Animal Law

District Attorney in Maine won’t prosecute lobster processor because he doesn’t think lobsters are animals

Speciesism in action.

PETA had recorded secret footage of lobsters being treated inhumanely at a processing plant in Maine. However, the District Attorney for Hancock County won’t prosecute charges because he claims that lobsters aren’t “animals” under the state’s animal cruelty statute. According to Foster, “there is a lack of conclusive evidence that lobsters are ‘sentient,’ and noted that a similar complaint filed in 2013 in Knox County was not prosecuted either.” He goes on to claim that he takes animal cruelty “very seriously,” but I don’t see how that’s possible when he’s denying science and allowing lobsters to be treated cruelly.

Let’s go through each claim. First, let’s all agree that lobsters are indeed animals. They’re part of the animal kingdom. This isn’t up for debate.

Now, onto sentience.

Perhaps Foster and others don’t know that since March of 2018, it is illegal to boil lobsters alive in Switzerland – for the precise reason that lobsters can feel pain! How do we know this?

Well, in 2013, experiments were done by Professor Elwood to find out if crabs and lobsters do feel pain. You can read about the experiments, which involved shocking the crustaceans, at the link. The behavior of the shocked crabs and lobsters provides “strong evidence to suggest that crustaceans experience pain.” From the article:

Crustaceans — crabs, prawns, lobsters and other creatures — are generally not protected by animal-welfare laws, despite huge numbers of them being caught or farmed for human consumption. The exclusion has been based on the belief that these animals cannot experience pain — generally regarded as an ‘unpleasant feeling’ — and instead only have nociception, a reflex response to move away from a noxious stimulus.

This is a useful belief, as crustaceans are subjected to what Elwood calls “extreme procedures” — lobsters in factories having their legs removed while they are still alive, crabs being kept alive but tightly bound for days in fish markets, and live prawns being impaled on sticks for eating. Such procedures, he notes, “would never be allowed with vertebrates”.

Interestingly, in 2017 a seafood company was in fact convicted of animal cruelty for the way they killed a lobster. According to the Guardian in its article Sydney fishmonger convicted of animal cruelty over lobster treatment, “Nicholas Seafoods was found to be in breach of the New South Wales Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act for butchering and dismembering lobsters with a band saw, without adequately stunning or killing them.”

A Washington Post article, A seafood company killed a lobster — and was convicted of animal cruelty, discusses the issue further. Regarding lobsters and sentience:

Jonathan Balcombe, author of the book “What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins,” said he believes fish are sentient creatures with highly complex lives and societies.

“Their lives matter to them,” he said. “I’ve become firmly convinced they deserve equal moral consideration to all other vertebrates.”

Balcombe said the situation with crustaceans, as opposed to vertebrate fish, is “less clear.” But research has shown that crustaceans do “remember and learn from apparently painful events,” and that should bring them into our moral universe, he said.

“Sentience is the bedrock of ethics,” he said.

Someone should tell that to the state of Maine. Lobsters are in fact animals and all signs point to them feeling pain. Therefore, they shouldn’t be excluded from anti-cruelty statutes.

“With the data we know, it is highly likely that the animal will be in pain,” [Professor Robert Elwood] says. “We give protection to birds and mammals, currently we give very little protection to decapod crustaceans — lobsters and crabs — and the question comes, why is there this difference?”


Further reading:

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