What is the issue?
A seafood restaurant has come under fire for allowing customers to catch their own live crabs using a claw machine. The live crab claw machine was introduced to customers on Oct. 13, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. Customers also have the option of keeping the crab at the Chinese restaurant and save it for eating another day.
SPCA lodged report
Crabs are not toys and the use of a “live crab claw machine” at a seafood restaurant in Punggol causes “unnecessary harm” to the animals, said the Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
“Crabs are living creatures, not toys. The SPCA advises members of the public to not partake in such activities,” it said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (23 October), adding that it had reported to the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) to ask the agency “to shut this down”.
“The game causes unnecessary harm to the animals and it also encourages people to see animals as nothing more than objects to play with and goes against our vision of a kinder society,” said the SPCA.
Outrageous public opinions
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."
Facebook user Adelyn Tan wrote, “This is done in very bad taste by the restaurant and the publicity team, without any regard for the crabs, making a mockery of their lives and existence just because they are only seen as food on a dinner plate.”
What the restaurant owner has to say
“First of all, I’m sorry to all animal caregivers. We did not intend to use animals as play things... We clean the game machine every day and let them survive in a good environment,” he said. “Many children in restaurants like crabs but dare not touch it. I hope that in this way, more people would understand crabs better and love them.”
Ng added that the idea behind the S$5,000 machine — which is in operation between 5pm and 10pm each day — was to educate the public on how to identify male and female crabs. We’ll leave it to you to decide the worthiness of that ostensibly educational effort.
Meanwhile, if NParks wish the machine be removed, Ng said he would respect their decision.
In a phone interview with the owner of House of Seafood, Francis Ng, explained that he had intended for the claw machine to be a way to allow children to interact with crabs, rather than to treat the crabs as mere playthings.
He first introduced the claw machine to his restaurants in China and, upon seeing its popularity with children, decided to bring it into Singapore. Ng said that apart from cooking their catch, customers have added options of raising the crab with the restaurant or even releasing them into the nearby sea.
Measures have been put in place to ensure the crabs' wellbeing while within the machine too.
The machines were specially designed by Ng to include raised platforms, padded claws and even a cushion-lined prize chute where the crabs are gently lowered into. Not only that, while the restaurant operates for 12 hours a day, the crabs are only on display from 5pm to 9pm, during which the crabs are swapped out on an hourly basis.
When asked if he had plans to remove the machine, he replied that he would only come to a decision after speaking with AVS. Should they request for him to remove the live crabs, Ng plans on replacing them with vacuum-packed boxes of pre-cooked crabs that the restaurant currently offers.
Stories of House of Seafood
This is not House of Seafood’s first experiment with serve yourself machines. Two years ago it launched a chili crab dish vending machine, although there were no live crabs in that one.
The House of Seafood restaurant was founded by CEO Francis Ng in 2008 and first opened in Yio Chu Kang before launching its outlet at The Punggol Settlement cluster of seafront dining restaurants. House of Seafood also has outlets in Cambodia and Malaysia.
NParks and House of Seafood did not respond to requests for comment before publication.