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Do Lobsters (and shrimp and crabs)
Feel Pain?


In the February 2018 issue of International Aqua Feed, Editor Simon Davies commented on how animal welfare issues could affect the killing, processing and cooking of lobsters, crabs and shrimp!


Davies said: “On the topic of welfare, there have been widespread reports in the media regarding the ethics of boiling lobsters alive when prepared for the table: The Swiss government has now legislated to ban the practice and pressure is growing in the United Kingdom to add lobsters to the Animal Welfare Act.”


“The question as to whether decapods experience pain has been raised before, but if they are to be listed as sentient [feeling] animals and given the same status as fish, it will open a number of issues.  Almost certainly they will be included in the United Kingdom’s Animal Scientific Procedures Act of 1986 with fish and cephalopods listed.”


“Decapods are routinely used in toxicity tests for many drugs, chemicals and pollutants in university and government laboratories.  Many more scientists will come under heavy scrutiny and those working to develop novel technologies could experience an avalanche of extra paperwork and yearly reporting of all their animal data to regulatory authorities.”


“Institutional Animal Care Committees have enough to contend with traditional species, but to include crabs lobsters and possibly shrimp would be a nightmare.  The day when a government inspector or veterinarian turns up at the laboratory and asks—‘Are your crabs and lobsters and shrimp happy today?’—be prepared to comply with a whole new set of rules to placate these wise officials with so much aquaculture experience.”


“However, animal welfare and the highest level of ethics should always prevail either on the fish farm or in the laboratory facility.  Good scientists naturally desire the very best conditions for their animals and it goes without saying!”  Source: International Aqua Feed.  Editor, Simon Davies (Phone +44-1242-267700, Email  The Editor.  Simon Davies.  Volume 21, Issue 1, Page 30, February 2018.



Background Information on the Crustacean Pain Issue


Shrimp News: Over the years, I’ve posted several reports on this topic.  What follows is a series of excerpts from those reports:


In August 2006, Seafood Business reported that lobsters have a primitive nervous system, similar to that of a cricket or grasshopper.  “Basically, lobsters have no brain,” says Robert Bayer, Ph.D., executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine.  “They don’t have the physiological software to process pain.  ...I’m not aware of any bona fide studies that suggest lobsters feel pain.”  Bayer points to a February 2005 study conducted by a University of Oslo scientist and funded by the Norwegian government that found lobsters and other decapod crustaceans “have some capacity for learning, but it is unlikely they feel pain.”


Then why do live lobsters twitch...when cooked?  The twitching is simply an escape mechanism from a threatening stimulus.  According to the Lobster Institute, chilling or icing lobsters before cooking minimizes the duration of twitching.  Steaming, slow heating in saltwater and hypnotizing (rubbing a lobster’s head) can increase the duration of twitching.  Source: Seafood Business.  Editor, Fiona Robinson.  Science, not sentiment, is key to live lobster sales.  Steven Hedlund (Email, V-25, N-8, P-28, August 2006.


From a 2007 Report: Scientists have long argued that crustaceans don’t feel pain, even when cooked live in boiling water.  But now a British biologist is challenging this orthodoxy.  Professor Robert Elwood dabbed acetic acid, the main ingredient of vinegar, on the antennae of 144 shrimp.  The shrimp reacted by rubbing the affected parts of their bodies for up to five minutes.  The reaction, he said, was exactly the same as that seen in mammals exposed to painful irritants.  “The prolonged, specifically directed rubbing and grooming is consistent with an interpretation of pain experience,” he said.


But not everyone agrees with Elwood.  Liverpool University’s Dr. Lynne Sneddon, who has investigated whether eels feel pain, said: “You could argue the shrimp were simply trying to clean their antennas rather than showing a pain response.”  And Dr. Richard Chapman, of the University of Utah’s pain response center, said there was a difference between responding to an acidic chemical and feeling pain.  Most animals have sensors that react to irritants, he said, adding: “Even a single-cell organism can detect a threatening chemical and retreat from it.  But this is not sensing pain.”  Source: Daily Mail.  Prawns Do Feel Pain, Say Scientists.  David Derbyshire.  November 8, 2007.


From a 2009 Report: The heart-rending sound that a lobster makes as it is boiled alive puts off many a home chef from preparing the dish for a dinner party.  Consequently, British entrepreneur Simon Buckhaven has created the “CrustaStun”, a machine that takes less than a second to efficiently and painlessly zap a lobster, crab or shrimp to death.  The price—at $4,175—may deter some, but many an animal lover or restaurant chef will think it a small price to pay for a cruelty-free death.  Plus, according to the manufacturer, the CrustaStun also makes the meat taste better than meat from shrimp killed by other measurers.


Inside one of Buckhaven’s little machines that are going on sale this week, a lobster takes just 0.3 seconds to die, whereas it could live for three minutes in boiling water.  A crab takes even longer to die as it is boiled to death—up to four and a half minutes.


Buckhaven is convinced that there will be a growing demand for his machines.  His company is now offering two types of lobster zappers.  The larger industrial models, which cost over $100,000, are already in use in the UK, Ireland, Norway and Portugal.  Some supermarkets are now stocking lobster—only if it has been killed by electrocution.  Source: The Independent.  I’ll Have My Lobster Electrocuted, Please.  Andy McSmith.  November 21, 2009.


From a 2009 Report: Milan...A well-known restaurateur and his wife have been charged with the mistreatment of lobsters and will find themselves before a judge in early March 2009.  The alleged crime took place in November 2007, when health inspectors found that live lobsters were on display on packs of crushed ice, not in tanks of water as required by law.  According to the prosecutor in the case, Giulio Benedetti, not only did this constitute a violation of food preservation laws, but he also found the couple guilty of mistreating the lobsters and causing them “insupportable physical pain” by keeping them alive out of their natural habitat, water.  The prosecution also suspects that this treatment may have been a contributing factor in the lobsters’ death.


The case is similar to an April 2006 one in Vicenza, a city in northern Italy, where a restaurant operator was fined $905 for mistreating lobsters by keeping them on ice.  The fine was the result of a complaint filed in March 2002 by a former activist from Italy’s animal protection agency ENPA.  According to the restaurateur, at the time of his alleged crime, there were no specific guidelines on maintaining live lobsters.  The regulations weren’t activated until 2004.  The general opinion of lobstermen is that a hard-shell lobster can survive out of water for 24 hours or more, while soft-shell lobsters that are re-growing their shells after shedding are best kept in water.


Lobstermen also maintain that lobsters, sometimes referred to as the “cockroaches of the sea”, do not feel pain, even when they are thrown into boiling water for cooking.  Most lobsters in Italy have hard shells and arrive from northern Europe and North America packed in ice.  Source: (an online, subscription-based, fisheries news service).  Restaurateur in Italy prosecuted for keeping lobsters on ice “causing physical pain”.  Editor and Publisher, John Sackton (phone 781-861-1441, email  January 7, 2009.


Source: Shrimp News international.  Do Lobsters Feel Pain?  Bob Rosenberry.  April 1, 2918.


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