I still remember the first time I tasted octopus. After an exhausting day reporting the troubles in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, Gizmodo video producer Raúl Marrero and I headed to a seaside restaurant where I tried ensalada de pulpo as an appetiser. It was love at first bite.
What I didn’t know, then, was that scientists have been exploring the intricacies of octopuses’ brains and learning just how intelligent they are. Now, researchers are making me think twice—again!—about eating octopus as they make the case against octopus farms in a new essay published in the latest edition of Issues in Science and Technology. This time, they’re highlighting the potential environmental impact of octopus farms as countries like Spain and Japan start looking into the idea—and even preparing to open an octopus farm by next year.
People do like their octopus, and the market is trying to figure out how to meet growing demand as overfishing hits wild octopus populations. So why not farm them, right? After all, the animals grow fast and live just a few years. The authors of the new essay, however, disagree.
Finding seafood that doesn’t harm the planet is, well, complicated. For starters, we don’t always know where our food comes from. And while something may be “sustainably” raised—say by a company that practices aquaculture responsibly—it could still be travelling hundreds of miles on a plane to reach your plate. Then there’s the fact that some sea creatures eat other sea creatures, and if we’re raising these animals to eat ourselves, that could pack more pressure on the rest of the ecosystem.
Octopus farms would face that last issue, in particular. The animals require three times their body weight in food, according to the essay published by researchers from New York University, the University of Sydney, and the University of Sussex. They argue that feeding octopus comes at the cost of human nutrition and “will act counter to the goal of improving global food security,” by ramping up pressure on wild-caught fish and shellfish.
Environmental arguments aside, the essay authors want us to consider whether this is something people should be doing. There’s some evidence to suggest octopuses experience a form of consciousness, although whether any non-human animal can experience true consciousness is debatable. Regardless, we know octopuses are smart. Individuals can decide if that warrants a total ban on eating them, but the authors of this essay make a good point about whether they should be farmed given that reality.
Octopuses may become sick or more aggressive when they’re contained. They even eat other octopuses if they’re kept together. The authors suggest larger enclosures “with significant enrichment” to help mitigate some of this, but even that may not be ideal—not for the planet and not for octopus well-being, either.