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Are crustaceans protected by animal welfare legislation?

Crustaceans are a group of invertebrate animals, which most notably include crabs, crayfish, lobsters, and prawns. Whether they are protected under State and Territory animal welfare legislation depends upon the definition of ‘animal’ in each jurisdiction. In the majority of jurisdictions, animals are defined as ‘vertebrate animals’. However, in the ACT, New South Wales, Victoria, and the Northern Territory, the definition of animal includes crustaceans in particular circumstances. In South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, crustaceans are not included within the definition of animal.

In regards to commercial and retail use of crustaceans, the provisions of the relevant animal welfare legislation protect crustaceans against acts of cruelty. Therefore, in the ACT, NSW, the NT and Victoria, crustaceans should not be treated in a way, which unreasonably, unnecessarily or unsuitably inflicts pain upon the animal. In the ACT, NSW, and Victoria, there is an obligation for retailers to provide crustaceans with appropriate and adequate food, water, and shelter. Additionally, crustaceans must be transported in a way so as not to subject them to unnecessary injury, pain or suffering. RSPCA Australia opposes the live export of food animals for slaughter – this includes crustaceans. Instead, live crustaceans must be humanely killed by trained and competent personnel before being shipped for export.

In NSW, retailers are restricted from selling, or offering to sell, animals, which are so severely injured or diseased, or in such a condition that it is cruel to keep them alive. In particular, where an animal is kept for the purposes of sale the retailer must keep clean and hygienic premises, and protect the animals from interference from people, disease, distress and injury. Restaurants and caterers must ensure that rapid temperature changes and water quality changes are avoided, and cannot keep incompatible species together.

RSPCA Australia considers that the available scientific evidence indicates that crustaceans may be capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Therefore, RSPCA Australia supports the inclusion of crustaceans under relevant State and Territory animal welfare legislation, and the development of Codes of Practices or Standards and Guidelines relating to their care.

State/TerritoryYes/NoRelevant Acts/Conditions
NSWYesPrevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979

Restricted to ‘a crustacean but only when at a building or place (such as a restaurant) where food is prepared or offered for consumption by retail sale in the building or place’
ACTYesAnimal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT)

Restricted to ‘a live crustacean intended for human consumption’
VicYesPrevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic)

Defined as ‘live adult decapod crustacean; that is a lobster, or a crab, or a crayfish’
NTYesAnimal Welfare Act 2000 (NT)

Restricted to ‘a live crustacean if it is in or on the premises where food is prepared for retail sale, or offered by retail sale, for human consumption’

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Updated on December 10, 2021
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