US lawmakers call for a moratorium on deep-seabed mining

A tuna swimming in deep blue water.

U.S lawmakers want to temporarily ban deep-seabed mining until a full assessment of its environmental impact is completed and a new regulatory regime is established to protect ocean resources.

Last week, U.S. Representative Ed Case (D-Hawaii) introduced two bills – one creating a moratorium on seabed mining in American waters, and one calling for an international moratorium.

“Our deep oceans and seabed are the last unexplored regions of our world, yet what we do know of them is that they are among our most intricate and fragile,” Case said in a statement. “All of these species and natural processes, and in fact our entire marine ecosystem, are now imperiled by the imminent commencement of large-scale commercial seabed mining operations. Seabed mining could take a number of destructive forms, including methods which would shear off seamounts on the ocean floor, the functional equivalent of strip mining.”

The American Seabed Protection Act, which was introduced 11 July and referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, would enact a moratorium on deep-sea mining and prohibit those activities by American companies in international weathers. The legislation would require NOAA and the National Academies of Science to conduct an assessment on the impact of mining on ocean life.

The second bill, the International Seabed Protection Act, would require the U.S. to oppose international seabed mining until the International Seabed Authority has created a regulatory framework that adequately protects ocean ecosystems.

The International Seabed Authority, an international regulatory body overseeing mineral activities on the high seas, is currently meeting in Jamaica to consider regulations that could enable international seabed mining.

“While deep sea mining holds potential to provide minerals for batteries and other renewable energy technology, we cannot blindly exploit the ocean floor,” U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) said. “Our transition to renewable energy must be just and safe.”

Grijalva is one of the cosponsors of the legislation, along with Jared Huffman (D-California), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), Barbara Lee (D-California), and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).

The legislation coincides with a joint statement from several sustainable seafood advocacy groups, including the Global Tuna Alliance, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, and the Sustainable Seafood Coalition, calling for a moratorium.

“Deep-sea mining, a rapidly emerging and potentially extensive industry involving the extraction of mineral resources from the deep seabed, poses a threat to the ocean and its inhabiting life,” the groups said in a joint statement supporting the bills. “While the extent of deep-sea mining impacts is yet to be determined, it will certainly lead to significant habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, with many potential impacts on fisheries and seafood supply.”

The U.S. states of California, Oregon, and Washington have already banned deep-sea mining in state waters, with Hawaii’s legislature considering a similar ban.

More than a dozen other countries have called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining in international waters, including Canada, who released a statement last week confirming the nation’s opposition.

“In the absence of both a comprehensive understanding of seabed mining’s environmental impacts and a robust regulatory regime, Canada supports a moratorium on commercial seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction and will not support the provisional approval of a plan of work,” the Canadian government said in a statement. ““The Government of Canada has been clear: seabed mining should take place only if effective protection of the marine environment is provided through a rigorous regulatory structure, applying precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches, using science-based and transparent management, and ensuring effective compliance with a robust inspection mechanism.”

In 2021, approximately 500 scientists signed a letter recommending a moratorium on ocean mining, saying that it could affect species like tuna.

Last week, science journal Nature Ocean Sustainability published research claiming deep-sea likely poses a threat to bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tuna populations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The study found that climate change is pushing migratory tuna into areas designated for deep-sea mining, where discharge plumes, noise pollution, and elevated levels of toxic metals pose a threat to the fish.

"This work shows the need to consider the effects of mining on fisheries and consider mining regulations not just for the current environmental conditions, but also for future climate projections," South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute Researcher Jesse van der Grient, one of the study’s co-authors, said.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / J nel


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