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What About Shellfish?

Posted by at 4:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)


crab

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When people decide to stop eating animals, they may leave some species on their plates because they believe that those animals don’t feel pain. It’s now generally accepted in the scientific community that mammals, birds, and fish have feelings, preferences, and the ability to sense pain. But what about shellfish?

The term “shellfish” covers a wide range of invertebrate aquatic animals used by humans as food. The most frequently eaten shellfish are crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters, and crabs) and mollusks, a broad category that includes cephalopods (squids and octopuses) and bivalves (animals with hinged shells such as clams, oysters, and scallops).

Cephalopods are considered among the most intelligent of the invertebrates. An octopus named Otto in a German aquarium passed the time by juggling the hermit crabs in his tank. He mystified the staff by causing frequent electrical outages until they finally caught him in the act of climbing up on the edge of his tank and firing a jet of water at the light fixture. Octopuses have even successfully navigated mazes. Squids and octopuses have very different physiology than mammals do, but they can play, learn, and think—and they don’t deserve to be served for dinner.

Some people believe that shrimps, crabs, and lobsters—all of whom are more closely related to insects than to vertebrate animals—cannot feel pain at all. But recent scientific studies have shown that crustaceans have central nervous systems very much capable of generating the sensation of pain. Crustaceans release stress hormones (analogous to our adrenal hormones) in response to painful events. If you’ve ever seen a lobster or crab lowered into a pot of boiling water, you’ve seen these animals fight just as hard for their lives as any other animal would in the same situation. A lobster can’t scream, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel agony in the time it takes for him to boil to death. And crustaceans suffer in other ways—they are often transported alive to restaurants and grocery stores and crowded into tanks where they are so stressed that their claws must be banded shut to prevent them from attacking each other.

Without obvious legs or faces, bivalves look less animal-like than other shellfish. But they’re capable of a surprising variety of behavior. Scallops can swim away from predators by “flapping” their shells. They can detect light and movement with small eyes that are located around the perimeter of their bodies. Clams can escape by burrowing through sand. Mussels are able to gradually move to a better home, reanchoring themselves in a new location. Oysters protect their soft bodies by snapping their shells tightly closed at the first hint of danger.

As we learn more about the many animal species with whom we share this planet, we keep discovering that they are more intelligent, more feeling, and more empathetic than we had previously realized. The evidence for sentience in squids, octopuses, and crustaceans is increasingly clear. We don’t yet know whether oysters feel pain, but if they do, they represent a very large number of suffering animals—a single meal might require the deaths of 12 or more oysters. We don’t need to consume oysters, scallops, and clams to survive. Is the flavor of Oysters Rockefeller or New England Clam Chowder so important to us that we can’t give these animals the benefit of the doubt?

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16 Comments

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    Adam says...

    March 26th, 2011, 8:30 am

    It is very true this article about shellfish, but even though I agree, depending on where you live or with who, speacilly with family or friends that are not vegan/vegetarian it´s difficult to be completly vegetarian, because of people’s habits and most society not well prepared for people who don´t eat fish or seafood. It’s difficult to fit in.
    I myself, eat some shellfish, mainly clams, I don´t eat octopus or lobster or similar animals, because of their intelligence, and behaviour.
    I know in general in USA it’s more easy to get meat-free and fish-free foods, but in some places in Europe like catalunya or spain, it´s not so easy. But things are changing are I hope they´ll change fast.
    By the way, congratulations on Peta website and the magazinr, I love it!
    Adam.

    Laura Frisk says...

    March 26th, 2011, 1:07 pm

    Lots of great info here! This is another one of those blogs I must print out and carry in my purse for those times I need to explain (for the umteenth time) why I don’t eat fish! Thanks Lisa, great article!

    Ann says...

    March 26th, 2011, 7:22 pm

    Interesting article! I used to enjoy seafood on vacation and while eating out as a treat, so in all honesty shellfish, salmon and lobster were the hardest types of meat to give up when I went vegetarian. But once I did, I found it somehow makes life much easier just to make a hard and fast rule “no meat” than to try to distinguish between types of meat. Now I don’t miss it at all, and feel much better and cleaner not eating any meaet. Reading this article makes me feel very good about this choice – thanks!

    Janie says...

    April 7th, 2011, 2:52 pm

    I really want to comment on this. I haven’t eaten shellfish for decades. They do feel pain, of course they do. And now a scientist has done research proving it (if ever proof were needed, because if an animal reacts to touch, it sure is going to feel pain!). (The Book is – Do Fish Feel Pain?)

    That idiot twit Campervanman (on UK television – ‘One Man and his Campervan’) quite happily put a poor live crab into his pot of steaming water and turned back to the camera without so much as a brain cell aware of what he had just done.

    Because animals cannot plead for their lives in our language, we deem them unfeeling. What a bunch of neanderthal thugs we are! A no-nonsense farmer’s wife who grew up in Salcombe, her dad was a fishmonger, wouldn’t eat crab or lobster because she always said it was too cruel. And so it is. And so are we. Our species is an horrific mistake in the great scheme of things.

    {P.S. And the insulation provided by their shells, means that poor shellfish suffer even longer than it would take us to lose consciousness in similar circumstances.)

