In October of 2013, I attended a dual protest outside L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean’s restaurant in Freeport.
On one side was a couple dozen representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
They were protesting what they claimed was “animal cruelty” against lobsters and crabs at a Bean owned processing plant in Rockland on the heels of what they dubbed a “groundbreaking expose” in the form of undercover footage taken by a PETA operative who had obtained a full-time job at the plant:
On the other side was a crowd of lobstermen, fishermen, and people who care about the maritime industries in Maine.
I attended, in part, out of loyalty to the lobstering industry, but also because- as someone who has been in multiple lobster processing plants- it was obvious to me that the whole thing was a calculated, dishonest attempt by PETA to capitalize on some pretty gruesome looking footage and the fact that said footage came from a plant owned by one of Maine’s most iconic and wealthy people.
But no laws were broken by Bean’s plant, and as far as I can gather from first-hand accounts and conversations with other maritime workers, what you see taking place in the above footage is what you’d see at any lobster processing plant.
The fact is that food production, at its basic levels like harvesting and processing, is an ugly business.
Speaking of ugly business, at the protest I was told by multiple organizers, including representatives for PETA, that most of the PETA supporters had been bussed or flown in from out of state- some from as far away as California- for the sole purpose of standing in front of Bean’s restaurant and causing a scene.
On the PETA website, pictures are posted from the protest portraying confused passers-by as PETA supporters after getting a sign thrust into their hands and a camera shoved into their faces. Many of these people quickly put their signs down and walked away once they realized what the protest was all about.
Also on the PETA website are pictures showing multiple PETA representatives wearing leather at the protest that day:
Fast forward to this week, when on Monday PETA released a statement claiming responsibility for the Portland Sea Dogs’ decision to end a contract that they had with Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster company, saying:
“After learning from PETA about Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster (LBML)—whose products appeared in the park’s concessions last season and which was the subject of a PETA undercover investigation that showed lobsters and crabs who were writhing after being mutilated—the Sea Dogs have decided not to offer lobster from the company this season.”
Surprised by the statement from PETA, the Sea Dogs responded.
As was reported by Darren Fishell, BDN Staff:
“While it is true that we will no longer be working with Linda Bean’s, we reached this decision based on business reasons, not in response to pressure from PETA,” a news release from the Eastern League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox stated Tuesday. “We are also in the process of finalizing a new provider of Maine lobster for this season.”
Team officials said the news release PETA issued Monday, alleging the Sea Dogs discontinued their deal with Bean’s lobster company because of concerns about what PETA described as inhumane processing techniques, prompted them to refute that claim.
“While we would normally not comment on a business decision of this sort, we wanted to set the record straight in light of PETA’s misleading press release,” the statement said.
PETA clearly doesn’t have a problem with misleading people into supporting their causes, but regardless of how you feel about their organization or any of the other work that they do, the fact is that in this case we’re talking about live animal processing, so there are bound to be some unsightly images regardless of the legal or ethical standards involved.
I’m not opposed to changing the law and requiring more humane processing practices, nor were any of the maritime workers that I spoke with at the protest, but the way that PETA has gone about this battle is really detrimental to the industry.
We’re at a time when if we can’t find better ways to market Maine lobster to the rest of the world (across the U.S. specifically) then the industry is likely marching to a slow death as far as livable wages for lobstermen are concerned.
If PETA were truly concerned with the processing practices in Maine they would work in Augusta to create legislation for change. Instead they are effectively casting a negative light on the entire industry by going after the Bean brand.
The thing is, Mainers aren’t all that fond of Linda Bean, the Sea Dogs decision to end their contract certainly speaks to that.
But we are fond of our lobstermen, and defensive as all hell of our culture and traditions.
So PETA, the next time you decide to come to Maine and cause trouble, remember to get your facts straight.
And if you really want to be taken seriously, leave the leather at home.