Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Shellfish Network


  Shellfish suffer at all stages of processing from trapping, transport and storage to killing. Legal protection is needed at all of these stages.

  1.  (i)   Trapping

  Storms can leave traps, with animals in them, lost on the seabed or washed up on inaccessible beaches, with a risk of starving or being baked in the sun. If a number of animals are in one trap there is the risk of mutual injury and cannibalism, particularly with lobsters which are solitary animals prone to aggressive competition for food and territory. This cannot be dismissed as nature, rather than human interference, at work, since nature is here being aggravated by an artificially stressful environment imposed on the animals by humans.

  1.  (ii)  This problem applies both to traditional traps such as the creel and the inkwell and to the more advanced parlour pot and the pot lock. Since these latter have one, or sometimes two, inner chambers, escape is more difficult. The solution may lie in fitting all traps with a biodegradable escape panel which opens after a period of time. A device of this sort has been a legal requirement for lobster traps in the US State of Maine since 1990, not for humane purposes but to prevent depletion of lobster stocks. These panels open after 60-90 days, but humane considerations would require a much shorter period. There is an urgent need for research into the use of suitable biodegradable panels for all shellfish traps, possibly using similar material to that employed in medical operations where stitches are self-dissolving.

  1.  (iii)  We understand from a source in a UK Shellfishermen's Association that many of those who use traditional traps would probably favour an outright ban on the parlour pot and pot lock on the grounds of over-fishing and unfair competition. As escape is so difficult, the operators can leave these traps unhauled for longer periods, enabling more than one set of gear to be worked.

  2.  (i)   Transport

  Traditional forms of transport often involve overcrowding, with the animals tightly packed together to avoid aggression. But, as with the traps, the aggression is the product of an artificially stressful environment. With lobsters, there is the further precaution of banding their claws, thus thwarting their instinct to attack/defend.

  2.  (ii)  We understand that Defra scientists are researching the use of individual waterproof tubes for the transport of shellfish as an alternative to densely packed containers. One such tube was patented some years ago by a prawn exporter in the Western Isles of Scotland. These tubes are put into the hold of a ship equipped with the means to pump refrigerated seawater around the hold. Though the tube is open, the prawn of its own accord stays inside, treating it as a hole it would hide in on the seabed. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals surveyed this transport method and passed it as much more humane than the conventional one, with 1% mortality through stress or injury, as compared with 40%. If it has not already been undertaken, we would urge research into the feasibility of adapting this process to road and other forms of transport.

  2.  (iii)  If a tube can simulate a prawn's hiding-place, it should be possible to scale this up for lobsters, which hide in rocks, crevices and weeds, and for other larger shellfish. This also should be researched.

  2.  (iv)  We have heard of a suggestion that if a lobster in an individual tube has its body temperature reduced, it will go into a torpor. It does seem that the basic idea of an individual space along with simulation of a refuge and/or a sedating effect could be a humane way forward for shellfish transport. For the industry there would be the advantage of the animals staying fresh for longer periods. A closed tube with no sedating or refuge effects would not be humane, as it would be a marine version of a veal-crate.

  2.  (v)  We urge that research into humane transport is given high priority to allow for its mandatory use.

  3.  (i)   Storage

  Once the animals arrive at their destination they should be kept in as humane an environment as possible in the tank conditions recommended by the Fisheries Departments. The practice in lobster storage of keeping them unfed for long periods, presumably to prevent excrement polluting the water, should be prohibited. Although they can survive for many weeks without feeding, there must come a point where disregarding their hunger would be cruel. If there is no other way to control the excrement problem, then there should be legal limits on how long they can be held in tanks and stock turnover should be planned accordingly.

  3.  (ii)  It has frequently been noticed that lobsters are kept in tanks which appear to meet only the minimum of legal conditions, if at all. This is the case in many of our holiday outlets by the sea. We propose that the keeping of live shellfish should be strictly licensed and unannounced inspection undertaken regularly.

  3.  (iii)  There should be consideration of whether tubes, as described in the preceding section, could be a humane advance in storage also.

  4.   Selling live to the public

  Since the majority of the general public will have no idea on the most humane ways of killing shellfish, we suggest that such sales should no longer be legal. Only licensed experts should be allowed to kill the animals, using our Guidelines.

  5.  (i)   Killing of shellfish

  We believe that traditional methods of cooking are cruel and that the methods outlined in our Guidelines should be mandatory, at the very least for lobsters, crabs, crayfish and langoustines. These include the freezing method; placing the crab or lobster in a plastic bag and placed in a deep-freeze cabinet set at -20°C and left for two hours, or alternatively cutting through the nerve centres, which must only be carried out by experienced staff. The anatomy of the crayfish is like that of the lobster on a small scale, and it therefore may well have a similarly complex nervous system, although piercing nerve centres would not be practicable as it is so small an animal. The freezing method would be necessary in this case. We have heard from a scientist that langoustines can take up to 30 seconds to die when boiled. Subjecting live, conscious animals to cutting up, boiling, steaming or other cooking processes should be banned and the killing only carried out by competent experts. The Crustastun, mentioned in our Guidelines, is an electrical stunning tank which has recently been developed in prototype by scientists at Bristol University and the Silsoe Research Institute near Bedford. This stuns crabs and lobsters in a fraction of a second, and ensures that they remain insensible to pain long enough to be cooked by boiling immediately. Once the device is available it ought to replace all other methods.

  5.  (ii)  Our Guidelines and Dr Sherwin's Paper question the assumption that invertebrates, even very small and simple ones, cannot feel pain or stress and we would therefore hope that the definition of "animal" will include crustacea and molluscs and that serious consideration should be given to applying legislation to the smaller ones as well as to lobsters and crabs. Although small crustacea are technically included in the definition, any legislation should extend to them as well as to lobsters and crabs.

  6.   Farming

  Any legislation relating to fish farming should include shellfish farming regarding the welfare of the animals.

  7.   Shell industry

  There is an industry in using shells to obtain pearls or to make ornamental products such as ashtrays, necklaces etc. This type of industry should be frowned upon and information could be issued to shops regarding this in terms of environmental degradation and cruelty to the creatures involved, with, if possible, a ban on such sales.

  8.  Compared with other animal welfare issues, the treatment of shellfish has long been neglected and we would be most grateful if you could do all you can to redress this.

  9.  Further information on the biodegradable lobster traps used in Maine, USA as mentioned under para 1(i) "Trapping", in our submission statement can be had from:

      The director, Biological Monitoring Division

Department of Marine Resources

P O Box 8

West Boothbay Harbour

Maine 04575-0008

USA. Tel: (207) 633 9500 Fax: (207) 633 9579

  9.  (ii)  The inventor of the individual tubes used for transport of prawns under para 2(i) "Transport" in our submission statement is Murdo Macaulay of South Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland.

4 August 2004

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