March 28, 2023

Proposal to breed octopuses in captivity alarms scientists

Pescanova plans to produce more than three thousand tons of octopus per year in a facility with about a thousand community tanks in the port of Las Palmas, Spain.

A plan to build the world’s first octopus farm has raised concerns in the scientific community for the well-being of the animal known to be intelligent.

The farm in question will be located in Spain’s Canary Islands and will raise around one million octopuses for consumption annually. The farm will be run by Nueva Pescanova, a Spanish multinational, which plans to slaughter the octopuses using ice water, a method it claims does not cause the animal to suffer.

The proposal has already been sent to the Directorate General of Fisheries of the Canary Islands and the documents have been intercepted by the Eurogroup for Animals who sent them to the BBC.

Octopuses have never been intensively farmed and several scientists have already reacted to the proposal as “cruel”. Currently, these animals are captured through traps placed on them habitats wild or caught with lines and consumed in large quantities, especially in Mediterranean countries, Asia and Latin America.

For decades, several companies have been trying to discover the secret to producing octopuses in captivity. The process has proven difficult due to the special needs of octopuses, which feed only on living things and need a carefully controlled environment.

It was in 2019 that Pescanova claimed to have made the necessary breakthroughs to be able to move towards captive production. In the document now delivered to the General Directorate of Fisheries of the Canary Islands, the Spanish multinational reveals that the octopuses – solitary animals that inhabit mostly dark areas – will be kept in tanks shared with other octopuses and subject to constant light.

The plan envisages the installation of around a thousand community tanks in a two-story underwater structure in the port of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. To die, the octopuses would be placed in containers of water at -3 degrees Celsius, creating almost a slurry of ice.

Since octopuses have never been bred in captivity, there are no laws regarding their welfare. However, several studies show that slaughtering fish through freezing water causes a slow and stressful death.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the main certification center for marine animal farming, has already proposed banning this method, and some supermarket chains have already stopped selling fish killed in ice water.

Peter Tse, a neuroscientist at the University of Dartmouth in the United States, emphasizes that octopuses “are as smart as cats” and that death by ice is something “cruel that should not be allowed”. As such, he offers what he considers a “more humane” alternative already used by most fishermen, where the animals are basically hit on the head.

Pescanova’s goal is to supply “high international markets” such as the United States or Japan, and for this purpose it intends to produce more than three thousand tons of octopus per year, which is equivalent to about one million animals. Therefore, each cubic meter of tank will be occupied by 10 to 15 octopuses.

A mortality rate of between 10 and 15% is also estimated.

Octopuses, which are usually hunting and territorial animals, would be fed dry food produced industrially through “discards and by-products of fish that have already been caught”.

Responding to the BBC, Pescanova said: “The welfare requirements for the production of octopuses or any other animal on our farms guarantee the correct handling of the animals. suffering for the animal.”

The first octopuses to reach production will be obtained from a research center, the Pescanova Biomarine Centre, in Galicia. The 100 octopuses in question (70 males and 30 females) are “domesticated” and “no longer show significant signs of cannibalism or competition for food”.

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