Protecting Maine’s Lobster Industry from Unjustified Barriers to Trade

Lobster fishing has served as an economic engine and a family tradition in the United States for centuries, helping to support the livelihoods of thousands of families in the United States through fishing, processing, and shipping.  More than 120 million pounds of lobster are caught each year in U.S. waters, representing one of our country’s most valuable catches. 

Here in Maine, our lobster industry leads the nation.  It is comprised of some 6,500 owner-operated small businesses, with skills, knowledge, and a strong respect for conservation that have been passed down for generations.  These small businesses sustain coastal communities, help to preserve our working waterfronts, and, according to the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, have an economic impact topping $1 billion.

A significant part of the American lobster industry’s economic impact – nearly $200 million each year –comes from trans-Atlantic trade.  That trade is threatened by efforts taken by the Government of Sweden to reclassify North American lobsters as an invasive species, which would effectively ban the importation of live Maine lobsters to the entire 28-country European Union. 

I have joined with my Maine congressional colleagues – Senator King and Representatives Pingree and Poliquin – to ask three top Obama Administration officials to stop these efforts.  In our letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, we note that live Maine lobsters have been exported around the world for decades, and the risk of those lobsters breeding with European species is very low.

Live lobsters are Maine’s top export to the EU, so any attempt to halt their import would have serious ramifications for Maine lobstermen and women, their families, coastal communities, and our entire state.  Access to the European market helps sustain Maine’s maritime economy.

It is critical that any action undertaken by the European Commission be consistent with the rules of the World Trade Organization.  Among those rules, the WTO requires that animal health protection measures be based upon scientific principles and supported by scientific evidence.  Moreover, the WTO does not allow such measures if they are used to disguise restrictions on international trade for economic purposes.

The science simply does not support Sweden’s position.  For decades, Maine has safely exported live lobster around the world.  Studies by the University of Maine, a global leader in the scientific study of lobsters, have indicated that the risk of Maine lobsters interbreeding with European lobsters is extraordinarily low.  Our University researchers also report that disease transmissions risks associated with inadvertent contact are small due to the significant differences between European and Maine sea temperatures.

According to the EU’s own regulations, the appearance of an alien species in a new location is not necessarily a cause for concern.  Since only a small number of Maine lobsters have been found in foreign waters, EU regulators should take a finely-tuned approach before branding the very limited presence of Maine lobsters as an “invasion.”

Some reports suggest that individuals are intentionally releasing Maine lobsters in European waters.  If this is the case, such a violation should be handled first by local law enforcement – as it is in Maine – rather than be used as a barrier to international trade.

My Maine colleagues and I are urging Administration officials to help make certain that the European Commission exhausts all reasonable options to deal with this issue before potentially alienating an important trading partner.  It is in the best interest of all parties to maintain this sector of trans-Atlantic trade that supports so many Mainers and their families.  Our lobstermen and women have heeded calls by President Obama to build export markets.  It is essential that our government works to ensure that the EU does not erect unjustified barriers to those markets.