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In Spain’s Canary Islands, seafood company Nueva Pescanova is working to open the world’s first-ever commercial octopus farm with plans to bring its farmed octopus meat to market by 2023. That announcement has set off alarm bells with scientists, conservationists, and animal welfare advocates, the BBC reports.
Octopi are sophisticated creatures believed by scientists to exhibit tremendous intelligence, ingenuity, and even emotional responses. They have been observed to escape from aquariums, steal fish out of traps set by humans, use tools, and form bonds with care-givers.
“Given their exceptional abilities, one might ask whether humans should be eating octopus at all, but here we want to raise a different ethical question,” scientists Jennifer Jacquet, Becca Franks, Peter Godfrey-Smith, and Walter Sánchez-Suárez wrote in a 2019 article for the journal Issues in Science and Technology. “As global demand for octopus grows, especially in affluent markets, so have efforts to farm them. We believe that octopuses are particularly ill-suited to a life in captivity and mass-production, for reasons both ethical and ecological.”
Such is octopus intellegence that they are to be “formally recognized as sentient beings in domestic law,” in the United Kingdom, a policy decision made after experts reviewed hundreds of scientific studies about their level of cognition and evidence of their ability to experience both pleasure and distress. Like the Issues authors, the experts behind the U.K. report also came to the conclusion that “high-welfare octopus farming was impossible.” Yet that determination – and even the floating of a possible ban on the importation of farmed octopus to the U.K. in the future on welfare grounds – appears to have done little to deter Nueva Pescanova.
While Nueva Pescanova argues its octopus farm will reduce harm related to fishing octopi in the wild – a claim disputed by some advocates – the firm declined to provide the BBC with any details of how the farm will function. “Nueva Pescanova has refused to reveal any details of what conditions the octopuses will be kept in, despite numerous approaches by the BBC,” reporter Clarie Marshall writes. “The size of the tanks, the food they will eat and how they will be killed are all secret.”
European Union farm animal welfare laws have existed since the 1980s, but the rules exclude invertebrate animals like cephalopods, even when they are farmed for human consumption.