Scientists Say No To Octopus Farming
Despite the undeniable intelligence and biological sophistication of octopuses, more and more effort is being spent in the direction of farming these cephalopods commercially. The animals, capable of problem-solving, mimicry, recognizing individuals, and outwitting and collaborating with other animals, are about to become our next target for mass commodification. In this paper, a group of academics from three universities express their views on why octopuses are particularly ill-suited to live in captivity, for reasons both ethical and ecological.
Intensive aquaculture, officially part of the global food system since the mid-twentieth century, is now one of the fastest-growing food industries. In fact, it is so successful at raising animals economically, that more than 500 different aquatic animal species are already bred in captivity, a practice encompassing nearly 200 countries. The rapid domestication of aquatic animals has led to a landscape where half of the “seafood” market in many industrialized countries is farmed. In terms of consumption, Asia accounts for two-thirds of the global wild octopus catch. Meanwhile, research into octopus farming is lead by Spain. Partially supported by the European Union, Spanish researchers are already raising Octopus vulgaris in captivity. However, besides knowing to breed, raise, and kill aquatic animals, we seem to know very little about how to ensure their welfare. The authors inform us that fishes kept in captivity, for instance, tend to be more aggressive, experience more chronic stress, injury, and contract more diseases.
Besides their well documented cognitive abilities, octopuses also appear to be capable of experiencing pain and suffering. In captivity, these animals are likely to need high levels of cognitive stimulation and opportunities to explore, manipulate and control their environment — conditions which are not generally among the top priorities of typical factory farm operations. Not to mention the issue that many octopus species appear to be largely asocial, a way of life that stands in opposition to the model of farmed animal housing intensification.
Next, we have dietary differences compared to terrestrially farmed animals. The majority of farmed aquatic animal species, octopuses included, are carnivorous – they depend on fish protein and oils whilst developing. Thus farming aquatic animals puts additional pressure on wild fish and invertebrate populations. Currently, one-third of the global fish catch is converted to feed for other animals. Octopuses have a food conversion rate of at least 3:1, meaning that they need to consume three times their own weight of food just to sustain themselves. The researchers warn that global fisheries are already depleted, and farming even more carnivorous species will counteract our goals to improve global food security.
Animal advocates will surely know the struggle that is to decouple ethical and environmental consequences of food production from the current tendency towards mass-scale system. The researchers here urge us to consider larger social questions, especially whether we want to repeat mistakes we’ve already made with terrestrial animals. On the upside, global food security would not be undermined should society decide against octopus farming — one of the most significant effects may simply be that affluent consumers will end up paying more for wild octopuses who are becoming increasingly scarce.
The time to stand up for the futures of octopuses is now, because while technology is currently constraining farming — it’s very difficult to care for young octopuses in captivity; it is just a matter of time until financial interests will break through and introduce these animals to the global food market.