SPCA claws at seafood restaurant in Punggol over cruelty to crabs

The House of Seafood restaurant in Punggol launched a live crab clawing machine for customers to catch their own live Sri Lankan crabs at $5 for each try.
The House of Seafood restaurant in Punggol launched a live crab clawing machine for customers to catch their own live Sri Lankan crabs at $5 for each try.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM SHOUT/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A seafood restaurant has come under fire for allowing customers to catch their own live crabs using a claw machine.

Earlier this month, the House of Seafood restaurant in Punggol launched a live crab clawing machine for customers to catch their own live Sri Lankan crabs at $5 for each try.

On Wednesday (Oct 23), the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) called out the machine on social media for cruelty.

"We are disturbed by the concept and the harm it causes animals for the sake of human entertainment," SPCA executive director Jaipal Singh Gill told The Straits Times.

"We feel that this (machine) needs to be shut down immediately. We have reported it to the (National Parks Board’s) Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) and hope that swift action can be taken," he added.

Dr Gill explained that the claw machine can inflict unnecessary harm and distress to the crabs as the crustaceans will be dropped from a height by the claw.

"The (crab's) shell does not offer full protection from knocks and trauma. (The claw machine) also brings out the wrong mindset that animals are objects to be played with," he added.

The restaurant's machine is believed to be the first of its kind in Singapore. It was introduced to customers on Oct 13, according to the restaurant's Facebook page.

Mr Francis Ng, CEO of The House of Seafood, told The Straits Times that he got the idea for the crab machine from machines dispensing soft toys, noting that they attract many children.

"I wanted to educate the kids on how to differentiate a male and female crab and keep them entertained in the restaurant," the 47-year-old said in a phone interview from China.

He spent $5,000 to customise the machine in China, covering the metal claws of the machine with plastic to soften the grip on the crabs.

The tank holding the crabs are also elevated and cushioned so that if the crabs fall after being grabbed by the claw, they will not fall from as great a height and the impact of the fall can be reduced, said Mr Ng. The crabs' pincers are tied up, but their smaller legs are not.

The crustaceans are not kept in the machine for too long at any one time as they are removed to be replaced by another batch of crabs every hour.

Since the claw machine's launch, only one customer has successfully caught a crab. Three to four customers have played with the machine but were unsuccessful in catching any crabs.

Should the authorities view it as unethical and step in, Mr Ng said he hopes to resolve the issue with them, adding that he is willing to take the machine down.

He also apologised to animal lovers, and said the restaurant did not mean to treat the crabs as playthings.

On Tuesday, online publication Shout posted a video of the crab clawing machine. The video has been viewed more than 100,000 times and has gathered over 1,000 comments.

Many netizens slammed the restaurant for its "cheap" promotional tactics and alleged that it was animal cruelty.

Netizen Dawn Teo said: "This is so cruel! They are living things and not toys!"

Another netizen Carmen Pang said: "Animal cruelty is not entertaining. Such inhumane practice reflects badly on you as a business as well as your customers who participate in it with glee."

 
 
 

This is not the first time the restaurant is in the news for its gimmicks.

Two years ago, House of Seafood also launched a chilli crab dish vending machine, but there were no live crabs used.

Last year, a video of a middle-aged waitress performing a "chicken dance" at the restaurant also went viral, sparking discussion online that she was made to do the dance for work. However, she later told ST that she did the jig of her own accord.

ST has contacted the AVS for comments.