Retail outlets for decapod crustaceans range from local independent fishmongers to national and international supermarket chains.

Seafish data from March 2023 shows that over 67% of seafood consumed in the UK was purchased through retailers (1).

As the largest and most significant public outlet for the seafood industry, retailers are susceptible to scrutiny over the welfare of decapod crustaceans in their supply chains. With consumers becoming more concerned about the sustainability and treatment of all live animals in our food production systems, it is increasingly important that retailers work with fisheries, processors, suppliers and transporters to ensure that decapod welfare standards are addressed as understanding of these animals’ complex needs develops.

The legal recognition of decapod sentience in the UK marked the beginning of a transition toward greater expectations for the humane treatment and handling of these species. However, with change comes opportunity. Not only do welfare improvements result in less harm to decapods but there is a growing body of evidence to show that better welfare standards improve the quality and value of shellfish stocks. 

How does decapod sentience affect retailers?

Retailers should work with their suppliers to address key sources of poor welfare practice in their decapod supply chains. These include: 

  • Capture by trawling generally has greater negative impacts on catch than the use of pots/creels, although these methods also present welfare challenges for decapods. Retailers can choose to source decapods from fishers who have made all possible adaptations to reduce welfare and environmental harms.
  • Live holding and storage practices pose considerable welfare risks to decapods, including rough handling, overcrowding, poor water quality, exposure to fluctuating and inappropriate temperatures, mixing with other species and food deprivation/starvation Any businesses that fail to ensure decapods’ species-specific needs are met during holding periods risk causing decapods stress, physiological and immunological disturbances, hunger, muscle depletion, injury, morbidity, and mortality.  
  • Mutilations such as declawing, claw nicking and eyestalk ablation are inhumane practices that should be eliminated from supply chains if retailers want to lay claim to humane sourcing policies. 
  • Humane slaughter for decapods requires effective pre-slaughter stunning that results in instantaneous (less than one second) insensibility to pain and distress. Effective stunning – current scientific evidence points to electrical stunning as being the most humane method for decapods – must be quickly followed by a swift and humane method of slaughter, with insensibility persisting until death occurs. Fishmongers and other retailers who receive live decapods to their premises must ensure that only humane stunning and slaughter methods are used. Retailers that do not handle live decapods have a responsibility to insist on humane stunning and slaughter for all decapods in their supply chain.
  • Due to the requirement for electrical stunning followed by prompt mechanical killing, carried out by a skilled, professional practitioner, it is not possible for decapods to be humanely killed in consumers’ homes. Retailers should not sell live decapods direct to the public as appropriate species-specific methods of transportation, storage and slaughter cannot be assured.  

Consumers want to be able to trust retailers to source animal products that have been produced and processed to the highest welfare standards. All retailers want to be confident that their sourcing policies would withstand consumer scrutiny and increasing competition from other retail brands. As decapod welfare gains a higher profile among shoppers, on this hub retailers can find guidance on how to remove inhumane practices from their supply chain and support those businesses that are working to offer higher welfare decapod products. 

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