In November 2022, Aquatic Life Institute (ALI) implemented a global campaign that aims to increase public and legislative pressure on countries/regions where octopus farms are being considered to achieve a regulatory ban, and reduce future chances of these farms being created elsewhere. We started Banding Together to Ban Octopus Farming, and have witnessed both promising and pessimistic developments.
Good News First:
2023 has, thus far, demonstrated just how universal the looming issue of octopus farming is. Concerns originated from the establishment of a potential farm in Spain, however, grievances quickly traveled.
From the United States; Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resources issued a cease and desist letter to Kanaloa Octopus Farm for operating without the required permits. And house bill 1153: "Prohibiting Octopus Farming" was proposed in Washington state. HB 1153 passed the first committee vote with overwhelming support from policymakers and members of the public across the globe. The bill received 9 "yes" votes and 2 "nays" from committee members. Despite overwhelming, bipartisan support, the bill now sits in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee until 2024. However, this truly represents a historic moment for the movement to #BanOctopusFarming. During the voting session, policymakers spoke about octopus sentience and intelligence, and how this is a great opportunity to protect an incredible species from somber futures in factory farms. ALI will ensure that this bill is a priority topic again during the next legislative session.
Across the pond, RSPCA calls for halt to plans for world's first octopus farm. This announcement is the first public objection raising "concerns over the commercial farming of octopuses and the negative welfare impact it could have on this complex animal" from a seafood certification body. Aquatic Life Institute works closely with RSPCA Assured (RSPCA’s farm animal welfare assurance scheme), to ensure that all seafood production prioritizes high-welfare practices. They are a valuable stakeholder in ALI's Certifier Campaign, and we commend them for taking the lead on such a timely issue.
The Not So Good News:
The Sisal unit of the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), the country’s largest and most prestigious university, initiated the research project to study the physiology of the most common regional species: Octopus Maya. UNAM’s research center created an agreement with local families to establish Moluscos del Mayab, the commercial branch of the facility.
UNAM research facility obtains pregnant females from the surrounding ecosystem. Still relying on wild populations for replenishing their broodstock, they are currently conducting research related to the development of a self-sustaining reproductive unit. Once females lay eggs to be kept in a patented incubator, they are then slaughtered and commercialized. The eggs are artificially incubated for 50 days, producing around 20,000 eggs per month.
The Sisal unit has around 6-8 recirculating tanks for adults and 12-15 tanks for juveniles. Pre-growth tanks hold around 25 larvae per square meter. In total, this tank can fit approximately 707 larvae at any given time. The second growth tank can hold around 288 juveniles, reducing the density at this stage due to aggressive juvenile cannibalism. Up to 191 octopus are held in each grow-out tank. With a 52% mortality rate, averaging around 5% per week, researchers note around 30% is directly related to cannibalism. Following each production cycle, an average of 388 octopuses are slaughtered and sent to market.
We currently have no information related to the slaughter methods used at this farm, and would like to assert that humane methods for commercially slaughtering octopus do not presently exist. Inhumane methods include clubbing, slicing, asphyxiation, and chilling.
We strongly oppose the operation of this farm disguised as a research center and urge UNAM university to end the program. Investments in supporting the local community through more sustainable endeavors will contribute to food security for the 2000 inhabitants of Sisal without compromising animal welfare. UNAM university is committed to sustainability and it is a proud supporter of changing systems to improve environmental conservation. As such, a project of this nature is contrary to the university’s values.
ALI, along with 119 additional organizations, have sent a letter to UNAM describing our concerns and petitioning for farm closure. The farm received a $50,000 USD grant from United Nations Development Program (UNDP) through the small grants program of the Global Environmental Facility. We have contacted UNDP to stop funding cephalopod farms around the world, and direct financial resources elsewhere. We recommend plant-based alternatives (both for feed in aquaculture and for human consumption) where substitutes are available. Entities should support recovery programs for dwindling wild cephalopod populations by establishing strict marine protected areas. The UN high seas treaty was approved recently on March 6th, aiming to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. UNAM should look to align themselves with these global objectives for conservation.
If you're interested in staying up to date, we have several resources and action items available on our Octopus Farming Ban website. Please feel free to reach out or comment with any questions.
The information presented is a summary of anecdotal reports from the farm, research papers issued by the UNAM research center in Sisal, and multiple interviews available in the media. As a result, the information can be contradictory, inconsistent, or incomplete. However, it allows us to have a broad overview of what is happening on the farm, and the challenges this industry is currently facing regarding its unsustainable practices.