Shellfish: 9 things to do before killing a crab or a lobster to avoid causing unnecessary suffering

Perhaps you are a fan of eating shellfish, but you hate to see the poor crab or lobster twisting in pain in boiling water. We can well understand where you’re coming from. Be aware that boiling them alive is not the only way of cooking crustaceans.

Have you ever wondered whether crustaceans feel pain? Although it may be more difficult to notice in a mussel or an oyster, it is impossible not to spot the signs of suffering in a crab, a lobster or a spider crab who is twisting in pain inside in a saucepan. If you want to keep on eating shellfish with a clean(er) conscience, finish the poor animal off before plunging it into boiling water. Here are the steps to follow to spare it this barbaric torture.

NOTE: Shellfish have several nerve centres. Humane methods of killing them involve rapidly destroying all of these nerve centres, without exception. Contrary to vertebrae, crustaceans don’t die when only one nerve centre is destroyed.


1/ Put them in the fridge with ice

To “anesthetise” a crab so that it feels the pain less, keep it in the fridge for a few hours with some ice cubes.

2/ Turn it on its back

Once the crab is desensitized, turn it on its back on a non-slip surface.

3/ Lift its tail flap and cut the first nerve point

Lift the crab’s abdominal flap (a kind of small triangle) and insert a knife, slicing into the first nerve point (see the diagram below). The crab shouldn’t be cut in two, like a lobster, but simply “stabbed” or “spiked”. This destroys some of the crab’s nerve endings.

4/ Cut into the second nerve centre

Repeat step 3 for the frontal nerve centre. Insert the tip of your knife into the front of the crab’s body at a 60° angle to the horizontal. This should destroy the rest of the nerve endings. The entire operation should take no more than 10 seconds.