Seafood processing involves a series of operations that pose welfare risks to decapods, from handling to slaughter.

In 2022, seafood processing plants contributed about £4.1bn to the UK economy (1). The UK seafood processing sector as a whole provides over 18,000 jobs, many supporting the coastal communities in which they are based. 

This important sector has a number of opportunities to improve and protect decapod welfare outcomes. The processing of decapods crustaceans involves a range of operations that have welfare implications, including storage, handling, mutilation and slaughtering. At each stage of processing, decapods can be subjected to painful and inhumane practices which disregard the nature of their biological, physical and psychological needs.

However, in many cases processing can be modified and carried out in such a way that supports higher standards of welfare. 

Decapod crustaceans are now included in the animal welfare legislation of several countries, including the UK. While mandatory rule changes for processing crustaceans are not yet introduced in many jurisdictions, the recognition of sentience in these animals puts the industry on a clear pathway towards increased regulation. 

As consumer and industry awareness of decapod welfare grows, processors will face increasing pressure to provide decapod products that have been produced to the highest animal welfare standards.  Crucially, there is a rapidly growing body of evidence that shows implementing better welfare practices in the care of crustaceans prior to and including their slaughter can result in improvements in the quality – and value – of crustacean stocks.

How does decapod sentience affect processors?

There are several aspects for processors to consider when storing, handling or slaughtering decapod crustaceans: 

  • Holding and storage practices can pose significant welfare challenges to decapods, including exposure to inappropriate and fluctuating temperatures, poor water quality, overcrowding, mixing with other species, food deprivation/starvation, and rough handling. These factors can lead to stress, physiological and immunological disturbances, hunger, muscle depletion, injury, morbidity and death. All holding and storage methods and facilities should be adapted and maintained to ensure they meet the specific biological and behavioural needs of the species being held. 
  • While mutilation is not uncommon in the crustacean industry, it is entirely incompatible with animal welfare standards to subject live decapod crustaceans to mutilation for any purpose other than beneficial veterinary procedures. This includes inhumane practices such as eyestalk ablation, declawing and claw nicking. 
  • Stunning animals prior to slaughter is vital to achieving acceptable welfare standards for crustaceans in the seafood industry. Only methods that deliver an effective stun within one second, resulting in total insensibility to pain and distress should be used. Insensibility must last until death occurs. 
  • Effective slaughtering methods vary across species and choosing a method that addresses species-specific welfare concerns is vital. Decapod crustaceans should only be slaughtered using methods that result in instantaneous (within one second) insensibility to pain and distress at the point of application, or that achieve instantaneous death. Slaughter methods that are not considered humane include boiling while conscious, dismemberment, electrical killing, high pressure processing, salt immersion, CO2 gassing and chilling.  

For processors, this hub provides resources that will help identify the practices that should be eliminated and, where available, humane alternatives. There is also information on research and development being carried out to improve decapod welfare solutions, as well as areas where more knowledge is required. By understanding and acting upon consumer and retailer expectations around decapod welfare, processors can ensure that they remain competitive

(1) Watson, R. (2023). Seafood Consumption (2023 Update). Seafish 1-11.