No more live crabs: Singapore’s House of Seafood fills claw machine with boxes to exchange for crab dishes

At S$5 each round, users may try to claw out a box and present it to the restaurant in exchange for a dish of black pepper crab or chilli crab, for instance, each worth S$59.90. — TODAY pic
At S$5 each round, users may try to claw out a box and present it to the restaurant in exchange for a dish of black pepper crab or chilli crab, for instance, each worth S$59.90. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Oct 25 — The owner of the restaurant that has come under fire for its claw machine featuring live crabs said that he will be replacing them with boxes for users to get crab meat dishes instead.

He and his restaurant team also apologised and bowed for 20 seconds during a press conference held this evening.

Francis Ng, 47, the chief executive officer of House of Seafood, flew back from China to meet reporters and to apologise for the distress that his claw machine has caused those who are against animal suffering and exploitation.

The Singaporean who is based in China said: “Our motivation behind this initiative is for educational purposes and we took extra steps to ensure that we did not cause any extra discomfort to the crabs such as having the sponge and rubber tips in the machine.

“This unexpectedly caused some concern among members of the public and we fully support the direction of Singapore Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). We are definitely against animal cruelty.”

Asked later what kind of “educational purposes” the machine served, Ng said that he wanted to let children learn more about the crabs and marine life, how to tell if the crab is male or female, and so on.

The House of Seafood management team apologising for putting live crabs in a claw machine. — TODAY pic
The House of Seafood management team apologising for putting live crabs in a claw machine. — TODAY pic

Throughout the press conference, the team’s marketing and restaurant managers appeared teary-eyed and had their heads bowed. At the end of it, the management team apologised, stood up and bowed for around 20 seconds.

“As the chief executive officer of House of Seafood, I take full responsibility for causing such unhappiness and I am sincerely sorry for such an oversight,” Ng said. 

Instead of live crabs, the seafood restaurant located on Punggol Point Road has decided to replace them with boxes. At S$5 (RM15) each round, users may try to claw out a box and present it to the restaurant in exchange for a 600g dish of black pepper crab or chilli crab, for instance, each worth S$59.90. 

Ng said that this will be done at its two restaurant outlets in China as well.

“Despite the measures (taken) to minimise the discomfort of the crabs, we note the feedback from the public and will stop the catching of live animals in the machine. (This will happen) completely in all House of Seafood outlets worldwide.”

The controversy has drawn criticisms as well as more customers to the restaurant. Business went up by around 20 per cent since the incident, with families taking pictures of the claw machine, Ng added.

As its marketing promotion, the restaurant had earlier allowed customers to manoeuvre a giant claw to pick up live crabs, which they may then buy and have them cooked on the spot, or returned to the sea.

In a Facebook post put up on Wednesday, SPCA said that it made a report to AVS to “shut this down”. The post has since garnered over 2,300 shares over two days.

“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,” SPCA said.

“Crabs are living creatures, not toys. SPCA advises members of the public to not partake in such activities.”

Ng said that he would be reaching out to SPCA and apologising for the claw machine.

Earlier this week, he told TODAY that with rubber tips around the claws, an elevated tank and cushioning on the base, the machine was specially designed to minimise pain or harm to the crabs. 

Today, Ng said that he met with officials from the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) after arriving from China, but it is still too early to tell if the restaurant would be fined or penalised for what it did. 

AVS, a unit under the National Parks Board, said in a statement yesterday that it was alerted to the machine and is investigating the case.

Jessica Kwok, its group director, said: “AVS takes all feedback received from the public on animal cruelty seriously and will look into the cases reported. All forms of evidence are critical to the process and photographic and/or video-graphic evidence provided by the public will help.” — TODAY

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