Japan makes big progress in squid cultivation as wild catch drops | Japan

Scientists in Japan said they have developed a groundbreaking method of squid farming that could solve a shortage of staple seafood, amid warnings from environmental groups that aquaculture is incompatible with animal welfare.

Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) say their system has produced a reliable and marketable source of squid.

Squid is widely consumed in Japan, where it is an essential part of the diet and is often eaten raw as sushi or sashimi. But stocks in the country’s waters have been declining for decades.

Annual squid catch in Japan peaked in 1989 at 733,594 tons. By 2018, it had decreased to 83,593 tons. To fill the gap, the country now imports huge quantities of processed squid from South America.

The smaller catches in Japan are attributed to rising sea temperatures caused by global warming – which limits the creatures’ ability to reproduce and thrive – as well as inadequate regulation and overfishing.

Scientists have spent decades trying to grow squid — a method long considered particularly challenging due to the animal’s behavior — but with little success, according to OIST. These organisms are known to be aggressive, sensitive to water flow, and have certain food preferences and a complex life cycle.

Squid skewers are for sale in Tokushima. Cephalopods are widely consumed in Japan. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

But the experts at OIST claim they have made headway, having mastered a cheap and effective method, which has led to higher hatching and survival rates among oval squid.

“By maintaining a single squid strain for 10 generations in highly restrictive laboratory conditions, we have demonstrated that squid aquaculture can operate safely,” said Zdeněk Lajbner, the OIST researcher who is leading the project. “I believe it is our duty to provide such valuable technology for commercial applications.”

While wild squid catches can be unexpected, the Institute’s aquaculture technology has the potential to “reliably and predictably” produce live squid, at an affordable cost.

However, animal advocates say the farming of carnivorous species, such as squid, is unsustainable because it requires extracting other marine species from already strained fisheries using inhumane fishing practices.

“Animal welfare is not a consideration for any aquaculture system in Japan – not just for squid,” said Chihiro Okada of the Center for Animal Rights of Japan. “As farming systems expand, so does animal suffering. Sustainability will not be achieved by simply striving to reap more and eat more.”

There is no such thing as sustainable cephalopod farming, Okada said.

said Okada, who has called for an immediate halt to the project, replacing aquaculture with sustainable fishing and promoting a vegan version of the animal.

“Intensive husbandry of many animals in one place, even in the sea, can be a source of water pollution, parasites and infectious diseases,” she said. “In addition, cephalopods are sentient beings, and confining such animals to small farms will inevitably lead to problems with animal welfare.”

Similar concerns have emerged about the cultivation of other marine species. Critics warned in March that the world’s first commercial octopus farm, set to open in the Canary Islands next year, would cause “great suffering” to animals, which the 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 rules of care after accepting that fish can feel “pain, stress and anxiety”.

The team at OIST insists that their project, which they say has attracted commercial interest, will reduce pressure on local and global squid stocks and continue to provide healthy, sustainable seafood to Japanese consumers.

Lagbner also dismissed concerns recently expressed by the Aquatic Life Institute and dozens of other animal welfare groups that raising squid and other carnivores requires the use of marine species obtained from strained fisheries, and inhumane fishing practices.

“Carnivores in the wild do not need to be carnivores in captivity,” Lagbner said. “For example, I know vegetarian cats and dogs that are healthy and happy animals. You can now find a strong trend in replacing fish-based protein with plant-based protein in aquaculture feed, and that trend is likely to continue.”

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