An animal rights group wants Portland officials to replace a well-known statue of a lobsterman in downtown Portland with another statue depicting a lobster crushing a trap in its claws.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has campaigned regularly against the Maine lobster fishery, made the offer Thursday in a letter to Mayor Kate Snyder, saying the statue swap would be “claws for celebration.”

PETA rendering of a statue depicting a lobster crushing a trap in its claws. The animal rights group wants Portland officials to replace the well-known statue of the lobsterman in downtown Portland with its lobster statue. PETA photo

The letter from Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s president, said the organization would donate the statue, and she included a rendering that shows what appears to be an unrealistically large lobster crushing a lobster trap in one of its claws.

She said the replacement would acknowledge “the pain and torment that marine animals endure at the hands of the lobster industry” and that the new statue would be an “animal-compassionate sculpture.”

“Lobsters are complex, sentient individuals who are like us in many ways, including, importantly, in their ability to feel pain,” PETA spokeswoman Nicole Meyer said in an email. “A livelihood for one species should not be a death sentence for another and PETA hopes Mayor Snyder will take us up on our offer to erect a statue that honors lobsters instead.”

Snyder was out of town Friday, said she hadn’t seen the letter and declined comment on PETA’s offer.


The letter extols lobsters as “remarkable animals” and claims they feel pain when caught and cooked, although scientists are split on that point. Newkirk’s letter also says that lobster trap lines contribute to whale deaths, a sore point for an industry that is battling new federal regulations intended to reduce whale entanglements in fishing gear.

Newkirk ends her letter by saying she hopes Snyder will “be a lobstar” and swap the statues.

The lobsterman statue in the plaza near the Nickelodeon in Portland has a long and complex history. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The lobsterman statue, in a square at the intersection of Temple and Middle streets, has a long and complex history. Portland’s version is a casting of a plaster statue created by sculptor Victor Kahill for display in the Maine section of the Hall of States at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It depicts H. Elroy Johnson, a Bailey Island lobsterman, pegging a lobster – inserting a wooden peg in its claw to prevent the lobster from using it. Most lobstermen now use rubber bands for that purpose.

In its history of the statue, the Portland Public Arts Committee said some lobstermen were disappointed when Kahill’s statue was unveiled because Johnson’s dog, Bruin, wasn’t part of the sculpture to represent the dogs who go out with lobstermen.

Backers were originally unable to raise the $5,000 needed to cast the statue in bronze, so Kahill’s plaster version was sent to the World’s Fair. According to the Public Arts Committee’s history of the statue, the statue was returned to Maine after the fair and put on display in a Portland hotel, and then in the rotunda of Portland City Hall, where vandals broke off several pieces.

It was then moved to Boothbay, partially restored, and the Maine Legislature eventually appropriated money to cast three bronze copies of the statue. One went to Augusta, another to Portland, where it was placed in the square by the City Council in 1977, and the third to Bailey’s Island and then later to Washington, D.C., where it sits on Maine Avenue, overlooking the Potomac River.

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