Crayfish, aka “crawfish” or “crawdads,” are freshwater crustaceans who live on nearly every continent around the world. Sadly, in the U.S., these fascinating animals are caught by the thousands to be killed for food. ?

When I was growing up in the South, crayfish were on nearly every restaurant menu. But after discovering that they have feelings, I decided it was time to veganize my gumbo and po’ boys.

Here are four of the many reasons why you should respect crayfish as sea life, NOT treat them like “seafood”:

1) They’re complex, ancient animals.

These neat crustaceans come in a variety of colors—even bright blue or green! They can regenerate their legs or claws if they lose them in a fight with a predator, and they have impeccable eyesight. Having found ancient crayfish fossils in Australia, scientists believe the species has existed for more than 115 million years. When left in peace in their natural habitat, they can reach the age of 30.

2) They feel pain.

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Just like their lobster cousins, crayfish have a nervous system and suffer when they’re ripped apart. It’s clear that they feel pain—they limp when injured, release adrenaline-like hormones when hurt, and fight for their lives to escape being boiled alive. Which leads to our next point …

3) They’re killed in horrific ways.

Imagine if your last moments on Earth involved being boiled alive while fully conscious. Just because crayfish can’t scream in agony when they’re scared or in pain doesn’t mean that they’re suffering any less than we would. ?

4) Eating them can make you sick.

Shellfish poisoning is no joke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year in the U.S., 80,000 people become ill—and 100 die—after becoming infected by Vibrio, a type of bacteria sometimes found in shellfish. Numerous studies have also found high levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals (including DDT, PCBs, and dioxin, which have been linked to cancer, nervous system disorders, and fetal damage) in fish flesh.

Pro tip: You don’t have to worry about getting sick from eating vegan fish.

The best way to help crayfish, lobsters, crabs, and all other animals is to go vegan.

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