Plans to build the world’s first octopus farm have been met with criticism by scientists. Spanish multinational Nueva Pescanova sent the proposed plans to the Canary Islands’ General Directorate of Fishing, but they have been intercepted by animal rights group Eurogroup for Animals and leaked to the BBC.
Nueva Pescanova claims that they made a breakthrough in commercial Octopus breeding in 2019, and the controversial cephalopod farm would aim to produce around 3000 tonnes, or one million animals for the table each year. The farming is viewed as intensive by its critics however, with 10-15 animals living in one cubic meter (264 gallons,) of water along with 10-15% mortality, according to the leaked documents. Outside of the fish farming industry that percentage of deaths seems alarmingly high, yet farmed salmon experience a mortality rate of 14.5% too. The biggest backlash that the planned farm faces are from its chosen method of euthanasia, and if the Octopus would feel pain and suffer during the process.
The proposed slaughter method involves placing the live animals in an ice slurry of -3 Celsius, (26.6F,) but Jonathan Birch, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, led a review of more than 300 scientific studies which he says shows that octopuses feel both pain and pleasure. The review led to them being recognized as “sentient beings” in the UK’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, while lawmakers in the US state of Washington have proposed banning commercial farming of octopuses before it could even start in America. Sentience status means that Octopuses may not only feel pain but are cognitive, self-aware, and have feelings.
Prof Birch and his co-authors believe that high-welfare octopus farming is “impossible” and that killing in ice slurry “would not be an acceptable method of killing in a lab”. Previous studies have shown that ice slurry euthanasia results in poor welfare, stress, and a slow death to fish, let alone Octopus. Cognitive neuroscientist Prof. Peter Tse, of Dartmouth University, told the BBC that “to kill them with ice would be a slow death … it would be very cruel and should not be allowed.”
Around 350,000 tonnes of octopus are caught each year according to the BBC report. Nueva Pescanova stated that “aquaculture is the solution to ensuring a sustainable yield” and that it would “repopulate the octopus species in the future.”
Have your say
We’d like to hear your thoughts. Is this no different from fish farming or shrimp farming to feed the world’s population? Or because of what we aquarists know about Octopus intelligence is this a step too far, or just plain abhorrent? Is ice a worse death than they experience when collected for food from the wild? Have you ever eaten Octopus, or kept one in an aquarium? Join the conversation over at the Reef Builders Facebook page.