PhD in Reconsidering the Lobster: Improving Welfare Standards

Decapod crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters, have complex, partially decentralised nervous systems. Historically, the extreme difference between vertebrate and invertebrate nerve structures has resulted in little concern for the welfare of crustaceans, as they were thought to have no ability to experience pain; instead, simply depending upon nociceptive reflexes to escape from noxious stimuli. However, in 2021, an independent report from the London School of Economics concluded that there is strong scientific evidence that decapod crustaceans are sentient and can experience pain, and they should therefore be included within the scope of animal welfare law. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which recognised the sentience of decapod crustaceans in UK law for the first time, received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament on 28 April 2022. As such, traditional slaughter methods, such as boiling or drowning in fresh water, are likely to be made illegal in the UK in the near future. These traditional techniques are largely deemed unacceptable from an animal welfare perspective, causing autotomy, muscle spasms, rigidity and tearing of appendages or abdomens.

Given this, and that shellfish represented over £367 million to the UK’s fishing industry in 2019, it is critical that appropriate welfare standards and methods for humane slaughter are investigated to support modifications to research and food industry processes that will soon be required by law.

The proposed project has three key objectives that would ultimately allow us to make recommendations to improve crustacean welfare and handling:

Develop, in conjunction with Computer Science researchers, a non-invasive real-time underwater wireless photoplethysmography (PPG) that will be tested on the European lobster (Homarus gammarus) for use as a measure of stress and insensibility in experimental trials. There is potential for this to be expanded to other crustacean species of ecological or economic interest, time permitting.
State-of-the-art AI-based methods to dynamically filter noise from the PPG signal and extract insights from the filtered data.
Trial eugenol as a reversible and terminal anaesthetic for the European lobster and validate Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometry as a means of determining retained eugenol concentrations in raw and cooked lobster flesh for Food Safety testing.

Salary: Fully funded for UK / EU / International students - 3 years of stipend at UKRI rates

Closing date: 12/01/2024

Further information can be found here.