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Octopus farms raise huge animal welfare concerns

Creator : Alexandra Schnell, Analysis Fellow in Comparative Psychology, College of Cambridge

While you think about an octopus’s world, you would possibly effectively see a curious creature in a posh undersea atmosphere.

But the truth of life for some octopuses is existence inside a barren tank, inescapably surrounded by people and different octopuses. That is the grim world of octopus farming – and shortly there might be new business farms on the horizon.

Lately a Spanish firm introduced its intention to open a brand new industrial octopus farm, with a objective of manufacturing 3,000 tonnes of octopus a 12 months. This raises enormous issues for animal welfare – as a result of there may be little doubt that octopuses are advanced and clever animals.

Wild octopuses are masters of camouflage, quickly altering their pores and skin patterns to mix in with their backgrounds. Typically they cowl themselves with shells and even carry coconut shells to cover from predators. And they’re well-known escape artists in captivity, in a position to squeeze via terribly small areas.

They could also have a mischievous streak, with frequent studies of octopuses squirting water at unsuspecting guests and caregivers. One octopus in Germany was famend for repeatedly squirting water on the lights, seemingly conscious that this might short-circuit the electrical energy and trigger a commotion.

In a laboratory setting too, they’ve proven themselves adept at fixing mazes and different puzzles to amass a meals reward.

And octopuses are usually not solely clever. They’re additionally sentient, able to experiencing emotions corresponding to ache and pleasure.

We just lately produced a report for the UK authorities, after analysing over 300 scientific research. We discovered sturdy proof in favour of sentience in cephalopod molluscs (together with octopuses, squid and cuttlefish) and decapod crustaceans (corresponding to crabs and lobsters).

Common octopus swimming in the sea
Octopus have totally different moods and may be playful and mischievous.
Vladimir Wrangel/shutterstock

For a lot of scientists, our findings merely reaffirmed what they already believed: that octopuses are acutely aware animals with emotions and internal lives, identical to vertebrates.

For us, all of this sits uneasily with the concept of octopus farming.

Learn extra:
Octopuses are super-smart … however are they acutely aware?

Whereas octopus has lengthy been an occasional menu merchandise for a lot of, demand for octopus meat is rising quickly. And that has led to the proposals to begin farming octopuses on an industrial scale. In addition to Spain, there are comparable efforts in Mexico, Chile, China and Japan.

Large moral issues

Octopuses are engaging candidates for business aquaculture, attributable to their excessive worth, quick development and speedy breeding.

However when engaged on our report, we assessed a few of the biggest dangers to the welfare of octopuses, and octopus farming was excessive on our listing. The opportunity of poor welfare is extraordinarily regarding, particularly as there are no protections for farmed octopus below animal welfare laws wherever on this planet.

Octopuses have a number of traits that make them significantly ill-suited to intensive farming.

They’re soft-bodied, with pores and skin that damages simply via tough dealing with or collisions with tank partitions or furnishings, significantly when jetting away from perceived threats – their traditional escape response. They’re a weak animal that prefers to cover and requires shelter to really feel protected.

As solitary animals (with very uncommon exceptions), they’re typically aggressive and territorial, that means they have a tendency to react badly to the corporate of different octopuses, with cannibalism frequent for a lot of octopus species. Stress from overcrowding may even lead octopuses to resort to self-cannibalism – they actually eat their very own arms.

And since they’re behaviourally and cognitively advanced, they require advanced environments that present stimulation and alternatives to carry out pure behaviours.

To make issues worse, there are at present no recognised strategies of humane slaughter for octopus that might be possible at a big business scale. For these causes, we concluded in our report that we now have “very excessive confidence that high-welfare business farming of cephalopods is at present unattainable”.

Briefly, we had little doubt that it’s a unhealthy concept.

It’s unsustainable too

Proponents of octopus farming declare the follow has environmental advantages. They are saying that it’s a sustainable technique of manufacturing that may cut back stress on wild populations of octopus.

At the moment, it’s the case that round 350,000 tonnes of untamed octopus are harvested yearly. And if demand continues to extend, this harvest can even be anticipated to rise.

However we’re not satisfied by this declare of sustainability.

One drawback is that octopuses are carnivores, which implies they require fish or different seafood merchandise corresponding to fishmeal or fish oil of their weight loss program. These merchandise are nonetheless regularly harvested from the ocean. And as octopuses have a meals conversion ratio of round three to at least one (that means it takes roughly three kilograms of feed to supply one kilogram of octopus), this can be a extremely inefficient use of assets.

Boiled octopus tentacles on a stone plate
Lowering consumption of octopus is the sustainable selection – not farming.
YARUNIV Studio/shutterstock

A second drawback is that it isn’t by any means clear that shifting to aquaculture will cut back stress on wild shares. It’s simply as seemingly that octopus farming will merely cut back costs and enhance demand, as has been seen in fish aquaculture.

Learn extra:
Octopus, crabs and lobsters really feel ache – that is how we came upon

So, if we actually need to defend wild octopus populations we have to transfer past a false selection between devastating overfishing and industrialised farming.

The emphasis ought to be on lowering consumption somewhat than on making an attempt to shift demand from wild to captive shares – and to do this, we must be cautious of fast fixes corresponding to artificially elevating costs. That may result in negative effects, corresponding to creating perceived shortage that drives up client need – assume right here of “luxurious” items corresponding to shark fin.

To seek out the perfect methods of profoundly altering our consuming habits, they must be designed and examined by behaviour change specialists in order that we will robustly shift demand. And there could also be no single answer. Approaches would possibly have to fluctuate throughout totally different cultures and client teams.


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