Regulator forced to intervene over seismic fishing concerns

AT LAST year's APPEA Conference the chief executive of the peak body representing Australia's commercial fishing industry called for greater collaboration between the oil and gas and seafood sectors.

Regulator forced to intervene over seismic fishing concerns

 Twelve months on, the two industries couldn't be further apart, with the national regulator forced to step in after a conflict between fishing companies and seismic acquirer CGG couldn't be resolved. 

CGG is currently undertaking a massive offshore 3D seismic campaign stretching some 11,100 square kilometres across the Victorian Bass Strait. 

As part of its work program and environmental permit, it agreed to pay fishing companies compensation if they reported a substantial loss in catches attributed to the seismic campaign.

They lodged compensation claims, which were then questioned. When asked to provide further details on the loss of the catches some fishers refused. 

Accusations have flown both ways. That CGG was not paying legitimate claims, and that fishers were being opportunistic and were not actually entitled to compensation. 

This month the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) was forced to intervene. 

It has ordered CGG to create a new compensation application process to manage compensation claims within 30 days. NOPSEMA also directed CGG to assess every claim "in a reasonable timeframe" consistent with this revised process. 

NOPSEMA noted that CGG had made "relevant concerns" that some fishers were attempting to file illegitimate claims and "not engaging in constructive behaviour." The regulator also found that the current assessment process for compensation was not clear enough. 

But fishing companies are claiming that up to 80% of their catches have been reduced due to CGG's seismic campaign. 

"Failure of either party to operate cooperatively has the potential to damage relationships and erode trust between industries, which increased transparency could assist in addressing," the regulator warned. 

A year ago Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Jane Lovel gave a keynote presentation at Australia's largest oil and gas conference  aimed at providing the oil and gas industry with her perspective from the seafood sector on the future of offshore exploration and production in areas that cross over with commercial fishing. 

"Both fishing and oil and gas are essential services. But how are we coming together to reach a solution without calling ‘Dad' or politicians to step in," Lovell said. 

‘Dad' has now intervened. Whether or not the commercial fishing and oil and gas sector can learn to play nice remains to be seen. 

Regional workshops were held by NOPSEMA in collaboration with SIA last year and the year before in an effort to bring fishers and oilers together.

Of all the attendees of the regional workshops, which included oilers, fishers and policy makers, 100% agreed that there was a problem with discourse and consultation. 

"100% of us agreed that we have a problem with consultation. But 100% of the people there were willing to be part of the solution," Lovell told the APPEA Conference. 

"We need to bring together the relevant people and build relationships. We also need resources to take the actions and achieve outcomes."

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