Controversial farm responds after 760,000 people call for ban

Nueva Pescanova argues it can ensure there is good animal welfare at its farm.

The controversial Spanish company building the world’s first intensive octopus farm has responded to animal cruelty concerns that were raised when its plan was leaked last month.

Nueva Pescanova’s reply comes after more than 760,000 names were added to a petition calling for a global ban of octopus farming. Signatories argued against killing methods and said rearing normally solitary octopuses together in large tanks would be “torture on an industrial scale”.

But despite planning to harvest 3,000 tonnes of octopuses a year in its tanks, the company claims by creating optimal conditions that cater for space, temperature, water quality, food, and an absence of predators, the animals normally adapt to group environments without territorial aggression. In a series of statements provided to Yahoo News Australia through a public relations company, it argued animal welfare could be guaranteed.

A baby octopus in a petri dish.
Nueva Pescanova's plan to intensively raise octopus has been criticised by animal welfare advocates. Source: Supplied

“Octopuses have the space they need to move freely. Depending on the stage of their life cycle, octopuses will live in different types of pools of different sizes designed to provide them with the optimal conditions they need at each stage of their life,” it said.

Nueva Pescanova argues keeping an octopus in captivity does not appear to have a “significant impact” on its microbiome, which is responsible for keeping the animal healthy. “This seems to indicate that the stable and controlled, pathogen-free environmental conditions of aquaculture facilities avoid stress to the animals and may positively influence their health and well-being,” it said.

What have opponents of the octopus farm said?

  • Ethicist Peter Singer shared the petition and said a massive public outcry could stop it.

  • Compassion in World Farming raised concerns animals would be "killed using cruel ice slurry".

  • Cognitive neuroscientist Peter Tse told BBC the killing method was "very cruel".

Quick facts about the Nueva Pescanova farm

  • The farm will cost an estimated 65 million Euros ($101 million).

  • It would house 1000 communal tanks in a two-storey building.

  • Octopuses have never been commercially farmed before.

Are octopuses intelligent?

Octopuses are naturally curious species that have a separate brain-like apparatus in each of their eight arms. They have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any invertebrate, and around the same number of neurons as dogs.

Left - an octopus in the wild. Right - an octopus in a tub at Nueva Pescanova
Under Nueva Pescanova's plan octopus will be raised in tanks rather than taken from the wild. Source: Getty/Reuters

Classified as sentient beings in the UK, scientists believe they can feel pleasure and pain. It should also be noted that they are one of the few species that has shown the ability to use tools, putting them in the same category as apes, crows and dolphins.

Octopuses are also skilled at camouflaging themselves, not only through colour-change but also by mimicking other marine life. There have also been multiple reports showing they have the ability to recognise individual human faces.

Will farming octopus take pressure off the world’s oceans?

The plan is in part a response to the unsustainable plundering of the world’s oceans. More than 350,000 tonnes of wild octopus, around 10 times the amount taken in 1950, are trapped, slaughtered and sold in restaurants and supermarkets.

Nueva Pescanova said it expects the global octopus market to grow by 21.5 per cent by 2028 when compared to 2022, linking demand to its low-fat and high-protein composition. It notes that the latest State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report predicted sustainable aquaculture development would be essential to meet growing demand.

A person looking at an octopus in a tank.
Octopuses are able to recognise individual human faces. Source: Getty (File)

Efforts to farm aquatic life have thus far often been problematic, partially when it comes to salmon. Raising them in large ocean pens has resulted in high levels of waste and faeces polluting surrounding waters. Nueva Pescanova could not directly answer whether it will need to use antibiotics in its tanks but said so far there hasn’t been a need.

But while the farmed octopuses will be bred in captivity and not taken from the ocean, that doesn’t mean the project won’t impact on marine life. Octopuses eat a mixture of crabs, clams, snails and small fishes, and this will initially will likely be sourced from the wild.

Nueva Pescanova said the feed would include “by-product meals and discards from fishing” along with “raw materials of marine origin certified as sustainable”. It is also investigating substituting some animal protein with vegetable material like microalgae.

Want to learn more about the future of meat?

Some animal advocates argue meat will soon be phased out as lab-grown meats become widely available. Find out more:

Will farmed octopus taste the same?

Flesh will differ in taste depending on the animal’s diet, activity and stress levels. For instance, grass-fed beef will generally have a stronger taste than grain-finished animals that are intensively farmed.

Nueva Pescanova has conducted a series of blind tastings and claims participants could not tell the difference between farmed and wild specimens.

Will the plant use less energy than catching wild octopus?

Nueva Pescanova said it has positioned its farm in the temperate Canary Islands so it doesn’t have to waste energy cooling or heating the water. It claims its facility will “one of the most efficient aquaculture plants in Europe”.

The venture will also include aerothermal equipment and solar panels to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

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