World’s first octopus farm sparks animal welfare debate

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A Spanish company, Nueva Pescanova, plans to open the first octopus farm in the world next year. Among animal rights defenders, environmentalists and fishermen, the news worries.

Asked by Reuters, the director of aquaculture at Nueva Pescanova, Roberto Romero, speaks of “a world stage”. On that, at least, everyone agrees. Several competitors, particularly in Mexico and Japan, have the same project to create octopus farms. And for good reason: the market value for this cephalopod mollusc has steadily increased between 2010 and 2019, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, whose Reuters reports a jump from $1.30 billion to $2.72 billion, despite some declines in claims related to COVID-19 restrictions.

As a result, fishing can no longer keep up, and aquaculture companies are beginning to find this growing market interesting. Nueva Pescanova therefore plans to start an octopus farm in the Canary Islands. The company plans to inject 65 million euros for this launch, to reach a production of 3000 tons of octopuses per year in 2026, intended for local and global restaurant chains. In fact, it seems that everything is already ready. The company has a research center in Galicia, where it has studied for years to develop suitable conditions for farming octopus on an industrial scale. It therefore only awaits the green light from the local environmental authorities.

This, it seems, is where the shoe pinch could hurt. In fact, during previous attempts to create octopus farms, the cephalopod molluscs in question had not tolerated captivity very well. There was a high mortality during births in captivity, and a high aggressiveness when it came to capturing wild octopuses to breed them. Cases of cannibalism and self-harm had been reported.

On the Nueva Pescanova side, the director, David Chavarrias, assures that all these problems have been overcome. “ We have not seen cannibalistic behavior in any of our cultures “, he thus affirms to Reuters. He specifies that the living conditions have been optimized for the octopuses, and that daily monitoring is in place to ensure their well-being. However, he did not give any details on the size of the aquariums, the density of the octopus populations raised in them, or even on the food provided to the animals, in the name of business secrecy. According to him, the aggression has been “suppressed”, and five generations have been able to be bred in captivity without any problem.

Octopuses, sentient beings

However, not everyone seems convinced. Starting with Raul Garcia, sea specialist at WWF-Spain. ” Octopuses are extremely intelligent and extremely curious. And it is well known that they are not happy in conditions of captivity he told Reuters. For him, it would be very complicated to find a profitable farming method that meets the conditions required to guarantee a good quality of life for octopuses, which are used to living alone at the bottom of the sea.

Last November, the London School of Economics wrote a report, based on some 300 scientific studies, which concluded that octopuses are indeed sentient beings, capable of feeling joy or distress. ” Although there is no octopus farming in the UK, there is some interest elsewhere in the world. However, octopuses are solitary animals that are often aggressive towards each other in confined spaces. We are convinced that breeding high welfare octopuses is impossible”, can we read there.

Following this report, the octopus has also been recognized as a sensitive being by United Kingdom legislation, as well as crabs and lobsters. In contrast, European Union laws governing livestock welfare do not apply to invertebrates and although Spain is strengthening its animal welfare legislation, octopuses should not be included. ” We like to say that more than an intelligent animal, it is a reactive animal”, declares however David Chavarrias. “He has a certain capacity for resolution in the face of survival challenges “.

In terms of the environment and fishermen, the project does not delight either. Indeed, in the face of strong demand, Eduardo Almansa, a scientist at the Spanish Oceanographic Institute, interviewed by Reuters, admits that octopus farming is for the moment the only solution to meet demand without depleting natural reserves. But as the WWF reminds us, around a third of the catch is actually used to feed the animals in aquaculture… The environmental balance of farming on a global scale could therefore be doubtful. As for fishermen, they are worried about the drop in octopus prices that such a form of farming could induce.

Source: Reuters

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