PETA claim simmers down as DA drops caseLobsters, crabs not protected under law
Rockland — The District Attorney's Office and Rockland police will not pursue a case of animal cruelty against a Rockland processing plant, according to a letter released by District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau Sept. 30.
In the letter to Dan Paden from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Rushlau said he would not ask police to continue the investigation, because Maine's animal cruelty laws, as he interprets them, do not apply to lobsters and crabs.
PETA released a video online Sept. 17 claiming lobsters and crabs are being treated cruelly at a Linda Bean's Rockland processing plant, but those operating the plant say they are not violating any laws or standards.
The group sought a criminal investigation and submitted video it claims was recorded at the plant.
The video shows workers ripping the legs, heads and shells off live lobsters, and breaking apart crabs' shells with sharp spikes. The organizations said these practices violate Maine's cruelty-to-animals statute, which prohibits killing an animal by a method that does not cause instantaneous death.
Rushlau said the statute applies to "sentient" animals, and, as the word is not defined by the Maine Supreme Court, it is open to interpretation. He traced the origin of the term to 1973, when the word sentient replaced brute in the wording of the law. The explanation for the substitution was not explained, he said.
In the letter, Rushlau wrote, "Further, harvesting of lobsters and crabs was a significant industry in 1973, as today, and any Legislature would consider the effect on that industry before expanding the reach of the animal welfare laws."
The material sent to his office does not constitute a prosecutable offense, he added.
Attorney Steve Hayes, representing Linda Bean's Perfect Maine lobster company, said there is nothing in the video directly confirming that the plant in the video is Linda Bean's in Rockland.
He said Linda Bean's plant meets or exceeds all industry standards and does not violate the state's cruelty to animals statute.
Both the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Lobstermen's Association have put out statements denouncing PETA's campaign against the lobster industry.
PETA's counsel, Amanda Schwoerke, responded to Rushlau in a letter, thanking him and the Rockland Police Department for their attention on the matter, but asked him to reconsider his decision.
"Basic rules of statutory construction dictate that the definition of “animal” unequivocally applies to the lobsters and crabs being mutilated and tortured by workers at Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster," she said.
"Maine law makes clear that when a word’s plain meaning is unambiguous a review of the legislative history—which in this case is nonexistent in any event—is both unnecessary and improper. The Maine Supreme Court “look[s] to dictionary definitions when determining the plain meaning of words," she added. As PETA’s evidence amply shows, lobsters and crabs are “sentient” and feel every agonizing second of having their legs, shells, and heads ripped off their bodies, as occurs at LBML, the letter said.
Schwoerke also said the legislators whose 1973 intent Rushalu sought, could not "be privy to today’s ample scientific evidence that lobsters and crabs feel pain or the fact that quicker, less-cruel slaughter methods—such as electric stunners and hydrostatic pressure, both of which are used in Maine— make all the suffering documented at LMBL particularly unnecessary."
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.