SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Humane treatment of crayfish and crustaceans

As well as being able to feel pain and distress, crustaceans have a unique nervous system because they are invertebrate animals. This means that their ‘brain’ is not in one place like vertebrate animals: instead it is more spread across the body, in multiple nerve bundles called ganglia.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 applies to everyone handling crustaceans, including recreational fishers and home cooks. Killing a crayfish, crab, rock lobster or kōura in a manner which causes unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

When killing a crustacean for consumption, a humane method is one that leads to immediate death, or uses stunning that renders an animal rapidly and entirely insensible to pain. Because of their unique nervous system, it’s important for people to know how to carry out these humane methods so that they do not breach the Act.

For thorough guidance on the most humane way to kill crustaceans for human consumption, you can visit our Australian counterpart’s website here.

Purchasing crabs and crustaceans from retailers

If you’re purchasing crustaceans, please don’t buy live crayfish, crabs, rock lobster or koura unless you’re confident you have the knowledge and skills to humanely kill them. SPCA urges consumers to purchase crustaceans that have already been humanely killed by trained professionals.

Trained professionals would be adept in the most humane process for killing, and they would have knowledge on:

  • How to handle and care for live crustaceans to minimise stress
  • Inducing insensibility
  • Recognising signs of insensibility
  • Recognising signs of stress
  • Applying the humane method of killing and know how to maintain and operate equipment involved in this process.

Research has shown that inappropriate killing of crustaceans means that they suffer. If you are not confident in killing these animals, it’s best to have commercial operators perform stunning and killing for you.

We also encourage people to avoid mail-order shipping of live animals, as they subject crustaceans to unnecessary distress. Transporting live crustaceans on ice is not appropriate, and if crustaceans must be transported, they should be moved in vehicles or containers equipped with pumped water.

There are additional rules that apply to processors, retailers and restaurants killing crustaceans for commercial consumption – you can read more about those on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

If you’d like to ensure the animals you’re buying have been killed humanely, ask your retailer about their methods and let them know about the Animal Welfare Act regulation that requires humane practice.

There are requirements for restaurants that hold crustaceans in tanks that the animals are supplied with water that is fresh, filtered and aerated. They must not be overcrowded.

If you’re concerned by the housing, handling or killing of a crustacean at a commercial establishment in New Zealand, please contact your nearest SPCA Centre.

For more information

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