Company Touts Humane Live Lobster Sales
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Live lobsters have been off the menu for the last year at Whole Foods Markets. The upscale grocery chain objected to what it called inhumane treatment of the lobsters, crowded into tanks and then steamed alive.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Well today Whole Foods is opening a store in the nation's lobster capital, Portland, Maine, and so it has to have lobsters.
BRAND: So it found a supplier who says he's come up with new, humane ways to handle lobsters. He is Craig Rief, president of Little Bay Lobster in New Hampshire.
Mr. CRAIG RIEF (President, Little Bay Lobster): Our effort, we were trying to minimize the amount of contact between the various lobsters. So this system actually isolates each individual lobster from each other. So that will reduce the possibility of a puncture wound.
The best way for me to describe is like a large egg carton. And essentially we have this egg-carton configuration right on the boat, and what it does is it allows the lobstermen to take the lobster right out of the trap and place it directly into the egg carton, and each individual lobster is separated as it comes out of the trap.
BRAND: And that's because these lobsters are quite aggressive, right? They like to pinch each other and stab each other and just be generally kind of nasty to each other.
Mr. RIEF: Exactly. Lobsters by nature are cannibals. They will, if given the opportunity, they'll eat each others' antennas, they'll eat each others' legs. They want to eat, and so if they're given the opportunity to eat, they will eat.
BRAND: You also have this other thing called the CrustaStun. What is that?
Mr. RIEF: Correct. Actually, the CrustaStun was developed in Europe and is widely used in Europe. It's essentially a means or a mechanism to quickly shock the lobster, which obviously results in a quick death of the lobster, and then lobsters are moved from a CrustaStun directly into whether it's a steam-cooker, boiling pot of water or other mechanisms for cooking. They've got now - lack of better words - like a glorified microwave that steams the lobster.
BRAND: Why is the CrustaStun better than dropping the lobster into a boiling pot of water?
Mr. RIEF: You know, it's very difficult for me to answer that question. Whole Foods has done extensive research on it, and that's why that's a preferred method that they've decided to implement, but…
BRAND: But you're a lobsterman. I mean, you know about lobsters. Do you think it's more humane treatment, or do you think that, well, they don't really know the difference?
Mr. RIEF: Based on all of the scientific research, I don't see that there's any difference. Arguably that we haven't seen anything that would suggest that the traditional methods of boiling, steaming, whether it's the use of the CrustaStun - there's all different methods of dispatching a lobster very quickly. None of the scientific research has suggested that lobsters feel any significant amount of pain.
BRAND: So as a consumer, basically you're paying for good conscience. You're paying to know that your lobster was treated humanely and killed humanely with a CrustaStun.
Mr. RIEF: Yeah. Maybe it's a good conscience, but I think it's more - I mean, at least from our company's perspective, we really look at this from a quality product. We preserve the fresh-caught quality of that lobster as it comes out of the water.
BRAND: You know, lobster's expensive enough already. Will this add to a lobster's cost?
Mr. RIEF: It'll add a slight premium to it, but again it's a premium product that will have a slight premium price paid on it.
BRAND: Craig Rief, thank you for joining us.
Mr. RIEF: Madeleine, it's been my pleasure. Thank you so much.
(Soundbite of music)
BRAND: That's Craig Rief. He's the president of Little Bay Lobster in New Hampshire. He's supplying lobster to the new Whole Foods store in Portland, Maine starting today.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.