Miami-Dade County

Live lobster arcade game pulled from Doral pub after customer complaints

To diners, it was a game. To animal activists, it was cruel death. So now, the arcade claw that snagged living lobsters from their tanks at a Doral pub has been taken away.

Lobsters are no longer served at the pub. And the customer who complained about the catching game has been given an award.

Until late July, diners at Carolina Ale House on Northwest 36th Street and 87th Avenue could pay $2 for a chance to win a live lobster by grabbing it with the mechanical claw, much like the one that grabs candy and teddy bears at Chuck E. Cheese. It was a popular game but the management decided to get rid of it when Cristina Fernandez, 30, from Palmetto Bay complained about the device.

Animal rights group PETA awarded Fernandez with a "Lobster Defender" award this week, just before the commercial lobster fishing season began on Tuesday.

"The animals were swimming in filth," Fernandez said. "It was cruel and it was inhumane. When I was growing up those machines had stuffed animals."

Lobsters would swim around a small tank until a lucky winner scooped one up with the claw. Winners could either keep the lobster or have the restaurant boil it, free of charge. According to PETA, the mechanical claw injured the lobsters and the tank was too small for them. Also, the organization said, making a game out of killing innocent animals send the wrong message, especially to kids.

Fernandez, who grew up catching lobsters in the Keys, approached the management in early July. She asked them to remove the machine, saying it was a cruel and inhumane way to treat the animals.

The manager “was super gung-ho about it," she said.

Within three weeks, it was gone.

The arcade game known as "The Lobster Zone" came from a company by the same name based in Apopka, north of Orlando. The company has 200 machines in Florida and 2,000 across the United States, said the company’s owner, Ernie Pappas, 70.

Pappas denounced PETA’s claims that his machine’s tanks are uncomfortable for the crustaceans and that the claw injures them.

"We treat our lobsters better than they do in grocery stores," he said. "The claw is made of plastic, I’ve never had a lobster injured."

The company gets calls from "goodie-two-shoes" a few times a year but it is rare for a bar to get rid of the machine, Pappas said.

"It’s pathetic when you think about all of the other stuff going on in the world," he said of their complaints.

For the Carolina Ale House, the decision to remove the machine was easy. The restaurant had heard from customers in the past but none of them were as vocal as Fernandez, said the manager Andy Dunkes, 44.

"She came in and we hit it off," he said. "A lot of people thought the machine was cruel and the last thing we want to do is offend any body."

So far, the removal hasn’t affected business, he said.

The lobsters in the arcade game are treated the same as lobsters in display tanks at seafood restaurants. Their claws are bound and they are not fed while they await their death, both of which are industry policies, according to PETA.

Only a handful of establishments around Miami have "The Lobster Zone, " Pappas said.

At Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill in Key Largo the machine is a big hit, especially among the younger crowd.

"The kids go crazy for them," said Monique Barrios, 21, a hostess. "A little girl won three of them the other day."

Although some winners say they want to save the lobsters after they win, customers don’t really complain about the machine, Barrios said.

Mr. Moe’s Restaurant and Bar in Coconut Grove got rid of the machine about a year ago but not because of animal safety. They took the machine away after some customers broke into it and took some of the money, said employee Gus Fernandez, 40.

"People loved it," he said. "We’d probably still have it if that didn’t happen."

For Cristina Fernandez, who has supported animal causes in the past but has never seen tangible results, getting the machine removed from the ale house was an amazing victory.

"I got emotional," she said. "All these waitresses and waiters and bus boys came up to me and told me how much they hated the machine."