Fans of Netflix’s documentary My Octopus Teacher or really any supporters of the eight-legged cephalopod aren’t going to want to hear this. But there is a new startup taking shape in Europe right now that is planning on becoming the first, massive, commercial octopus farm in the world. And this has a number of groups raising concerns about the ethics around the venture. Up until this point, octopus even harvested for commercial use had mostly come from fishing efforts. But this new company would become a commercial farming outlet, something we know has drummed up all sorts of controversy in the past when it comes to other animals.
The octopus farm is coming from the Spanish company Nueva Pescanova and they have a plan to open up their operation sometime in 2023. They’ve already raised considerable capital for the venture, amassing somewhere in the $75 million dollar range in an effort to ramp up production and operations over the next few years. The plan, according to the company, is to create the octopus farm in an effort to ease the strain on the global fishing market around this particular creature. Because there are considerations in capturing octopi that don’t necessarily apply to other kinds of harvested sea creatures, the company contends that the farm will actually help along those lines while also providing a not-insignificant number of jobs to the local economy.
But animal rights activists and even ethicists are already sounding the alarm bells on this proposed octopus farm. They believe it should be considered different than other marine harvesting ventures of what could be considered a similar nature. For starters, there are the octopi themselves who many have agreed seem to operate on a different thought and awareness level than almost any other sea creature. According to a recent report (via Science Alert) not only does an octopus feel pain similar to mammals and vertebrates, but they might have more emotional capacity than nearly every other animal on earth besides humans.
They are considered the most complex invertebrates on Earth and studies have shown that their response to pain, combined with emotional intelligence suggests they are operating on a significantly higher order than anything else in the ocean. Octopi will avoid situations that they know have caused pain in the past, can solve more complex problems than most other animals, and seem to have an awareness beyond most other animals. There is still work to be done on this front, but almost all signs point to an animal that sits at a cognitive and emotional level well higher than say, fish. These are just some of the reasons this proposed octopus farm is raising concern.
Now, the debates about factory farming have been ongoing for years and some would contend that the cognitive abilities of an animal shouldn’t be a factor in whether they are harvested in this way. Some would say the entire process needs to be eliminated whether it’s an octopus farm, or some other animal. But the fact remains that octopus fishing has greatly increased over the last few years, putting a strain on the global fishing market as a whole. Nueva Pescanova says they are responding to that demand in an effort to help the global need, but critics are dubious they will do it in a humane way.