Associated Press photo

Apr 11, 2016 2:58 PM

How did 32 Maine lobsters end up in the waters of Sweden?

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Exactly how 32 American lobsters wound up in Swedish waters isn't clear. But because some of them were wearing the rubber bands that are put on lobsters' claws in captivity, many suspect the shellfish had been exported to Europe and then either escaped into the wild or were set free by animal rights activists.

Whatever the case, their discovery has set off a high-stakes trade dispute between Sweden on one side and the U.S. and Canada on the other.

Sweden has asked the European Union to bar imports of live American lobsters into the 28-nation bloc, saying the crustaceans could spread disease and overwhelm the smaller European variety by outcompeting them for food. The American and Canadian lobster industries are skeptical of Sweden's call for a ban, saying they suspect it has more to do with business than with sound science. They suggest Sweden is trying to protect the market for European lobsters.

A ban on imports would probably benefit countries such as Iceland, which exported more than 2 million pounds of lobster to the EU in 2014, and Cuba.

American lobster, a species that is caught in the cold waters of the Northeast and Maritime Canada, tends to be bigger and meatier than the European species. The European species also has a bluish hue, though both varieties turn scarlet when cooked.

Gerry Cushman, a lobsterman who works out of Port Clyde, Maine, said a ban on exports to Europe based on a few escaped lobsters would be unfair.

"If they ban Maine lobsters, are we going to ban selling Volvos in Maine?" he said.

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