The Impact of Fish and the Commercial Marine Harvest on the Ocean Iron Cycle

Allison R Moreno, Arlene L. M Haffa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although iron is the fourth most abundant element in the Earth's crust, bioavailable iron limits marine primary production in about one third of the ocean. This lack of iron availability has implications in climate change because the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by phytoplankton requires iron. Using literature values for global fish biomass estimates, and elemental composition data we estimate that fish biota store between 0.7-7x10 11 g of iron. Additionally, the global fish population recycles through excretion between 0.4-1.5x10 12 g of iron per year, which is of a similar magnitude as major recognized sources of iron (e.g. dust, sediments, ice sheet melting). In terms of biological impact this iron could be superior to dust inputs due to the distributed deposition and to the greater solubility of fecal pellets compared to inorganic minerals. To estimate a loss term due to anthropogenic activity the total commercial catch for 1950 to 2010 was obtained from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Marine catch data were separated by taxa. High and low end values for elemental composition were obtained for each taxonomic category from the literature and used to calculate iron per mass of total harvest over time. The marine commercial catch is estimated to have removed 1-6x10 9 g of iron in 1950, the lowest values on record. There is an annual increase to 0.7-3x10 10 g in 1996, which declines to 0.6-2x10 10 g in 2010. While small compared to the total iron terms in the cycle, these could have compounding effects on distribution and concentration patterns globally over time. These storage, recycling, and export terms of biotic iron are not currently included in ocean iron mass balance calculations. These data suggest that fish and anthropogenic activity should be included in global oceanic iron cycles.

Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Sep 24 2014


  • fish
  • ocean iron cycle
  • commercial marine harvest

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