The eight-armed sea animal known as the octopus is becoming a popular food in many parts of the world. But, as more people want to eat them, the population in the wild is decreasing.
Experts blame rising ocean water temperatures and overfishing for their falling numbers.
Octopuses do poorly in warm water. And since they are in great demand, fishermen can make more money by catching them in the wild.
As a result, a small fishing village on the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico is working with one of the country’s universities. The group wants to find out if the sea animals can be farmed successfully.
An octopus farm would help the local economy, which is being hurt because there are not as many octopi as usual. “Octopi” is one word for more than one octopus. “Octopuses” is another plural form of the word.
Carlos Rosas is a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. He is working to start an octopus farm in the fishing village of Sisal.
Recently, Rosas showed reporters the farm. He reached into a large tank and pulled out a baby octopus, about the size of a small ball. The octopus lives in the tank with about 250 others. The project aims to see if the babies can live to be large enough inside the tank to be sold for food.
Scientists and animal welfare activists have long been concerned about growing octopi inside tanks. The animals are believed to be able to think and also to feel happiness and worry.
Now, Rosas and his team think they may be able to keep the octopi healthy until they are large enough to sell.
They have created an octopus food made from fish waste, like heads, that are normally thrown back into the ocean by fishermen.
The food is turned into small balls which are fed to the octopi.
Rosas said the farm gets what it needs for the octopi and the fishermen can make extra money by selling their unused fish parts.
He said the plan is to make the fishing business more “efficient” and raise the number of octopi available for food.
If the project is successful, its timing will be just right. One research company predicts that by 2025, the worldwide demand for octopus will increase by over 60 percent from 2018.
A Spanish company wants to test the octopus food created by the university researchers. If it is successful, Nueva Pescanova will try to open its own octopus farm. Biologists, however, are not sure an octopus farm will be successful, even with the right food.
Sarah McAnulty studies octopi. She said the animals need to have a lot of space. They may even try to eat each other or bite their own arms.
"When you want an animal to be raised for farming, you want a lot of them in a relatively small space, and so you can't really keep them happy together,” McAnulty said.
Even with the risks, Rosas said it is a good time to try to raise octopi on a farm. If the farms are successful, the number of animals in the wild can increase.
But the conservation group Oceana said the Mexican government should work harder to help the wild octopus population. Renata Terrazas is vice president of the Mexican part of Oceana. She said the government should do a better job regulating how much fisherman can catch.
She said it is not a good sign for the environment if a nation is trying to keep the seafood business alive by developing farms. She said the message the effort sends is: “I don't want to do anything with the oceans and I don't care if we are depleting them.”
Rosas said he believes more work needs to be done to make sure octopi raised on farms are healthy. But he added, it is important to think about the fishermen in the village, who are very poor. A successful octopus farm will lift the economy.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based a report by Reuters.
Words in This Story
welfare –n. the state of being happy, healthy, or successful
efficient –adj. able to produce desired results without wasting materials, time, or energy
relatively –adv. when compared to others
conservation – n. the protection of animals, plants, and natural resources
regulate – v. to make rules or laws that control (something)
deplete – v. to use most or all of (something important); to greatly reduce the amount of (something)