Home » World’s first octopus farm can be a threat to other aquatic creatures, say US researchers

World’s first octopus farm can be a threat to other aquatic creatures, say US researchers

by Simran Dolwani

Spanish seafood company, Nueva Pescanova, plans to set up the world’s first commercial octopus farm. But scientists have said that this form of aquaculture is extremely cruel and could lead to an environmental disaster, BBC reported.

Image credits: Pixabay 

According to the documents from the Nueva Pescanova, the farm in Canary Island, Spain, would be used for raising millions of octopuses annually for food. The proposal has been sent to the General Directorate of Fishing of the Canary Island.

Nueva Pescanova’s scientific breakthrough

The demand for octopus meat is rapidly increasing. It is consumed in every part of the world, including Latin America, Asia and the Mediterranean region. To meet this demand, the production of octopus meat is high.

However, breeding octopuses in captivity is difficult. They are carnivores and if raised in captivity, they’ll eat other animals to survive. But in 2019, Nueva Pescanova made a scientific breakthrough. The company discovered that the octopus born in aquaculture could reach adulthood and reproduce in an environment outside its natural habitat. This put an end to the octopus reproduction cycle in aquaculture.

The company’s research team worked on 50 octopuses of the common species called Octopus vulgaris that were born in aquaculture in 2018. This is the most consumed species in Spain and is produced in the Mediterranean sea, Mauritania region and Atlantic ocean. The team found that half of the octopuses were female and reached adulthood. One of these female octopuses laid eggs and took care of them for approximately one month until these eggs hatched and offspring were born.

“The octopus requires very specific marine conditions for its development, such as the availability of food and optimal oceanographic factors related to temperature, salinity, ocean currents and the welfare of the animal”, said Ricardo Tur, Principal Investigator of Cephalopods (marine animals) at Pescanova.


Image credits: Pixabay

The survival rate of wild octopuses is 0.0001 percent, while Pescanova’s results showed that the survival rate could rise to 50 percent in aquaculture. Nueva Pescanova aimed to discover new ways for octopus marketing to meet the high international demand for octopus meat, which resulted in the shortage of wild octopuses and a problem of sustainability of the marine habitat.

“We will continue to investigate how to continue improving the well-being of octopuses, studying and replicating their natural habitat, with the expectation of being able to start marketing aquaculture octopus from the year 2023,” stated Ignacio González, CEO of Nueva Pescanova. 


Plans for octopus farming

Nueva Pescanova has acquired aquaculture that will help it to sustain wild stocks. It will keep the solitary octopuses in dark and other octopuses under constant light. The species Octopus vulgaris would be kept in 1,000 communal tanks in a two-storey building in the Las Palmas port, Gran Canaria, Spain. Then, they would be killed by putting them in water containers kept at -3 degrees Celsius. 

Currently, no welfare rules have been proposed as octopuses were commercially farmed before. But studies have shown that slaughtering fish using the ice slurry method results in slow and stressful death. “To kill them with ice would be a slow death … it would be very cruel and should not be allowed,” said Prof. Peter Tse, a cognitive neuroscientist at Dartmouth University, US. He also stated that the octopuses could be killed more humanely by hitting on their head.

Nueva Pescanova wants to yield 3,000 tonnes of octopuses annually to sell them in the premium international markets, including Japan, South Korea and the US. According to Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), it would be equal to about one million animals with 10 to 15 octopuses per cubic metre of the tank. The company has also estimated that the mortality rate will be 10 to 15 percent

Image credits: Pixabay 

The sentient beings and their welfare production

Jonathan Birch, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, reviewed more than 300 scientific studies and concluded that octopuses feel pleasure and pain. After this, they were recognised as sentient beings by the UK’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. Prof. Birch and his coauthors said that high-welfare octopus farming is impossible and killing them with the ice slurry method is not acceptable.

Nueva Pescanova said that it will handle the slaughtering which will avoid any suffering or pain to animals, specifically octopuses. The company proposed that these farmed animals will be fed industrially manufactured dry feed obtained from the by-products or discards of already-caught fish. The octopuses would be kept in tanks filled with seawater. These tanks would be of different sizes and based on the different phases of octopuses’ life. The temperature and salinity of the tanks would be controlled timely.


The company stated that its plan was successful as it achieved domestication with the species. This means there was no competition among the animals for food during the commercial farming process. 

The positive and negative sides of the Octopus farming

Elena Lara from CiWF asked authorities of the Canary Island to stop the construction of the farm as it will give unnecessary suffering to the fascinating and sentient creatures. Besides the welfare of the octopus, CiWF was concerned about the wastewater produced by the farm which would be discharged into the sea. Also, octopuses produce phosphates and nitrogen as waste. “The water entering and leaving the plant will be filtered so that it will have no impact on the environment,” said Nueva Pescanova. 

Also, around 350,000 tonnes of octopuses are caught every year, putting high pressure on populations. On this, Nueva Pescanova stated “aquaculture is the solution to ensuring a sustainable yield” and that it would “repopulate the octopus species in the future”. But conservationists think farming these animals would create new markets and lower the price. The company said, “great efforts to promote responsible and sustainable performance throughout the value chain to ensure that best practices are adopted.” 

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