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Nueva Pescanova, a seafood company, wants to build the world's first industrial-scale octopus farmImage: picture alliance / Zoonar
ScienceGlobal issues

Scientists slam plans for world's largest octopus farm

Clare Roth
March 17, 2023

Leaked plans for the world’s first octopus farm detail how the eight-legged creatures would be slaughtered: By hypothermia. Experts say it’s inhumane.


Nueva Pescanova, a seafood company, has been breeding octopuses in captivity for years with the intent of applying for a permit to farm them in the Canary Islands.

In 2019, the company said it had found a way to breed the animals at large scale for commercial purposes. No company had figured out a way to do this before then.

Octopus sold as food is usually either caught in the wild or bred in small octopus farms in the middle of the ocean — but those farms are a fraction of the size of Nueva Pescanova's proposed farm. The company says it is responding to growing demand in Japan and the US.

Octopus in a bowl
Octopus are a popular seafood, especially in Italy and other countries in southern EuropeImage: Katja Döhne/DW

But octopus experts have criticized the plans Nueva Pescanova's because of the way it says it would kill the animals. Octopuses were declared sentient and capable of feeling pain in a large study published in 2021. 

How the farm would kill the octopuses

DW has seen the plans, which were leaked and shared by someone close to the matter in Spain. Nueva Pescanova did not respond to phoned requests for comment in time for publication of this article.

The records indicate the company plans to breed around one million octopuses per year, producing around 3,000 tons of octopus meat.

The octopuses would be slaughtered using a method called ice slurry slaughter. That involves submerging the animals in 500-liter plastic containers of icy water where they would develop hypothermia and eventually freeze to death. 

Keri Tietge, an octopus expert at Eurogroup for Animals, an animal rights campaign group based in Brussels, said ice slurry slaughter results in a "really prolonged and painful death for the octopuses."

The European Union's Food Safety Authority advises against the use of this method for several fish species already and is in the process of drafting legislation to end its use on sea bass and seabream as well.

Zoe Doubleday, a University of South Australia marine ecologist, said "there are humane ways to euthanize or kill an octopus, but placing them directly into ice slurry is not best practice."

Doubleday said the octopuses could be anesthetized via immersion in seawater mixed with a small amount of magnesium salts or around 3% ethanol before they are killed. 

Purple octopus
New research shows octopus have feelingsImage: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

But it’s unclear whether octopuses killed in this fashion are safe for human consumption. 

How they will be bred

According to the leaked documents, Nueva Pescanova plans to breed octopuses in tightly packed areas — around 10-15 octopuses per cubic meter — and exposed to 24 hours of light when they are in periods of reproduction. 

Doubleday said these conditions sounded "inhumane and stressful, particularly as they are generally nocturnal animals and do not like bright artificial lights."

"All species are different, but octopuses generally need 'dens' in their tanks (like pipes or pots)," said Doubleday.

A farm of the nature suggested by Nueva Pescanova represented a controlled environment, said Doubleday, which would make it easier to kill the animals humanely.

"If we are going to do something new like octopus farming, we should get the animal welfare part right," she said. 

How the process will move forward

If the permit is approved by Canary Island officials, Nueva Pescanova will be able to move forward with the construction of its proposed octopus farm. Tietge said this decision could be made "any day." 

"They put in the applications over a year ago now," Tietge said. "So they're planning to move on this very quickly. And since they already have the animals in their laboratory, in theory, they could start selling them quite quickly once they have the farm built."

Aquaculture breeding for octopuses

Edited by: Zulfikar Abbany

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