The first commercial octopus farm could soon be opening in Spain under the aquaculture giant Nueva Pescanova.
The decision follows decades of research that the company believes has cracked the code for industrial-scale breeding, something that’s historically been very difficult with these animals. However. not everyone is convinced that’s enough to warrant the mass-farming of such intelligent creatures.
It took a €65 million ($74 million) investment on the part of Nueva Pescanova, but its perks include generating hundreds of jobs in Gran Canaria while producing around 3,000 tons of octopus meat per year by 2026.
A costly endeavor – but, with octopus meat’s popularity almost doubling in the last decade, likely a profitable one, considering meeting the current demand through ocean fishing alone simply isn’t sustainable.
While octopus farming through aquaculture would, like all farms, reduce pressure on wild populations, as a practice it has long been a source of contention owing to both the high mortality rate of animals kept and bred in captivity.
Octopus farming attempts in Australia saw good results for meat yield in small juveniles captured from the wild and grown in captivity, but they couldn’t support the paralarvae, the earliest stage of an octopus. While the captured juveniles produced more meat than ocean-to-table fishing, the process still relied on harvesting wild animals.
Nueva Pescanova claims to have overcome this barrier in establishing the necessary conditions to support captive mass breeding, but is it ethical?
Octopuses were granted sentient status in the UK last year following an independent review examining over 300 studies, finding “strong scientific evidence decapod crustaceans and cephalopod mollusks are sentient”.
Meanwhile, the US is still battling to assign octopuses and other cephalopods "animal" status in federal research.
Octopuses feel emotional and physical pain, according to another 2021 study which established they would take steps to avoid painful situations and remedy pain triggered by an injection. This shows that, unlike other invertebrates, octopuses don’t just register pain, but they also perceive it as a negative experience – a degree of cognition that doesn’t blend well with captive environments.
Octopuses are also naturally solitary creatures, meeting others only briefly to fight or copulate in their short lives. Creating a high quality of life in captivity would therefore require a naturalistic habitat large enough for personal space – rarely the recipe for farming profitable enough to be worth it.
So, is it worth it? For now, it sits with the Canary Islands' environmental department to decide.