Australia tests crustacean pain barrier as lobster dockers rebel

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The Independent Online

Australian officialdom takes its responsibilities seriously. So when a British study found that fish do feel pain, government veterinarians faced a pressing question: does it hurt live crustaceans to have their tails cut off?

Australian officialdom takes its responsibilities seriously. So when a British study found that fish do feel pain, government veterinarians faced a pressing question: does it hurt live crustaceans to have their tails cut off?

The issue is important because those in Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia who fish for recreation are obliged by law to remove the tail fan of lobsters caught in private pots. This marks out the creatures – which are kept alive during transportation – from a commercial catch.

In South Australia, where lobsters the size of poodles are harvested from teeming waters, two fishermen refused to comply with the long-standing practice, complaining it was cruel.

They were prosecuted, but fisheries authorities decided to investigate the plight of the lobster and its pain threshold. Scientists have embarked on experiments including one to examine lobster tails for nerve tissue. They also plan to test lobsters' biochemical responses when their tails are chopped, to determine whether the twitching usually observed is a reflex or an indicator of distress.

The tests are being done by the veterinarian for South Australian Fisheries, Dr Colin Johnston, and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

Dr Johnston said: "Even though these creatures are going to be eaten, people still care about them."

The British study, by the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, found evidence of pain in hooked fish. Rainbow trout whose lips were injected with bee venom or mild acid responded with a rocking motion similar to that of mammals under stress, and then behaved strangely.

In the case of lobsters, which are plunged live into boiling water for cooking, attention to their well-being seems slightly peculiar. The director of South Australian Fisheries, Will Zacharin, noted they often lost legs and antennae when caught. "But the way animal ethics are these days, it needs to be investigated," he said.

The scientists will report in June on their findings.

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