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Hawaiʻi loves to eat octopus, but maintaining octopus populations may be a challenge

The dark red color and looming posture of this <em>Octopus tetricus </em>likely signals menace to another octopus nearby, say scientists who studied 186 octopus interactions in 52 hours of underwater video.
David Scheel/Current Biology

As an island community, Hawaiʻi’s local diet has historically relied on seafood.

Octopus, locally called tako or heʻe, is a popular source of protein — but if Hawaiʻi wants to continue to enjoy this chewy seafood, it will have to take care of the ocean ecosystem and monitor the octopus population.

Tako (octopus) poke
Scott B. Rosen/Eat Your World
Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons
Tako (octopus) poke

There are currently no octopus fishing regulations in Hawaiʻi.

An alternative to wild-caught seafood is to farm them through aquaculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, half of the world’s fish stocks are farm-raised.

Cheng Sheng Lee, a professor specializing in aquaculture at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, says there needs to be a harmony between wild fishing and aquaculture.

"To meet the seafood demand, you can’t just say 'Let me [have an] abundance of aquaculture,' and then don’t do capture fishing, or vice versa," Lee said.

Aquaculture can also be used to increase a population by raising larval fishes in hatcheries. There is no industry standard method to raise octopuses in captivity. Those in development are not economically viable.

Waikiki Aquarium

Octopuses have a gourmet palate of crabs and lobsters. They also have specific needs and antisocial behaviors that prevent them from being farm-raised.

"You can go to any aquarium in the world, and you will not see two octopuses in the same enclosure. And the reason for that is they are very very aggressive about their territory," said Andrew Rossiter, the director of the Waikīkī Aquarium.

"The second challenge is the hatching of the eggs. The eggs are deposited usually on the ceiling of the cave. The female octopus is underneath and she fans the eggs to make sure they get enough oxygen, et cetera. Then the young hatch and they’re very selective in what they will eat, so there’s huge mortality at this stage in the wild," Rossiter told HPR.

Jacob Conroy owns the Kanaloa Octopus Farm at the Hawaiʻi Ocean Science and Technology Park on the Big Island. Despite its name, Kanaloa Octopus Farm does not breed octopus for food.

Conroy is researching how to complete an octopus’s lifespan in captivity for sustainable aquaculture in the future. He says the technique will take a lifetime of research to develop.

He spoke with HPR’s Savannah Harriman-Pote on The Conversation earlier this month. He explains how octopus farming is not the best business. He doesn't expect to see an octopus farm running for production for decades.

However, he is optimistic about developing a technique to raise octopus in captivity for livestock enhancement. Once a young octopus is ready, they will be released into the wild to enhance the stock.

Conroy currently studies the Hawaiian day octopus — a species similar to the common octopus that is being overfished in the Mediterranean.

He hopes to discover the technology to raise the local octopuses so it can be easily transferred to international octopus species.

Although the octopus population is not currently endangered, overfishing can easily tip the scale. And farmed raised octopuses will not be available in Hawaiʻi any time soon.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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