Octopus Farming: An Unethical Practice?
In November of 2021, the UK government made a decision that made headlines around the world. A bill that sets out a list of sentient animals, or animals that experience emotions, is amended to include animals such as octopi, crabs, and lobsters in the list of sentient animals.
A while prior to this decision, there had been a report from LSE that found evidence that these classifications of animals, that is Cephalopods ( squid, octopi, cuttlefish) and Decapods ( crabs, lobster) were capable of experiencing a varied range of emotions, such as pleasure, pain, fear.
Keeping that in mind, current practices which are standard in the hospitality and seafood industries, such as boiling lobsters alive or declawing crabs, seem torturous.
Sadly, this amendment does not translate to a change in these inhumane practices, and the recognition of sentience is mostly symbolic. That said, this amendment is a step in the right direction for animal welfare in the UK and effectively sets the stage for future protection.
The main markets for farmed octopus—upscale outlets in Japan, South Korea, northern Mediterranean countries, the United States, China, and Australia—are largely food secure.
Growing demand for octopi has led to a Spanish multinational by the name of Nueva Pescanova announcing that they will start to farm octopus commercially in 2023. The Japanese seafood company Nissui is one has reported hatching octopus eggs in captivity and has predicted it will be selling market-ready octopuses.
But many octopus fisheries are reported to be in decline, and fish farmers are turning to farm octopuses to try to replace these dwindling catchesWild-caught males and females would be allowed to mate, and their fertile eggs would be grown in containers into adults to be sold to markets around the globe.
If society decides we cannot farm octopuses, it will mean relatively few people can continue to eat them. It does not mean that food security will be undermined; it will mean only that affluent consumers will pay more for increasingly scarce, wild octopus.
Food security is defined as when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. As consumers become increasingly concerned about animal welfare and sustainability, the case against octopus farming should only become stronger
Charlotte Smith’s take on Octopus farming
Caught between our love for seafood, and the ever-increasing evidence that certain animals we love to have on our plates are sentient, it seems we as humans are facing a dilemma.
Charlotte Smith’s award-winning essay on octopus farming and the ability of these truly unique animals to experience emotions relate to this paradox.
Octopi is a delicacy in certain parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean, or the East Asian countries. About 350,000 tonnes are caught every year and served in restaurants from Spain to Chile and from Mexico to Australia.
Charlotte, citing the intelligence of octopi and their ability to experience emotion, makes several points in her essay illustrating why octopus farming, and consumption of octopi at large, is an incredibly cruel practice and should be stopped.
Charlotte details how Octopus species have the ability to solve basic problems. A study cited in the essay, Boal 1991, reveals that Octopi can distinguish between objects if there is a food incentive.
When a number of seashells were placed in front of the Octopi, and picking the odd-looking seashell out of the bunch meant that the octopus would be given food, they chose the odd one out. They then continued displaying this remarkable ability when faced with a similar problem again. This ability is not reflected in most other animals, so it speaks of the high level of intelligence that Octopi possess.
Similarly, Octopi have been known to camouflage as rocks, so as to avoid alerting prey or becoming prey themselves. This is another indication of their cognitive ability.
If these precious creatures are kept in the confines of a farm, they will not be able to express their instinctive behaviors, and will inevitably suffer.
Octopi prefer solitude
Octopi are not social animals at all. When they do come across one another, they meet with hostility. By putting them together in groups, the physical and mental well-being of these octopi will be compromised. At the same time, placing them individually poses greater chances of the octopi escaping.
Even if the octopi escape, they will likely face injury or disease. They can also present a threat to the surrounding ecosystem into which they escape, where they may not have any natural predators and might prey excessively on indigenous species.
Inhumane slaughtering methods
At present, the slaughter of octopi is already taking place. This slaughter is carried out in extremely cruel ways, such as cutting octopus brains, strangling in nets, and freezing in ice. Perhaps what’s even more disturbing is that the octopus remains conscious throughout this pain. On farms, similar methods may be used, so there’s no guarantee these incredible creatures of the sea will have it any better.
Farming such species that, in addition, are carnivorous will almost inevitably require that individuals be kept isolated in small containers, with no scope for environmental enrichment and very poor overall well-being.
Right now, the intensive farming of octopus is constrained by technology—it has been difficult to reliably keep animals alive through the early stages of their lives.
But with further investments, research, and testing, the technology may well become available to farm octopus on an industrial scale.
All in all, by presenting us with concrete scientific evidence, Charlotte makes it clear as daylight that Octopus farming is a barbaric practice that should be stopped dead in its tracks.
We hope that society recognizes the serious welfare and environmental problems associated with such projects and intensive farming of octopus will be discouraged or prevented. Better still would be for governments, private companies, and academic institutions to stop investing in octopus farming now and to instead focus their efforts on achieving a truly sustainable and compassionate future for food production.