You probably had tuna sometime last month. Perhaps, you never gave it a second thought because it tasted great and is normally in stock at your favourite supermarket. Have you ever considered the day it might not be available? The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) reports that numerous tuna stocks are currently overfished. This means that adult fish are being killed more quickly than they can reproduce and repopulate their species. If we take this into perspective, tuna stocks may experience a decline in supply and an increase in cost over the next few years.
Fish have nearly always been seen as a source of beauty and have been considered culturally significant since the beginning of time. They can be seen in cave paintings or are maintained as ornamental fish in ponds. For some indigenous societies, like the Plateau Indians, fisheries play a part in ceremonial customs, strengthening relationships between families and individuals and representing their symbolic connections to the environment. Aside from that, fish retain a significant part of an ecosystem’s nutrients in their tissues, transport nutrients farther than other aquatic species, and excrete nutrients in dissolved forms that are easily accessible to primary producers, fish play a significant role in nutrient cycles (European Commission, 2007).
With the global human population continually increasing, seafood, a crucial source of nutrient-dense protein consumed globally, will face constraints on its availability and accessibility. Fish make up 17% of all animal protein consumed globally; in the world’s least developed and poorest nations, this percentage is considerably higher at 26%.
Many countries across the globe, particularly small island developing states, are heavily reliant on the ocean as a source of income and livelihood. It is estimated that globally, 200 million jobs are directly or indirectly related to the marine and fisheries sector, which employs up to 60 million people in fisheries and aquaculture (Kituyi, 2018). According to a study published in 2006, most seafood may vanish by 2048 if collective action is not taken, which is not only bad news for the ocean but for human livelihood. While first published 16 years ago, a recent report reaffirms this apocalyptic scenario as we are now facing threats of further damage to our marine environment with deep-sea mining high on the agenda.
How will Deep-Sea Mining affect our Fish Stocks?
Mining of this delicate and vitally essential ecosystem might start as early as October 2022, as interest in the deep sea’s polymetallic nodules, sulfide deposits, and ferromanganese crusts grow. Despite the paucity of literature and research on the effects of DSM on fisheries, the available data suggests that certain risks to fisheries and marine ecosystems already exist. For example:
- The devices used in DSM would kill almost all organisms and microbes in their path, whilst creating underwater dust storms that produce sediment plumes that are four to five times the size of the mined area. These plumes would have an impact on both deep-sea creatures as well as other shallow-water fisheries because discharge plumes from surface ships can extend thousands of kilometers (Rodriguez-Moodie, 2022).
- Seafood contamination is also another potential threat to DSM. Debris from mining and its related activities can either be directly or indirectly consumed by fish, which if harvested, will eventually make its way into our food systems. This could result in new foodborne illnesses.
- The projected ocean mining sites’ placement means that the unfavourable effects of ocean mining would only exacerbate inequality. The amount of fishing done by different nations [in these locations] varies. It could have different outcomes in other nations.
Should you be worried about DSM?
With reference to the German researchers conducting test mining in the relevant East Pacific in 1989, simulating mining-related disturbances their results showed that no life recovered even after 26 years which screams deep-sea mining should not be undertaken (Vonnahme, T.R. et al, 2020). While it might be hard to care or be interested presently, especially where deep-sea mining is not taking place in your particular marine environment, we are all connected and the potential externalities should not be ignored.
Take a moment to think about how terrifying it would be to lose not only your favourite tuna or salmon dish but also almost lose our deep blue oceans and their recreational and cultural value. The possibilities for wide-scale impact are very real in deep-sea mining. There is a whole lot at stake. We must abandon processes that could harm the health of our planet, especially as we are still coming to grips with climate change catastrophes. For these reasons, some nations are calling for a ban on or delay in deep-seabed mining as the available evidence suggests that such an activity is not worth the danger (Rodriguez-Moodie, 2022).