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Seismic surveys cause fish shortage

Published: 
Sunday, March 20, 2011

Almost a decade ago the fishermen in Tobago detected a distinct and significant drop in their catch rates during and long after marine seismic surveys were conducted. Since then fishermen on all coasts of our nation in which such seismic surveys were conducted have experienced a similar immediate and long term drop in catch rates as being experienced by our Tobago fishermen. Seismic surveys involve specialised vessels towing an array of air guns and hydrophone streamers while steaming slowly along a series of predefined lines. The air guns would create extremely loud sounds (loud enough to kill marine animals within a few metres of the source), while the hydrophones detected echoes of structures in the bedrock far below has shown that the acoustic environment is a vital aspect of marine ecosystems since fish “see” through their sonar ability. In reality, the limitations imposed on their vision by relatively opaque (murky) water, many marine animals use sound, including infra (short wave) and ultra (long wave) sound to sense their environment, and sometimes to communicate with one another. 

Marine creatures live in a sonic world to a degree, in other words fish “see” through sound.In 2003, through the offices of the Food and Agricultural Organisation(FAO) of the United Nations, FFOS become informed of scientific studies done to determine the impact of seismic surveys on demersal (bottom dwelling) and pelargic (surface dwelling) commercial species. These technical studies done in Canada, USA, Norway, and the North Sea to name a few, all show a drastic(30-80 per cent) reduction in the average abundance of catch rates during and after seismic surveys and some studies advise precaution and prohibition of seismic surveys in spawning areas, at spawning times and along migratory paths. Any seasoned fisherman will confirm that seismic surveys cause significant and unacceptable impacts on catch rates.

Knowing this, the oil and gas companies have resorted to paying what seems like generous compensation to fishermen for loss of catch “during” the surveys, without any regard to the fact that the impact is felt for an unknown and long time after. Our renewable wild fish resource is being decimated for a few pennies in compensation. In Trinidad and Tobago, our Environment Management Authority(EMA) not recognised that Seismic surveys require the special sensitive consideration of Environment Impact Assessments (EIA’s) of the Certificate of Environment Clearance Rules(CEC Rules). Although FFOS support the careful and diligent monitisation of our gas and oil minerals, we do not support development which is not sustainable or mindful of other stake-holders in the renewable natural capital inventories (of fish).

FFOS appeal to our Honourable Government and in particular to our Hon Ministers of Environment, and Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, to amend the CEC Rules, Designated Activities Order to include seismic surveys. Until this is done, no seismic survey should be granted any approval for any coast of Trinidad and Tobago, such as the application now before the Government for surveys off the North Coast. Unless our Government act in haste, we the people will be left to repent at leisure with continued scarcities, inflation and the pauperisation of our traditional coastal communities.

Gary Aboud
Via e-mail

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