Octopus is eaten as a delicacy, mainly in the Mediterranean, America and Asia. (In Korean food sannakjiLive octopus is chopped and served raw, still zigzagging on a plate.) It sells for a high price and the world’s appetite for it is growing: an estimated 350,000 tons of octopus are caught. per year, more than ten times the amount caught in 1950.
Wild supplies are at stake: the world’s largest octopus fishery, off the Atlantic coasts of North Africa and Spain, is being “overexploited”, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. country. In the Mediterranean, recent studies show that stockpiles are in dire straits.
But now, the Spanish company Nueva Pescanova is opening the world’s first commercial octopus farm at an inland site in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. It aims to bring octopus meat to market this summer and produce 3,000 tonnes by 2026 (10% of what Spanish fishermen catch).
Why didn’t anyone raise them before?
Practical problems have hampered efforts to breed octopus in captivity. The main species is to maintain its fragile larvae, eat only live food and need a carefully controlled environment. As a result, “octopus farming” has so far mostly involved “breeding”: raising wild-caught octopus to market size in aquariums.
Physically, they are not suitable to be kept in confined spaces. Their boneless, eight-legged bodies have no fixed shape: the largest species, the Giant Pacific, can reach a span of six meters and weigh 100 pounds, but can squeeze through openings as wide as an inch. Some have been known to lift the lid of their aquarium to escape, in some cases moving on a dry floor to the nearest drain.
Nueva Pescanova now thinks they have won the race to fix these problems – beating rivals in Australia, Mexico and Japan. However, the company’s plan has been met with fierce opposition from campaigners and scientists.
What is objection?
Many longstanding criticisms of factory farming and aquaculture: the stress and monotony of confinement; high morbidity and mortality rates; overuse of antibiotics and pesticides.
However, much of the concern has focused specifically on the octopuses themselves, which are “particularly unsuitable for life in captivity and mass production, for both ethical and biological reasons.” Thailand”, according to “The Case Against Octopus Farming”, a highly cited 2019 article in the journal Issues in Science and Technology.
The creatures consume three times their weight in food in a day, and are fed with mussels, shrimp, crabs and fish that humans could more wastefully eat. By nature, they are highly territorial and antisocial: they live in solitary confinement, eat rival octopuses, and even mate from a distance (the male extends an arm with a pack of sperm). coincides with the offspring). But perhaps the biggest criticism of raising them focuses on their unique brains.
What’s wrong with their brains?
There is no clear distinction between the brain and body of the octopus. They have half a billion neurons – the equivalent of a dog (humans have a hundred billion) – two-thirds of which are in their arms. Each arm can intelligently function on its own, has the ability to taste and smell, and exhibits short-term memory. Even a surgically separated arm can be reached and grasped, avoiding painful stimuli and, like fully formed octopuses, changing color; but the central brain retains executive control of the arms.
Last year, a UK government review by the London School of Economics concluded that octopuses and squid are completely sentient, like vertebrates – i.e. they have the ability to have emotions, such as pleasure, pain, suffering, or harm. The new Sentience Bill reflects this. The review also recommends a pre-ban on octopus farming.
How smart is the octopus?
They are amazingly bright: in the laboratory, they have been shown to be able to navigate mazes and open childproof jars and bottles for food. They can problem solve, learn, use tools, and even exhibit an ability to imitate, deceive, and – possibly – humor.
One study showed that once they solved a new problem – like opening a jar, for example – they were able to recall the solution for at least five months. Research has also shown that they can recognize individuals and will react differently to different people, greeting some by stroking their arms and squirting others through their siphons. .
What do agricultural advocates say?
They point to a spike in demand: between 2010 and 2019, global trade has grown in value from $1.30 billion to $2.72 billion – although cargo arrivals have grown by only 9% in that time. that time. “If we want to continue consuming octopus, we have to look for an alternative… because seafood has reached its limit,” said Eduardo Almansa of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, which developed it. technology used by Nueva Pescanova, said.
And octopuses have several characteristics that make them attractive for aquaculture: their lifespan is short (usually a year or two) and they grow quickly.
What are the possible outcomes?
Plans for the farm are underway, but activists are working against it. “These animals are amazing,” said Dr Elena Lara of the World Organization for Compassion in Agriculture. “So to put them in barren tanks… that’s wrong for them.” Popular awareness of octopus intelligence and curiosity has been enhanced by documentaries like My Octopus Teacher.
“People have this strange love affair with octopuses,” says biologist Rich Ross at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco. , who suggests that double standards are working. “I know people who would never eat them but have no qualms about eating pigs, and there is ample evidence that pigs are very intelligent.”
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/environment/956056/octoculture-world-first-octopus-farm-controversial Octopus farming: Why is the world’s first octopus farm controversial?