Marine wildlife advocates, cultural practitioners urge closing of Kanaloa Octopus Farm in West Hawaiʻi

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Photo Courtesy: Kanaloa Octopus Farm

A coalition of Native Hawaiian and marine wildlife advocates submitted complaints on Tuesday to two state agencies that urge the further investigation of “apparent violations of law” at the Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Kailua-Kona and the ending of its lease at a state-owned facility.

The coalition includes Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Hawaiʻi-based For the Fishes and Moku o Keawe cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi.

The complaints were sent to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaiʻi Authority, which operates the Hawaiʻi Ocean Science & Technology Park where the octopus farm has been located for eight years. 

The coalition said in a press release that the octopus farm is a petting zoo that has likely illegally acquired and possessed dozens of reef dwelling day octopuses for paid tourist interactions.


On Jan. 6, the state Division of Aquatic Resources notified Kanaloa Octopus Farm that capturing octopus for aquarium purposes and possessing undersize day octopus without a permit violate Hawaiʻi’s laws protecting aquatic life. The state issued a cease and desist letter to the farm.

The Kanaloa Octupus Farm is located at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaiʻi Authority at Keahole Point. Photo: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

The coalition is urging DAR in a 27-page complaint to take further enforcement action against the facility, which closed to the public a few weeks after receiving the letters but have plans to reopen, and to deny the farm an aquaculture facility license.

After the letter was issued, the Natural Energy Laboratory asked the octopus farm to submit a new business plan and reapply for tenancy at its Hawaiʻi Ocean Science & Technology Park.

The coalition is asking the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaiʻi Authority in a 25-page complaint to terminate the octopus farm’s lease, arguing that allowing an extractive petting zoo to operate on state land violates a provision of Hawaiʻi’s Constitution known as the public trust doctrine, which requires agencies to protect the state’s natural resources from unjustifiable harm. 


The coalition further contends that the octopus farm’s activities undermine Native Hawaiian cultural beliefs and practices, which state agencies are constitutionally obligated to protect. Kanaloa is a Hawaiian deity and one of his most important kinolau (physical forms) is the he’e (octopus). 

“Kanaloa and his kinolau have deep spiritual meaning to Native Hawaiians,” Nakachi said in the press release. “Using Kanaloa’s name to commercially exploit the he’e is an affront to the important role these animals play in our traditions, values and practices, such as subsistence fishing: to take only what is needed; and lawai’a pono: knowing how something will be replaced before you take it.”

Noam Weiss, with Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, said: “Octopuses are solitary animals who should not be subjected to handling by looming tourists. These cognitively sophisticated animals have complex needs that can’t be met in captivity and using them as petting zoo props is a recipe for suffering.”

The octopus farm reported earning more than $1.5 million in 2022 by charging tourists $50 or more to handle the octopuses, who are held in barren plastic wash tubs, according to the press release.


The 4,000-square-foot wet lab facility holds approximately 20 day octopuses at any given time, and must continually capture new animals because octopuses only live for about one year.

Jake Conroy, owner of Kanaloa Octopus Farm, was not immediately available for comment via email and a call to the facility “could not be completed as dialed.” But Conroy told Big Island Now in February that he was working with the Division of Aquatic Resources to ensure the octopus farm is in full compliance with state regulations.

“We take seriously our commitment to follow all regulations regarding research and humane treatment of the cephalopods in our care,” he said.

Conroy said the goal of the facility was “to study octopus reproduction to allow the animals to be bred in captivity. I think octopus are beautiful and fascinating creatures. I also love the challenge of figuring out their reproductive cycle so we can breed them in captivity. I believe this technology will be a powerful tool for conservationists.”

Before the octopus farm was shut down, the staff at the outdoor facility also gave tours and allowed visitors to put their hands (only wrist deep) into the tanks to interact with the octopuses. Underwater cameras also were allowed in the tanks, but “if the octopus reaches out to grab your camera, please remove it from their grasp,” stated the rules on the website.

The coalition press release said: “KOF has claimed its goal is to ultimately breed day octopuses for sale to the aquarium pet trade and for their ink and body parts. However, it has never been able to keep the wild-caught species’ offspring alive. With each hatching, tens of thousands of young die, who if left in the wild would have naturally replenished the species’ population.” 

Rene Umberger, founder and executive director of For the Fishes, said: “Octopuses are important inhabitants of Hawaii’s coral reefs. Every octopus taken from her wild natural home so a visitor can literally ‘pay to play’ negatively impacts local communities, the species and our entire fragile reef ecosystem.”

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