Last update: 13-Dec-2013 3:20 am
Friday, December 13, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Fisherfolk on seismic surveys: Ministry, Petrotrin hoodwinking country
T&T’s fish stocks cannot survive the seismic surveys being undertaken by Petrotrin and other foreign oil companies, according to the president of Cocorite Fishing Facility and Fish Market Association. In a letter to the T&T Guardian, Dianne Christian-Simmons also accused Petrotrin, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Ministry of Energy of “hoodwinking” and “misleading” the people of T&T with “half truths” about the marine surveys. The surveys are the method by which energy companies, like Petrotrin, search for oil and natural gas reserves beneath the seabed. In the past 13 years, Christian-Simmons says, 56 seismic surveys have taken place in the waters around T&T. Each survey can take between one and six months, sometimes longer. In a statement by Petrotrin last week in full-page advertisements, the state-owned oil company defended its method of surveying, saying: “During the survey no explosives will be used but a discharge of compressed air (will be used) to generate pulses for recording.” It suggested that method, which involved airguns firing blasts of compressed air towards the ocean floor, could actually increase fishermen’s yields. “In some instances,” it says, “the fish in the immediate vicinity of the emitting device move to lower depths resulting in an increased fish catch thereafter.”
Christian-Simmons, an active fisher for more than 20 years, described those claims as “absurdity” and “nonsense.” Citing research papers compiled by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, Gary Aboud’s action group, which include studies carried out around the world by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (UNFAO), she said that evidence from Norway, Canada, Australia and the UK showed far-reaching and long-lasting effects on fish in areas where seismic surveying was in operation. “What they (Petrotrin) have not said,” Christian-Simmons says in her letter, “is that the noise level generated from the air guns used to fire off the compressed air exceeds 250 decibels.” She compared that to the decibel level of a jackhammer (120 db). A jet taking off has a decibel level of 150.
Noise travels further underwater, she said, and studies by the UNFAO showed that fish were shown to “scamper for more than 50km” to escape the blasts. The supposed “increased catch” referred to by Petrotrin, she said, was the result of fish fleeing the scene and being caught in nets in their droves. The long-term outcome, however, she said, was that the fish did not return to their familiar breeding ground. Meanwhile, fish eggs and larvae could not escape the blasts and were killed, she said. Last week the fishing community protested the irreparable damage they feel is being done to their livelihoods. Petrotrin and other companies have paid out compensation but not for the depletion of fish stocks. The compensation is for the amount of time fishers are prevented from fishing in the waters where surveys are begin carried out. On Friday, the T&T Guardian reported that $77.3 million in compensation had been paid to the fishing community between 2010 and 2013 by five oil companies.
Not all fisherfolk compensated
The first compensation was apparently paid in 2011 by Centrica Energy and Niko Resources who carried out a joint venture on the north coast. The compensation was seen by the community as not only too little (far less, they say, than the $8,545 a month stipulated by the Ministry of Energy) but was also paid only to those who have historically fished on the north coast. This, Christian-Simmons feels, is not acceptable. Fishers from the west coast, for example Port-of-Spain and Carenage, whose fisheries have been depleted over the past decade, have moved north to catch their hauls but were not included in the compensation payout. However, the fishing action groups have given examples, such as Cocorite fishermen being paid just $3,600 each for the duration of one survey which lasted five months, far below what the government recommends. There is currently no external scientific body or agricultural organisation carrying out research into the depletion of fish stocks in the Caribbean or the impact of seismic surveys in T&T’s waters.
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