Lobster boil ban stirs the pot on whether crawfish can feel pain

Lobster boil ban stirs the pot on whether crawfish can feel pain
Updated: Jan. 24, 2018 at 4:58 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Conversations surrounding crawfish boils in Louisiana could get heated after one country bans the act of boiling live lobsters, citing reasons of animal cruelty.

Switzerland recently became the second country to implement such a ban, according to the animal rights group Viva. According to the Swiss public broadcaster RTS, the lobsters must be killed using "electricity and the mechanical destruction of the brain" before boiling them.

"I read on one of these websites where they talk about 'oh well when you throw a lobster in boiling water, they writhe and they kick and they scrape along the edge of the pot.' Well actually the same thing happens when you throw them into room temperature water," LSU Crustacean Specialist Greg Lutz Ph. D. said.

Lutz argues a ban on boiling live crustaceans is not backed up by science.

"Psychologically, there is no reason to believe or expect that a crustacean has the nervous system to process and feel pain. They simply are not equipped with that. A crustacean's nervous system is a lot like an insect's nervous system," Lutz said.

Lutz claim is backed by the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine. The institute published, "Neither insects nor lobsters have brains. For an organism to perceive pain it must have a more complex nervous system. Neurophysiologists tell us that lobsters, like insects, do not process pain."

"I can't see something like that going on here, but you never know," Bucktown seafood market owner Merlin Schaefer said.

Schaefer, who has been in business for more than 40 years, often pokes fun with people who live out of town about the process of boiling crawfish.

"We always used to joke around, you know, and tell people 'Hey come listen to them scream.' People will be like 'What?' and we're like 'No. they don't scream,'" he said.

But in all sincerity, Schaefer stresses boiling his beloved business buddy is a Louisiana tradition that depends heavily on the timing of when a crawfish dies.

"You can't go too far ahead of time, because if they die between the time you walk 'em and when you cook 'em, that's when they get mushy," Schaefer said. "A lot of people don't care about that, but we do."

Caring about the life and death of crawfish is how Lutz makes his living, but even he stirred the pot and bets there will likely never be a ban in Louisiana like there is in Switzerland.

"Show me the data. Show me how an animal with a nervous system comparable to an insect can possibly feel pain and suffering. It's just not built to do that," Lutz said. "I think it would be pretty tough to sit there with a whole sack of crawfish and push a nail through the head of every single one of them."

The Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture's office says no one has made a request to the agency to ban the practice of boiling live crustaceans.

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