New Brunswick

European Union backs off banning North American lobster

Canadian lobster fishermen are getting a break from the European Union over a proposed Swedish lobster ban.

Ban would have cost lobster industry in Canada and U.S. hundreds of millions

Live lobster exports from the U.S. and Canada are estimated at $200 million a year. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Canadian lobster fishermen are getting a break from the European Union over a proposed Swedish lobster ban.

The EU will not entertain a Swedish proposal to ban imports of American lobster into 28 member countries. Sweden claims the species is invasive, but the EU isn't buying it.

The European Commission informed Sweden it will not propose the lobster be listed as invasive, a spokeswoman for the commission said. It will instead pursue measures less likely to disrupt trade.

The EU decided last month to conduct an extensive review of a proposal to ban the lobsters from the U.S. and Canada. A scientific panel had concluded Sweden raised valid points in requesting to declare the American lobster an invasive species.

'No strong scientific evidence'

But the Invasive Alien Species Committee then showed that there was no support for listing the species, the commission spokeswoman said.

There was no strong scientific evidence that this could really do some damage.- Gilles Thériault, fisheries consultant

Fishermen in New England and Canada, congressional leaders and U.S. scientists opposed the ban and welcomed the EU's decision on Friday. They had tried to make the case that the proposed ban wasn't based in sound science.

Gilles Thériault, president of GTA Fisheries Consultants in Moncton, said the news was good but expected. He said a ban would have been excessive given that Sweden only discovered 32 lobsters in its waters over seven years.

"There was no strong scientific evidence that this could really do some damage," he said.​

Lobsters likely escapees

Thé​riault said Sweden will probably try to put measures in place to be able to monitor movement of lobsters. "That's a fair thing to do."

Sweden made the case that the lobsters were a threat to native European lobsters, which also have economic value. But University of Maine research professor Rick Wahle and others maintained that the lobsters were most likely escapees from storage facilities.

Canadian and American lobster fishermen export lobster to the European Union every year, and the crustaceans are an especially popular item at Christmas in some European countries.

The move would have been a major threat to Canada's East Coast fishery, which exported about $75 million in live lobster to European markets last year, a figure that the Lobster Council of Canada says accounts for about 10 per cent of live exports.

Officials with Sweden's Agency for Marine and Water Management contended the country was right to be cautious about the appearance of a foreign species in its waters. Officials with the agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

With files from CBC News and the Canadian Press