EU Policy. Octopus cannibalism among fears for pioneer cephalopod farm

“These incredible animals deserve better than lives diminished to confinement and suffering,” said Keri Tietge, octopus project consultant at Eurogroup for Animals.
“These incredible animals deserve better than lives diminished to confinement and suffering,” said Keri Tietge, octopus project consultant at Eurogroup for Animals. Copyright Georgios Kefalas/AP2009
Copyright Georgios Kefalas/AP2009
By Marta Iraola IribarrenGerardo Fortuna
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NGOs are uniting against a pioneering octopus farm citing fears of cruelty including risk of cannibalism, while a forthcoming revision of animal welfare rules may see the European Commission plunge into the debate.


For decades, breeding octopuses in captivity has proven a fish farming challenge too far, with numerous failed attempts to reproduce cephalopods outside their natural habitat.

When Spanish company Nueva Pescanova announced in 2019 that it had achieved the unfeasible by cracking octopus reproduction in aquaculture, many hailed the news as a scientific breakthrough.

To reap the rewards of its endeavour, the company is planning to open the first-ever octopus macro-farm along the shore of Spain’s Canary Islands to produce 3,000 tons of valuable cephalopod flesh each year.

A number of scientists, environmentalist groups and animal welfare campaigners have ruffled the feathers, however, voicing strong opposition to the project.

A coalition of NGOs today (9 April) released a further call to “immediately stop the project on the grounds that, as well as causing cruelty to octopuses, the farm contradicts its own corporate sustainability claims.”

“These incredible animals deserve better than lives diminished to confinement and suffering,” said Keri Tietge, octopus project consultant at the Brussels-based animal protection association Eurogroup for Animals.

Alongside environmental and food safety concerns, animal welfare is foremost among campaigners' concerns.

Octopuses are solitary animals by nature, the associations argue in their public statement, and therefore unfit to live in group and high-density conditions. Pointing out that they are carnivorous animals, they add that “this would increase aggression and can ultimately lead to cannibalism”.

Contacted by Euronews, a Nueva Pescanova spokesperson said that the company will continue with the necessary administrative procedures. According to their plans, the first farmed octopus would reach the market in 2027.

The facility is projected to host ten octopuses per cubic meter, stressing that “at all times, the physicochemical conditions of the water will be continuously monitored by means of automatic systems aiming to ensure animal welfare as well as crop efficiency.”

Authorisation no 'slam dunk'

The aquaculture company has already started breeding octopuses in tanks at a research facility in Galicia, northern Spain.

These would be the first to move into new facilities in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and be commercialised once they mature to a year and half in age, when they would supply key international octopus markets such as the US, South Korea, and Japan.

Demand for octopus is on the uptick among restaurant diners according to a 2022 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization of the (FAO).

Despite initial plans to have its application approved by the end of 2023, the process has now been delayed as some local authorities have also registered concerns.

Last July, the government of the Canary Islands published opinions from various authorities and regional departments required to greenlight the intensive farm.

The harshest opinion came from the directorate general for public health of the Canary Island government, which found that the octopus farm is planned for waters that cannot guarantee suitable cultivation of a product fit for human consumption.

In an impact assessment, it found uncontrolled discharges of various substances from the usual activity of the local port could impact the octopus to an extent “unknown to say the least”.

The Canary Islands government has also requested a further environmental impact assessment acknowledging this project could have important adverse effects on the environment.


In its final evaluation, it appears that Nueva Pescanova has still to give information as to the exact impact the installation will have on the environment and how it plans to maintain the current quality of the water.

Could the Commission dive in?

For the moment the issue remains national, but Octopus farming could become further entangled as a result of rising interest in animal welfare by the EU executive.

The EU treaties recognise animals as sentient beings and require this to be taken into account when formulating EU policies in areas such as agriculture or fisheries.

Existing EU animal welfare legislation does not apply to invertebrate species such as octopuses, a Commission spokesperson told Euronews.

However the framework is currently undergoing a revision to broaden its scope and improve the level of animal welfare.


Components of this revision specifically related to farmed animals have been pushed back to after the EU elections, and a proposal on protection of animals undergoing transportation was tabled last year which featured cephalopods and decapods for the first time.

The Commission spokesperson said more scientific knowledge is needed to understand the welfare implications of farming cephalopods, and the EU executive has therefore asked for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to come up with an indicative roadmap for animal welfare from 2023 to 2030 which will include octopus.

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