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Sweden, fearing a flood of Maine lobster, goes on the offensive

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Left: A lobsterman held a lobster stored on his dock in Cutler, Maine. Right: A fresh lobster catch in Sweden.Keith Bedford

Peace-loving Sweden, a country that remained neutral through World War II and brought Volvos and Ikea meatballs to the masses, has launched a bitter attack on New England's lobster industry.

Swedish government officials have proposed banning the sale of live US lobsters in the European Union and designating them as an invasive alien species, citing concerns about diseases that US experts contend are rare.

The simmering dispute prompted a New England congressional delegation to appeal to the Obama administration to intervene.

Just how similar are the two crustaceans on two continents? For those who have never even heard of Swedish lobster, or enjoyed a warm bowl of signature hummersoppa, it may hard to imagine.


The lobsters that live off of the west coast of Sweden, a species known as Homarus gammarus, are close cousins to the North American lobster, with six legs and two claws that taste delicious with a brush of melted butter. Swedish lobsters are mainly distinguished by their price, costing as much as two to three times more than their New England counterparts. The result: Swedish lobsters are typically served in pricey restaurants or on special occasions. Those side-of-the road shacks and plastic bibs that we associate with the Maine coast? They're tough to come by near the fjords.

Swedes swear by the superior quality of their marine crustaceans, but with prices that steep, most people can't afford them. So instead, they choose — yes, North American lobster.

That's according to John Duxbury, the editor of Swedishfood.com, a popular website dedicated to demystifying Swedish food.

"I do think most Swedes think [theirs] tastes better, but not two to three times better," Duxbury said of the exceptional price tag. "So in fact there are many more American lobsters in Sweden."

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse.