German supermarkets ban lobster sales

The Albert Schweitzer Foundation successfully led a campaign to have German supermarkets halt lobster sales.

A German animal rights group says its campaign to ban the sale of lobsters in the country’s supermarkets has been very successful.

Mahi Klosterhalfen, the executive vice president of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation, said the group has managed to convince all of Germany’s major grocery store chains to stop selling lobster.

The animal rights group started its push to have stores ban the lobster sales over concerns with how their claws are bound, that they may not be fed for months while they are shipped and how they are cooked.

"As we all know, they are usually boiled alive which seems to us one of the most gruesome deaths you can imagine," he said.

Klosterhalfen said getting all the major supermarkets in Germany to stop selling lobster was one of the group’s most successful campaigns.

"We started the campaign last year basically and it was a very quick victory," he said.

He said German restaurants still have lobster on the menu and he said the country doesn't import a lot of lobster so the boycott won't have a huge impact on Canadian sales.

The Albert Schweitzer Foundation was started in 2000 with its “mission to relieve as much suffering as possible.” The group says it stands for vegetarianism and veganism because “no form of commercial animal husbandry can solve the ethical problem of unnecessary killing.”

Seafood exports, especially lobster sales, are a big business in New Brunswick.

The province was Canada's largest exporter of seafood in 2012, with exports valued at $967.2 million, followed by Nova Scotia at $915.4 million and British Columbia at $871.5 million.

Lobster is the most valuable Canadian seafood product, which accounted for $1 billion in Canada’s overall seafood exports.

Lobster is also the New Brunswick's most valuable seafood export.

But the German supermarket ban on lobster sales may not have a huge impact. In 2010, Germany did not crack the top 11 countries in terms of New Brunswick’s seafood exports.

Klosterhalfen said he's heard of attempts by seafood producers in Canada and the United States to obtain the approval of the London-based Marine Stewardship Council.

The council uses its blue “ecolabel” and fishery certification program to recognize industries that use sustainable practices.

The council says products with its ecolabel can be traced back to a sustainable fishery.

Maine had its lobster industry awarded the council’s blue ecolabel on March 10 at the start of the annual Boston Seafood Festival.

Kerry Coughlin, the council’s regional director for the Americas, called the addition of Maine lobster “historic.”

"Having one of the most famous and iconic fisheries in the world become MSC certified sends a powerful and positive message about confirming seafood sustainability to buyers and consumers around the world," Coughlin said in a statement on March 10.

"The Maine lobster fishery has operated for centuries and today’s announcement indicates the fishery’s commitment to be viable for centuries to come."

In 2010, the council certified offshore lobster caught in zone 41, which is south of Nova Scotia.

According to the Marine Stewardship Council’s website, the lobster fishery from the Îles-de-la-Madeleine is being assessed for the ecolabel.

These moves are not changing the minds of the German animal rights group.

Klosterhalfen said the council’s ecolabel simply protects lobsters from overfishing, but it does not stop their death in pots of boiling water.

"It's something that doesn't change our position at all because it doesn't change how the lobster actually gets treated," he said.

Klosterhalfen said his group has no plans to spread its campaign outside of Germany.

Geoff Irvine, the executive director for the Lobster Council of Canada, said last week the decision to pull lobster from the German shelves is unfair.

“It's inconclusive whether or not lobsters feel pain but from our perspective we assume that they do. So we make sure that everything we do in the plant and in the process kills the lobster in the most humane way,” Irvine said.

Irvine said the Lobster Council of Canada will give European retailers more detailed information on the lobster industry, hoping to convince them to keep buying Canadian lobster.

Irvine said on March 13 most Canadian lobster fisheries will be certified in 14 to 16 months.

But certification comes with a price. It can cost up to $250,000 to earn the ecolabel.