Thirty-two lobsters. Taken off the same shore in one day, and it’s a grand start toward a summer feast.

But picked out over a long stretch of coast in an eight-year period? That hardly warrants an absent-minded mention at the dinner table, much less an international trade incident.

But that’s just where Sweden is taking its find, as the country seeks to ban all imports of live American lobster into the European Union’s 28 member nations.

The ban would be a $10 million annual hit to the pockets of Maine lobstermen — and roughly $150 million for the U.S. industry as a whole — all over a number of bugs that would have a boat captain cursing if it were one day’s haul.

Sweden’s proposal, backed by dubious science and questionable motives, is now in front of the EU, which should reject the ban, and tell Sweden to find a solution much more on scale with the problem.

Ostensibly, some Swedish factions are concerned that American, or Maine, lobsters, after being dropped in the waters off their west coast after the long boat trip east, may spread disease, or possibly breed with the native lobster species.


But according to scientists, the argument doesn’t pass muster.

Advocates of the ban say they are concerned about three diseases, but none of those concerns really hold water.

Epizootic shell disease, for instance, is not contagious, so it could not be spread from American lobster to its smaller, spiny European cousin.

And gaffkemia, or “red-tail,” hasn’t been seen in an American lobster in 10 years, and is in all likelihood a thing of the past.

Finally, white spot syndrome, though fatal and contagious, does not even affect lobsters.

As for crossbreeding, it’s possible, scientists say, but not at the numbers needed to impact the population, and it is unlikely young American lobsters could survive in the water off Sweden, which differs in temperature and salinity from our part of the ocean.


“I think what they’re saying, for the most part, is incorrect,” said the executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute.

One contention from the Swedes does ring true — that a ban would be “beneficial in terms of profits and jobs” for the commercial fishery of the European lobster.

But whatever the reason — disease, environmental impact or provisional economic interest — an outright ban is overkill. This is a law enforcement problem, and policing, education and fines are much more appropriate and proportional responses.

After all, when the invasive plant milfoil began invading Maine lakes — doing much more damage than a few lobsters — the state didn’t shut down the borders or ban boating. Instead, a monitoring and informational system was put in place, and the results have been good.

The EU is now conducting an independent report, and with any luck they will see through Sweden’s argument.

And if not, maybe Mainers can respond in kind. Does anyone know if Swedish fish really come from Sweden?

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