BOSTON >> Hoping to preserve a $125 million Bay State export market, the Massachusetts Congressional delegation has raised objections with the European Commission, arguing against a ban on live imports of American lobster.
Sweden has sought to ban the importation of the bottom-dwelling shelled scavengers, arguing they pose a risk of invading European waters and multiplying. A Swedish government official told the News Service Thursday the recommendation is based on updated risk assessments.
"The assessments show that the American lobster is a threat to the European lobster," wrote Andreas von Uexkull, minister counselor at the Swedish embassy in Washington D.C. "Trade policy aspects of the proposal have been analyzed and Sweden is aware of the importance the lobster industry means for jobs and small communities in parts of the U.S. However, possible future import restrictions would only apply for live lobsters. If the risk assessment is accepted within the EU there will still be great opportunities to export cooked, boiled or frozen lobster."
In a letter dated Wednesday and signed at the top by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton, the all-Democrat delegation made an economic and scientific pitch for why the trade should continue.
The letter claims the transatlantic lobster trade exceeded $200 million last year, with $125 million of that coming from Massachusetts, benefitting the 1,169 permitted commercial lobstermen.
"Science and economics don't support the proposal to ban the importation of live American lobsters into the EU. The proposed ban would undermine a centuries-old relationship and have enormously negative impacts on the Massachusetts lobster industry," Markey said in a statement. "I urge the EU to consider solutions beyond this extreme blanket ban of American lobster imports and work towards a solution so that Europeans can continue to enjoy this most delectable of American exports for years to come."
The delegation wrote to Daniel Calleja Crespo, directorate-general for environment of the European Commission. "It is our hope that the EU's Scientific Committee will uphold a commitment to making a data-based decision as they consider the potential listing of American lobster as an invasive species," the letter says.
The European government could reportedly approve a ban as early as next spring.
The letter from Massachusetts lawmakers also raises skepticism that coastal European waters are cool enough for lobsters to breed.
"Isolated reports of individual American lobsters found in European waters do not constitute the invasion of an alien species," the letter says. Citing information submitted to the European Union's Scientific Forum by Canada and the United States, the letter claims "there is no evidence that American lobster can reproduce in waters as warm as those of coastal Europe."
In another letter to Calleja Crespo, assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Eileen Sobeck said the Swedish risk assessment findings that there is a high risk of the lobster species Homarus americanus successfully reproducing and overpowering the native Homarus gammarus in EU waters "are not supported by the best available science."
The continent stretches from the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea to the artic regions of Scandinavian countries.
Von Uexkull said Swedish government officials updated their risk assessment on live American lobster in July, taking into account comments from Canadian and U.S. stakeholders. If the proposal to ban live American lobster is accepted in the EU process, he said, it will proceed to World Trade Organization notification for further comments.
"The expected timetable is not fixed since the responsible committee in the EU might take some time, which affects the possible date for entry into force," von Uexkull wrote.
The United States has wrestled with invasive species, including Asian carp, a fish imported in the 1970s, which has had "devastating impacts on native fish populations," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Massachusetts lobstermen and state elected leaders have chafed at rules imposed by the U.S. government. Lobstermen met with lawmakers and Congressional aides this month on Beacon Hill, seeking to amend a ban on lobstering designed to protect right and humpback whales in an area between Cape Cod and Boston.
Also, Gov. Charlie Baker said he was "deeply disappointed" with President Barack Obama's decision this month to designate the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts as a marine national monument, phasing out red crab and lobster fishing in the area about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Sweden in late August, holding a press conference on Russia, the Middle East and energy. International trade has been a subject of controversy in the presidential election, and a source of concern in Europe as the United Kingdom voted this year to withdraw from the European Union. Obama has sought a trade agreement with Europe, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Michael Norton contributed reporting