
Sweden has approached the EU commission, the EU’s executive body, under the EU’s invasive alien species regulation, which came into force last year. Such species are considered to be one of the major causes of biodiversity loss; its cost to the European economy is estimated to be at least €12bn a year in areas such as health care and animal health costs, crop yield losses, fish stock losses and damage to protected species.
EU scientists will consider Sweden’s request at the start of next month. Other examples that are already on the list to be adopted in the coming weeks are red swamp crayfish, American grey squirrel and Sosnowski’s hogweed.
If the EU’s scientific forum approves Sweden’s submission, its inclusion will have to be considered at the invasive alien species committee (comprised of member states representatives) and the World Trade Organisation. – World News Reports via EIN News