Growers in Washington, Massachusetts would be the first to get the go-ahead

The United States has not allowed imports of European bivalves for more than 30 years, and the European Commission has blocked the import of U.S. bivalves since 2010. But the long-term trade injunction is on course for reversal on both sides of the Atlantic.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published a proposed determination in the Federal Register in March, stating that the safety controls in the European Union are equivalent to those in the United States.

Likewise, the European Commission is completing administrative procedures for its own proposed determination that U.S. safety controls are equivalent to those in the EU, according to a statement from the FDA.

The proposals open the door to the trade of shellfish across the Atlantic — starting with the Netherlands and Spain to export to the United States. U.S. producers from Washington state and Massachusetts could export to Europe.

“For nearly eight years, the U.S. and EU have not traded any raw molluscan shellfish products, meaning consumers have been missing out on choices in the market place, and businesses in both the U.S. and EU have missed opportunities for new commerce,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement.

The FDA and European Commission actions open up a potentially lucrative new market for the U.S. shellfish industry, which is responsible for an estimated annual production value of $500 million. Bob Rheault, executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, has been urging FDA for several years to reverse the trade ban. He is cautiously optimistic about the proposed action.

“We are glad this step has been taken. We are looking forward to more trade; we are looking at a lucrative potential market,” said Rheault.

The FDA is accepting public comments until May 22. If the proposal goes into effect, the agency said additional EU countries will “quickly” be added to the approved list. More U.S. states are likely to be added to Europe’s approved list, as well.

Though it would be a positive step forward in international trade, Rheault is concerned about the high costs of shipping live shellfish across the ocean.

“Initially, it is going to be a niche market, but the American oyster in past years has had great acceptance in their markets,” Rheault said. “Maybe it will attract specialty sales.”

Christine Blank is a contributing editor for and a veteran freelance writer and editor who covers all aspects of the seafood industry, from fishing to processing to selling and serving the final product.

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