ENR and ENP join research project on the ocean’s “twilight zone”

Published on
September 24, 2019

The Environmental Economics and Natural Resources Group and the Environmental Policy Group of Wageningen University join a research project to investigate whether organisms living deep in the oceans can be exploited in an ecologically and economically sustainable way.

Mesopelagic organisms live at depths between 200 and 1000 m, also referred to as the ocean's "twilight zone". They represent the largest unexploited resource in the world's oceans, with a recent biomass estimate of around 10 billion metric tons. This resource can potentially contribute to meeting increasing demand for food, including marine proteins and lipids.

Nevertheless, our knowledge of the mesopelagic community in terms of biodiversity, the drivers of its biomass, its role in carbon sequestration, and its interactions with the epipelagic community, including commercial fish stocks, has major gaps. The main reason for these knowledge gaps is the lack of methods to observe and sample the relatively small organisms living at depths between 200 and 1000m.

The new EU-H2020 research project MEESO aims to fill in major knowledge gaps on these organisms, their role in and interactions with the full marine ecosystem, and the socio-economic impacts of a commercial mesopelagic fishery. MEESO will determine the potential of sustainably exploiting mesopelagic biomass for products included in the human food chain and assess the long-term sustainability of potential extensive exploitation at an early stage to develop appropriate management measures. The trade-offs between exploitation and changes in ecosystem service values such as biodiversity and carbon sequestration will be assessed, while identifying options for governance.

Within MEESO, Wageningen University will investigate the social and economic impacts of mesopelagic fisheries. What are the costs and benefits of exploiting this resource to fishing companies, processors, consumers, and society at large? What are the social, economic, and ecological risks, and does the potential contribution to human nutrition justify these impacts? How do we include social and ecological factors that are difficult to quantify in an otherwise quantitative evaluation procedure, such as cost-benefit analysis and management strategy evaluation? These questions will be addressed by an interdisciplinary team of economists and anthropologists.

MEESO has 19 partners from 10 European countries. It is coordinated by Institute of Marine Research in Norway. The kickoff meeting will be held in Bilbao, Spain, from 24 to 26 September 2019. The kickoff meeting will be a joint meeting with SUMMER, another EU-H2020 project funded to study the mesopelagic community.