Animal rights activists protest octopus farm plans in Spain

Octopus is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, particularly in Spain and Italy.

May 22, 2023 02:57 pm | Updated 02:57 pm IST

A still from ‘My Octopus Teacher’

A still from ‘My Octopus Teacher’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Animal rights activists gathered on Sunday in Madrid to protest plans for an octopus farm in Spain, saying there are no respective laws in the country and the European Union to guarantee the welfare of the animals in captivity.

The proposed farm, which aims to breed octopuses on a large scale in captivity, is scheduled to be built next year in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, at a cost of $74 million.

A few dozen people showed up to express their concerns regarding a project that plans to confine three million octopuses in pools, despite these creatures being solitary predators in the wild.

Jaime Posada, a spokesperson for the protest called by various animal welfare organisations, said the octopus would “attempt to escape due to their high intelligence and adeptness”.

Octopuses grown in captivity will behave differently from those in the wild, said Nova Pescanova, the seafood company promoting this farm.

Since 2018, the company has run a pilot project in a research facility in northern Spain, where it has successfully bred five captivity-born octopus generations.

“It is not possible to grow any (animal) species in the European Union without respecting their welfare conditions. It is the standard, and our group does nothing but comply with guidelines and legislations,” said Roberto Romero, the multinational’s aquaculture director.

Since the demand for octopus has risen, farming them is being regarded as a first step to ensure sustainable food production.

Octopus is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, particularly in Spain and Italy, although both of them import most of the octopus they consume.

Recently, the global demand for the cephalopod has expanded, with the U.S. recording a 23% increase in imports and China, a 73% surge between 2016 and 2018, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Demand is also surging in South Korea and Japan, and natural fishing grounds are feeling the strain.

Since the 2020 documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ captured the public imagination with its tale of a filmmaker’s friendship with an octopus, concern for their wellbeing has grown.

Last year, researchers at the London School of Economics reviewed 300 studies and found that octopus were sentient beings capable of experiencing distress and happiness, and that high-welfare farming was impossible.

Traditional octopus fishers are also wary of the venture, worried it could push down prices and undermine their reputation for quality produce.

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