California to Consider Octopus Farming Ban

Confining the highly intelligent creatures is inhumane, say animal rights activists backing an Assembly bill.
California to Consider Octopus Farming Ban
The measure would prohibit anyone from raising octopuses for the purpose of human consumption. (Washington State Department of Ecology)
Jill McLaughlin

Animal-rights groups are proposing an octopus farming ban in California, claiming the tentacled creatures have complex mental ability and enrichment needs that can’t be met in large-scale breeding environments.

Organizations sponsoring the legislation say the animals, known for their rounded bodies, bulging eyes, and long tentacles covered in suction cups, can learn new skills, navigate complex mazes, are escape artists, and use tools.

Squidward, the animated octopus from “SpongeBob SquarePants,” might approve of the description, but lawmakers will consider whether the animals should get special protection in the Golden State.

Groups sponsoring the legislation want to stop such farming before it starts in California, saying the practice is harmful.

“Intensively confining these highly intelligent, solitary animals in unnatural farming conditions is inhumane, as there is a high likelihood of stress, aggressive activity, and high mortality among octopuses in these settings,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an American animal law advocacy organization and one of two co-sponsors, said in a statement Feb. 20.

The Social Compassion in Legislation organization, a political animal advocacy group, is also co-sponsoring the bill.

Assemblymember Steve Bennett filed Assembly Bill (AB) 3162, also called the “California Opposes Cruelty to Octopuses (OCTO) Act,” Feb. 15.

“These highly functional creatures have captured our fascination for as long as we have been telling stories,” Mr. Bennett said in a press release Feb. 20. “Outside the U.S., there is a growing trend of recognizing the sentience of this eight-legged cephalopod and the inappropriateness of captive breeding and harvesting it. AB 3162 will prevent needless, systemic harm to these captivating animals.”

The measure would prohibit anyone from engaging in the breeding, cultivation, maintenance, or harvest of any species of octopus for the purpose of human consumption, according to the bill’s text. It would also bar business owners or operators from selling farmed octopus in the state.

“This is a key moment, not only in California but around the country, in the effort to protect octopuses from the scale of suffering that other animals already endure on factory farms,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Senior Legislative Affairs Manager Jennifer Hauge said in a press release.

Although octopus farming hasn’t yet caught on in California, the trend is starting to get some attention in the Canary Islands. Seafood company Nueva Pescanova plans to build an octopus farm along a dock in the Canary Islands, at the Port of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria island, according to NPR.

The company told NPR it wanted to help conserve the species while meeting the world’s rising hunger for octopus, which is part of many food traditions in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and China.

California is home to an unusual “octopus garden” off the central coast about 80 miles south of Monterey. The animals are usually considered solitary creatures. Scientists were surprised when thousands of them were found congregating 10,500 feet underwater, where heat seeps up from the base of an extinct underwater volcano.

Some have theorized the heat helps their eggs hatch faster.

Similar laws are under consideration in Hawaii and Washington state.

In California, octopuses can be captured by recreational fishers except if they are within state marine reserves, parks, and conservation areas, or other special closures, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.
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