Sometimes in politics, you just can’t win.

One minute, Gov. John Baldacci appears on the verge of saving 130 jobs in remote Prospect Harbor by helping to broker the resurrection of the just-closed Stinson sardine cannery as a seafood processing plant.

The next, Maine’s chief executive is a mass murderer.

“Selling the Stinson cannery to a lobster- and fish-processing company, as you’re reportedly pushing for, would condemn countless animals to painful deaths,” Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a letter sent Monday to Baldacci.

“Can the cruelty,” Reiman urged the governor, “and turn Stinson into a cannery for Maine’s famous wild blueberries instead.”

To which Baldacci spokesman David Farmer, who heard about the letter for the first time Tuesday, tactfully replied, “But what about the blueberries?”

Good question. We’ll get back to that one.

PETA’s letter arrived in the governor’s office (which, alas, was closed Tuesday because of a state shutdown day) on the heels of Friday’s announcement that a non-binding letter of intent has been signed by an undisclosed buyer interested in restarting the Stinson plant as a lobster and seafood processor as soon as August.

That would be the best of news for the estimated 130 people who lost their jobs last week when Stinson, the last sardine cannery in the country, was closed by parent company Bumble Bee Foods, LLC.

But for PETA, which only a few months ago sent first lady Karen Baldacci a box of chocolates for not donning fur during the cold Maine winter, the governor’s efforts to restart the Stinson plant are nothing short of barbaric.

“Perhaps you are unaware that lobsters can live to be more than 100 years old,” Reiman wrote to Baldacci. “They recognize individual lobsters, remember past acquaintances, have elaborate courtship rituals, and help guide young lobsters across the ocean floor by holding claws.”

(Hmmm a Bubba’s Sulky Lounge at the bottom of the Gulf of Maine. Who knew?)

Reiman went on to say that fish also have “long-term memories and sophisticated social structures, and some use tools.”

(Then why haven’t they mastered the fish-hook remover?)

She continued that fish “learn by watching what other fish do, and they can recognize individual ‘shoal’ mates. Scientists at Stanford University say that fish have the reasoning capacity of small children.”

(Small children? Our governor wants to restart a processing plant that will target creatures who reason like small children? Will he stop at nothing to save Maine’s economy?)

The Stanford University citation, it turns out, is classic PETA: Slice off a piece of an academic study, saute with a healthy sprinkling of hyperbole and, voila! Where once there was a school of young fish, we now have a net full of innocent kids with gills!

Except we don’t.

The study, which appeared in the journal Nature three years ago, was co-authored by professor Russ Fernald of Stanford University’s Department of Biological Sciences.

Contacted Tuesday, Fernald said the research showed that a certain species of African fish established their social pecking order by watching which fish won and which lost in one-on-one fish fights conducted in tanks while Fernald and his colleagues monitored the action.

What the study did not find, Fernald said, was that fish “have the reasoning capacity of small children.”

“These animals have the skills they need to have a complex social world,” Fernald said. “That in no way says they are like children or anything else.”

He added, “They don’t reason like small children, even remotely. Children can’t hold their breath long enough to reason under water anyway.”

PETA spokesman Ashley Byrne countered in an interview Tuesday that the Stanford study is but one of “many, many studies” that back up PETA’s claim that fish and lobsters, shall we say, feel our pain.

And while we’re on the subject of research, Byrne also noted that PETA has come up with “financial data” that shows the increased demand for blueberries nationwide all but guarantees a blueberry cannery would be a slam-dunk success on the coast of Down East Maine.

Financial data? What kind of financial data?

“I’ll send you a link to at least one article that has some information about blueberry production in Maine,” Byrne promised.

She did. The article came from The Packer, a trade magazine for the fresh fruit and produce industry.

It mentions that sales of blueberries are up in California and Florida, but it contains nary a word about Maine blueberries or, for that matter, mythical “blueberry canneries.”

So how will Baldacci deal with this unsolicited, unscientific and, let’s face it, downright unbelievable letter from 2 million-strong PETA?

He won’t.

“I don’t even have to ask him about this,” said Farmer. “We wouldn’t typically respond to something like that.”

And when will PETA get the message that a letter like this one, far from helping its cause, is enough to make most Mainers choke on their lobster tails?

It won’t.

“We think it’s a very logical proposal for the governor,” said spokeswoman Byrne. “Accepting our proposal would be a win-win situation.”

Try telling that to a blueberry.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]