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Brawny American Lobsters Are Muscling in on Their European Cousins

Sweden wants to ban live American lobsters for fear they will out-claw their own

(Sue Ding/Istock)
smithsonian.com

Americans often have a reputation for being loud and brash, and apparently our lobsters are no different. According to Swedish officials, the American lobster is making its way into European waters and using its abnormally large crushing claws to muscle its cousins from across the pond out of the way.

Back in December, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management released an 89-page document detailing how the American lobster is invading its waters and taking over territory that once belonged to the somewhat-smaller European lobster. Scientists say that not only could the invaders spread new diseases to their smaller European cousins, but the two species are so genetically similar they could breed a new hybrid lobster species, William Mauldin reports for the Wall Street Journal.

“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,” Paul Stebbing, a researcher at the United Kingdom’s Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, tells Mark Tran for The Guardian.

This isn’t the first time that Sweden has sounded the alarm about American lobsters invading European waters. The Nordic country has been calling attention to the possibility of it becoming an invasive species since 2008, when a fishing trawler off its west coast netted several American lobsters with their claws bound by rubber bands, Victoria Helena Greve reports for the Portland Press Herald. Since then, 32 American lobsters have been caught in that region, which some say is a sign that the species is starting to settle down in new, European habitats, reports Helena Greve. But now, the European Union is considering banning imports of American lobsters during a meeting of its Scientific Forum this June.

While this potential invasion is concerning some scientists and environmentalists, there is more at stake than just what kind of crustacean makes it to European dinner plates. Tran reports that European imports of American lobsters accounts for about $134 million a year—a significant chunk of change for New England lobstermen.

“It is an important trade so this is concerning,” Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association tells Tran. “If they found 30 American lobsters over eight years, how is that an invasion?”

Those numbers may seem small on paper, but as the authors of Sweden’s report warn, those could just be the ones that have been found. If the American lobster has gotten a foothold, it’s possible that there are many more out there off of Europe’s coastlines that haven’t yet been found by fishermen. And Sweden isn’t the first to seek a ban on importing live American lobsters: earlier this year, Norway blacklisted the crustaceans from entering the country, and both nations are currently offering rewards for any American lobsters caught off of their coasts, Mauldin reports.

Right now, it’s too early to say which way E.U. authorities will swing on the lobster issue. But even if live American lobsters are banned from entering Europe, it might be a while for the extent of any damage to be fully understood.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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