PRESS RELEASE: Australian prawns suffering horrific eye mutilations



Female prawns in Australian prawn farms are having their eye cut off in a traumatic yet routine procedure designed to make them breed faster.

Animals Australia is calling on the Australian Prawn Farmers Association to end the cruel and unnecessary industry practice of 'eye-stalk ablation'.

A female prawn has a hormonal gland behind her eye that moderates reproduction, only allowing her to breed when conditions are suitable. The stressful and crowded conditions in hatcheries can make prawns reluctant to reproduce. By cutting off one of her eye stalks, prawn farmers destroy the gland, forcing her into rapid sexual maturity.

"Science indicates the pain and trauma experienced by prawns subjected to this gruesome procedure, yet it is undertaken at most prawn hatcheries around the world and usually without any effective pain relief," said Animals Australia's Campaign Director Lisa Chalk.

"Whether they consume prawns or not, the average Australian will be shocked to hear that such a horrific procedure exists, let alone that it is a routine and legal industry practice."

Eye-stalk ablation was first used in commercial prawn farming in the 1970's. Research has since found that given the right environment, female prawns will breed without being subjected to this awful procedure. In fact, one of the world's biggest prawn producers, Seajoy, has successfully phased out eye-stalk ablation.

"With ever-increasing consumer concern about the treatment of animals raised for food, a similar phase out in Australia would be broadly applauded."

"That cutting an animal's eyes was ever deemed an acceptable means of increasing profits is another shocking example of an animal industry seeing living, feeling creatures as nothing more than units of production."

"Whether cutting the tails of piglets, the sensitive beaks of hens, or the eyes of prawns, we are once again seeing the awful consequences of factory farming in Australia and the lack of legal protection for farmed animals."

Animals Australia has written to the Australian Prawn Farmers Association and major prawn farming companies seeking their co-operation to end the practice of eye-stalk ablation. The matter has also been brought to the attention of major Australian retailers.



The Australian Prawn industry

Around 100 million prawns are produced in Australian prawn farms each year. 95% of farms are in Queensland, with one farm in New South Wales.

The definition of 'eyestalk ablation' from the Australian Prawn Farming Manual is:

a hatchery technique of macerating or destroying the eyestalk gland in female broodstock prawns to encourage spawning.

Cutting and squeezing a prawn's eye is the most common way ablation is done though there are other methods including cauterisation (a pair of heated forceps is applied to the eyestalk) and ligation (tying a thread or wire around the eyestalk causing it to fall off after a few days).

The Science

A study into the pain experienced by prawns whose eye was sliced open and crushed or ligated found that both procedures caused prawns to become disoriented, flick their tail (an escape reflex) and rub the traumatised area — all behaviours associated with pain. The ablated prawns were also less likely to seek shelter following the procedure, which researchers believe to indicate a degree of stress amongst these animals. The study concluded that: "These procedures are traumatic not only because of the surgical treatment or ligation but also due to the subsequent discomfort and hormonal changes."

Scientist Dr Robert Elwood has also studied the way prawns react to negative stimulus and concluded that their behaviour was "consistent with the interpretation of pain experience."

Further studies have found that prawns and other crustaceans are able to see polarized light, which humans can't. This superior vision helps them with navigating through water, seeing transparent or silvery prey, and avoiding predators. Destroying a prawn's eye not only destroys the hormonal gland moderating their reproduction, but impacts their vision as well. In a crowded farm environment, impaired vision is likely to increase the stress on these animals.

The law

Queensland animal welfare laws recognise prawns (invertebrates of the class malacostraca) as sentient 'animals' deserving of protection from cruelty. But this protection has not yet been enacted in regulations (as it has been for other invertebrates like squid and octopus). This is the technical 'loophole' that allows a cruel practice like eye-stalk ablation to continue.

Animals Australia has urged the Queensland Minister to prescribe protection to prawns in the regulations (as was intended when the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 was passed).


MEDIA CONTACT: Lisa Chalk, Animals Australia Communications Director | 0488 006 478 |



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