By William J. Furney
Severe financial problems and unrelenting pressure from animal-welfare groups will most likely see plans for a controversial world-first octopus farm in Spain’s Canary Islands scrapped, according to sources quoted in local media.
Spanish seafood multinational Nueva Pescanova had been hoping to start construction of the farm in the port area of Las Palmas, capital of Gran Canaria, in the middle of this year, but has yet to receive an operating permit from the local authorities.
The company, which is reportedly investing €65 million into the venture after beating rivals to discover how to breed the species octopus vulgaris, or common octopus, in captivity, is also awaiting the outcome of an environmental impact assessment by the European Union on its proposed venture.
It is understood the Canary Islands government decision on issuing a permit will be based on the EU’s findings and results.
But loss-making and previously bankrupt Nueva Pescanova is not likely to go ahead with the octopus farm, according to a report in the Canarias7 news outlet quoting sources close to the company’s management.
In July, Nueva Pescanova, which is mostly owned by Spanish bank Abanca, with a 97.8% stake, reported losses of just over €53 million for the previous financial year and announced around 100 job cuts. Workers at the company’s headquarters, in Vigo, in Galicia in northeastern Spain, and in the Spanish capital, Madrid, are set to lose their jobs.
Canadian firm Cooke Seafood offered Abanca €150 million for a majority 80% stake in Nueva Pescanova in June, along with assuming a debt load of some €500 million, but later revised the amount to just €50 million, after discovering “financial irregularities” while conducting due diligence, Galacian media reported.
Abanca rejected the fresh offer and talks stalled but are reported to soon resume. Both seafood companies are exhibiting at a seafood conference, Conexmar, in Vigo on October 3 and 4.
Meanwhile, animal rights groups in Spain and around the world have been holding protests against the octopus farm plan since details of the farm became public in early 2022. They say research shows the creatures are highly intelligent and should not be factory farmed, also because they are solitary in nature and would suffer if placed in crowded tanks.
Earlier this year, animal-welfare organisation Eurogroup for Animals obtained confidential Nueva Pescanova documents showing that the company plans to produce around 1 million octopuses at the Las Palmas farm annually and slaughter them by plunging the molluscs into ice baths — a method branded “cruel” by conservationists.
Animal rights groups in the Canary Islands and around the world plan to stage an International Save the Octopus Festival on November 4, to protest against the Nueva Pescanova farm plan.
Iris Sánchez, Las Palmas coordinator for Spanish animal and environment party PACMA, called on the Canary Islands government to make the right decision and not issue a permit for the octopus farm.
“We’ve been campaigning strongly against the opening of the first octopus farm for over two years,” she said.
“The animal rights and environmental movement has shown its complete rejection of the opening of this farm, both due to the systematic mistreatment and exploitation the octopuses would endure, as well as the severe environmental impact and even the unfeasibility of the project due to the high mortality rate of octopuses it would entail.
“We are at a critical juncture regarding the opening of this farm, so it’s time to embrace empathy, compassion and, of course, consistency and the political responsibility of the Canary Islands government.”
Octopus is eaten as a tapa in Spain and in sushi and other dishes around the world. The octopus farm would meet robust local and global demand and help protect wild octopus populations, Nueva Pescanova says.
Unlike in Britain, there is currently no European Union legislation protecting “sentient beings” such as octopuses, although political parties like the European Greens are campaigning for the European Parliament to introduce a draft law around the middle of 2024.