Douglas Tabler is the president and only member of the Lobster Rights Watch. He has just won a major victory on behalf of his mute crustacean friends — or so he thinks.
Several weeks ago when California’s North Coast Co-op opened its big, snazzy new supermarket it had a tank to hold live lobsters. The fresh water burbled through day and night. The lobsters’ claws were clamped shut, lest they eat one another before the customers got them..
Mr. Tabler happened upon this tableau and looked the lobsters in the eye. Like George Bush seeing Vladimir Putin’s soul, Doug saw their fright and loneliness. He reasoned that he’d be frightened and lonely, too, if he were about to be boiled in someone’s cooking pot. Not one to shun a fight, he set up a one-man picket line in front of the Co-op. When the tank’s occupancy dwindled to four lobsters, he decided to take more direct action. He bought the four lobsters, after first making contact with a chap in Maine who agreed to release them back into the Atlantic, from whence they came.
Resourceful Doug plunked down $200 to send his lobsters to Maine by FedEx. The man at the other end dutifully released them into the ocean. Doug and his numerous sympathizers cheered the lobsters’ freedom. Apparently, no one was cruel enough to point out that the lobsters would soon end up in another lobsterman’s pot (trap) on the ocean floor and go right back to market.
Blithely ignorant of the realities of lobster harvests or not, Mr. Tabler wasn’t finished. He said would continue picketing until the Co-op shut down its lobster tank for good. Many letters to the editor appeared in local newspapers, praising him for his humani — err — lobsterstarian deed. Some were cynical. A few even suggested that his $200 would have been better spent on food and medical supplies for the children of Darfur. Never mind, the doughty Doug continued picketing.
That brings us to the regular board meeting of the Co-op, held last week. The board is elected by the Co-op’s 10,000 or so members. Everything is very democratic. Friends of Mr. Tabler lobbied board members. The board voted to remove the lobster tank. The store manager was unflappable. He said it had been placed there because customers wanted it and they bought about 43 pounds of lobster a week. Perhaps he can make up the lost lobster sales in mung beans and organic brussels sprouts.
Doug was elated at the outcome of the Co-op board meeting’s vote. But wait. There is a much bigger challenge ahead. Dungeness crab season is about to begin. It is one of the mainstays of the north coast economy. Several million pounds of the succulent ocean crawlers is caught and sold every year. They are boiled, just as lobsters are, but in commercial markets, not on the home stove. The lobsters’ champion has a big job on his hand. How can he picket all the fishing boats and fish markets between, say, Monterey and Portland, Oregon? If he hadn’t sent his four lobsters back to Maine, he might have kept them around to picket with him. Alas, they probably ended up in drawn butter. He’ll have to find some new friends to march with him this time.
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