PORTLAND, Maine — The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals on Tuesday unveiled a hidden-camera video the organization said shows the inhumane mutilation of live lobsters and crabs at a Rockland processing facility.

Maine lobster industry leaders responded sharply to the allegations of mistreatment. State marine resources officials said Tuesday they believe the activity shown in the video is in compliance with all state and federal laws.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said the PETA accusation “feels like such a violation of who we are as an industry, to be portrayed as people who don’t care about what we do.”

“[PETA] is an extremist group that has a very extreme agenda,” she told the BDN on Tuesday afternoon. “To have an industry that really has done such a tremendous job and puts out a product with a reputation for such high quality to be impugned by an extremist group is just disturbing to me. People need to know that lobstermen care and do a damn good job at what we do.”

Dan Paden, a PETA research associate, told reporters at a news conference in Portland that the organization sent an operative to obtain a full-time job at the Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster processing plant, where that individual wore a camera and obtained the footage. The video clip has been shown to a nationwide audience by CBS News, which described it as an “illegal lobster killing method.”

“We are calling on Linda Bean today to reduce all the suffering we documented by switching to means of slaughter that would rapidly stun and kill these animals, such as electric stunners, one of which is in use on Somerset Street at the Whole Foods Market,” Paden told reporters. “Alternately, Ms. Bean could use a hydrostatic compressor to quickly kill the lobsters as is used by Shucks Maine Lobster up in Richmond.”

Bean is a granddaughter of the late outdoor clothier L.L. Bean, whose name is still a worldwide brand. Stephen Hayes, an attorney reportedly representing Bean, did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the video. She runs a restaurant across the street from the flagship L.L.Bean store in Freeport.

Paden acknowledged that PETA promotes a vegan lifestyle and opposes the killing and eating of lobsters as it does any other animals. But he said the organization is “realistic” and is urging Bean to change processing plant’s methods.

Paden said his group is planning to seek criminal cruelty to animal charges from the Rockland Police Department and Knox County Sheriff’s Office as a result of the images seen in the video.

“The groundbreaking expose we’re releasing today is the first of its kind, behind-the-scenes look at how these sensitive animals are torn apart while they’re alive and fully conscious before their flesh ends up in grocery stores and restaurants,” Paden said. “With crabs, the workers slam the live animals face-first onto metal spikes to break off their top shells, and then force the animals’ exposed organs and flesh against rapidly spinning stiff bristled brushes.”

Paden said the Rockland facility will process 2.3 million lobsters this year.

“The animals survive these mutilations,” he said during Tuesday’s news conference. “The lobsters move their antennae and their legs for several minutes after they’ve been torn apart. … Similarly, the crabs writhe in pain for several minutes, including as they’re lowered very slowly, still very much alive, into boiling water, which, itself, does not instantly kill them.”

Maine’s cruelty-to-animals statute defines the activity as “intentionally mutilat[ing] an animal” or “intentionally … kill[ing] … an animal by a method that does not cause instantaneous death.”

Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said in a statement Tuesday that after consulting the state’s lead lobster biologist Carl Wilson, his agency concludes that “what is shown in the video is compliant with state and federal laws and regulations, including Maine’s animal-welfare statute.”

Keliher called the PETA accusation “nothing more than another disingenuous attempt to advance their agenda and negatively impact Maine’s most important coastal industry and the economy it supports.”

“PETA has not sought to change the animal-welfare statutes as they affect lobster through legitimate public processes, but prefers to seek media attention by attacking Maine businesses,” he continued. “The Maine lobster industry is a state-of-the-art industry selling the best seafood in the world. Through its strict adherence to all laws and regulations, the Maine lobster-processor sector consistently demonstrates its commitment to food safety, as well as the freshness of Maine’s iconic lobster.”

PETA released a statement Tuesday from Bjorn Roth — a scientist with the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fishery and Aquaculture — in which the researcher said the activity depicted in the organization’s video “would no doubt cause unnecessary pain.”

“If someone would not take a cat and rip the arms off … and watch her writhe in pain, there is no justification for doing that to a crustacean,” Paden said.

McCarron said Maine’s lobster industry, including its processors, are heavily regulated and use “the best available science,” which she said shows lobsters are arthropods — animals without “sophisticated nervous systems” that are more closely related to spiders than cats.

“They regularly lose claws or legs in the wild, and they regenerate them,” she said.

McCarron also pointed to media reports earlier this summer that PETA euthanizes more than 2,000 dogs and cats each year in its animal shelters, far more than it places in adoption from those facilities.

“They have their own record to speak for,” she said.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.