September 18, 2013

Maine denies PETA claim of cruel lobster 'kills'

As the group releases an undercover video, the fisheries commissioner says the practices shown comply with state and federal laws.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The state's top fisheries official rejected claims Tuesday by a controversial animal-rights group that a lobster processor in Maine has engaged in cruel mutilation of lobsters.

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click image to enlarge

Dan Paden, evidence analysis manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), discusses on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 a video made by an undercover activist showing what PETA says are cruel processing procedures at a lobster and crab processing plant in Rockland.

click image to enlarge

This photo taken from a video shot by PETA shows a worker holding a lobster after its shell was removed while it was still alive.

Courtesy PETA

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In a prepared statement, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher called the claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals "nothing more than another disingenuous attempt to advance their agenda and negatively impact Maine's most important coastal industry and the economy it supports."

Keliher said he consulted with his department's lead biologist and concluded that "what is shown in (a PETA) video is compliant with state and federal laws and regulations, including Maine's animal-welfare statute."

PETA released the video Tuesday and said it was shot this year at the Rockland processing plant of Linda Bean's Maine Lobster. Bean is a granddaughter of the legendary Maine retailer L.L. Bean and a major player in the state's lobster industry.

At a news conference Tuesday in Portland, Dan Paden, an evidence analysis manager with PETA, screened the four-minute video, which shows, among other things, live lobsters being ripped apart by hand.

The video, taken with a hidden camera by a PETA investigator who worked at the plant briefly, shows an unidentified worker grabbing a squirming lobster. He rips off the lobster's claws, then drives the body against a sharp stake mounted to a machine, which separates the shell surrounding the head and body. The lobster twitches after its limbs are taken off.

The Portland Press Herald has not posted the video on its website because it could not independently verify where it was shot. The video is on PETA's website.

Stephen Hayes, an attorney who represents Bean, said he could not comment on the video because nothing identifies where it was shot. He said the company would "object to publication of any video that depicts any of our employees or our facilities, as that violates their and our right to privacy."

Although no state or federal laws govern how a lobster should be killed during commercial processing, Paden said he would meet with the Knox County District Attorney's Office and Rockland police to ask for an investigation of Linda Bean's Maine Lobster under the state's animal cruelty statute.

In an email to the Press Herald, Hayes said, "Our practices do not violate Maine's laws on cruelty to animals because lobsters do not come within the covered definition. Simply put, lobsters are not 'sentient creatures,' a position supported by long-standing and oft-repeated scientific and governmental studies."

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, also disputed PETA's claims, calling the organization an "extremist group" that should refrain from "casting its judgment on an industry it knows nothing about."

McCarron said she has not seen the video. Although her organization does not represent processors, she said, she was troubled by PETA's characterization of lobster processing.

"You can't humanize a lobster," she said. "They are food."

Fourteen processors licensed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources process 10 million to 12 million pounds of lobster a year. That's only about 10 percent of the state's catch. Nearly 70 percent is processed in Canada, which has more plants.

Several Maine processors declined to discuss their methods for killing lobsters. Some of the employees who answered the phone said they were not authorized to talk about operations, and other processors did not return messages.

John Norton, president of Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland, would not discuss his processing methods in detail but said they differ from the method in the video.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: PETA complaint

Do you agree with PETA's plan to file a complaint against Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster for cruel treatment of lobsters and crabs?

Yes

No

View Results