'We need to talk about crabs' feelings'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a crab at Stromness Harbour 

Has it not suffered enough? - Credit: PA

It may seem low priority right now, but I’m going to talk here about crabs, and about their feelings.

I have fond memories, growing up in Guernsey, of chancre crabs (cancer pagarus) or spider crabs (hyas araneus) scuttling around our kitchen floor. We would occasionally buy them from the market, still alive and with bands around their claws.

It is said that the best way to cook a crab is to dunk it alive into boiling water.

I don't think the cruelty occurred to me at the time, and it was certainly fun to have them walking around.

During the summer we would search for smaller crabs in rock pools. Those ones would be returned alive after they had sat in our bucket a while.

Fast forward 35 years and I’m a version of vegetarian – no meat except I eat bivalves such as oysters, mussels and scallops*.

My rationale, informed by a marine biologist friend’s counsel and subject to change, is that bivalves are essentially water filters and not what could be described as sentient.

Those crabs were sentient, a fact supported by an LSE study last month, meaning they can experience stress and pain.

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The study made recommendations against boiling them alive or selling them living to non-experts. It also means the creatures’ welfare will be considered when future policy is formulated.

My current phase of vegetarianism was motivated by animal welfare concerns, but environmental issues have overtaken animal welfare in the wider debate. The carbon footprint of our food drives our decisions more than an aversion to cruelty.

Ten years ago, there were predictions that humankind would move away from meat and that future generations would look back on our cruelty with horror.

As we deal with this climate emergency, could there also be a resurgence in our empathy for others in our animal world?

*I have moments of weakness and occasionally succumb to prawns. I have no justification for this.

Crabs processed at the fishing port at Bridlington Harbour in Yorkshire

Crabs processed at the fishing port at Bridlington Harbour in Yorkshire - Credit: PA