YORBA LINDA, CA -- Lobster Zones remain in operation in two southern California restaurants, but have been removed from another local venue following public demonstrations against the seafood crane machine organized by Orange County People for Animals.
As of mid-February, the game remains in operation at Wardlow's, a thriving restaurant in Long Beach, despite being the target of a demonstration on Dec. 27. "My customers don't even want me to consider removing it," the owner said.
"Our customers love the Lobster Zone; we have two of them and they are very popular," said the manager of the San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant. "We just ignore the complaint letters; I don't even know if we are still getting them."
But the owner of the Beach Club Sports Bar & Grill in Long Beach decided to remove his Lobster Zone machine last fall. The decision came after the restaurant was picketed by protestors and received many letters of complaint starting in September.
"The owner didn't want any trouble," said a Beach Club employee.
OCPA's campaign claimed the cranes are "cruel contraptions" that cause "fear" and "terror" in lobsters, which the group called "intelligent, sentient creatures."
OCPA's letters also suggested that the game could be in violation of California Penal Code Section 597(b) makes it a crime to "torment," subject to "needless suffering," "inflict unnecessary cruelty upon," or "in any manner abuse" an animal. Violators of this statute may be charged with a felony and fined up to $20,000, said OCPA.
The group also charged that Lobster Zone cranes violate Long Beach city ordinances that prohibit restaurants from keeping live animals on premises.
Lobster Zone cranes are built by Lobster Zone Inc. (Apopka, FL). They occasionally have been the targets of protests by animal rights activists across the nation. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has attacked the game more than once, as reported by Vending Times in 2008 after PETA complained about it in Denver, CO. SEE STORY
At that time, Nick Pappas, the manufacturer's vice-president of marketing, said most protests fade out quickly and the cranes typically remain on location.
Pappas said the company is dedicated to ensuring that its vending equipment operates reliably and maintains an uncontaminated saltwater environment for the lobsters. Claw tension is applied by air pressure, and the plastic arms wrap around a lobster's body, functioning more like a basket that can gently lift the catch. This design feature prevents the crane's claw from puncturing the lobster's body, whic is protected by a tough shell.
Designed by a marine biologist, the tank is engineered to preserve purity. The environment is regulated by a state-of-the-art chiller and filter system that Pappas said is better than most lobster pound tanks used by restaurants and seafood shops.
The lobster vending machine was designed in 1996 by Advanced Games & Engineering (Ft. Lauderdale, FL); the current manufacturer took over its manufacture in 2001. The company maintains a website at the thelobsterzone.com.
The Lobster Zone Up Close
The appeal of The Lobster Zone is that it challenges patrons to test their skills, offering the chance to win a complete lobster dinner for $2, according to Gregg Schaeberle, whose California Lobster Zone is the game's distributor in that state.
Manufactured by The Lobster Zone Inc. in Apopka, FL, the game features a transparent water-filled tank fitted with an overhead pneumatic crane mechanism.
Designed to assure the lobsters' health and safety, the tank system filters and aerates the water while holding it at an optimum temperature. California Lobster Zone technicians test, clean and refill the tanks twice a week.
Schaeberle has prepared a Crustacean Education pamphlet for patrons and accounts. He explained that lobsters do not sound an alarm when placed in boiling water; they lose consciousness within seconds. The sound that accompanies the process is produced by air expelled from the creature's exoskeleton.