Plans for the world’s first commercial octopus farm involve keeping the highly sentient and solitary animals in tanks with each other and killing them — fully conscious — in freezing water, according to a new nonprofit report.

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and Eurogroup for Animals, two nonprofits dedicated to progressing animal welfare, reportedly obtained the plans that company Grupo Nueva Pescanova submitted for approval to the Canary Island’s General Directorate of Fishing.

The plans reportedly involve a 2-story building in the Port of Las Palmas, in Spain’s Canary Islands, with nearly 1,000 tanks and an original “breeder” population of 100 octopuses — 30 females and 70 males — taken from a nearby research facility, the Pescanova Biomarine Centre in Galicia. 

According to the report, octopuses reportedly would be kept together in tanks and would be fed with fishmeal and fish oil. Octopuses also reportedly would be exposed to periods of 24-hour, constant light to “speed up” the reproductive process and spawning in females, according to the nonprofit report and coverage from the BBC.

The farm proposes annually killing 3,000 tonnes (a metric unit slightly less than a U.S. ton) of octopus for food each year— or close to one million octopuses a year, according to news reports.

They’d reportedly be slaughtered at approximately six to seven months, after spending time in “fattening” tanks, via “ice slurry” without pre-stunning — which would entail plunging the fully conscious octopuses into tanks with water kept at -3 degrees Centigrade (about 27 degrees Fahrenheit) until they freeze to death.

In a response emailed to Lady Freethinker, Nueva Pescanova denied all allegations that octopuses would suffer pain, distress, or improper space or lighting requirements under their proposed methods. The company also claimed their proposed protocol “fully complies” with the European Commission’s and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s sustainability guidelines.

“At Nueva Pescanova, our priority is to guarantee animal welfare by applying to the cultivation process the conditions of the species in the wild,” the company claimed. “Our research team has achieved an environment inside the pool with optimal conditions for octopus culture that ensure their wellbeing and whose behaviors are evidence of this.”

The report from CIWF and Eurogroup for Animals alleges the octopuses will be kept a density of 10-30 kg/cubic meter — or 10 to 15 octopuses in a space slightly larger than a 4-person hot tub. Nueva Pescanova denied those allegations.

“This is completely wrong,” the Nueva Pescanova spokesperson alleged. “The quantity of water per animal is much higher. Depending on the stage the octopuses are at in their life cycle, they will live in different types of pools with different sizes, designed to provide the optimal conditions they need at each stage of their lives.”

But packing these complex and sensitive animals into small tanks, exposing them to light 24/7 when they favor darkness, and plunging them into freezing water to slowly die – all so people can unnecessarily eat their dead bodies – shows it’s unlikely the animals’ welfare is being prioritized by the company, according to the nonprofit report and experts on octopus sentience.

Researchers have known for decades that octopuses are highly intelligent and solitary animals, who prefer darkened spaces in their wild homes. The London School of Economics also recently published a 108-page report that detailed octopuses’ sentience — noting they can feel pain and distress similar to vertebrates — and asserted that “humane” octopus farming and slaughter isn’t possible.

Meanwhile, experts have spoken out specifically that using ice slurry without pre-stunning to kill aquatic species involves a cruel and prolonged death involving serious pain and distress. 

“To kill them with ice would be a slow death,” Peter Tse, a cognitive neuroscientist at Dartmouth University, told BBC. “It would be very cruel and should not be allowed.”

While Nueva Pescanova claims killing octopuses with ice slurry is “the most commonly applied in the industry and is the option that seeks precisely to avoid suffering in the animal,” the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and the European Food Safety Authority have both discouraged the use of ice slurry without pre-stunning for certain fish species, while several companies have proactively moved away from selling any species killed with the inhumane method.

The ASC’s latest welfare report, published in September 2021, specifically mentions that those who care about aquatic species’ welfare should “exclude the use of ice slurry as a means of slaughter.”

An ASC spokesperson declined to comment on Nueva Pescanova’s proposed plan to use ice slurry to kill octopuses.

“Currently, octopus are not covered by the ASC Standards, thus ASC does not make any statements nor issue any recommendations on octopus farming,” the spokesperson said.

But the spokesperson confirmed that the agency’s new Fish Health and Welfare content, applicable to finfish, has laid out requirements to guarantee stunning and slaughter are effective, with backup systems in place and staff properly trained in welfare and slaughter practices.

“This means that the use of ice slurry in finfish as a killing method will not be allowed unless preceded by effective and immediate stunning (electrical or percussion are recommended) that renders fish unconscious until death sets in,” the spokesperson said of that fish-specific content. “This is because killing in ice does not result in immediate unconsciousness and that exposure to a sudden temperature drop is stressful to most fish species.”

Nueva Pescanova said their proposed feeding for the octopuses will “follow maximum sustainability criteria” by using discards and by-products of already-caught fish and that the company is researching vegetable-based alternatives to fishmeal for the naturally carnivorous species.

But the report by CIWF and Eurogroup for Animals voiced concerns that the proposed food for the octopuses would add pressure to already strained wild fish populations — adding that the EU Commission’s recently released strategic guidelines for aquaculture emphasize moving away from fish meal and fish oil.

The operation of the energy-intensive farm also likely would have additional negative impacts on the environment — including increased greenhouse gas emissions and possible energy and water security problems, according to the nonprofits.

“We are calling on the EU (European Union) to ban octopus farming and restrict the use of public funds to support octopus farming developments, or any other new industrial animal-based farming in the light of significant and growing scientific evidence that it is killing our planet,” CIWF and Eurogroup for Animals said.

The national permits required to launch the farm are still pending and dependent upon a final approval and publication of an Environmental Impact Assessment report.

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition urging authorities to shut down this cruel farm before it can become a reality! You can also sign our petition supporting a bill in Washington State that would ban commercial octopus farming!

SIGN: Stop First-Ever Commercial Octopus Farm that Will Torture Thousands of Intelligent, Sensitive Animals