As the first stage in decapod crustaceans’ sea to plate journey, the fishing sector has a key role to play in ensuring high welfare standards.

Worldwide, decapod crustacean fisheries are growing faster than any other type of fishery.

While they only make up about 8% of landings, crustaceans account for over 21% of the value of marine fisheries, making them pound for pound the most valuable target species (1).

However, long-held assumptions that crustaceans don’t require humane handling and treatment have more recently been tested to failure. 

There are significant implications for the decapod crustacean fishing industry as a result of the legal recognition of these species’ sentience in UK law and in some other countries. 

While these developments have not yet resulted in mandated changes to common shellfish capture and aquaculture practices, recognising an ability for decapods to suffer and feel pain now sits at the heart of government policy making. This is highly likely to develop into laws and regulations designed to better protect these species from  harmful fishing and handling practices.

How does decapod sentience affect the fishing industry?

Now the fishing industry has a prime opportunity to work closely with researchers, seafood businesses and other stakeholders to demonstrate a commitment to, where necessary, improving working practices to ensure humane treatment of the decapods they catch. With growing awareness of decapod welfare issues among consumers and retailers, the seafood industry must adopt the highest welfare practices at every stage of the sea to plate journey. 

The principles of good welfare in shellfish capture, live storage, transport and slaughter are straightforward and designed to be achievable in practice. Encouragingly, there is a growing body of evidence which shows that improving welfare also improves the quality – and value – of shellfish species at the point of sale. However, many of the working practices currently in use by the fishing sector were designed with product quality in mind and need to be re-evaluated from an animal welfare perspective. 

Briefly, ensuring good welfare during capture requires fishers to consider a number of factors, including: 

  • Design or select capture methods that minimise suffering. During capture, decapods are exposed to a variety of stressors such as barometric pressure, salinity, temperature, physical trauma, exhaustion, fear and death.  
  • Minimise or eliminate manual handling and sorting procedures during and after capture. Where these are unavoidable, crustaceans should be handled in a way that minimises stress from temperature fluctuations, physical disturbance and prolonged exposure to air. 
  • Reduce stocking densities. High stocking density imposes restrictions on natural behaviours, antagonising animals into conflict and excessive competition for resources. This in turn causes stress, pain and suffering, and often leads to a reduction in the quality of the catch.  
  • Maintain water quality to match the natural habitat conditions of the target species as closely as possible. This includes regulating temperature, salinity and exposure to light sources. 
  • Ensure only humane methods of stunning and slaughter are used. When decapods are not landed alive at the quayside, they must not be subjected to inhumane slaughter methods at sea. Inhumane methods include tailing alive and other dismemberment, asphyxiation, chilling in ice slurry, immersion in high salt solutions and freshwater drowning.

This hub provides a wealth of information and resources designed to help the fishing industry understand decapod crustacean welfare requirements and implement changes to their practices to reduce or eliminate harm. Adoption of the highest welfare practices will help to promote UK seafood as a sustainable food source and ensure that fishing companies can continue to compete, as retailers and processors increasingly seek to remove inhumane practices from their supply chain. 

(1) Boenish, R., Kritzer, J. P., Kleisner, K. M., Steneck, R. S., Werner, K. F., Zhu, W., Schram, F. R., Rader, D. N., Cheung, W. W. L., Ingles, J., Tian, Y., & Mimikakis, J. (2021). The global rise of crustacean fisheries. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 20(2), 102–110.