Anti-seafood advertising messages in a few U.S. and Canadian cities are gaining attention this summer – positive, negative, and humorous.
Timed before major summer seafood festivals, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)-sponsored billboards express the individuality of crustaceans. For example, the current billboard displayed in Baltimore, Maryland, which includes an image of a Maryland blue crab, states: “I’m me, not meat. See the individual. Go vegan.”
The billboard, near Baltimore's Inner Harbor and several seafood restaurants such as Phillips Seafood, McCormick & Schmick's, and The Oceanaire Seafood Room, will be in place for the Baltimore Seafood Festival on 15 September.
In late July, PETA posted ads with the same message: ”I'm ME, Not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan,” along with the image of a Maine lobster, on the concourse in the Portland International Jetport. The ads are near several airport restaurants, including Linda Bean's Maine Lobster Cafe, which sells live lobsters.
A previous PETA investigation of Linda Bean's Maine Lobster revealed that live lobsters were “impaled, torn apart, and decapitated – even as their legs continued to move,” PETA said in a statement.
Similar subway ads and billboard messages were displayed near the New Jersey shore and in Toronto, Ontario, earlier this summer.
The slogan is a “very pure message that we have found has resonated with people,” Amber Canavan, vegan campaigner for PETA, told SeafoodSource. “It has hit a nerve with people. You are looking at that one animal right in the face. Every time we have put these up, it has been so successful at grabbing people’s attenton.”
The science about how fish and shellfish can feel pain is “just starting to come in,” Canavan said. “This might be a new idea for a lot of people, but we have been starting to get emails from people [after seeing the billboards], saying that, ’I never gave that a thought or consideration’ and asking us for recipes.”
Reactions to PETA’s Maryland billboard campaign included shock, jokes, and jabs.
“I thought it was fake, honestly. I was shocked. It was pretty tone-deaf,” said Tony Minadakis, the owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, one of the Baltimore area’s largest crab-oriented restaurants, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“Um. You are a crustacean that has been around for millions of years and is part of a food chain that feeds animals and humans. Try again,” one Twitter user tweeted.
“You evolved a shell and claws to protect your meat. I have hands and a mallet. LET’S DO THIS,” another Twitter user said.
"Just like humans, crabs feel pain and fear, have unique personalities, and value their own lives," PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement. "PETA's billboard aims to give Charm City residents some food for thought about sparing sensitive marine animals the agony of being boiled alive or crushed to death in fishing nets simply by going vegan."
PETA executives are also excited to see the growth in the vegan seafood industry, after recently releasing a list of the top 10 vegan seafood restaurants in the U.S.
“Five to 10 years ago, I wouldn’t expect to walk into a burger joint, for example, and be able to find something to eat,” Canavan said.
In addition to restaurants, food manufacturers such as Garden, Sophie’s Kitchen, Ocean Hugger Foods, and Good Catch are rolling out innovative vegan seafood items.