First-ever proposed octopus farm raises concerns over conditions

An octopus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Kurt AMSLER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

  • A commercial octopus farming project has sparked outrage from experts and animal rights activists.
  • The farm slaughtered about a million octopuses each year by submerging them in ice water.
  • “It would be very cruel and should not be allowed,” Dr Peter Tse told the BBC.

A commercial octopus farming project in Spain has sparked outrage after a leaked plan suggested the operator intended to kill up to a million animals a year by submerging them, alive, in ice water.

Companies have struggled for years to produce octopus on a commercial scale in captivity, citing growing demand and pressure to find more sustainable alternatives to fishing. But critics argue the creatures are far too intelligent – ​​and capable of feeling pain – to be bred for food in confined quarters.

The proposed farm at issue is said to be based in Spain’s Canary Islands and run by Nueva Pescanova, a seafood company that boasted in 2019 that it had succeeded not only in breeding octopuses in captivity but, for the first time, in breeding them. reproduce.

“We will continue to research how to continue to improve the well-being of octopuses, by studying and replicating their natural habitat, in the hope of being able to sell aquaculture octopuses from the year 2023,” he said. then CEO Ignacio González.

But campaigners from Eurogroup for Animals, an activist group, say documents they have obtained – and shared with the BBC – show the proposed factory would subject octopuses to torture conditions and a long death and painful.

In a report on Thursday, the activist group said Nueva Pescanova plans to slaughter around one million octopuses each year by submerging them in freezing “ice mud”. Furthermore, he criticizes the conditions in which they will be kept before slaughter, saying that the company intends to cage a solitary creature in dense housing – up to 15 octopuses per cubic meter of water – and subjecting them to 24-hour light periods. in order to speed up reproduction.

“It will inflict unnecessary suffering on these intelligent, sensitive and fascinating creatures, which must explore and interact with the environment as part of their natural behavior,” said Elena Lara, head of research at the Compassion in World Farming group. , in a press release.

Nueva Pescanova did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. But in a statement to the BBC, the company said it had high standards which ensure “the correct handling of animals”. In particular, he said, the slaughter of octopuses “involves proper handling that avoids any pain or suffering to the animal”.

However, experts disagree that immersing live animals in ice water is a pleasant solution.

“Killing them with ice would be a slow death,” Dr Peter Tse, who studies octopus cognition at Dartmouth, told the BBC. “That would be very cruel and should not be allowed.”

In an open letter last year, before specific details of the proposed plant were published, a group of New York University environmental scientists specializing in animal susceptibility argued that it is not possible to humanely raise octopuses in captivity on a commercial scale – and indeed could cause not only pollution, through the release of contaminated waters, but also cannibalism in animals that have actually been driven mad.

“Beyond environmental and health concerns, octopuses are capable of observational learning, have individual personalities, play, and are able to problem solve, deceive, and hunt between species,” the scientists wrote.

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