After overcoming a number of scientific hurdles associated with commercial octopus aquaculture, a Spanish fishing company has set its sights on building the world’s first octopus farm. However, the plan is facing waves and waves of opposition from animal rights groups who claim it will be a disaster for animal welfare.
Nueva Pescanova plans to build a 52,691 square meter (approximately 567,000 square feet) building complex dedicated to octopus farming along the embankment of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.
The two-story building will handle every step of the octopus aquaculture process, from birth and death to packaging and shipping. Larvae are born and are initially fed a diet of seaweed. In the next phase, a development process that lasts six to fifteen months, the young octopus is fed crabs. Ultimately, they will be placed in communal tanks where they will complete their development before being slaughtered, frozen, packaged and shipped.
The farm has the potential to produce approximately 3,000 tons of octopus annually, which equates to the slaughter of approximately one million animals.
From a practical point of view, commercial octopus farming on an industrial scale faces many difficulties. There are numerous challenges in managing their reproductive cycle, keeping the young alive and providing the animals with a suitable habitat.
Hoping to pioneer this lucrative field, Nueva Pescanova has been working with scientists to solve these problems. In 2018, their researchers managed to give birth to dozens of common octopuses (Octopus vulgaris), the species most consumed in Spain. Remarkably, the offspring had a survival rate of about 50 percent. In the wild, this species has a survival rate of only 0.0001 percent.
As demand for their meat rises, consumers are also becoming increasingly aware that octopuses are highly intelligent creatures, capable of advanced problem solving and pain sensation. Some scientists even speculate whether they are conscious beings; just because they are invertebrates doesn’t mean they are any less aware.
This growing public awareness of cephalopod intelligence is in large part due to the documentary My octopus teacher, which tells the story of a filmmaker who builds a relationship with a wild common octopus. Using brilliant cinematography, the award-winning film offers a new, eye-opening perspective on these strange creatures.
Their evident intelligence raises questions about whether it is ethical to exploit these animals for industrial agriculture. Since 2019, numerous NGOs have expressed deep concern about the prospect of octopus farming becoming a new trend in the global food market.
In October 2023, a collective of animal welfare groups and environmental NGOs – including Compassion in World Farming, Eurogroup for Animals, Greenpeace Spain and Oceana UK – sent a joint letter to the Canary Islands government, urging them to approve the planning application of Nueva Pescanova to be reconsidered. .
They called on the government to cancel the plan on grounds of unsustainability and animal cruelty. Furthermore, they claim that the current method of slaughtering the octopuses is inhumane and will result in millions of slow, painful deaths.
“It is important to emphasize that octopuses are wild animals that are completely unsuitable for agriculture, and that there are serious sustainability and animal welfare issues associated with the development of this industry,” the letter said.
“As naturally solitary animals, octopuses would not do well in the group conditions and high stocking densities typical of agricultural systems. These intelligent animals could not express their natural behavior because they were confined to barren underwater tanks.”
“Most importantly, there is currently no scientifically validated method for the humane slaughter of octopuses. According to reliable sources, Nueva Pescanova plans to kill octopuses by immersing them in tanks of water and ice, a method scientifically recognized as resulting in a painful, stressful and slow death,” it added.