Lawmakers consider banning octopus farms in Washington

Washington's lawmakers are making a push to ban an industry before it takes root. That industry is octopus farming, a controversial idea that has gathered interest globally.

Legislators took public testimony on the issue in Olympia Wednesday during a House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources hearing.

Those who support HB 1153, prohibiting octopus farms, say they could cause an environmental disaster. In addition, critics feel it would be inhumane.

Two people Wednesday cited a recent documentary that they say drives their point home. The Netflix documentary, called "My Octopus Teacher", introduced many to the idea that the octopus are intelligent beings that solve problems and experience emotions, like joy and sadness.

However, octopuses are also in demand as a food source, with discussions mounting surrounding the creation of aquaculture farms to raise them for consumption. Many are hoping to stop the practice before it begins.

"Octopuses are highly intelligent, capable of problem-solving, and have the capacity to experience complex emotion," said Amanda Fox with the Animal Rights Initiative.

During testimony in support of HB 1153, Fox cited a London School of Economics report which concluded octopuses were sentient creatures. She says the U.K. already amended its laws to officially recognize their sentience.

"The report emphasized that high-welfare octopus farming is not possible due to the asocial nature of these animals. Intensive farming practices force octopuses into confined spaces, denying them the stimulating environment they are accustomed to in the wild," said Fox.

"Washington should be on the forefront in the U.S. and globally in the protection of sentient octopuses from these dreary and oppressing conditions that await them in the burgeoning farmed octopus industry," said Josh Diamond, also with Animal Rights Initiative.

Currently, few farms exist. An octopus farm that we found located in Hawaii doesn't appear to be producing for consumption. Still, bill sponsors say it's better to be proactive than reactive.

"I think this is a modest step, but I think an important step to show that we are not only looking out for the environment, but for the welfare of animals," said Rep. Strom Peterson.

Rep. Peterson says HB 1153 would also help the state to avoid a disaster similar to the 2017 fish farming spill near the San Juan Islands when a net pen collapsed, releasing around 260,000 non-native salmon into Puget Sound.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Washington won’t renew leases for Puget Sound fish farms

Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 13 Seattle app. Download for Apple iOS or Android. And sign up for BREAKING NEWS emails delivered straight to your inbox.

"The evidence has been shown. The idea around this octopus farming would have very similar effects of some of the salmon net pens that we saw, concentrations of waste, concentrations of antibiotics, concentrations of that kind of pollution, that could have detrimental effect to Puget Sound and to the wild octopus," said Peterson.

Nobody spoke out against the bill Wednesday afternoon. Only those from in-state were asked to testify in person or remotely. Those from out of state were asked to submit written testimony to the committee.