Do crabs hurt when cooked alive

Crustaceans

Crustaceans, including at least 52,000 species such as Counting crabs, lobsters and shrimp are impressive creatures: it is estimated that lobsters, for example, can live up to 100 or even 140 years. Their development goes back to the Cambrian, an age around 500 million years ago. Due to their solid exoskeleton, crustaceans that live in a wide variety of habitats in fresh and salt water are well protected from external influences.

The consumption of crustaceans, called "crustaceans" in kitchen jargon, is particularly popular in so-called gourmet cuisine. Lobsters are served as a delicacy, crabs and prawns are now used more and more in everyday cuisine. However, the fact that the animals sometimes suffer great agony during breeding, catching, transport and killing is often not mentioned. In the following we explain the common practices and show alternatives.

Catching and aquaculture in Germany and around the world

Some crustaceans are also bred and caught in Germany: In 2018, the German sea fishing fleets caught a total of 17,121 tons of shrimp and crayfish and brought them to German shores (so-called "inland cargo shipments"). In 2018, crustaceans and molluscs caught in the wild consumed 1.6 kg (catch weight) per capita. There were 34 larger aquaculture farms in Germany in 2019. Up-to-date information on the total amount of crustaceans produced in Germany is not available.

Most of the "crustacean production" takes place outside of Germany: According to the World Food Organization FAO, almost 9.4 million tons of crustaceans were bred in aquaculture worldwide in 2018. Converted to animals, the British organization Fishcount assumes 43-75 billion crabs, crabs and lobsters and 210-530 billion shrimp in aquaculture in 2017. For shrimp, a report by the World Bank estimates an increase in aquaculture production of over 10% by 2030.

According to the FAO, the amount of wild-caught crustaceans in 2018 was 6.5 million tonnes worldwide and is thus around a third less than the amount obtained through breeding. The amount of shrimp caught alone was around 3.5 million tons. You can also find more figures on aquaculture and wild-catching crustaceans here.

Incidentally, crustaceans are not only bred and caught for their consumption, but also for their chitosan: a substance that is obtained from stable bodies containing chitin and, among other things. is contained in cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical products. If you want to eat and care for yourself free from animal ingredients, you should pay attention to this ingredient.

Problematic fishing methods for wild crustaceans

Many of the crustaceans that are used for human consumption are captured in fresh or salt water as wildlife using different methods.

Lobsters are usually caught from the wild with the help of special live traps, so-called basket pots. Transport and storage are mainly carried out alive, in narrow boxes and with tied claws, as dead lobsters spoil quickly. Feeding the animals during their storage, often for weeks, would pollute the water with the excrement produced. Therefore, feeding is simply omitted.

Crabs are also caught using basket pots and some of them are transported and stored alive.

Shrimp are usually caught using bottom trawls that are dragged across the sea floor. The sensitive habitat for many other animals and plants is churned up and destroyed. In addition, the so-called bycatch with this method is huge: up to 9 kg per 1 kg of crabs can be the proportion of other animals such as fish and turtles that suffer a painful death in the nets, on board or thrown back into the sea injured.

You can find more information about the various fishing methods here.

Aquaculture crustaceans

Aquaculture, the breeding of fish and crustaceans in ponds, tanks or separate sections of the sea, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the field of so-called animal production. Shrimps in particular are kept in aquaculture, with the “White Leg Shrimp” being the most common aquaculture-bred crustacean. In order to protect crustaceans from diseases and to stimulate their growth, the crustaceans kept in a confined space are often given drugs such as antibiotics, the approval and use of which differs greatly from country to country and is unclear, especially in Asia. In addition, social and environmental pressures as a result of aquaculture can be shown: For example, entire mangrove forests in Thailand had to give way to make room for aquaculture. In addition, chemicals and nutrients that are added to the water regularly flow unfiltered into the environment. Further information on the procedures in Thai shrimp aquaculture can be found in the documentation "Dirty Shrimps", which you can view here.

