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Should Scientific Research Involving Decapod Crustaceans Require Ethical Review?


Decapod crustaceans are faceless animals with five pairs of legs, an external skeleton and multiple nerve centres (ganglia) rather than a single brain (as in vertebrates). They include common seafood species such as crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimp. These characteristics make them difficult to empathise with and consequently legal protection of decapods ranges from strong (Norway and New Zealand), through circumstantial (Australia and Italy) to non-existent (in many other countries). Whether they are capable of experiencing pain depends on definitions and the requirement for absolute proof of an inherently subjective psychological experience. Yet like other animals, decapods fulfil neuroanatomical, pharmacological and behavioural criteria that are consistent with a pain response. Whether they experience stress, harm and distress is less controversial because these conditions are more measurable than the pain response. To balance animal welfare concerns with scientific merit whilst providing confidence for the growing public awareness of crustacean welfare, use of decapod crustaceans in research should require ethical review.

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The author thanks Robyn Hall, Alison Small and Sharyn Zrna for helpful discussions while writing this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Anthony Rowe.

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Rowe, A. Should Scientific Research Involving Decapod Crustaceans Require Ethical Review?. J Agric Environ Ethics 31, 625–634 (2018).

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  • Animal
  • Decapod
  • Ethics
  • Pain
  • Physiology
  • Nociceptor