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article imageMarine researchers — We must absolutely not farm-raise octopuses

By Karen Graham     Dec 30, 2019 in Environment
There's no denying that keeping livestock has deeply benefited humanity over the millennia. But, while sheep and cows may have adapted well to farm life, there is one animal humans like to eat that would fare poorly in farms.
It may be alright to eat deep-fried calamari - after all, it looks nice on a plate - but for some reason, the world have taken a liking to octopus. And while the demand for the tentacled creature is growing, so too is the debate over farming the highly intelligent cephalopods.
There are approximately 300 species of octopuses, more than 100 of which are captured in the wild using nets, pots, lines, and traps. Since 2008, the reported annual global catch of octopuses has been about 350,000 metric tons (about 385,000 English tons), according to Issues.org.
Two-thirds of octopus catches come from Asia, with at least half of that from China alone. The countries that eat the most octopus are Korea, Japan, and Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy. And while Americans have a taste for the tentacles, consumer demand is also growing in Australia and China.
The Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus).
The Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus).
Alessandro Dona (CC BY 3.0)
Since the 1980s, consumer demand has grown to the point that the number of wild-caught octopuses has declined due to over-fishing. This means the number of octopuses on the market has declined, raising prices and leaving many consumers' plates empty.
Let's raise them on farms
Whoever came up with the idea of aquaculture for octopuses ought to be hit upside of the head. Thankfully, the animals have escaped being farmed, but attempts to farm octopuses have already commenced in multiple countries around the world.
And technical advances and lots of experimentation are making farm-raised octopus a fairly certain reality, according to Quartz.
The common octopus - Octopus vulgaris
The common octopus - Octopus vulgaris
Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble (CC BY 2.0)
In 2017, a Japanese seafood company - Nippon Suisan Kaisha - successfully hatched octopus eggs and says it expects to have farmed octopus for sale next year. Farms in Mexico, Spain, and China have also gotten into the business.
All this intensive aquafarming of octopus will produce some known environmental impacts, a team of environmental scientists, philosophers, and psychiatrists argued in the Winter 2019 edition of Issues in Science and Technology.
Leave this cephalopod alone
Should we farm octopus at all? There are so many issues involved, including nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from animal waste, interbreeding and the spread of disease, and loss of habitat, to name a few.
Ethically, it would be cruel to put these highly-intelligent animals into a breeding program that is questionable and more than likely immoral. Octopus require a stimulating and dynamic environment, they are shape-shifters and can change coloration at the drop of a hat.
They can also recognize human faces due to their forms of short and long-term memory. They have as many neurons as many mammals and larger nervous systems than any other invertebrate.
“One study found that octopuses retained knowledge of how to open a screw-top jar for at least five months,” write the marine researchers. “They are also capable of mastering complex aquascapes, conducting extensive foraging trips, and using visual landmarks to navigate.”
Perhaps the biggest argument against farming octopuses is the environmental impact in feeding the creatures. Like most aquatic creatures, they're carnivores and need fish protein and oil in their diet. And octopus larvae only eat live food - that has to come from somewhere.
Researchers found the octopus' impressive suction power was thanks to small balls inside the su...
Researchers found the octopus' impressive suction power was thanks to small balls inside the suction cups that line each of their tentacles
LOIC VENANCE, AFP/File
"Feeding most farmed aquatic animals puts additional pressure on wild fish and invertebrates for fishmeal," the researchers wrote. "Around one-third of the global fish catch is turned into feed for other animals, roughly half of which goes to aquaculture. Many fishmeal fisheries are subject to overfishing and are declining."
Not only that, but an octopus needs to eat three-times its body weight over its short lifetime. They only live for one to two years. Keeping them fed would only put more pressure on already over-taxed fisheries. This would likely decrease global food security for humans.
However you might look at octopus farming, it is factory farming - part of a highly industrialized food system that is both cruel to individual animals and environmentally unsustainable. And yes, one could argue that we keep cattle and sheep in captivity for food, but we have been doing this for over 9,000 years.
But we have a chance to make right what will become a "wrong," if we let this go on, say the researchers. Or as Quartz so succinctly puts it: "Before we start octopus farming, we at least have the chance to reconsider: Is this really the right way to treat another animal?"
More about Aquaculture, octopus farms, invertabrates, Environmental degradation, difficulty
 
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