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Opinion: Should octopus farming be off the menu?
FoodBev Media

FoodBev Media

10 April 2024

Opinion: Should octopus farming be off the menu?

As demand for octopus as a culinary delicacy surges worldwide, the contentious practice of farming these intelligent creatures comes under scrutiny. Despite efforts to address concerns about overfishing, the proposed solution raises profound ethical and ecological dilemmas. With mounting opposition and legislative actions, including recent bans, the debate intensifies. Elena Lara, senior research and public affairs advisor (aquatic animals) at Compassion in World Farming, sheds light on the challenges posed by octopus farming.

Demand for octopus as food is increasing globally. While it has been a longstanding tradition in the Mediterranean, and prized as a delicacy in Japan, it is now growing in popularity in places like the US, where it is largely considered a luxury food item. 

With concerns about overfishing restricting the number of wild octopuses caught for food, businesses have been researching the possibility of farming these creatures to meet demand. 

Yet from a scientific and ethical perspective, octopus farming poses significant challenges in terms of animal welfare, environmental sustainability and even food security.

With Washington state in the US recently introducing the world’s first ban on octopus farming, and California wanting to prohibit octopus farming and ban the import of farmed octopus, those of us campaigning to stop this practice are hopeful that the farming of these intelligent, complex creatures will be stopped before it can start. 

Unfit for factory farms

If octopus farming is green-lit, thousands of these beings will be kept in cramped, overcrowded tanks, in sterile, often brightly lit conditions in stark contrast to their natural habitat. 

Octopuses are highly intelligent and naturally solitary creatures. They thrive in complex environments, actively problem-solve and use tools. Farming them would involve confining them in crowded tanks, which would cause immense stress and suffering. Their bodies lack internal or external skeletons so would be easily injured during handling or interactions with other octopuses. These crowded conditions also risk increased aggression and can ultimately lead to cannibalism.

A welfare nightmare

Despite these serious concerns, Nueva Pescanova, a Spanish multinational seafood company, has submitted a plan to build the world’s first commercial octopus farm in the Port of Las Palmas, in Gran Canaria, Spain.

Compassion in World Farming, along with other NGOs and experts, is opposed to this proposal. In 2021 we launched our report, Octopus Farming: A Recipe for Disaster, which showed that octopuses’ exceptional characteristics make them uniquely unsuitable for farming. 

In March 2023, we published a second report with Eurogroup for Animals – Uncovering the Horrific Reality of Octopus Farming – which reviewed the plans for the proposed farm where the company intends to rear approximately 1 million octopuses every year, producing 3,000 tonnes of octopus meat.

As well as the welfare concerns associated with rearing octopuses, there are additional concerns about how they will be killed. Nueva Pescanova plans to use a method called “ice slurry” which involves submerging them in tanks containing 500 litres of water with ice at -3/0°C, which will result in a painful, stressful and slow death. 

The use of ice slurry to kill other aquatic animals, such as fish, without pre-stunning has been scientifically proven to be inhumane, yet billions of animals continue to die slowly in agony through this method. 

Environmental impact

Octopus farming is not just cruel; it’s environmentally reckless. Octopuses are carnivores, requiring a diet rich in fishmeal, a protein-rich feed made from ground-up fish. To feed them on farms, a large amount of live or frozen natural food such as crustaceans and fish is needed, which is unsustainable. This dependence on wild-caught fish in their diets would increase the pressure on our already overexploited fish stocks.

There are further concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and water use.  Land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) use large amounts of energy and water when pumping for a continual flow through. This, of course, causes concerns in terms of the impact of such farms on the climate crisis as well as water security problems. 

Furthermore, the waste produced by intensive octopus aquaculture can contribute to pollution and disrupt marine ecosystems.

Growing international momentum

Worldwide opposition to octopus farming is growing rapidly. Last year, our aquatic experts wrote to the US House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee members urging them to set a “leading example at the international level for this critical issue”. Additionally, both the RSPCA and Friend of the Sea have publicly stated that they would not certify farmed octopuses due to all the issues related to farming them.

On 15 March, the US state of Washington became the world’s first government to successfully pass legislation to ban this cruel and environmentally damaging practice – a lead we hope will be followed around the world.

Taking a stand

The aquaculture industry farms a diverse range of species, many more than the number of land-based animals reared for food. The vast majority of these species are either wild or only recently farmed and are therefore not biologically adapted to life in captivity. 

We should not be finding new animal species to farm. Consumers deserve to know the true cost of their food choices and how octopus farming represents a step backwards, perpetuating the cruelty and unsustainability of factory farming. 

Public opposition to octopus farming is already strong and growing. It’s now time for the food industry to show consumers that it supports a food system that is compassionate, nature-friendly and creates a healthy future for animals, people and our planet. Such a future-fit food system cannot include confining octopuses in underwater factory farms. 

#Opinion #Seafood #Octopus

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