The Art of the Protest, Octopus-Style

By William J. Furney

If there is such thing as a second or more go-around, and we do come back reincarnated as some creature, the last thing I’d expect if I cosmically transformed from human to octopus would be to end up in a factory farm. 

Yet that’s the exact fate that’s awaiting countless millions of the intelligent creatures on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, just off the northwest coast of Africa. 

Giant Spanish seafood multinational Nueva Pescanova plans to soon open such a facility in the port area of the island’s capital, Las Palmas, as I’ve reported, and it’s reportedly ploughing at least €50 million into the enterprise, after unlocking the secrets of octopus breeding at its research centre in Galicia, northern Spain, where the popular tapa pulpo gallego (Galician octopus) originates and is sadly devoured with gusto around the country. 

“Te gusta pulpo gallego?” I asked my friend Elias, from the Canary island of Las Palmas (one of seven, or eight, depending if you count the tiny, no-roads island of La Graciosa, whose population is a mere 700 people), who dropped in for a green tea early yesterday morning as I was preparing to head off to an international protest against the farm, and on behalf of PETA. 

“Si, me gusta,” he said, meaning he loves to scoff the savoury octopus dish that’s served as part of wider meat-and-cheese-based hors d’oeuvre at bars, restaurants and homes in this sun-dappled country of over 47 million people. 

Having never consumed the creature — nor eaten any animals for decades — I was curious as to what the taste of an almost translucent animal might be, and what its appeal is. Elias paused, furrowed his brow and was unable to say. 

“Salty?” I offered.

“Si.”

Probably the biggest surprise of the Las Palmas protest at government buildings at sweltering midday yesterday was the appearance of a young man from war-torn, poverty-plunged Afghanistan, Zabi, whom I chatted with afterwards. He’d like to establish a kind of cooperative farm on the island, growing vegetables and raising animals, and was looking for partners. 

And I thought, if he can make it here, to such a demo, there is indeed hope for the world (although he had arrived in the palm-fringed port city after a spell in Luxembourg). 

Exposure: PACMA Canary Islands chief Iris Sánchez Padrón gives a TV interview in front of octopus-farm protesters. (Photo: PACMA)

“Today we have gathered at the door of the City Hall of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, with the support of more than 50 leading organisations of the animal movement, both nationally and internationally. We have come together to show our rejection of the opening of the first octopus farm that Nueva Pescanova intends to open here,” said Iris Sánchez Padrón, Canary Islands coordinator of Spanish animal-welfare group the Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals (PACMA), as part of a manifesto that was read out in Spanish and English. 

Those taking part, including Peter, a sky-diving Norwegian living in Gran Canaria for part of the year, and who gave me a lift to the protest, felt their effort would fall on local deaf ears, given the enormous appetite for octopus here, on mainland Spain and in the Balearic islands. And so they aimed to capture international media attention as much of the octopus-farm criticism is coming from abroad. 

Demands: PETA member Peter, from Norway, calls on the Canary Islands government to halt a controversial octopus farm. (Photo: PACMA)

PETA UK is running a petition aimed at Canary Islands fisheries minister Alicia Vanoostende Simili to “Help Stop the World’s First Octopus Farm” and is not far off its 20,000-signature target. 

“Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands is set to open the world’s first intensive octopus farm, which would see hundreds of thousands of these hyper-intelligent beings commercially reared in cramped tanks every year before being slaughtered for food — even though scientists have warned that they would endure intense and prolonged suffering,” says PETA, of whom I’m a member. 

Whether the Belgian-born politician will take any notice, or even do anything to halt the farm’s progress, is anyone’s guess, or the central government of Pedro Sánchez, in Madrid. 

But it takes courage, as well as a bucketload of conviction, to stand up to what you think is wrong, which is exactly what the 50 or so protesters were doing this weekend — hoping to roll back a plan that is morally and ethically wrong as well as fundamentally cruel. 

Taking a Stand: The author, a PETA member, expressing his views on the planned octopus farm in the Canary Islands. (Photo: PACMA)

“We demand that the Spanish government does the right, moral and ethical thing and not allow the Canary Islands or any other place in the country to suffer the dishonour of opening this octopus extermination centre,” the protest hedar from the bilingual manifesto. 

“When injustice comes to light, we have a responsibility to fight it. We demand an immediate halt to the Nueva Pescanova project that will condemn and enslave countless intelligent animals. 

“We demand that the port authority of Las Palmas, the Government of the Canary Islands and the City Council of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria immediately stop this development. 

“It is in the authorities’ hands to prevent this planned atrocity.”

Let’s hope that for the good of the beautiful octopus, they act.

  • Title photograph shows some of the protesters at government buildings on Saturday (including yours truly, at far left, in PETA shirt), and is courtesy of PACMA.

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