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BRIEFING NOTE: The FFAW’s role in mitigating impacts of oil and gas activities on the fishing industry

June 19, 2017

Oil and gas activities in Newfoundland and Labrador have surged exponentially over the last decade. As the union representing all inshore fish harvesters in the province, FFAW-Unifor works diligently to mitigate any impacts the oil and gas industry has on the fishing industry. This work results in a huge cost burden on the union, the cost of which is not fully covered by contributions from the oil and gas sector.

Collaborative working relationships between FFAW and the oil and gas industry benefit fish harvesters and mitigate many issues that would otherwise occur. In fact, FFAW has lobbied successfully to prevent seismic operations on fishing grounds during peak fishing activity, sensitive spawning times and during science surveys.

FFAW employs one full-time staff member to liaise with the petroleum industry. Many other staff, elected leadership (volunteers), as well as the president and secretary-treasurer must also devote significant time to dealing with the oil and gas industry.

There are a number of impacts oil and gas activities have on the fishing industry. Loss of access to fishing grounds, an increase in steaming times, gear damage, navigational challenges and safety concerns with increased vessel traffic, iceberg deflection operations, concerns regarding seismic activity on fish species and fishing grounds, and an elevated environmental risk (e.g. oil spills, discharges, etc.) are all being addressed to mitigate impacts.

At the onset of any offshore program, oil and gas companies typically conduct public consultations in the areas adjacent to their planned activities. Particularly if the proposed project has any impact on fishing activity, it is important to identify issues or concerns at or near the beginning of the program to enable an oil and gas company to consider measures to mitigate these issues. Seismic surveys, for example, could be planned during closed fishing seasons as well as outside important spawning times.

FFAW advocates consistently to bring concerns forward on behalf of members regarding potential impacts associated with oil and gas activities. The union participates in consultation processes, responds formally and publically on record to concerns in the environmental assessment process, and represents fish harvesters on committees, organizations and research initiatives related to oil and gas activities. We facilitate education and awareness, cooperation and information exchange between the fishing and petroleum sectors. We also manage the Fisheries Guide Vessel program and Fisheries Liaison Observer program.

The Fisheries Guide Vessel program contracts commercial fishing vessels during offshore oil and gas operations to guide marine vessels (e.g. tow vessels) safely through open water navigating cautiously to avoid encountering or damaging any fishing gear. All enterprise owners who apply to the program are entered in an annual random draw from which the first name is given the opportunity of first refusal. Names are placed in priority sequence based on the order from the random draw. All participants are paid the same flat rate fee per day.

Fisheries Liaison Officers (FLOs) are onboard all oil and gas vessels conducting seismic programs to ensure fishing-industry led monitoring and observer coverage of offshore petroleum programs. FLOs are critical to the open communication process, reporting back to shore on a timely basis, and are deployed during open fishing seasons for rig tows outside of the exclusion/safety zone of offshore operators. FFAW is responsible for training FLOs, and for providing workers compensation and marine liability insurance for both FLOs and guide vessels.

The potential impacts of seismic activity on valuable fish resources and fishing activities continue to be very concerning to the FFAW. For decades, we have spoken out against potential impacts seismic activity has on both the marine environment and on fishing activities. FFAW has lobbied for research to be undertaken on the effects of seismic on fish species and their habitat. The union has been successful in this regard, and members have been working with DFO to examine effects of seismic on species such as snow crab and northern shrimp.

To suggest that the FFAW has a conflict of interest with the oil and gas industry shows ignorance to the necessary interaction that exists between the fishing industry and oil and gas activities. These two industries are both essential to the economy of our province, and as the Union representing fish harvesters in the province, we will continue to do everything possible to best mitigate any effects from the oil and gas industry on the fishing industry and fight to keep the concerns of our membership heard.