Why the worst thing about Larry the Lobster’s death is PETA’s response

Despite efforts to save “Larry the Lobster”- the 15 pound crustacean who has been making national headlines this week- the animal died en route on his way from the Florida restaurant where he became famous to the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor.

The story is confusing for a few reasons.

For one thing, there are regulations on the size of keepable lobsters in Maine, with the maximum size being just a 5 inch torso. So any lobster coming in at more than a few pounds is rarely small enough to keep legally, and any 15 pound lobster is going to be far too big to keep in Maine.

Maine lobster, roughly half the size of "Larry the Lobster". Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN

Maine lobster, roughly half the size of “Larry the Lobster”. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN

Massachusetts, however, allows for larger lobsters to be caught, and this is largely viewed as a major contributing factor in the demise of the lobster industry in the Bay State.

All sustainability arguments aside, that means that Larry was illegally caught, transported, and sold if he was, in fact, from Maine.

The more likely scenario- based primarily on the fact that no charges have been filed on anyone involving the story- is that the lobster came from another New England state such as Massachusetts, and was mislabeled.

Regardless of where Larry actually came from though, what’s even more puzzling is the decision to send him back to New England.

Based on accounts and reports, it’s difficult to tell if he was even packaged adequately or not.

According to a report by Emily Burnham of the BDN, he was apparently packed into a styrofoam container with frozen gel packs and seaweed. If that’s the case, then Larry was packaged properly, but the Miami Herald reported that he was packed with gel packs and a frozen towel, which is improper because once the towel would have thawed during transport the resulting stagnant water would have done more to hurt Larry than help him.

Still, regardless of how he was packaged, the idea to ship him back was a bad one either way. Lobsters can typically handle about 48 hours while packaged in transit, and if they arrive at their destination in good health can then be kept alive in holding tanks until ready for consumption.

Here's me with a roughly ten pound lobster on Casco Bay back in 2014. He was released immediately after this photo was taken. Photo- Dan Kay, Cumberland.

Here’s me with a roughly ten pound lobster on Casco Bay back in 2014. He was released immediately after this photo was taken. Photo- Dan Kay, Cumberland.

A lobster the size of Larry, however, needs to be handled especially carefully. With the stress from the initial trip down to Florida, plus the handling that he surely endured in his time at the Tin Fish restaurant near Miami, plus the ensuing trip back up to New England, plus the fact that he was shipped via Fedex- it should come as no surprise to anyone with knowledge of the species that Larry died on his way to Maine.

What’s most alarming about this story though, more than the likely mislabeling of the lobster’s state of origin or the ill-advised decision to send him back- is the response from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

At a PETA protest outside Linda Bean's Freeport restaurant in 2013.

At a PETA protest outside Linda Bean’s Freeport restaurant in 2013.

In a statement which PETA Vice President Tracy Reiman released on Wednesday, the group displayed a gross lack of understanding for the biology of lobsters, arguing that Larry should have been immediately released into Florida waters rather than shipped back to Maine.

“Larry’s needless death after efforts were made to save him from being boiled and eaten shows that he should have immediately been released back into his ocean home,” said Reiman, “not shunted about and shipped like a piece of mail to be held captive in an aquarium.”

What Reiman doesn’t understand is that if Larry had been dropped into Florida ocean waters, he would have died just as quickly as if he had been dropped into a pot of boiling water.

This is because dropping a lobster into a foreign body of water is like dropping a human on another planet with no space suit and expecting them to survive. The chemical makeup in the water is much different in Florida than it is in New England, so Reiman’s solution would have effectively poisoned Larry to death, rather than boiling him.

PETA has made a habit out of sticking their own foot in their mouth when it comes to the Maine lobster industry, and this is just another example of why the group should focus more of their efforts on saving puppies and leave one of the world’s few remaining, truly sustainable, wild caught animal harvesting operations alone.

Photo- Matthew Stilphen, Keep ME Current.

Photo- Matthew Stilphen, Keep ME Current.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.