One of the most interesting things about living in Maine is seeing all the people who come to visit us every summer.

But one group’s annual appearance is something that we don’t look forward to much – it’s the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and its annual attack on the lobster fishery.

This year, PETA has tried to make a splash by buying advertising at the Portland International Jetport, hoping to dissuade visitors from eating lobster while they’re here. It features a picture of a lobster that says: “I’m ME, not Meat! See the individual. Go Vegan.”

The question of whether lobsters see themselves as individuals separate from all other beings on the planet with a life that has a beginning and an end — in other words, whether they have consciousness — is too much to answer in this space. Let’s just say we strongly doubt it.

LEADER IN SUSTAINABILITY

But as to the question of whether eating Maine lobsters can be considered ethical, we do have an opinion. It is.

The Maine lobster fishery is one of the most sustainable in the world. The men and women who bait traps have a history of self-imposed conservation measures and are governed by thoughtful regulations going back to 1879.

Lobsters are not hurt when they are caught in traps — they’re not even really traps, since lobsters can go in and out of them to feed.

The men and women who haul in the lobsters throw back the ones that are too young, along with females bearing eggs.

They also throw back the biggest lobsters because their long-term value as breeders is greater than the short-term money they would draw at market.

The result is a healthy population that continues to thrive even after multiple years of record and near-record catches.

After they’re caught, lobsters are still treated well. The best prices are for live lobsters, so before they make it to market, they are kept in clean sea water, cooled to temperatures they like with a minimum of distress.

SIGNIFICANT ECONOMIC IMPACT

Lobster sales in Maine bring in more than $400 million a year, and another $1 billion is spent through the supply chain. This money is distributed to Maine people and spent on food and housing. Some of it is collected in taxes and used to support schools and other basic services that communities need to survive.

That sounds pretty ethical, virtuous even. But that’s not what PETA means with its tiresome attack on lobstering. The bottom line for the group is whether lobsters feel pain when they are dropped in a pot of boiling water.

Most scientists who have considered the question say crustaceans don’t have the kind of nervous system required to process what we would consider pain. Others say the fact that the lobsters will try to get out of the pot before they die shows they are experiencing something negative.

Just as with the question of whether lobsters think about their individuality, we can’t know for sure if they feel pain.

But when it comes to the ethical treatment of lobsters, we think the Maine fishery makes a strong case.

The PETA advocates have a right to voice their opinions, but maybe they should focus on actual abuse of animals (which is abundant elsewhere) and take a cue about what to do in Maine from our other visitors.

Relax — it’s Vacationland.

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