Plans for the world’s first commercial octopus farm should be scrapped for cruelty, campaigners say.
Details of the domestic nursery planned for Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, will produce 3,000 tons of octopus each year – about a million octopuses.
Animal Welfare says trapping hundreds of octopuses in tanks can lead to stress and cannibalism in the highly territorial creatures that normally lead solitary lives.
The EU should stop using public funds to support octopus farming, say opponents of the farm, which they say will be a ‘living hell’ for octopuses.
The 2020 Oscar-winning film My Octopus Teacher brought the advanced intellectual abilities of the animals to the attention of the general public.
Plans for the world’s first commercial octopus farm should be scrapped for cruelty, according to campaigners (stock image)
INTELLIGENT OCTOPUSES ARE ‘FIRST VERTEBRATES’
Octopuses are believed to be highly intelligent, more so than any other type of invertebrate; but their learning ability is still much debated among biologists.
The creatures have been known to break out of aquariums and into others for food, and have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs stored in them.
They are the only invertebrates shown to use tools, with some species, as pictured above right, retrieving discarded coconut shells and reassembling them to use as shelter.
In laboratory experiments, they can be easily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have even been shown to practice observational learning in several highly controversial studies.
In some countries, octopuses are on the list of laboratory animals that cannot be operated on without anesthesia. UK animal testing laws consider them ‘honorary vertebrates’, giving them protections other invertebrates do not.
Details of the farm have emerged in plans submitted to the General Directorate of Fisheries of the Government of the Canary Islands by the company Nueva Pescanova, discovered by campaigners Eurogroup for Animals.
Activists say, among other things, the use of a cruel slaughter method, the confinement of octopuses in ‘little bare tanks’.
The farms can also lead to overfishing to feed the farmed octopuses.
The proposed method of slaughter, killing octopuses with ice slush, will cause “considerable pain, distress and suffering as well as prolonged death.”
They also say that keeping octopuses “locked in overcrowded, bare underwater tanks… will result in poor welfare and risks of aggression, territorialism and even cannibalism due to the octopuses’ naturally solitary nature.”
The octopuses will be exposed to unnatural light 24 hours a day to increase reproduction, which will cause undue stress as octopuses have a natural aversion to light.
Compassion in World Farming, which opposes the farm, said about one in five octopuses in captivity would die before reaching full maturity.
Other countries around the world are also proposing octopus farms, including Mexico, Japan and the US, in Washington State.
The Kanaloa Octopus Farm, an octopus farm in Hawaii, was closed following a campaign by Compassion in World Farming.
Elena Lara, Research Manager at Compassion in World Farming and author of the report, said: “We urge the Canary Islands authorities to reject Nueva Pescanova’s plans and we urge the EU to octopus farming as part of the current legislative review.
“It will cause unnecessary suffering to these intelligent, sentient and fascinating creatures, who as part of their natural behavior need to explore and interact with the environment.
Some 350,000 tonnes of octopus are caught each year – more than 10 times as many as in 1950 – making the animal particularly special as a delicacy in Asia and the Mediterranean
Their carnivorous diets require massive amounts of animal protein to sustain, contributing to overfishing at a time when fish stocks are already under tremendous pressure.
Factory farming is the biggest cause of animal cruelty on Earth and is literally destroying our planet.
“We should end factory farming, not find new species to confine in underwater factory farms. We have to stop breeding octopuses now.’
Dr. Marc Cooper, head of farm animals at the RSPCA, said: ‘Octopuses are highly sophisticated, complex and intelligent marine animals that are often solitary creatures.
“Their suitability for breeding is highly questionable and there is also a significant gap in knowledge about how to properly care for and meet their needs in a commercial environment.
‘Moreover, we are not aware of any humane octopus slaughter methods that could be carried out on a commercial scale.
“The popular Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher has raised awareness of how sentient, intelligent and complex the lives of octopuses are, helping people understand how raising them is likely to cause great suffering to these intelligent creatures.”
A recent report from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) made a number of recommendations, including that octopus should not be farmed commercially, concluding that ‘farming octopus with high welfare was impossible’.
Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals, said: ‘Blindly setting up a new farming system without considering the ethical and environmental implications is a step in the wrong direction and goes against the EU’s plans for a sustainable food transformation.
‘With the current revision of animal welfare legislation, the European Commission now has a real chance to prevent the terrible suffering of millions of animals.
“We can’t afford to leave aquatic animals behind. We call on the EU to include a ban on octopus farming before it ever sees the light of day to prevent more sentient creatures from being plunged into hell.”
Octopus has become an increasingly popular dish in recent decades, especially in Spain.
As a result, the number of wild octopuses is declining. In 2015, the number of octopuses caught around the world peaked at 400,000 tons – 10 times more than in 1950.
Nueva Pescanova has been contacted for comment.
OCTOPUS DEFENSE MECHANISMS
One of the most effective ways octopuses avoid predation is by camouflaging with their environment.
They have special pigment cells that allow them to control the color of their skin, just like chameleons.
In addition to changing color, they can manipulate the texture of their skin to blend in with the terrain.
In addition to camouflage, they can flee predators by using a ‘jet propulsion’ method of escape, where they rapidly shoot out of water to propel them quickly through the water.
The jet of water from the siphon is often accompanied by the release of ink to confuse and evade potential enemies.
The suction cups on the tentacles of the eight-legged beasts are extremely powerful and are used to drag prey to a sharp beak.
In addition to protecting against other animals, it has recently been discovered that octopuses can detect the ultrasonic waves that prevent a volcanic eruption or earthquake, giving them enough time to escape.