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Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority highlights adverse affects of declawing Irish Brown Crab

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The fishery for brown crab is one of the most valuable in Ireland - in the region of 6,000 tonnes of edible brown crab is landed by Irish fishermen each year with a value of over €8 million. Declawing of Irish Brown Crab at sea will impact this fishery. It is the responsibility of every crab fisherman in Ireland to ensure the sustainability of this fishery and to work with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) to ensure stocks are maintained. As the Competent Authority for the enforcement of sea-fisheries law and food safety law in the seafood sector, the SFPA works to ensure the sustainability of these stocks and also to promote food safety in the seafood sector.


Crab claws are a popular choice as they are easier to cook and prepare than live crab and contain the best quality crab meat. However, brown crabs should not have their claws removed at sea. Declawing of crabs is the process whereby one or both claws of a live crab are manually pulled off and the animal is then usually returned to the water.

Whilst the practice is defended by some, however, in Irish waters, declawing at sea is prohibited. Council Regulation (EC) No. 724/2001 on the Conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juvenile and marine organisms does permit the retention on board of separated crab claws not exceeding a maximum of 1% of the total catch weight. This tolerance is to facilitate the landing of claws which have been accidentally lost during handling, storage and transport.

Discarding clawed brown crab or using them as bait has the potential to introduce serious disease into the crab stock.  A higher incidence of Bitter Crab Disease (BCD) has been noted in Irish waters where declawing is common. The survival rate of brown crab, which have their claws removed, is likely to be low and ultimately reduce the potential yield from the fishery.

Furthermore, if a crab survives declawing it will be unable to feed effectively and may subsequently die of starvation. Most crabs use their claws for capturing and eating prey - crabs with one claw would be disadvantaged in subsequent feeding and a crab with both claws removed would find feeding even more difficult. Moreover, declawing has been shown to result in a physiological stress response in the brown crab as well as resulting in bigger wounds.

To help ensure the safety and sustainability of this valuable fishery, the SFPA produced a guide which can be accessed at SFPA's Consumer Guide for Brown Crab.pdf – this highlights how consumers can take some simple precautions when purchasing their crab. For example, when buying whole crab, whether live or cooked, it is important to ensure that the product measures at least 130mm across the widest part of the shell – there is a legal minimum landing size of 130mm or 140mm for Irish brown crab depending on the location the vessel is fishing in. The sale and/or display of undersize crab is illegal and highly damaging to stock survival and the SFPA requests that consumers who find undersize crab on sale as well as fishermen who observe illegal activity in the fishery to report it to the SFPA’s confidential line  at 1890 76 76 76.


Susan Steele, Chair of the SFPA said: ‘We have to work together to change the practice of clawing at sea. I use the word ‘we’ to include both the crab fishermen and the SFPA. It is in everyone’s interest to maintain a brown crab fishery in Ireland and to encourage more stocks. The legislation is there to protect both the industry and the crab stocks. The current practice of throwing clawless, defenceless crabs into the sea to be scavenged on by predators does not aid the fishery. The Irish crab industry is of major importance to many coastal communities. The SFPA are committed to working with this sector of the fishing industry to promote compliance with conservation requirements and to deter the method of declawing. This is a shared responsibility and it is the responsibility of every fisherman to ensure that we maintain brown crab stocks.’




For further press information, please contact Eleanor Buckley, Communications Manager, Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority on 023 88593 46/ 087 920 3658 or email eleanor.buckley@sfpa.ie.