PETA lobster ad prompting Steamship policy change

Also, two old vessels, the Gay Head and Katama, are going up for sale. 

A poster by PETA aboard the SSA ferry Martha's Vineyard. —Eunki Seonwoo

Posters hung by an animal rights advocacy group has the Steamship Authority (SSA) reconsidering its advertising policy. 

The board is considering only allowing advertisements from federal, state, and town governments, or the SSA itself. In a second option under consideration, the board could choose instead to change its policy so it isn’t forced to approve ads that could get the Steamship in trouble.

The board was prompted to update the policy after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, paid for advertisements that riled up some Islanders. The posters encouraged readers to avoid eating lobster and to practice veganism, and raised awareness over the plight of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale by taking aim at the lobster industry. The group has a contract to advertise until the end of October.

Some Islanders’ concerns — including local lobster fishermen — reached Jim Malkin, the Martha’s Vineyard representative to the SSA board, who broached the subject at recent Steamship board meetings. 

“Lobstering is a big part of New England. It’s a big part of our local economies,” Malkin said during a June 20 meeting. He added that portions of the local economy depend on lobsters, including lobster fishermen and some restaurants. 

Malkin said the SSA’s current policy does not allow the SSA to “pick and choose” what advertisements can go up without bringing litigation or controversy. He suggested instead limiting the types of advertisements to those from town, state, or federal entities, as well as from the SSA. 

The proposed change would be similar to the flag policies some Island municipalities have adopted. In Chilmark, where Malkin is the select board chair, the only flags that can be flown on town flagpoles are town, state, or federal flags. 

Robert Davis, general manager of the ferry service, said the SSA’s advertising policy “mirrors” those of other transportation agencies, such as the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority or Washington State Ferries. Additionally, Davis said advertisements tend to bring in around $100,000 in revenue annually for the SSA. 

Peter Jeffrey, Falmouth representative to the SSA board, was against the board monitoring the contents of advertisements. 

“I think that will just put us in a precarious position individually, as well as the board,” Jeffrey said. “If someone filed a First Amendment suit against us, litigating that out is going to eat away any amount of profit we’ve made.” 

Robert Jones, the SSA board chair and Barnstable representative, questioned where the line would be drawn for advertisements accepted by the ferry line. 

“If no one’s ever brought it up before, why are we shaking in our boots?” he said. 

The board ultimately approved a request that ferry line staff draft two amended versions of its current policy. One version would allow only advertisements from federal, state, or town governments, or the SSA itself. The other would add additional language to strengthen a statement in the policy that the SSA aims to avoid displaying advertisers’ viewpoints in a way that can be misconstrued as those belonging to the ferry line or the state. 

Meanwhile, the SSA board unanimously approved the ferry line staff marketing the freight ferries Gay Head and Katama for sale. The ferry line purchased the Katama in 1986 from Pro Offshore Vessels-11 for $557,000, while the Gay Head was purchased the following year from Golden Gulf Offshore for $600,000. 

These vessels will be replaced by the offshore vessels the Barnstable and the Aquinnah, which are being refurbished into freight vessels by Alabama Shipyard. 

A contract for the conversion of a third freight vessel, the Monomoy, is also in the works. 

The purchasing cost of the latest three freight vessels totaled $16.9 million. 


  1. So– let’s say that trump wins the 2024 election.
    Would the federal government be able to put up
    advertisements showing trump on a raptor
    with sword in hand slaying the “dirty illegals” and the woke liberals ?
    Be careful here.

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