A seismic vessel in action. Image: CGG

Gippsland East MP Tim Bull

The proposed survey area

The news that NOPSEMA, the Australian Government’s oil and gas industry regulator, has not approved CGG’s application to conduct a marine seismic survey in eastern Bass Strait has welcomed by the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA).

CGG wanted to conduct a marine seismic survey in fishing grounds from which most of the finfish sold through the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets are caught. CGG would then try to sell the survey data to the highest bidder.

According to SERFIA, marine seismic surveys are proven to negatively affect scallops, rock lobsters and plankton in south-east Australia.

‘The fishing industry wants to be a good neighbour and enjoys the oil and gas industry’s petroleum products,’ said

SETFIA’s executive officer Simon Boag.

‘However, the size of this survey, its intensity and duration meant that many fishermen were unable to move out of the way and their businesses would be at risk of failure,’ he said, commenting that the magnitude of the survey would have disrupted fish supply into Melbourne and Sydney.

‘CGG engaged SETFIA to calculate the catch and revenue taken from the fishing grounds proposed to be surveyed. It was disappointing that CGG then refused to make this impact public. It became clear to us that CGG was not listening and had no genuine intention of modifying their plans. They would not engage in discussions about making the survey smaller or about compensating the fishing industry if fishing vessels could not work or experienced lowered catches following the survey.’

The south-east Australian fishing industry worked together to raise their concerns. The Sustainable Shark Industry Alliance (representing Commonwealth shark fisherman in the gillnet hook and trap fishery), EastRock (Victorian eastern zone rock lobster fishery) and the Small Pelagic Fishing Industry Association (Commonwealth small pelagic fishery) joined together and wrote to NOPSEMA.

This group has membership that owns more than 50,000 tonnes of quota and operates more than 50 fishing vessels.

Better consultation

Gippsland East MP Tim Bull, who approached NOPSEMA and highlighted the hazards of this survey in the Victorian parliament, also welcomed the news, having spoken on this issue in State Parliament and made representations to the Commonwealth regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

‘In line with the concerns I raised, NOPSEMA ruled it was ‘not reasonably satisfied’ with the proposal,’ he said.

‘The initial proposal was around 17,000 square kilometres - the largest to be undertaken in Australia. Under this proposal, the industry was being asked to leave fishing grounds for five months and then accept lowered catch rates for a year or more following the survey. Some fisheries such as the Danish seine fishery would have had all their grounds affected,’ Tim Bull said and added that CGG may resubmit a new proposal, but he hoped it had got the message that better consultation is vital.

‘This area is the fishing grounds for the main supply of fish for the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets and we thank Tim for taking a leading role in this,’ Simon Boag said.

Source: SETFIA