Due to a gradually increasing demand for seafood, a Spanish fishing company by the name of Nueva Pescanova plans to open the world’s first octopus farm. After decades of academic research and about €65 million ($74 million) later, they beat other rival companies in Japan in Mexico in creating a habit for octopi that’s also fit for industry-scale breeding. “This is a global milestone,” said Roberto Romero, the aquaculture director at Nueva Pescanova.
The company has said that they hope to be able to 3000 tons of octopus per year and to start selling their meat by 2023, however, the company has not provided any details on tank dimensions, feed, nor how they’re killed. Even though this is the first successful octopus habit in the world, it isn’t the first attempt at one. There have been many attempts in the past, however, they all ended up with high mortality rates due to the problems that come with trying to breed wild-caught octopi, including aggression, cannibalism, and even self-mutilation. David Chavarrias, the director of the company’s research center, has stated that “we have not found cannibalistic behavior in any of our cultures.” Despite this, not everyone is convinced that it’s still the right thing to do.
People protesting about the plans for the octopus farm on February 5, 2022 (REUTERS/Borja Suarez)
The very act of farming octopi is causing ethical concerns as many consider them to be intelligent and sentient creatures. Last year, researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) conducted a series of 300 scientific tests which concluded that octopi are sentient beings capable of feeling happiness and distress. These researchers also concluded that high-welfare farming of the creatures would be impossible. Raul Garcia, the head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s fishery operations in Spain, agrees. He explains how octopi are “extremely intelligent and extremely curious. And it’s well known they are not happy in conditions of captivity.” Garcia also adds that the cost of providing octopi with a high quality of life environment would be too expensive to make any profit.
Chavarrias, however, says that it isn’t entirely proven that octopi are truly “intelligent,” and more research is needed to determine this. “We [The company] like to say that, more than an intelligent animal, it is a responsive animal,” divulges Chavarrias, “It has a certain capacity for resolve when faced with survival challenges.” Even with all of these ethical concerns, the demand for octopi has been increasing in countries like Italy, Japan, Korea, and Spain. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), the value of the global octopus trade went from $1.30 billion in 2010 to $2.72 billion in 2019 and is still climbing.
There is also concern on how octopi farms might affect already over-fished fishing grounds. As stated by WWF, a third of all fishing products caught in the wild are used to feed other animals, and this new farm could cause stress on the sustainability of the fisheries they’re sourced from. Chavarrias has said that the company recognizes this concern and that they will research alternative feed such as algae and waste food products.
The octopus farm project has not yet been started and is still pending approval by the Canary Islands’ environmental department.