Scientists in Japan say they have developed a revolutionary method of farming squid that could solve staple seafood shortages, amid warnings from environmental groups that aquaculture is incompatible with animal welfare.
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) say their system has produced a reliable supply of squid and has the potential to be commercialized.
Squid is widely eaten in Japan, where it forms an essential part of the diet and is often eaten raw in the form of sushi or sashimi. But stocks in the country’s waters have been declining for decades.
The annual squid catch in Japan peaked in 1989 at 733,594 tonnes; in 2018, it had dropped to 83,593 tonnes. To fill the void, the country now imports huge quantities of processed squid from South America.
The smaller catches in Japan were blamed on rising sea temperatures caused by global warming – which inhibits the ability of creatures to spawn and grow – as well as inadequate regulation and overfishing.
Scientists have spent decades trying to farm squid – a method long considered particularly difficult due to the animal’s behavior – but have had little success, according to OIST. The creatures are known to be aggressive and sensitive to water flow and have particular food preferences and a complex life cycle.
But OIST experts say they have made a breakthrough, having developed an inexpensive and effective method, which results in high hatching and survival rates in oval squid.
“By keeping a single squid line for 10 generations under very restricted laboratory conditions, we have demonstrated that squid aquaculture can work safely,” said Zdeněk Lajbner, an OIST researcher leading the project. . “I believe it is our duty to offer such valuable technology for commercial applications.”
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While wild squid catches can be unpredictable, the institute’s aquaculture technology has the potential to produce live squid “reliably and predictably,” and at an affordable cost, Lajbner said.
Animal rights activists, however, say the farming of carnivorous species, such as squid, is unsustainable because other marine species would have to be extracted from already strained fisheries using inhumane fishing practices.
“Animal welfare is not a consideration for any aquaculture system in Japan – not just squid,” said Chihiro Okada of Animal Rights Center Japan. “As agricultural systems develop, animal suffering also increases. Sustainability will not be achieved simply by seeking to harvest more and eat more.
Okada said there is no sustainable cephalopod farming.
“Farming carnivorous species such as octopus and squid requires fish or other seafood, and farming squid will put pressure on other animal species,” said Okada, who has called for an immediate halt to the project and the replacement of aquaculture with sustainable fishing. and promoting a plant-based version of the animal.
“Intensive farming of many animals in one place, even at sea, can be a source of water pollution, parasites and infectious diseases,” she said. “Furthermore, cephalopods are sentient beings, and confining these animals to small farms will inevitably lead to animal welfare issues.”
Similar concerns have surfaced regarding the farming of other marine species. Critics warned in March that the world’s first commercial octopus farm, due to open in the Canary Islands next year, would cause “great suffering” to the animals, which UK recognized as sentient beings last year.
In October, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, which oversees a global certification scheme for farmed fish, announced plans to introduce new welfare rules after agreeing that fish may feel “pain, stress and anxiety.”
The OIST team insists their project, which they say has garnered commercial interest, will reduce pressure on local and global squid stocks and continue to provide healthy and sustainable seafood to consumers. Japanese.
Lajbner also dismissed concerns expressed recently by the Aquatic Life Institute and dozens more animal wellbeing groups that farming squid and other carnivorous animals would require using marine species from strained and inhumane fisheries fishing practices.
“Carnivorous species in the wild don’t need to be carnivorous in captivity,” Lajbner said.
“For example, I know vegan cats and dogs that are healthy, happy animals. You can now find a strong trend of replacing fish-based protein with plant-based protein in aquaculture feeds, and this trend is likely to continue.