A new study by an international group of scientists denounces the up-and-coming octopus farming industry as both detrimental to fragile marine ecosystems and unethical given their high intelligence. As countries like Japan announce they will start selling farmed octopus in 2020, researchers call on companies and governments to discontinue funding the new industry, claiming there is still an opportunity to prevent the same unethical and destructive mistakes that have already been made with land-based industrial farming.

Currently, there are 550 marine and aquatic species farmed in nearly 200 countries. Aquaculture is detrimental to coastal environments in the following ways:

  1. Clearing critical habitat, such as mangroves, to make space for farms
  2. Polluting water with fertilizer, algaecide, disinfectant, antibiotics and herbicides
  3. Depleting oxygen and releasing nitrogen and phosphorus from decomposing fish feces

In addition, octopus larvae only consume live fish and shellfish, requiring farmers to harvest significant amounts from other vulnerable fisheries.

Related: Plastic pollution is causing reproductive problems for ocean wildlife

Even if the industry was sustainable, however, the study’s authors argue that captivity is unethical for a creature with such a large brain, long memory and sophisticated nervous system.

“We can see no reason why, in the 21st century, a sophisticated, complex animal should become the source of mass-produced food,” study author, Professor Jennifer Jacquet of New York University, told the Observer. “Octopus factory farming is ethically and ecologically unjustified.”

Despite animal welfare and environmental concerns, octopus farms spark a separate set of ethical issues dealing with limiting development and economic growth. The unrestricted and untouchable scale of destructive industrial farming, for example, brings up concerns of who can prohibit other entrepreneurs from capitalizing on the same profitable disregard for animal life and environmental sustainability. Professor Jacquet of the study, however, believes that because the industry is just launching, there is a unique opportunity to limit its growth before it takes off.

“Mass producing octopus would repeat many of the same mistakes we made on land in terms of high environmental and animal welfare impacts and be in some ways worse because we have to feed octopus other animals,” said Jacquet.

Approximately 350,000 tons of octopus are harvested every year, however, octopus fisheries are in decline. Without aquaculture, octopus may become more rare, expensive and only available to high-paying customers.

The Guardian

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