Some US states are considering the world’s first ban on octopus farming

A landmark bill to ban octopus farming could soon pass in Washington state. If signed into law, it will be the world’s first ban on the highly controversial aquaculture practice now emerging.

The bill, HB 1153, was passed by the Washington State House of Representatives earlier this month and passed the Senate on a 29-20 vote on February 27. It is now waiting on the governor’s desk, who has three weeks to sign the bill into law. It.

“Octopus farming leads to suffering and disease for one of the most intelligent and sentient animals in our oceans,” Rep. Strom Peterson, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

“It can also lead to enormous environmental and ecological consequences. Octopus farming is harmful to the animals and the environment and is unnecessary. It’s time to move on,” said Peterson.

California and Hawaii are also looking at similar legalization. This month, Assembly Member Steve Bennett introduced AB 3162, the California Oppose Cruelty to Octopuses (OCTO) Act, to ban octopus farming and prohibit the importation of farmed octopus into California. Similarly, lawmakers in Hawaii launched a similar bill called HB 2262.

This recent wave of legalization comes in the wake of news that a Spanish fishing company, Nueva Pescanova, has set its sights on building an octopus farm in the Canary Islands. It is currently awaiting final approval, but it would be the first commercial venture to farm and slaughter octopus on an industrial scale. If given the green light, the farm hopes to produce around 3,000 tonnes of octopus annually, which would equate to the slaughter of around a million animals.

However, the plan to build the massive facility has stirred controversy among environmentalists and animal welfare advocates.

Octopuses are undeniably smart animals with a uniquely complex nervous system, capable of advanced problem solving and learning. It is even suggested that they are conscious beings with individual personalities.

Their apparent intelligence raises serious questions about whether it is ethical to exploit these animals for large-scale agriculture. Since 2019, numerous NGOs have expressed deep concern about the prospect of octopus farming becoming a new trend in the global food market.

“Cultivating carnivorous species such as octopuses is inherently unsustainable, an antithesis to the principles of environmental management and animal welfare that should guide our actions. The environmental footprint of such practices stands in stark contrast to the sustainable and compassionate food systems we are trying to build.” Giulia Malerbi, Global Policy Lead at Aquatic Life Institute, said in a statement to IFLScience.

The Aquatic Life Institute, a US-based nonprofit organization specializing in aquatic animal welfare, is one of the groups leading the charge. Together with more than 140 other organisations, the Aquatic Life Institute sent a joint letter to the Canary Islands government, urging them to reconsider Nueva Pescanova’s planning application.

The Aquatic Life Institute has also been instrumental in advancing the new bill HB 1153. In November 2023, they sent letters to lawmakers in Washington State urging them to pass the bill through the House of Representatives . As the bill has now reached the final hurdle, the NGO is very excited and hopeful that it will soon be passed into law.

“This law is not only a reflection of our commitment to the well-being of octopuses, creatures of remarkable intelligence and complexity, but it is a bold statement against the dangerous direction our food systems are heading,” Malerbi told IFLScience.

“It underlines a compelling shift away from exploitative practices and sends a clear message that the path to a sustainable future is not through the commodification of complex, sentient beings,” she added.

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