Don’t boil a lobster, give it a zap instead
By BILL POWER Business Reporter
Thu. Nov 19 - 4:46 AM
A company in the United Kingdom is about to lift the lid on a device that zaps lobster with electricity to kill them, and the inventor said Wednesday his humane alternative to boiling is about to give the entire industry a jolt.
British entrepreneur Simon Buckhaven said the CrustaStun system, developed over the past decade by his company Studham Technologies Limited, near London, kills the lobster with an electric charge, so the crustacean feels no "pain or distress."
"I am entirely aware this product will be greeted at first with some skepticism among people in the lobster industry in Eastern Canada and northeastern United States," said Mr. Buckhaven, of what he called the world’s first crustacean stunner.
But he said the animal rights movement in Europe and the United States is gaining traction by protesting the traditional method of killing a lobster in boiling water, prior to serving it with melted lemon or garlic butter.
Seafood distributors and regional seafood retailers are among potential customers lining up to test out the device, said Mr. Buckhaven.
"A lot of people who love to eat lobster do not like preparing it at home because they have to cook it in boiling water. The restaurant industry is also more frequently hearing questions about how lobster will be killed from customers," said the entrepreneur.
Prototypes of the CrustaStun have made appearances in the U.K and in the United States over the years, but the company has just come up with a production model capable of plugging into North American and European power grids and is accepting orders for the devices. They cost about US$3,500 and sit in a kitchen like a microwave.
The inventor and his wife and business partner Charlotte were invited by animal rights activists to a big lobster dinner fundraiser last week, sponsored by the non-profit Child and Family Resource Centre in Tucson, Ariz.
"This is an important fundraiser for us but the animal rights groups were complaining about the lobster being boiled alive. The idea was the protesters would accept the stun device as a more humane way of killing lobster, compared to cooking them in boiling water," said Eric Schindler, president of the resource centre.
Mr. Schindler said in an interview he could not comment either way on boiling versus electrocution as the preferred method of killing lobster.
The animal rights group PETA bought two of the lobster devices and paid for Mr. Buckhaven and his wife to fly to the Arizona event last Saturday to demonstrate the technology.
Unfortunately, the courier service lost the two machines and the animal rights people had to look the other way as volunteers killed hundreds of lobster in boiling water for hungry supporters of the resource centre.
This was perhaps not an auspicious North American debut for the crustacean zapper, but Mr. Buckhaven said the interest of animal rights activists in the Arizona fundraiser should have people in the lobster industry in Eastern Canada paying attention.
"We developed our device out of concern about how lobster and other crustaceans are killed. Animal rights groups share this concern," said Mr. Buckhaven.
He said an industrial version of the CrustaStun system is currently under development by Charlottetown Metal Products in Prince Edward Island. These custom-built models can cost about $100,000 or more.
His company is looking for a North American manufacturer and distributor of the single-lobster device that goes into production in the United Kingdom next week.
The increasing interest of some U.S. celebrities like Mary Tyler Moore and Ellen Degeneres, and organizations like PETA, in lobster cooking techniques has not generated a huge amount of interest in Canada. A segment on the Ellen Show featuring her attempt to free a 65-year-old lobster is popular on YouTube.
Anything that potentially threatens Nova Scotia’s $400-million lobster industry is worthy of some consideration, said Celeste Sulliman, a spokeswoman for the province’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
"Low prices devastated the industry last year and demonstrated the fragile nature of the marketplace," she said.
The topic of lobster cooking has generated lots of interest in the United Kingdom, where some chefs weighing in on the topic suggested freezing the lobster in a plastic bag as a humane and economical alternative to an electric jolt from the CrustaStun