Crustacean pain sensation

As with fish, contrary to popular belief, it has now been proven that crustaceans feel pain. Current scientific results make it clear that crustaceans, for example, show reactions such as pronounced (pain) avoidance behavior or other physical signs of pain: avoidance learning has been demonstrated, for example, in crabs that avoided a bright area in the aquarium if they were recently electrocuted. Further behavioral observations show that stone shrimp rubbed their antennae when they came into contact with acid - compared to water, which the shrimp did not scratch. An analgesic effect, expressed by e.g. B. less rubbing, could be achieved by the administration of morphine, which also speaks for the presence of pain. There is also evidence of a central nervous system in crustaceans. Observing simple mechanisms, such as the hermit crabs' decision to stay in their shell or to obtain a new one, is an indication of cognition in these animals. You can find more background information on crustacean pain here.

Killing the crustaceans

The presence of pain in crustaceans raises considerable criticism of the usual methods of killing. Lobsters, crayfish, prawns and shrimp are often thrown alive into boiling water - although it has been proven that crabs, for example, can still feel the heat and thus pain for two and a half minutes. Other methods of stunning and killing, depending on the species, include cutting, piercing the ganglia (parts of the brain), gassing, freezing, cooling, and immersing in fresh water or saline. The killing method for crustaceans, currently considered to be the least stressful, in which the animal is stunned by an electric shock in a tub filled with water before processing ("crustastun") has not yet established itself as the standard. You can find more information on the various stunning and killing methods here.

Legal provisions

Unfortunately, crustaceans do not enjoy legal protection that is specifically tailored to them: The European Union has drawn up a number of regulations and recommendations on resource and environmental issues relating to fisheries. stipulate a fishing permit for fishing with bottom trawls, promote sustainability in aquaculture and at least tighten controls in the fishery. Regulations are being adopted that prescribe fishing methods and areas for all fisheries, e.g. B. the nature of nets or efforts to prevent bycatch. There are no specific direct regulations for crustaceans, they are covered by the general fisheries regulations.

The German Animal Welfare Slaughter Ordinance is a little more precise: It allows living crustaceans to be stored in water basins, but not on ice (Section 3, §11). In addition, it is stipulated that crustaceans may only be killed by immersion in boiling water and edible crabs also by cutting (section 3, §13, point 8) - but that these are not "gentle" methods, as described above, could already be be detected.

Avoidability and demands

With regard to the catching and killing of crustaceans, especially with regard to their ability to hurt, the general development and implementation of specific protective regulations must be demanded, which counteract the previously prevailing conditions of transport, storage and killing: For example, breeding, keeping and slaughtering should be in one place if possible take place (e.g. in order to minimize the stress before killing - keeping live animals without feeding until they die) and gentle stunning and slaughtering methods that guarantee rapid loss of consciousness and keep stress and pain as low as possible are enshrined in law become.

As far as crustaceans reared in aquaculture are concerned, the following requirements for breeding, keeping and killing must also be met:

  • Binding regulations on stocking density with defined maximum limits for each species are to be stipulated by law.
  • The artificial habitat is to be enriched with species-appropriate structures that enable more species-appropriate behavior.
  • The ethological research of a species with regard to its essential needs must precede its domestication. If these needs cannot be met in an aquaculture, then this aquatic species should not be domesticated either.

What you can do

  • Since crustaceans, like fish and other animals, are individuals who feel pain and who experience great suffering from the common trapping and killing methods, we generally advise against consuming crustaceans.
  • Also refrain from eating crustaceans, which are still considered consumable from an ecological point of view in guidebooks (e.g. from WWF): If consumption is generally too high, it will be ineffective in the long term to redirect consumption to the most stable species so far, because sooner or later these will also be overfished.
  • We also advise against consuming crustaceans with a sustainability seal (such as MSC), as their criteria contain practically no animal welfare standards and are therefore not a solution from an animal welfare point of view.
  • The main argument in favor of the consumption of crustaceans such as prawns, shrimps and crayfish is their high protein content and low calorie and fat content. However, the human protein requirement can be met just as well and with low fat levels, for example with soy products, cereals and legumes.
  • Visit our Vegan Taste Week to get valuable tips on starting an animal-friendly diet.
  • Help us with our commitment to the animals.

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