Animal advocates in despair over cruel plan to farm octopuses in Gran Canaria

NEWS AND OPINION: This is about the ethics of marine wildlife farming, specifically the ethics of farming an intelligent, sentient creature which is what the octopus is. And the experts say that it is impossible to farm the octopus humanely because of their intelligence and because they are creative and solitary creatures. The last characteristic is vital as farming inherently forces the farmed animals together. I believe that you’ll find the articles at the end of this article instructive. Please take a look.

Octopus farm
Octopus farm. Image: Getty.

Nueva Pescanova has plans to build an octopus farm in Gran Canaria and they say that they’ve mastered the art of humane octopus farming. But the experts say that it is an impossible goal.

Nueva Pescanova plan a facility in which 10 to 15 octopuses are to live in each cubic metre of tank according to the Compassion in World Farming Group. That’s going to be enormously stressful.

The mortality rate is expected to be 15% according to documentation seen by the BBC. But think of the background stress leading to that attrition rate.

Attempts to farm the animals have failed with high mortality rates. Attempts to breed wild octopuses resulted in aggression, cannibalism and self-mutilation according to The Times.

The problem is that between 2010 and 2019 the value of the global octopus trade grew rapidly from $1.3 billion to $2.72 billion. The data comes from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation.

A documentary about a film-maker’s friendship with an octopus, My Octopus Teacher, enlightened millions of people as to the sentience and intelligence of this creature.

However, Nueva Pescanova, a Spanish company, is pressing ahead and has set up the world’s first octopus farm despite scientific knowledge about the octopus which strongly indicates that the farm is going to create a lot of animal cruelty.

Nueva Pescanova have defended their business. They say that it would create 300 jobs. Fine, of course, jobs are good but this is an excuse that all businesses make when setting up commercial enterprises which on the face of it are ethically immoral.

They say that their business model is based upon decades of academic research. But the process of octopus farming is inherently difficult partly because the larvae eat only live food and they need a carefully controlled environment.

Nueva Pescanova say they’ve cracked the problem. A spokesperson said that the “scientific challenge [was now] the optimisation and welfare of the common octopus under farming conditions”.

They have eight research centres working on what appears to be humane octopus farming.

Even the octopus fishermen and women are wary about the project because they believe that it will reduce the eating quality of the octopuses. Personally, I would do away with octopus as a food entirely. They are just too intelligent. To see them in cellophane on supermarket shelves is disgusting to me.

The fact that when they tried to breed wild octopuses it led to severe aberrations in their behaviour, indicates that they were suffering enormously in my view.

Octopus for 36 p at Morrisons
Octopus for 36 p at Morrisons. Photo: Twitter (Justin Webb).

The facility will cost £57 million to build and they project 3000 kg of octopus per year which is about 1 million animals. The facility will be at the port of Las Palmas.

Iris Sanchez of the Pacma animal welfare group said that octopuses were “sentient animals, intelligent, very creative and solitary [and the plan would] condemn them to live in a small and limited space together with other individuals, with all the psychological and physical damage that can cause them.”

Eleanor Lara from the Compassion in World Farming group said:

“The right, the moral and ethical way is to not allow the Canary Islands, or any other place in the country, to suffer the dishonour of opening this center of extermination of the octopus.”

Here are some brief facts about the octopus:

  • They have about 500 million neurons in their brains which is about double that the domestic cat enjoys and about the same number of neurons as found in the domestic dog’s brain
  • Pretty well the world and their dog recognise the intelligence of the octopus and because of that they are regarded as sentient beings under animal welfare laws in the UK
  • They are known for their wily cunning by, for example, annoying researchers by destroying their tools and wrecking underwater cameras. They have even opened screw top jars which were set to try and trap them.
  • They have remarkable powers of camouflage being able to morph their skin texture and colour to hide themselves from predators
  • They have three heart pumps to pump their blood around their bodies and each arm has a mini-brain which can process taste, smell and touch.
  • They’ve been seen to walk on land to get prey and some rather cunningly tap their prey on the shoulder before entrapping them.

The RSPCA has chipped in-The Times Friday, April 7, 2023

The RSPCA is calling for a halt to plans to farm the octopus. It would be a first and it would happen in Spain as mentioned. Dr. Marc Cooper the head of farm animals at the charity said that octopuses were intelligent and that they favoured a solitary life.

He added:

Their suitability to be farmed is highly questionable. There is a significant gap in knowledge on how to care for these animals and meet their needs in a commercial setting. We are not aware of any humane slaughter methods for octopus that could be carried out on a commercial scale.

In the UK, the octopus is a species protected under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act. They are regarded in the UK law as “honorary vertebrates”.

The RSPCA mentions that the London School of Economics and Political Science advised after research that they should not be farmed. They found that newborn octopuses suffered a high death rate and they become aggressive when kept close to each other.

Apparently, the European Union is supporting the scheme but opponents to the farm say that they should not use public funds to do this. It would be a living hell for octopuses. The campaign group Compassion in World Farming said that factory farms were a major cause of animal cruelty.

Below are some more articles on marine wildlife.

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