“It’s all Netflix’s fault!” – opposition to octopus farming grows in wake of popular documentary

A baby octopus being raised by Nueva Pescanova.

After decades of research, closed-cycle octopus farming is close to becoming a reality. But it faces an existential threat from increasingly well-organized activist groups opposed to the farming of a creature believed by some scientists to possess higher-than-average intelligence and emotional capacity.

The most high-profile octopus farm in the works is Nueva Pescanova’s EUR 65 million (USD 74 million ) 4,000-square-meter Pescanova Biomarine Center facility in Puerto Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria, in Spain’s Canary Islands, which will have the capacity to produce 3,000 metric tons of octopus annually.

“This is a global milestone,” Nueva Pescanova Aquaculture Director Roberto Romero said at the center’s opening, according to Reuters.

The farm still requires final approval from the government of the Canary Islands and the European Union, but Romero expressed confidence the company would receive the go-ahead.

"We have already passed various environmental statements without issue," he told El Confidencial.

Nippon Suisan Kaisha (Nissui) is also making an effort to commercially farm octopus, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is researching octopus farming with the goal of eventually developing a commercial octopus farm. But those efforts are being fought by a growing number of anti-aquaculture and animal rights groups, with many specifically citing the creature’s high level of intelligence for their opposition.

More than 100 groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Animal Rights Center, The Humane League, and the Aquatic Life Institute – organized under the banner of the Aquatic Animal Alliance – have called for the cessation of work to commercialize octopus farming, citing animal welfare, biodiversity, environmental degradation, and public health risks. WWF Senior Fisheries Officer Raul Garcia said his organization is also opposed to commercial octopus farming.

"Octopuses are extremely intelligent and extremely curious. And it's well known they are not happy in conditions of captivity," Garcia told Reuters.

The movement has scored recent political successes in the U.S. states of Hawaii, where the state government shut down a small octopus farm, and Washington, where legislation has been introduced that would ban octopus farming.

"I think this is a modest step, but I think an important step to show that we are not only looking out for the environment, but for the welfare of animals," Washington State Representative Strom Peterson, who introduced the bill in his state, told Fox 13 Seattle.

But Pedro Domingues, a researcher at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, said those opposed to octopus farming due to humanitarian reasons often overstate the known facts on how octopuses experience the world, and it was impossible to generalize about the lived experiences of octopus because there are so many different species.

“It is fiction. How do they know that the same specimen of octopus was always recorded?” Domingues, who has researched octopuses for 20 years, told El Confidencial. “They speak without knowledge of the cause. There are those who say that since octopuses have three hearts, they suffer more. This is nonsense."

Domingues – who is also working with UNAM on its project – blames “My Octopus Teacher,” a 2020 documentary about a relationship between a filmmaker and an octopus in South Africa, for advancing misinformation about octopus intelligence …

Photo courtesy of Nueva Pescanova

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