Humane treatment of animals in seafood restaurants

It is important that live animals held for human consumption are subject to humane management, transport, handling and slaughter procedures. Adherence to good management is not only positive for animal welfare, but will also help to maintain food quality standards and food safety.

Welfare of animals

A number of general principles must be considered when holding live animals in tank systems. This includes live holding systems in restaurants and fish shops.

Considerations should include water temperature and salinity, dissolved oxygen levels, water filtration systems, lighting levels and stock densities.

Signs of unsatisfactory conditions in holding tanks include foam on the water surface, cloudy water, and slime and algal growth on tank walls.

Management practices for keeping live fish and crustaceans

Handling

Handling of animals should be carried out as quickly and gently as possible, minimising any time out of water. If it is necessary to touch the fish, this should be done with wet hands to minimise loss of protective mucus layers. 

Picking up crustaceans by their claws or limbs should be avoided to prevent shedding

Stocking

Tanks should not be stocked with a greater number of animals than they were designed to hold. Incompatible species must not be housed in the same tank. Incompatibility may result from aggressive or predatory behaviour, size disparity or different environmental requirements. 

Claws (but not limbs) of crustaceans should be tied to prevent injury or cannibalism, and to make handling of the animals less stressful

Transport

The number of times fish and crustaceans are removed from the water should be minimised.

Transport tanks should be large enough to allow movement of animals and have no sharp corners or edges that might cause injury.

Acclimatisation

It is important to properly acclimatise newly arrived fish to the holding system. Where fish have arrived in transport bags it is best to open the bags and aerate the water to encourage recovery from any transport stress.  Water from the holding tank can then be added so the fish do not experience rapid changes in pH, temperature, salinity or chemical composition. 

Crustaceans should not be subject to large variations in salinity. To avoid drowning crabs that have been stored or transported in air it is important to dip the crabs in water a few times to allow trapped air to escape. Crabs should not be held out of water for extended periods (generally greater than six hours) as their gills tend to dry out and restrict oxygen exchange.

Checking

Holding tanks should be regularly checked and sick, injured or dead fish and crustaceans must be removed. Injured and sick animals should be killed humanely. Sick fish and crustaceans should not be used for food. It is also important to remove shed legs or claws as these rapidly cause increased ammonia levels in the water and can result in mass mortalities.

Killing animals humanely

All live fish and crustaceans to be used for food must be killed humanely before processing.

It is unacceptable to boil crustaceans before anaesthesia, and live crustaceans must not be served to diners. It is also unacceptable to separate the tail from the head of live lobsters, crayfish or similar animals. 

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