Saving Crustaceans

lobster

Craig Bennett, showbiz reporter and Studio 10 presenter, rescues crabs from fish market crates and restaurant aquariums!

‘They think I’m crazy, but to me, it’s about empathy and compassion. Those restaurant aquariums, cruelly crammed with crabs, lobsters, abalone, and fish have always sent a foreboding chill down my spine.’

For as long as I can remember I’ve adored animals. Not just a passing faddish fascination, but a deep love, respect, and an almost spiritual connection. Even as a tot, I’d be fearlessly poking around the garden for spiders (not to kill, but to be enthralled by), and would stand in awe, eyes as big as saucers, breathless with excitement if I were lucky enough to spy a handsome blue tongue lizard sunning itself lazily on the side path.

And for as long as I can recall, I’ve had an abject hatred of those restaurant fish tanks. The sorry sight of beautiful but condemned marine life cowering in corners and awaiting an invariably ghastly, agonising death. Seeing those sentient creatures in such callous confines churns my stomach with immense pangs of sadness – so much so for years, I’ve made it a point not to look at the aquarium, thus avoiding any eye contact with those glorious beings on death-row.

lobsters in tank
Lobsters in a restaurant

Likewise, I find the fish market incontrovertibly upsetting. The sight of those plastic crates, their hapless cargo of constrained crustaceans frothing at the mouth, their curious eyes-on-stalks somehow seem to know of their fate and, to me, they exude an air of sadness and distress.

live crabs in tubs
Live crabs in tubs at the Sydney Fish Market

Maybe 20 years ago I took a stand. As Peter Finch’s character once thundered in the movie Network: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” My inner animal liberator had been roused, and I first became a saviour for shackled shellfish whilst on a holiday in Bali.

Outside a beach-side seafood restaurant in Jimbaran was a box of glossy shelled crabs and live painted lobsters, their claws tied tightly with raffia, as they awaited the horror demise of being cleaved alive, doused in some garlicky butter, and tossed onto a BBQ. I was immediately and emotionally overwhelmed by a tsunami of sadness as I put myself in their place, trying to imagine the world through their eyes. Tied up, piled high in a crate, crabs ontop of crabs, claws being torn off in the pell-mell, all the while waiting to die.

I bought what was left of the crabs and the last remaining few sorry looking lobsters, snipped off their claw cuffs and released them into the Indian Ocean. For me, that was the start of an occasional crusade. Whenever the circumstance was right, and when I had the money, I’d buy up what crabs I could afford from restaurant fish tanks and fish market crates and release them back into the wild.

The Sydney fish markets are opposite Channel 10’s studios in Pyrmont, and when I’m a little flush with funds, I’ll wander over after the show and buy some local mud crabs, which I release into mangroves near where I live. It’s always hard to look into those crates and select which crabs are to be saved but, unfortunately, I’m not Warren Buffett this week and therefore I can only do what I can afford.

saving crustaceans

Interestingly, as I chat to the fishmongers about buying crabs for release, invariably they’ll say I’m not alone. Some compassionate people regularly come in and buy up entire boxes of crustacea with the intent on letting them go free. My heart sings like Dame Joan Sutherland in full flight when I hear of such kindness.

There’s a local Chinese restaurant I frequent, and when I see a lone surviving crab sitting forlornly in a tank, I’ll buy it and let it go. I find immeasurable joy in snipping the claw restraints and gently returning the crabs back into the sea. Usually, they are so traumatised by all that’s gone on, they are momentarily stunned, barely moving, playing dead. Then, as freedom dawns on them, their antennules excitedly swing into action, their eyes dart about and they make a dash for the mangrove roots or bury themselves into the muddy bottom of the estuary.

live crab
Crab tied up at market.

For me, there is no bigger smile to be had than making some kind of positive change – no matter how small, and for attempting to help a sentient creature find freedom from what was a completely inhuman yet human imposed hell. And in this often challenging and crazy world, it’s a nice feeling to be able to smile the good smile.


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