The very first proposed octopus farm raises concerns about conditions

An octopus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Kurt AMSLER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

  • A proposed commercial octopus farm has sparked outrage from experts and animal rights activists.
  • The farm is said to slaughter about a million octopuses each year by submerging them in icy water.
  • “It would be very cruel and shouldn’t be allowed,” Dr. Peter Tse to the BBC.

A proposed commercial octopus farm in Spain has sparked outrage after a leaked plan suggested the operator plans to kill up to a million of the animals a year by submerging them alive in icy water.

Companies have been striving to produce captive octopuses on a commercial scale for years, citing growing demand and pressure to find more sustainable alternatives to fishing. But critics argue the creatures are far too smart — and capable of feeling pain — to be raised for food in confined spaces.

The proposed farm in question would be based in Spain’s Canary Islands and run by Nueva Pescanova, a fishing company that in 2019 prided itself on not only breeding octopuses in captivity, but also breeding them for the first time.

“We will continue to explore how we can continue to improve the welfare of the octopuses, by studying and mimicking their natural habitat, with the expectation of being able to sell aquaculture octopuses from 2023,” CEO Ignacio González said at the time.

But campaigners from Eurogroup for Animals, an activist group, say documents they obtained – and shared with the BBC – show that the proposed factory would subject octopuses to torturous conditions and a long, agonizing death.

In a report released Thursday, the activist group said Nueva Pescanova plans to slaughter about a million octopuses each year by submerging them in a freezing “ice slurry.” In addition, it criticizes the conditions in which they are kept before slaughter, saying the company intends to cage a solitary creature in a dense enclosure – up to 15 octopuses per cubic meter of water – and subject them to periods of 24 hours with light. in an effort to speed up reproduction.

“It will cause unnecessary suffering to these intelligent, sentient and fascinating creatures, which are required to explore and interact with the environment as part of their natural behavior,” Elena Lara, research manager at the Compassion in World Farming group, said in a statement.

Nueva Pescanova did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. But in a statement to the BBC, the company said it maintains high standards that ensure “the proper treatment of the animals”. Slaughter of the octopuses is mainly a matter of proper treatment avoiding pain or suffering for the animal.

However, experts disagree that immersing live animals in icy water is a pleasant practice.

“Killing them with ice would be a slow death,” Dr. Peter Tse, who studies octopus cognition at Dartmouth, told the BBC. “It would be very cruel and should not be allowed.”

In an open letter last year, before specific details of the proposed plant were released, a group of environmental scientists at New York University who specialize in animal consciousness argued that it is not possible to humanely breed octopuses in captivity on a commercial scale — and indeed, that could cause not only pollution through the release of contaminated water, but also cannibalism in animals that have actually been driven insane.

“Aside from environmental and health concerns, octopuses are capable of observational learning, have individual personalities, play, and are able to problem-solve, deceive, and hunt across species,” the scientists wrote.

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