New study discourages octopus farming

Old MacDonald had an… octopus?

Though we’ve long since established fisheries and shellfish farms, octopus farms are still something new. Commercial octopus farming is only in its developmental stage in a few countries around the world. One Japanese company says its first fully-farmed octopi might reach the market in 2020, and other institutions are working on similar programs in countries like Japan, South Korea and Spain, where octopus dishes aren’t uncommon.

Some researchers, however, are pointing to environmental and ethical reasons why octopus farming might not be as simple as it seems.

“We are all living during the rapid domestication of aquatic species and research is almost entirely around the question of which aquatic animals we can farm, rather than which animals we should farm,” said Jennifer Jaquet, lead author on a recent study on the matter.

What’s the problem?

The researchers on Jaquet’s study make a few main points.

For one, octopi are carnivores. Feeding large, cultivated populations of them requires more of the fish we catch to be turned into fishmeal. The researchers note that about 30% of fish caught in the world is turned into feed. In a world where overfishing is depleting the oceans’ supply, there might not be enough to feed more octopi.

The study also predicts that octopus farming may produce pollutants, namely high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, contributing to oxygen depletion in the atmosphere.

The researchers also highlight some animal welfare concern. Octopi are naturally accustomed to roaming fairly large amounts of space and aren’t naturally suited to confinement like they would have to be in an aquaculture environment.

Where do people eat octopus?

Octopus features heavily in the cuisines of a few ocean-bordering countries around the world.

In Japan, octopus is the central component of takoyaki and akashiyaki, which are batter-coated balls of octopus meat coated in tempura flakes and other toppings. It’s also sometimes an ingredient in sushi.

On the Korean peninsula, nakji-bokkeum is a spicy stir fry dish made with octopus tentacles.

In Spain, polbo á feira is made by boiling an octopus until the tentacles curl, then drizzled in olive oil and paprika.

In the Maldives, octopus tentacles are cooked with curry leaves, spices and coconut oil in a dish called miruhulee boava.

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