How Sustainable is Live Lobster Delivery?

We work to live sustainably and eat healthily, but sometimes, those practices come into conflict with one another. A trend – not new, but newly popular – recently caught our attention: that of shipping live lobster across the country. For the consumer, this is a fantastic offering. You get the freshest possible seafood regardless of where you live. No chemicals. No preservatives. No nonsense.

But how sustainable is this practice?

Companies who specialize in live Maine lobster delivery often do what they can to ensure sustainability – at least on their end. Maine has a robust system of laws designed to curb lobster harvesting and ensure it is done humanely and sustainably. As a result, most Maine lobster companies source locally and have maximum quotas they cannot rise above. So far, so good.

But what about the shipping? What about lobster wellbeing? Of course, they’re going to die anyway, but does the lobster suffer for the 24 hours during shipping? What about when it’s plunged into boiling water? Do lobsters feel pain?

Let’s start with the lobster experience. A 2018 animal protection law in Switzerland requires that lobsters be stunned before being cooked, indicating a biological precedent. Animal rights activists and some scientists argue that the lobster’s central nervous system is complex enough to feel pain, but the evidence is far from conclusive. The Lobster Institute in Maine argues that the lobster’s nervous system is most similar to that of an insect; while it may react to sudden stimulus, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can process pain. That said, erring on the side of caution might be a worthy consideration. Spending 24 hours in ice water during shipping and before cooking puts the lobster in a more naturally sluggish state.

Next, the elephant in the room: the environmental cost of shipping. Live lobster delivery depends entirely on speed, meaning most orders are shipped via airplane or overnight truck. Delivery companies have been working on efficiency for decades, but these shipment methods have a huge carbon footprint. In brief, this is terrible for the environment.

This is compounded with the fact that there are dozens of Maine lobster companies relying on fast shipping. Even if a single business only ships out 50 lobsters every day, that number is then multiplied by however many companies there are. A lot of lobster providers boast about state-imposed sustainability laws, but live seafood shipping is becoming more important to fisherman who often operate on slim margins. If businesses decide to amp up their seafood shipping services as a way to widen profit margins, that could spell danger for the “promise” of sustainability.

So, what does this mean for the live lobster delivery industry? Though individual businesses do what they can to ensure sustainability and creature comfort, the industry itself relies heavily on air transport, which can be detrimental to the environment. If you decide to order lobster from Maine for your next holiday dinner, proceed with caution, and maybe hold off on ordering for a while after.