International protest against octopus farming led by Spanish Party for the Animals
This summer, the world’s first octopus factory farm is planned to be opened in Spain. A highly controversial first, since octopus farming has been denounced as unethical, a threat to wildlife and the environment, and incompatible with EU guidelines for sustainable aquaculture. Last weekend, the Spanish animalist party PACMA organized a rally in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, that was supported by its sister parties worldwide and dozens of Spanish and international animal rights and environmental organizations. Their goal: ‘to prevent the opening of yet another mega-farm in which an exceptionally intelligent animal such as the octopus is exploited’.
Wild-caught octopuses have been consumed all over the world, especially in Mediterranean countries in Europe, Asia, Mexico, and more recently the United States and Japan. With consumption going up and – as a result – wild octopus populations going down, food industries have become eager to farm octopuses in captivity. Plans have been made for octopus farming in Mexico, Japan, Australia and the United States. The Spanish multinational Nueva Pescanova is the first company worldwide to actually realise such an octopus farm at the harbour of Las Palmas, where it’s planning to produce 3,000 tons of octopus meat each year.
A recipe for disaster
The idea has been met with severe criticism from scientists, animal rights groups and environmental organisations alike. An international group of researchers has denounced octopus farming as ethically inexcusable and environmentally dangerous. As scientific evidence has pointed out, octopuses are highly intelligent and explorative sentient beings, capable of using tools, perceiving and manipulating their surroundings and experiencing joy, pain and distress. As marine biologist Elena Lara convincingly argues in her report for the international organisation Compassion in World Farming, intensive octopus farming is ‘a recipe for disaster’.
Captivity in barren, sterile tanks would strongly compromise the welfare and health of such highly intelligent beings, and keeping large numbers of these naturally solitary animals together would entail a high risk of aggression and even cannibalism. To make things worse, octopuses are now totally unprotected from suffering or inhumane slaughter as there are currently no laws in place to regulate their welfare and farming practices.
Intensive octopus farming would also contribute to the overfishing of wild fish populations, for just like farmed fish, the octopuses are fed with feed made from fish. Currently, up to a quarter of the catch of industrial fishing is used to produce such feed for farmed fish; additional feed would be needed for farmed octopuses. This would further reduce the amount of food available for other species relying on small fish, such as penguins. Given the global crisis of overfishing we are already facing, this would pose an unacceptable threat to the food-chain, according to critics. And, as they point out, it is incompatible with the EU Strategic Aquaculture Guidelines, which encourage the reduction of aquaculture’s reliance on feed produced from wild-caught fish.
Pollution, faeces, algae, antibiotics and the increased risk of an outbreak of illness in tanks or open sea net cages: the arguments against octopus farming are many and clear. As professor Jennifer Jacquet of New York University stated: ‘We can see no reason why, in the 21st century, a sophisticated, complex animal should become the source of mass-produced food’.
We will not allow octopus farms! Worldwide protest is gaining momentum
The imminent opening of the Nueva Pescanova-octopus farm has sparked increased resistance. Compassion in World Farming has launched a campaign against octopus farming and contacted the governments of several countries, including Spain, to urge them to prohibit the opening of such farms. In Spain, the animalist party PACMA has been leading last weekend’s protest in Las Palmas, forging a broad coalition of support including its 19 sister parties and some 40 animal rights and environmental organisations from across the globe. PACMA has contacted the city council, the port authority of Las Palmas and the government of the Canary Islands, stressing that ‘it is irresponsible to allow such a farm to open without even having legal protection for these animals’.
There is one hopeful precedent to be mentioned: in a recent amendment to the animal welfare law in the United Kingdom (the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill), octopuses were recognised as sentient beings by law, after a team of experts studied over 300 scientific studies. Their conclusion: octopuses were ‘sentient beings’ and there was ‘strong scientific evidence’ that they could experience pleasure, excitement and joy - but also pain, distress and harm. According to the authors of the amendment, they were ‘convinced that high-welfare octopus farming was impossible’ and they advised the government to ‘consider a ban on imported farmed octopus’ in the future.