Japan lifts ban on lobster shipments

Posted July 31, 2008, at 12 a.m.

Japan has lifted a ban on imports of North American lobster that had been linked to a misunderstanding over safety, industry officials said Wednesday.

The ban took effect this week after the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat the green substance known as tomalley that’ s found in the body cavity of lobsters. Tomalley can be contaminated by red tide even though lobster meat remains safe to eat.

In place of the ban, lobster from areas with known red tide contamination will be tested for paralytic shellfish poisoning, which is caused by red tide, said Bonnie Spinazzola, executive director of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’ s Association in New Hampshire.

Lobster found to be below a certain threshold will be allowed into the country, she said.

Japan acted swiftly to ban lobster because the tomalley, while avoided by most diners in America, is considered a delicacy in Japan, Spinazolla said.

The requirement will remain in place until the FDA announces that tomalley in lobster from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts is free of red tide contamination.

It’ s unclear how much live lobster is shipped to Japan. Spinazzola said about 250,000 pounds of lobster worth more than $1 million is shipped each week to Japan. A publication of the National Marine Resources indicates 924,000 pounds of lobster was exported to Japan in 2007.

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