Why lobster blogging? Because it’s been too long a day for me to consider writing something serious, but I don’t want this site to become too idle. And lobsters seem to be turning up everywhere lately. Read on, you might learn something. You’re just wasting time at work anyway.
Let’s keep up the pretense of being a political blog and start with a post by Rogier van Bakel, who asks “Lobsters, dogs, what’s the difference?” An Italian restaurant (a real one, like, in Italy and stuff) was fined 688 Euros under an animal cruelty law designed to protect household pets. The crime? Displaying live lobsters on ice to attract customers:
A court in the northeastern city of Vicenza ruled the display was a form of abuse dooming the crustaceans to a slow death by suffocation. “We’re appealing,” said Giuseppe Scalesia, who runs La Conchiglia D’Oro, or “Golden Shell,” restaurant along with his brother Camillo. “They said that the lobsters, laying on the ice, suffer… They compared them in court to other animals, like cats and dogs.”
The case was brought by Gianpaolo Cecchetto, a former environmental activist, who took his two young children to the Vicenza restaurant in May 2002. “They were shocked by the display,” Cecchetto told Reuters, adding he immediately got in touch with the ENPA national animal protection entity.
“It might not hurt to keep in mind that most lobsters are boiled alive before they’re eaten,” Rogier notes. “Should that be declared illegal, too, in favor of — I dunno, what’s sufficiently humane?” I’m sure he meant that as a rhetorical question, but that’s no reason not to answer it. There’re lobsters’ lives at stake, after all.
Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters, wrote a rather lengthy, yet fascinating, blog post on this very subject not too long ago. He says that the most humane way to kill a lobster is to chill it in the freezer for fifteen minutes and then split it quickly in half with a large knife. The accompanying photos make this appear not so fun for the lobster, but luckily it is cold blooded. The brief chill slows down its nervous system while the fast work of the knife cuts it in twain. The method is good for the lobster and doesn’t compromise on meat quality for the consumer. And, incidentally, it means that Mr. Scalesia was doing right by putting the lobster on ice — whether he knew it or not, it was a nice anaesthetic touch.
So all you need to kill a lobster a humanely is a freezer, a knife, and a bit of skill. Or maybe you need several thousand dollars, dedicated counter space, and a big jolt of electricity. When the knife method just won’t cut it, the CrustaStun comes to the rescue:
Lobsters could soon be “crusta-stunned” to death, if an invention by a British barrister takes off.
Simon Buckhaven says his electronic stun-gun would be a humane way of killing the creatures…
He said: “In a fraction of a second it knocks them unconscious and then, by the sustaining of the current, it destroys the entire nervous system, which kills them…”
“Until now there has been no electronic method of dealing with crabs, lobsters and crayfish. We have it now. We know it works,” he said at the time.”
I, for one, have long desired an electronic method method of dealing with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish. They never respond to my old-fashioned letters.
But seriously, this could be a decent idea. The CrustaStun requires less skill than knifing a live animal with claws and the company claims it results in meat that tastes better than other killing methods. All well and good. Unfortunately, the inventor isn’t just marketing his device to seafood processors and restaurants. He’s going straight to Parliament, where it appears he’s using proposed animal cruelty laws to drum up demand:
Last year Mr Buckhaven told a parliamentary select committee that workers in the fishing industry would be able to afford the stun-gun…
“When the question of cost has been raised, the shellfish producers in Cornwall think it is very viable in terms of the equipment they have to use.”
He said that the cost for restaurants would be between £1,000 and £2,000 for one machine.
The CrustaStun website prominently mentions legislative concerns as a reason for purchasing one of the machines. That’s good news for lobsters, but not for restauranteurs who may have to shell out for the device at regulators’ demand.
CrustaStun has the Shellfish Network on board, too. Who is the Shellfish Network, you ask?
The Shellfish Network was formed by Joe Solomon in 1994 to campaign peacefully against cruelty to these animals… While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other Animal Rights groups include shellfish in their campaigns, we believe that we are the only organisation to give a consistently high profile to the suffering of shellfish. But they still remain at or near the bottom of the league-table of public sympathy!
A fringe group, to be sure, but that didn’t stop them from submitting a 2004 memo to the Parliament’s Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
We believe that traditional methods of cooking are cruel and that the methods outlined in our Guidelines should be mandatory, at the very least for lobsters, crabs, crayfish and langoustines. These include the freezing method; placing the crab or lobster in a plastic bag and placed in a deep-freeze cabinet set at -20°C and left for two hours, or alternatively cutting through the nerve centres, which must only be carried out by experienced staff. The anatomy of the crayfish is like that of the lobster on a small scale, and it therefore may well have a similarly complex nervous system, although piercing nerve centres would not be practicable as it is so small an animal. The freezing method would be necessary in this case. We have heard from a scientist that langoustines can take up to 30 seconds to die when boiled. Subjecting live, conscious animals to cutting up, boiling, steaming or other cooking processes should be banned and the killing only carried out by competent experts. The Crustastun, mentioned in our Guidelines, is an electrical stunning tank which has recently been developed in prototype by scientists at Bristol University and the Silsoe Research Institute near Bedford. This stuns crabs and lobsters in a fraction of a second, and ensures that they remain insensible to pain long enough to be cooked by boiling immediately. Once the device is available it ought to replace all other methods.
My favorite line is, “We have heard from a scientist…” No research citation, no name of the scientist. Just this guy they know who wears a white lab coat. And his business card says he’s a scientist, so he must know what he’s talking about.
The Shellfish Society doesn’t want people being cruel to lobsters in their own kitchens either:
Since the majority of the general public will have no idea on the most humane ways of killing shellfish, we suggest that such sales should no longer be legal. Only licensed experts should be allowed to kill the animals, using our Guidelines.
Not even in self-defense? CrustaStun, by the way, links to the memo.
We haven’t even gotten to the worst and most humorous aspects of lobster exploitation yet. If you think being boiled alive, stabbed in the chest, CrustaStunned, or displayed on ice to hungry Italians are unpleasant things to endure, I’ve got news for you: the worst is yet to come for our lobster friends. These, at least, are deaths with dignity. Not so our next atrocity.
The Business Opportunities Weblog reports that a company in Maine is marketing the Maine Lobster Claw Game. It’s like the old arcade game where a player maneuvers a claw that unexpectedly drops down into the tank and grabs whatever prize waits below. Except in this game, the prizes are live lobsters. For $2 the player gets a shot at taking one home. What they do with the lobster when they win it isn’t explained. Do they carry it around in a plastic bag like a goldfish? I have no idea.
In any case, animal rights activists aren’t too happy about this innovation:
The Maine Animal Coalition (MAC) says the state’s lobster industry is only now beginning to follow the standards for humane treatment of lobsters set by European countries, New Zealand and Australia…
“This game is adding insult to injury,” says MAC President Christina Connors. “They can’t go anywhere or get away. Not only will they be boiled alive, but they are being taunted in the meanwhile.”
Budding entrepreneurs can buy the lobster games for just $14, 950. If they can sleep at night knowing the humiliation they will impose on the lobsters, they’re sure to make millions. The only question is what to use as the grand prize. Sure, a Maine lobster is nice, but there’s got to be one prize that’s so enticing that the rubes will keep on dropping cash to pursue it. Something like, say, an incredibly rare blue lobster from Canada.
Really, a blue freaking lobster!
And on that note, our foray into lobster blogging comes to an end.