Scientists alarmed at plans for world’s first octopus farm

octopus on sand in close up photography
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A plan to build the world’s first octopus farm has raised deep concerns among scientists over the welfare of the famously intelligent creatures.

The farm in Spain’s Canary Islands would raise about a million octopuses annually for food, according to confidential documents seen by the BBC.

They have never been intensively farmed and some scientists call the proposed icy water slaughtering method “cruel.”

Nueva Pescanova sent the proposal to the Canary Islands’ General Directorate of Fishing.

The Spanish multinational behind the plans denies the octopuses will suffer.

The confidential planning proposal documents from the company, Nueva Pescanova, were given to the BBC by the campaign organisation Eurogroup for Animals.

The prospect of intensively farming octopus has already led to opposition: Lawmakers in the US state of Washington have proposed banning the practice before it even starts.

Nueva Pescanova’s plans reveal that the octopuses, which are solitary animals used to the dark, would be kept in tanks with other octopuses, at times under constant light. The creatures – the species octopus vulgaris – would be housed in around 1,000 communal tanks in a two-storey building in the port of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

They would be killed by being put in containers of water kept at -3C, according to the documents.

Currently there are no welfare rules in place, as octopuses have never been commercially farmed before. However studies have shown that this method of slaughtering fish using ‘ice slurry’ causes a slow, stressful death. The World Organisation for Animal Health says it “results in poor fish welfare” and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) – the leading farmed seafood certification scheme – is proposing a ban unless fish are stunned beforehand.

Prof. Peter Tse, a cognitive neuroscientist at Dartmouth University, told the BBC that “to kill them with ice would be a slow death … it would be very cruel and should not be allowed.”

Adding that they were “as intelligent as cats” he suggested that a more humane way would be to kill them as many fishermen do, by clubbing them over the head.

Jonathan Birch, associate professor at the London School of Economics, led a review of more than 300 scientific studies which he says shows that octopuses feel pain and pleasure. It led to them being recognised as “sentient beings” in the UK’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. Prof Birch and his co-authors believe that high-welfare octopus farming is “impossible” and that killing in ice slurry “would not be an acceptable method of killing in a lab”.

“Large numbers of octopuses should never be kept together in close proximity. Doing this leads to stress, conflict and high mortality … A figure of 10-15% mortality should not be acceptable for any kind of farming.”

Read more via BBC

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