Last Sunday, animal rights activists gathered in Madrid to protest against Nueva Pescanova's upcoming octopus farm project in the Canary Islands, Spain. The protest was attended by a few dozen people who called to stop the construction of the farm because of the lack of proper welfare laws for octopuses by Spain and the European Union.
The major complaint of the project's opponents is that, in the wild, octopuses are solitary predators. "It is similar to imprisoning tigers together. They will prey on one another and will also attempt to escape due to their high intelligence and adeptness," said Jaime Posada for AP, the spokesman for the protest called by several animal welfare organizations.
WeAreAquaculture has contacted Nueva Pescanova to learn more about the project.
The construction of the farm, which aims to raise octopuses on a large scale in captivity, is planned for 2024 in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the project has a long history, which began a few years ago.
It began to be developed in 2018 based on a solid scientific foundation, with the endorsement of 9 scientific research centers in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico and more than 15 scientists who have contributed their knowledge at different phases of the project.
Roberto Romero, the multinational's aquaculture director of Nueva Pescanova, explained to AP that "It is not possible to farm any (animal) species in the European Union without respecting its welfare conditions. This is the standard, and our group does nothing more than comply with the guidelines and legislations."
Now, in statements to WeAreAquaculture, Nueva Pescanova assures that the project "not only prioritizes animal welfare by applying the breeding process to the specific conditions of the species in the wild (throughout its life cycle in terms of feeding, environmental conditions, reproduction, etc.) but also fully complies with the guidelines issued by the European Commission for a balanced convergence between the growth of the aquaculture sector and the green transition."
They also add that most of the criticisms of the octopus farm are based on a specific source from a study conducted by the London School of Economics. However, if the details of the study are examined, it is specified that "of the 384 studies on which the report is based, only 21 mention O. vulgaris (5%), the species of octopus to be raised at the farm, and more than half (11) are articles more than 20 years old."
Nueva Pescanova assures WeAreAquaculture that "studies carried out within the project proved that octopuses have adapted normally to group living environments without aggression due to territoriality."
Furthermore, the Spanish company adds that, following the observations realized, they are making new findings that they are going to share with the scientific community. Among them, one related to the previously mentioned issue of rivalry, about which they tell us that "the fact that they are born in optimal living and welfare conditions (space, temperature, water quality, food, absence of predators, etc.) makes their behavior different from the wild animal and favors that there are no episodes of rivalry."
Octopus is a popular part of the Mediterranean diet, especially in Spain and Italy. However, more and more countries are demanding it.
Thus, the octopus aquaculture project is another step in FAO's efforts to feed the world's population. An objective that is based on boosting global aquaculture growth by 35-40% to supply the world's population sustainably.
Undoubtedly, the controversy continues and will continue in different countries. But it is clear that the pioneering milestone achieved in Spain was born out of the need to increase demand and that, as with any innovative project, it generates different types of sensitivities.
Nueva Pescanova is a Spanish multinational leader in the seafood market sector and also is one of the few companies present in the entire value chain: fish, grow, process, and market more than 70 species of fish and seafood in 80 countries around the world.