An Australian seafood company was recently convicted of animal cruelty for killing a lobster.
The legally actionable problem was not actually taking the life of the lobster. It’s that the lobster was killed in a way deemed to be unnecessarily – and illegally – brutal.
According to the Guardian’s description of what happened, workers at Nicholas Seafoods were seen by investigators “butchering and dismembering lobsters with a band saw, without adequately stunning or killing them.” The lobsters’ tails were cut from their bodies while the animals were still alive, in violation of local animal cruelty laws, and led to a conviction that might be the first of its kind in the world.
Depending on your perspective, this might both churn the stomach and raise confusing questions. Are you behaving monstrously if you boil a live lobster – a fairly common cooking method?
Could you be found guilty of animal cruelty if so?
The answer to the second question is pretty straightforward: As things stand now, you are highly unlikely to be convicted of animal cruelty for behaving badly, even very badly, toward a lobster.
The Nicholas Seafoods killing took place in the Australian state of New South Wales – one of a few Australian jurisdictions to specifically include crustaceans sold for food, like lobsters, in its animal cruelty laws. The conviction was the first in that state, a local spokeswoman for the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said. The company was fined $1,500.
Welfare laws for lobsters and their ilk are unusual. In the United States, neither fish nor crustaceans are covered under the federal Animal Welfare Act, and they are mostly exempt from state animal cruelty laws as well. (Occasionally, a cruelty charge has been brought under state law when a pet fish is killed in a brutal way.)