The consumption of aquatic foods grew from an average of 9.9 kg per person in the 1960s to 20.5 kg in 2019, FAO.
“Eating animals is unnecessary and cruel. It creates a huge industry which is detrimental to the environment and people’s health,” William Furney, Founder of United Earth Life.
Octopuses inspire a unique fascination in humankind. As children, we become captivated by those 8 arms filled with suckers. There seems to be something mystical in these wonderful creatures that have the ability to camouflage in color and shape, who can squeeze through tiny spaces and have blue blood. There are over 300 species of octopuses, according to National Geographic, and they are extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, they are seen – by some – as a mere ingredient for a meal. But not for William Furney, who is working to save the octopuses in Gran Canaria, Spain.
William is an Irish journalist and animal rights activist. He studied journalism at Palmerston College in Dublin. After graduating, he lived in Indonesia for 14 years, where he was an international correspondent for the Spanish news agency EFE and started his own newspaper, The Bali Times.
A Witness to Animal Cruelty in Farms
William grew up on a farm in Durrow, in County Laois, Ireland. From a very young age, he witnessed how animals suffered, becoming a mere product for the food industry.
“When I was in Ireland, sometimes we went to slaughterhouses with our cattle. Seeing that was like a vision of hell,” remembers William. “I was about 10 years old and that made an indelible mark on me. You have these cattle stripped of their skin and they use giant chainsaws to cut their body and put on an assembly line their heart, liver, and every part of the body.”
William became a vegetarian at age 12 and 10 years ago he switched to veganism. His motivation: respect for animal rights and lives.
“You might have favorite animals like dogs, cats, or monkeys. And you might think they are intelligent, but they all are, all animals, are sentient beings. They all have the ability to feel pain,” says the journalist.
Advocating For Octopuses in Gran Canaria, Spain
William decided to return to Europe after living abroad for 14 years and he is still working in journalism as well as in his other passions: animal rights, veganism, and health and fitness. He is a PETA member and collaborates with several animal organizations, including the Spanish animal and environmental party PACMA, We The Free, Animal Save, AnimaNaturalis, and others.
He – as well as many other activists – is fighting to stop the opening of the first commercial octopus farm which could be established in Gran Canaria, Spain. According to an article by the BBC, the company Nueva Pescanova plans to raise and kill around 1 million octopuses a year.
As a PETA member, William represented the group at the first protest in Las Palmas, in the Spanish Canary Islands, against the establishment of the world’s first commercial octopus farm in February 2022. Since then, he has held many local and international protests against the opening of the farm.
“In countries like Japan and Spain, there is a lot of demand for octopus for traditional dishes. This would be a whole new industry of cruelty that is completely unnecessary. We don’t need to expand the meat industry to include octopus,” says William. “The unique thing about this case is that octopuses have been incredibly hard to breed in captivity. But Nueva Pascanova discovered a way to breed them. It’s a scientific breakthrough and if they are able to do it, other companies will do it too.”
Octopuses Are Wonderful Creatures
According to National Geographic, octopuses are highly intelligent animals. They have developed complex strategies to escape their predators, releasing black ink to distract them and they can grow new extremities if they lose one during an escape.
Unfortunately, the consumption of aquatic food has increased by 500% over the last 60 years, at a rate of 3% since 1961, reaching 158 million tons in 2019 – while in 1961 it was 28 million tons worldwide – according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. This consumption excludes algae and it is measured in live weight.
The organization attributes the increase in aquatic food consumption to a change in consumer preferences, income growth, and technological advances. This consumption is strongly linked to cultural facts because, in 2019, only 5 countries consumed 59% of the entire world’s aquatic food production. Those countries are China, Indonesia, India, the United States and Japan. In fact, China alone consumed 36% of the world’s aquatic food in 2019.
International Save the Octopuses Festival
In 2023, William Furney founded a Spanish-based organization called United Earth Life, whose mission is to “create a world where all animals are treated with dignity and respect – not abused nor eaten by humans”, as it says on his website.
Through his organization and others, William organized a festival to stop the octopus farm from becoming a reality.
“Right now, Nueva Pescanova doesn’t have a permit from the government to operate the octopus farm. They are waiting for the European Union to give a decision on its environmental impact assessment,” says William. “So far there is no official permit for the farm and we decided to have a big international event to raise this issue globally even more. That is why we held the International Save the Octopus Festival in Las Palmas in November.”
William raised money through a GoFundMe page as well as reaching out to animal rights and vegan organizations. It was then that he got in touch with The Pollination Project to help pay for the rent of the tents as well as the furniture needed for the festival.
“Someone referred me to TPP,” remembers William. “So I filled out the application and when the email that we got the grant came along we were delighted, thrilled. We thank you very much for your incredible support in our work.”
The event was held on November 4th at a plaza in the city of Las Palmas, where the octopus farm is being planned.
“The festival was really successful. Around 500 people turned up. We had live music – a rock concert. We also invited people to come and speak live at the event. It was fantastic. We had local and national media coverage;” said William.
William and other animal advocates are also working with the Green Party in Brussels at the European Union to introduce legislation to ban octopus farming.
“What worries me the most is people’s arrogance and lack of compassion towards their fellow people and also animals. This is what results in suffering and war, as well as environmental destruction and people’s ill health. What makes me hopeful is that it’s changing, and it starts with what we put on our plates. By following a plant-based diet, everyone, including animals and the planet, wins,” says William.
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