A Spanish company plans to open a very first commercial octopus farm next year due to an increased demand for seafood. However, some scientists pointed out the ethical and environmental problems regarding it and this has stirred up a debate. What’s the whole story? Let’s find out.
Industrial-Scale Breeding of Octopus Has Started
According to Roberto Romero, aquaculture director at Nuevo Pescanova, this will be a global milestone. His company is investing over 65 million euros in the farm which is awaiting environmental approval from local authorities. The company’s research center is located in Galicia, northwest of Spain, where a number of octopuses are kept in shallow indoor tanks. A mature specimen is transferred to a new enclosure with five other octopuses via a bucket.
After decades of research, Nuevo Pescanova beat rival companies in Mexico and Japan to perfect the conditions required for industrial-scale breeding. The commercial farms are expected to produce 3,000 tonnes per year by 2026 for domestic and international food chains along with creating multiple job opportunities at the island of Gran Canaria.
According to the data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the value of the global octopus trade increased from $1.30 billion to $2.72 billion from the year 2010 to 2019 respectively.
Efforts to farm octopus have always struggled with high morality, while attempts to breed wild octopus faced aggression, self-mutilation, and cannibalism. According to the research center’s director, David Chavarrias, optimizing tanks conditions have allowed the company to eliminate aggression and breed five generations. Despite him stating an absence of cannibalism in all his cultures, he failed to convince everyone.
The documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher‘ portrays a story of a filmmaker’s friendship with an octopus that has raised concerns for their well-being. Moreover, from a review of 300 scientific studies, researchers at the London School of Economics concluded that octopus is able to experience distress and happiness, therefore, high-welfare farming would be impossible.
Furthermore, Raul Garcia, who heads the WWF conservation organization’s fisheries operation in Spain also agrees that octopuses are very intelligent and curious beings, and it is evident that they are not happy when kept captive. He further stated that aiming to provide natural habitat, i.e., solitary on the seabed, will likely be more expensive than profitable.
Details on tank size, density, and feed are not disclosed by Nuevo Pescanova due to trade secrecy but they have ensured that animals are constantly monitored. According to Chavarrias, the octopus is a responsive animal that holds the capacity to resolve when faced with survival challenges.
Is This Sustainable?
According to Eduardo Almansa, a scientist at Spain’s Oceanography Institute, which developed the technology used by Nueva Pescanova, there is a need to look for an alternative if the consumption of octopus needs to continue as the fisheries have reached their limit.
The farming industry is meeting consumer demand while reducing pressure from the fishing grounds. On the contrary, many ecologists believe that it hides its true environmental toll. According to WWF, approximately a third of the global fish catch is used to feed other animals where the rising demand for fishmeal for aquaculture is increasing stress on already depleted stocks.
Chavarrias reported that the company was researching the use of waste fish products and algae as an alternative feed but it is too soon to discuss the results. Carys Bennett of animal-rights group PETA suggests many other vegan alternatives and argues others to protest against the farm. The project is still pending approval from the Canary Islands’ environmental department.
Traditional octopus fishermen are also worried that the venture might push down prices and undermine their reputation for quality products and they fear they might not be able to compete with industrial farming.
A Madrid restaurant’s staff specializing in pulpo a la gallega – seared octopus with boiled potatoes and plenty of paprika is also unimpressed by the prospect of farmed produce as they fear they will not be able to compete with the industrial production.
Despite increasing concerns about animal rights, the demand is booming mainly led by Italy, Korea, Japan, and Spain. This is causing natural fishing grounds to feel the strain and small businesses to be fearful of the new competition that will enter the market which in turn will undermine their reputation of quality produce putting them out of business.