A Trailblazing Ban On Octopus Farming Becomes Law In Washington State

Octopus farming has officially been outlawed in Washington state thanks to a first-of-its-kind bill being signed into law.

Washington HB 1153, which prohibits octopus farming in the state, was officially signed into law on March 13, 2024, after receiving the green light from Governor Jay Inslee. The policy will come into action on June 11, 90 days after receiving the governor’s signature.

“Octopus farming hurts our environment and causes suffering for octopuses and it is well past time to prohibit this callous practice,” representative Strom Peterson who sponsored the bill said in a statement.

“Octopuses should be able to shout and swim about the coral that lies beneath the waves. They shouldn’t be confined to pens. There should be no one there to tell them what to do,” Peterson said, referring to The Beatles’ tune “Octopus’s Garden”. 

While there are currently no large-scale octopus farms in the world, several companies and producers are looking to change that. Spanish seafood company, Nueva Pescanova, has set its sights on building an octopus farm in the Canary Islands. It’s currently waiting for final approval, but it would be the first commercial venture to rear and slaughter octopuses on an industrial scale, killing around 1 million animals each year.

This latest law ensures that the practice is preemptively banned in Washington state. Other states, including California and Hawai’i, are also weighing up similar legislation.

   

The environmental impact of octopus aquaculture is a major concern, but much of the debate focuses on whether it is ethical to farm extremely intelligent animals. 

Along with other cephalopods, octopuses are undeniably smart creatures with a unique complex nervous system, capable of advanced problem-solving and learning. It’s even been suggested that they are sentient creatures with individual personalities. 

Many believe their behavior makes them ill-suited to life in captivity and mass-production. Octopuses are typically solitary animals that dwell in dark environments, but mass production of their meat would require thousands of animals to be stored in well-lit tanks. They would likely be slaughtered by being dunked in a tank of ice slurry kept at -3°C (26.6°F), which some research has indicated can cause stress and severe pain in other marine creatures. 

Given this context, animal welfare advocates have celebrated the recent move in Washington state. Aquatic Life Institute (ALI) launched a campaign to ban octopus farming in 2022 and, along with numerous other NGOs, has been continually pushing for legalization to prohibit the practice worldwide. 

“Aquatic Life Institute applauds Governor Inslee’s leadership on this critically important issue of environment and animal welfare. Washington State is laying the path to a more sustainable and humane future,” Sophika Kostyniuk, Managing Director of Aquatic Life Institute, said in a statement to IFLScience.

“In the midst of an ecological crisis, the people of Washington State have passed the world’s first statewide ban on octopus farming. The decision is historic and visionary, and shows that industrial octopus production is not inevitable. We can stop the mass production of octopuses before it begins,” Dr Jennifer Jacquet, a Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Miami, said in another statement

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