Editorial: Crabs are animals too
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2006:
The poster for an August 27, 2006 crab feast planned by the
Prince Rupert SPCA looked like a bizarre parody. A grinning cartoon
crab, pink as if already burned, sprawled beneath a beach umbrella.
“Live crab, cooked to eat at the park or cooked to take home,” the
poster advertised. A photo of a real crab affirmed that real animals
were really to be boiled–until on August 17 the parent British
Columbia SPCA cancelled the event under pressure personally directed
by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson. Watson
then pledged to personally make a donation and urged others to donate
to the BC/SPCA.
Though the crab feast was averted, the episode raised issues
of posture and strategy which should be of pre-eminent concern to
every humane organization.
“Our mission,” the Prince Rupert SPCA web site predictably
proclaims, is “the prevention of cruelty to animals, and promotion
of animal welfare.”
Boiling animals to death, as the Prince Rupert SPCA learned,
is perceived as cruel not only by long-established consensus of the
humane community, but also by much of the public. Promoting animal
welfare, by any reasonable definition, includes avoiding acts which
may be construed as either endorsing or participating in cruelty,
such as boiling crabs to raise funds.
The Prince Rupert SPCA tried briefly to defend itself by
citing the February 2005 conclusion of researchers funded by the
Norwegian government that crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters do
not feel pain when boiled. But the Norwegian government also defends
whaling and sealing, against the weight of world opinion.
Researchers with ties to the Maine lobster industry have
comparably defended boiling crabs and lobsters. But these positions
scarcely represent the prevailing scientific perspective, recently
summarized in the Advocates for Animals publication Cephalopods &
Decapod Crustaceans: Their Capacity To Experience Pain & Suffering
(10 Queensferry Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4PG, Scotland, U.K.).
Further, no matter what anyone in a white lab coat may
contend, the simple, obvious, self-evident conclusion of most
people who see crabs or lobsters trying to crawl out of boiling water
is that these animals are being tortured to death.
As far back as 1952, delegates from 25 nations agreed at a
convention hosted by the World Federation for the Protection of
Animals that boiling live crustaceans sets a bad example of how
animals should be treated, and should be abolished.
As recently as August 10, two members of Animal Rights
Croatia locked themselves into a fish tank to dramatize the plight of
The grocery chain Whole Foods earlier in 2006 quit selling
live soft-shelled crabs and lobsters, in recognition that some
practices, even if legal and no matter how lucrative, are too cruel
for an enlightened and responsible business to perpetuate.
Unfortunately, the proposed Prince Rupert SPCA crab feast
was not unprecedented. Animal Advocates Society of British Columbia
founder Judy Stone pointed out that the Prince Rupert SPCA held a
crab feast in 2005.
The Prince Rupert SPCA is among the 32 branches of the
British Columbia SPCA, a $20 million a year operation that serves
more territory than any other hands-on humane society in North
America. Long intensely critical of the BC/SPCA for many reasons,
Stone has since 2001 fought BC/SPCA efforts to purge her web site,
<www.animaladvocates.com>, of some of the content. Many of Stone’s
objections pertain to practices and policies which remain common
among humane societies that hold animal control contracts. Some of
her web site concerns methods that were abandoned under pressure more
than 20 years ago.
But Stone was up to date and on message in pointing out that
a humane society that allows animals to be boiled alive as a
fundraiser clearly has diminished moral authority to speak out
against other abuses.
ANIMAL PEOPLE learned through extensive web and file
searching that the Prince Rupert SPCA may not have been completely
alone in promoting live boiling. Oysters are also typically cooked
or eaten alive. The Humane Society of Harford County, Maryland,
holds an annual “Bull n’ Oyster Roast.” The most recent was on April
28, 2006. IRS Form 990 indicates that Humane Society of Harford
County “special events” net about $27,000 of an annual budget of
almost $700,000, about half of which comes from animal control
The live boiling issue can be linked to the larger issue of
humane societies serving meat at public functions, a practice that
ANIMAL PEOPLE has editorially denounced since inception in 1992, and
the lack of humane attention to the suffering of fish.
The September 1994 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial “Table manners”
Excluding meat from humane events is no more than asking
participants to adhere to the rules of the house, on a par with
asking church-goers to refrain from spitting and swearing during
sermons or asking bar-goers to wear shirts and shoes. What people
choose to put in their mouths in their own homes may be their
business, but at a humane event, it’s our business–and if we don’t
make the effort to separate ourselves from the meat habit, we really
can’t expect the public to see us as the principled people we presume
What about fish?
If someone jabbed a hook through the roof of a cat or dog’s
mouth, dragged her on the end of a rope, and then either bludgeoned
or drowned her, most of us would immediately seek cruelty charges.
(This proved to be an understatement in view of the global
response after just such an incident on Reunion Island, a French
territory in the Indian Ocean. A single photograph of a dog who
survived apparent use as bait, distributed by news media in July
2005, produced e-mail alerts and calls for boycotting Reunion Island
until mid-October. Despite many allegations, no other cases were
If someone threw nets over cats or dogs and drowned them by
the million, presumably to eat, but threw away half the victims as
inedible, the hue and cry might reach Alpha Centauri, ANIMAL PEOPLE
continued. Yet the equivalents are standard fishing practice.
Fish are cold-blooded, and mostly not as intelligent as
mammals (despite some noteworthy exceptions), but their central
nervous systems are every bit as keenly developed. Thus their
capacity to suffer is every bit as acute. That should be reason
enough to not eat fish.
At that time, meat and fish were still served at most major
humane conferences. That changed after the No Kill Conferences,
1995-2001, and No More Homeless Pets conferences, 2000-2005,
excluded flesh while attracting more participants than all but one of
the traditional humane conferences. That one, the annual Expo
hosted by the Humane Society of the U.S., went vegetarian after HSUS
president Wayne Pacelle introduced a pro-vegan food policy in January
Any humane society participation in animal killing for human
consumption is inappropriate and deplorable, especially in view of
the increasingly well-recognized suffering involved in every phase of
raising, transporting, and killing poultry and hooved livestock,
plus the reality that the human appetite for fish drives the Atlantic
Canada and Namibian seal hunts and Japanese and Norwegian whaling.
Yet actively participating in either a “crab feast” or
“oyster roast” goes well beyond directors merely practicing the
denial typical of mainstream shoppers as they select
cellophane-wrapped parts of dead animals at the supermarket. These
events involve humane society representatives in deliberately doing
things to living animals which in most North American jurisdictions
would be crimes and might be felonies if done to a dog or cat.