On Tuesday, September 17, the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement condemning the lobster processing techniques in use at Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster in Rockland, as well as a video shot undercover.
The video shows lobsters being torn apart while alive. PETA launched a complaint that the processing techniques in use at the plant violate the state’s animal cruelty statute. The video, and PETA’s statement, have made national news coverage.
Carla Guenther, Fisheries, Science & Leadership Advisor for Penobscot East Resource Center, said she was not particularly worried by PETA’s claims.
“In some ways, PETA is grasping at straws,” said Guenther. “Last week, [members of PETA] were dressed as mermaids protesting outside the American Fisheries Society annual meeting.” Guenther explained that the AFS is a conservation organization.
“It doesn’t make sense to protest a group of people who are interested in conservation,” said Guenther. “They’re struggling, is what I would guess.”
Tony Bray, proprietor of Fisherman’s Friend Restaurant, said he received an email from a woman who wanted to know how the lobsters at Bray’s restaurant were cooked.
Bray told her the lobsters are kept chilled and then steamed or boiled and picked, unless served in the shell. Bray said he does not process lobster at his restaurant the way it is processed at Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster.
However, he disagrees with PETA’s choice to release the undercover video.
“It’s like showing a slaughter line,” said Bray. “It’s not what people want to see, but somebody has to do that in order to process [the animal].”
Bray said he doesn’t feel like he’s a good person to judge whether a lobster feels pain.
Guenther said that the question has been asked before and is not really knowable. It is also not possible to wound a lobster in one place and kill it, as its nervous system is distributed and not centralized—it doesn’t have a brain. The only way to kill the lobster instantly is to disrupt the entire nervous system at one time—such as with an electric shock.
“What we do know is that lobsters that are chilled prior to cooking have fewer nerve responses, which we perceive as pain,” said Guenther. “So, whether it is an experience of pain or not, by chilling the lobster before hand, you can minimize the response—whether that is pain experienced by the lobster or not.”
Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher released a statement regarding PETA’s claim.
“Statements made today by PETA are nothing more than another disingenuous attempt to advance their agenda and negatively impact Maine’s most important coastal industry and the economy it supports,” said Keliher.
The statement continues by saying that the state’s leading lobster biologist, Carl Wilson, reviewed the video and that “what is shown in the video is compliant with state and federal laws and regulations, including Maine’s animal-welfare statute.”
Guenther made the point that the processing techniques used at Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster are not widespread.
“What’s done in the video is pretty visceral,” said Guenther. “Not everywhere processes animals that way. I wouldn’t blanket the entire industry with that video.”