First Ever Octopus Farm Alarms Scientists and Bystanders Alike

It’s surprising what we get surprised by as society develops. Some would say we’re getting desensitized as time goes on, as things that once were taboo are now considered normal.

Others would say that society has become too sensitive, given that things that once were acceptable back then are now a mark of shame. One of the biggest points of contention is the rights of animals. So when I’ve asked people what they think of an octopus farm, I’ve had a number of reactions.

“That’s awful.”

“Well, if there’s a market for it…”

“What do people need an octopus farm for?”

This idea is getting people up in arms to the point where there was even a march in London to protest octopus farming. The first farm hasn’t even been confirmed to be underway, and yet lawmakers in the U.S. state of Washington are already trying to get the practice banned.

Today we’ll take a look and see just why people are so outraged about the health of an animal we only ever see on TV, in an aquarium, or on a plate.


The Reason for Octopus Farms

If you can’t think of any reason for octopuses to be farmed, you may not eat a lot of seafood. Some say the texture of cooked octopus is too rubbery, but many cultures call this food a delicacy. Around 350,000 tons of octopus are caught each year for select dishes around the world. There have even been instances of people eating a live octopus on camera just for the spectacle of it. These animals are in high demand, but they’re also a very solitary species, which makes obtaining them a bit of a challenge. That’s where the idea of farming them comes to mind, but they’re not as simple as raising cattle or pigs.


The Controversy Itself

seafood industry
Sea market, fresh farmed mussels, octopus, trout crab and scallop meat

The party under fire today is a multinational company called Nueva Pescanova. It specializes in the seafood industry, specifically with the farming and harvesting of different varieties of fish. They’d made a breakthrough in 2019 when they announced they were making progress with the domestication and care for multiple octopuses

Before this, mass-breeding these creatures in a farm was considered impossible because of the difficulty it takes to raise a baby octopus, also known as a “fry”. A fry needs to eat live food, which isn’t readily available with seafood farms. Somehow Nueva Pescanova have cracked the code and have proposed plans to make a functional farm on Spain’s Canary Islands. The company has claimed that the farm would be free of suffering, but an organization named Eurogroup for Animals came in soon after with a confidential planning proposal, leaked from the company and placed in BBC hands.

So, here’s how the process will go.

Octopuses will be kept in large, open tanks and under a constant barrage of light. This is despite the fact that not only are these creatures notoriously solitary, but they prefer the comfort of the darkness. When it was time to be put down, the animals would be then transferred to tanks full of water kept at -3C. This is often a common way to kill farm-raised fish, but even for fish, many organizations perceive it as inhumane. Death by icy water is slow and puts the fish in an increasing state of distress before it passes.

Now imagine how this same situation would fare with an octopus, an animal that has repeatedly been considered an intelligent and even sentient species. They feel pain and pleasure, and they know how to solve basic puzzles, open jars, and can even have fun. Their intelligence has been compared to a house cat. With that in mind, people might have an easier time understanding why people are so up in arms about these animals. In the end, though, will the concerns from scientists and protest marches from Londoners keep the plans at bay?


In The End ..

It’s a conversation we’ve had again and again, whether it be with cows, pigs, or the sea-dwelling octopus. Perhaps it may be because most of us have been raised to see octopuses as smart, fascinating creatures rather than food. That’s no slight on the people who were raised eating the food, though. Pigs are considered even more intelligent than octopuses, and yet most people eat them without a single thought over the sentience of the creature.

Whether or not people find an octopus farm abhorrent does not affect the fact that there is demand for a surplus of the animal. The outcry against the farm is huge, but will it be enough to stop this practice from becoming as normalized as the slaughterhouses we see while driving past the countryside?


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