Neil, D. M., Albalat, A., Thompson, J. 2022. The effects of electrical stunning on the nervous activity and physiological stress response of a commercially important decapod crustacean, the brown crab Cancer pagurus L. PLoS ONE 17(7), e0270960.
Increasing attention is being paid to the welfare of decapod crustaceans. Legislation exists for their humane slaughter in several countries and this is being debated in others. Electrical stunning may have potential for humane slaughter of crustaceans in some circumstances, although scientific data on the effectiveness of electrical stunning when applied to various species are limited. Assessment criteria for effective stunning have so far been based mainly on behavioural assessments, but these do not always reflect neural insensibility. In this study direct recordings of neural activity, both centrally and peripherally, have been used to provide more direct measures of the state of sensibility. We have also examined whether electrical stunning acts as a physiological stressor, using measures of haemolymph L-lactate. Experiments were performed on a commercially important decapod species, the brown crab Cancer pagurus L. Spontaneous activity within the CNS was arrested by electrical stunning, which is an indication of loss of sensibility. There were also specific effects on the peripheral nervous system, with loss of responsiveness to sensory stimulation, rendering the animals unresponsive to external stimuli, and a failure of motor activation. All these effects were apparent immediately after a 10s stun, and persisted for as long as tested (4h) indicating that the animals were also killed by the procedure. No autotomy of limbs occurred. Haemolymph L-lactate was found to be no greater following electrical stunning than after handling and sampling alone, and both were significantly lower than values reached in a range of environmental and commercial situations. For all these reasons we find that electrical stunning may meet criteria for humane slaughter of C. pagurus.