Animal-rights group PETA's beef with lobster industry comes to Canada
'We feel targeted, and it's not fair,' says spokesperson for New Brunswick company singled out by PETA
International animal-rights group PETA has traditionally been known for focusing its attention on land-based animals, but marine animals are increasingly in the group's crosshairs, which will likely mean more light shone on the Canadian seafood industry.
The group's latest target is a seafood shell recycling plant in Richibucto, N.B. Last month, CBC News reported that residents are frustrated by the odour being emitted from Omera Shells Inc., which grinds, heats and processes old lobster and crab shells and shrimp skins, turning the remains into a powder. The powder is later exported to Asia, where it's used in the bio-medical industry and as a fertilizer.
Days after the story was published, PETA issued a press release noting the company plans to fly an aerial banner or have a billboard set up near the plant with the message "I'm ME, Not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan." It's the organization's latest effort to draw more attention to the seafood industry.
"PETA is always looking for new and novel ways to help animals by encouraging people to adopt a healthy, vegan lifestyle and we are focusing more and more on aquatic animals," said PETA spokesperson Amber Canavan.
She said a simple fix to the odour problem at Omera Shells is for people to stop eating lobster.
In July, PETA placed ads promoting a vegan lifestyle in Toronto subway stations. The ads featured cows, pigs, chickens or lobsters.
"Lobsters are intelligent, sensitive people who do not want to be killed," said Canavan.
"They struggle desperately to escape when they're dropped into boiling water or are steamed, and since we can get everything we need from a healthy vegan diet, there's no need to continue killing lobsters or any other animal."
Fernand Gaudet, who works in sales for Omera Shells, said it's unfair the company is being targeted.
"When Jesus fed the people with fish, there was no complaints," he said. "The fish has been put on this earth and the lobster so we can have dominion over the animals."
'People have a right to eat what they want'
Gaudet only learned of PETA's plan from a CBC News reporter. He said it hasn't caused any issues for the company, but worries it will scare off suppliers concerned about bad publicity, especially given the controversy that's already been caused by the odour problems.
"I believe that people have a right to eat what they want," he said. "People have a right to work in the lobster industry. To encourage such a thing is to say to the children of those families, you know, your parents should be out of a job."
Gaudet says the smell has improved significantly since last year, and the company is looking to nearly eliminate it. He said they've hired a company to analyze the air, identify the stinky molecules and figure out a way to neutralize them. They're also planning to install a taller chimney that would help eliminate any wafting scents from the plant.
Geoff Irvine, the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said the lobster industry employs about 30,000 people in Canada through fishing, processing and live shipping. Those jobs are found in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, although most are in the Maritimes.
He said he wasn't sure what impact PETA's campaigns would have on the lobster industry.
"We're always concerned about anything that may impact us, and we are proactive in terms of the work we do within an industry and communicating effectively and talking and making sure that our story gets told," he said.
"Market access and issues like this are always happening and we're on top of them."
While Irvine conveys a diplomatic message about PETA's campaigns, Gaudet is more blunt.
"We feel targeted, and it's not fair, and we're only trying to create jobs," he said.