    Tina says...

    February 18th, 2012, 3:04 pm

    This article was a real eye opener for me!! I honestly didn’t think shrimp or clams felt pain or really had feelings. A new friend challenged my belief, which brought me here. I feel awful, ignorant, guilty, but thankfully, now, educated! Peta you rock! Thanks for being here to help a New Englander in need! God bless you all in this most important work!

    Heather says...

    March 14th, 2012, 10:24 pm

    Crabs are the cutest animals!!!! They are vital to the ecosystem, they are intelligent and aware of themselves. More should be done to protect them. What most people consider a “nuisance” or “dinner” is really an interesting animal that offers more than meets the eye.

    Person says...

    March 15th, 2012, 4:58 pm

    The argument against eating bivalves in particular is sorely underdeveloped.

    Another Person says...

    July 1st, 2012, 12:47 am

    Veganism should never be dogmatic, however many of those who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet believe that they have to live up to some sort of level of ‘ethical’ principles.

    This creates an ironically intolerant view that anybody who claims to be vegan or vegetarian must follow a strict set of guidelines or else they are hypocritical and unethical.

    I strongly believe that veganism and vegetarianism would be a lot more accessible to those who many deem ‘ignorant’ providing that this obsession with rules, most of the time without considering basic logical thought, was abandoned.

    You are not ‘purer’ or ‘more ethical’ by condemning those who chose to occasionally consume dairy and/or bivalves. I do not judge someone who eats yeast, fungi or fruit as unethical, despite the fact that they have ended a cycle of life. This is because I have chosen my own principles based on what degree of life I am happy to end in order to feed myself.

    From a vegetarian, who does not judge people on what they chose to eat.

    Karen says...

    August 19th, 2012, 6:50 pm

    Absolutely agree with the post above. Any choice to eat fewer animals, whatever form they come in, is a humane one. I would rather consider myself a successful Pescatarian and consume sea creatures than eat pigs, cows, fowl, etc. as well. Instead of arguing over semantics and what each of us considers “ethical”, we should all educate ourselves and make our own choices…not judge a person who is consuming fewer animals but still may eat dairy or seafood.

    Antonia Protopopescu says...

    December 29th, 2012, 9:07 pm

    Great article and website. I also would like to congratulate all my fellow vegetarian/vegan for seeking the information that will allow them to avoid as much as possible causing pain and suffering to our fellow earthlings. I have been a vegetarian for the past 12 years and recently given up eggs and milk products. Giving up seafood and shellfish was never a problem for me because I did not consume much to begin with. Recently I find myself in conversations with people who would like to become vegans but can’t see themselves giving up fish or seafood. I tell them every little step helps. Of course fish feel pain, one day we might even be advanced enough to understand the violence we inflict to plants and insects. Some Jains for example have even given up root vegetables (carrots, potatoes) that would “kill” the possibility for that plant to reproduce. For Jains is one of their main 5 vows to avoid causing harm to living beings. All that to say that I share Karen’s opinion and if we can influence enough people to give up eating farm animals and become a civilization that evolves away from the cavemen’s diet I think we are going in the right direction.

    ganesh says...

    May 15th, 2014, 10:39 am

    I am a vegetarian and aspiring vegan. However I think bivalves exhibit plant like behavior. Many plants responds to stimuli and are capable of locomotion (humans cant detect). Plants emit odors and scents to avoid being eaten. They have evolved thorns and barks to save themselves, it is just too slow (in our mind) or should I say we are too slow to recognize it. Overall any diet that is humane and compassionate is good, vegan is even better.

    rehanne says...

    May 27th, 2014, 6:19 pm

    I’m vegetarian, and also english and I have travelled around Europe alot! And to read that apparently its hard for us to find vegetarian meals is completely false. Its agasint the law here not to advertise label all foods with meat or fish in it for vegetarians, its also against the law for ANY restaurant not to have vegetarian options. Don’t make excuses for being an awful vegetarian. Either do it or don’t.

    Fred says...

    July 21st, 2014, 5:30 pm

    Every time I read something like that it makes me want to eat all kind of animals. Thanks.

    Sandy says...

    July 26th, 2014, 2:49 am

    Just wanted to point out one flaw in this article. Lobsters do not attack each other from stress but because they are extremely territorial. It is the reason that they (along with crabs) cannot be farm raised. That and the whole cannibalism thing.

    Jane says...

    September 25th, 2014, 11:30 pm

    I used to work at Red Lobster as a teenager. I`d never eaten shellfish for religious reasons, and I always felt bad when the lobsters were lowered into boiling water. They definitely reacted and tried to save their lives. Also, when the lobsters were cut open live to be stuffed, you saw their arms moving and flailing…much like would happen with us. I felt bad about it then, and am glad I made the choice to go vegan and cut out the land animals I once believed were humanely treated and killed.

    Daniel says...

    November 6th, 2014, 3:26 pm

    Eating dairy contributes to the cruelty that dairy animals suffer. Dairy products come from mistreated cows and mistreated hens, and so on. Even organic, or free range animals that produce dairy products are mistreated. I’ve seen the research that shows that these dairy producing animals are subjected to cruelty. It sucks.

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