Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The case against octopus farming

The case against octopus farming
29 Mar
2019
Four scientists have banded together to make the case against the farming of octopuses, arguing that these intelligent cephalopods are wholly unsuited to life in captivity

Octopuses are difficult to farm and, despite efforts to do so for many years, they still make for a tricky business model. The biggest problem has been keeping young octopuses (known as larvae) alive, in part because so little is known about their nutritional needs. As a result, octopus ‘ranches’ have become increasing common, notably in Australia, Spain, Mexico and Hawaii, in which juvenile octopus are caught in the wild and then grown in tanks or offshore cages.

For four marine researchers from the universities of New York, Sydney and Sussex, who recently presented the case against octopus farming in the journal Issues in Science and Technology, these ranches are already problematic, but now, a swath of investment and research looks set to finally make fully-farmed octopuses a reality. In June 2017, the Japanese company Nippon Suisan Kaisha (Nissui) announced that it had successfully hatched eggs of fully-farmed octopuses using artificial incubation. It predicts a fully-farmed, market-ready octopus by 2020.

The case against this practice is centred on both ethical and environmental considerations. The ethical objections are simple – octopuses are intelligent and mysterious creatures and not enough is known about them to ensure they live a good life in captivity. ‘Octopuses exhibit cognitive and behavioural complexity and they appear capable of experiencing pain and suffering,’ note the authors of the article, pointing to one study which showed that octopuses retain knowledge of how to open a screw-top jar for at least five months. As result, ‘octopuses are likely to want high levels of cognitive stimulation, as well as opportunists to explore, manipulate and control their environment. Intensive farm systems are inevitably hostile to these attributes,’ they argue. Reports from experimental farms have also suggested that octopuses are unsuited to living in close confines; aggression and cannibalism are common complaints, with some even launching themselves out of the tanks and on to the floor.

The environmental arguments reflect those applied to aquaculture as a whole, including concerns about increased pollution from the nitrogen in fish faeces, contamination from fertilisers and algaecides, and excessive use of antibiotics. In addition, the researchers argue that the carnivorous nature of octopuses, as with many other farmed fish, make them particularity unsustainable. ‘Aquaculture to date has not alleviated pressure on the oceans, it has actually exacerbated it because most of what we’ve chosen to farm in recent years is carnivorous, so we have to fish more animals out of the ocean to feed them,’ explains Jennifer Jacquet, an assistant professor at New York University. She notes that around one-third of the global fish catch is already turned into feed for other animals and that many fishmeal fisheries are in decline.

Given the potential for harm, the researchers question why so much money and research is being pumped into octopus farms. ‘This isn’t a food source around the world that people are relying on, this is a luxury market,’ says Becca Franks, also from New York University. ‘There won’t be that many consequences to society if we don’t farm them. But if we do go down this road, there’s going to be any number of problems and not necessarily very many solutions.’

 This was published in the April 2019 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

The January issue’s dramatic cover image was designed to highlight…

Climate

Protestors from the global south were physically removed yesterday from…

Climate

Climate NGOs point fingers at nations holding back climate crisis…

Climate

The Paris Agreement has reached adolescence. Its final stages of…

Climate

A report presented at COP25 highlights the trouble with tourism,…

Climate

For the 25th time in history, the United Nations has…

Wildlife

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s Rising Star winner brings…

Energy

Abandoned coal mines contain a precious resource in the warm…

Climate

Marco Magrini wonders if the annual gathering of world leadership…

Wildlife

A new animation produced by the charity Born Free raises…

Wildlife

The United States is grappling with a wild pig invasion.…

Wildlife

Increased interest in the farming of endangered animals as a…

Geophoto

Will 2019 go down as the year that the world…

Climate

Large-scale air travel is under public scrutiny, and refusing to…

Climate

A review of climate crisis coverage in the global media…

Oceans

Marco Magrini looks at the carbon capturing power of the ocean’s…

Oceans

Marine Protected Areas are designed to benefit the marine ecosystem…

Climate

The link between China’s economic growth and increased pollution has…

Climate

An analysis of nine year’s worth of lightning data, covering…

Climate

When getting on ‘board’ with sustainability is the entire goal