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.
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.
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.
Local research on seismic by Morris et al. (2020): An assessment of the potential risks of seismic surveys to affect Snow Crab resources (ESRF Project 2014-01S)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Concerns were expressed by Snow Crab harvesters in the Newfoundland and Labrador region about the potential impacts of seismic oil and gas surveying on catch rates near commercial fishing areas. The impacts of ocean noise are a known societal concern, heightened by significant gaps in ecological understanding of the potential existing and future long-term effects on marine life. This study, funded by the Environmental Studies Research Fund (ESRF), was conducted in collaboration with local stakeholders, with significant participation from the snow crab fishing industry, from the planning stages through to completion. The purpose of this project was to examine effects of seismic exploration on the commercial Snow Crab fishery.
The field experiments were conducted under realistic operational seismic exploration surveying on commercial Snow Crab fishing grounds in offshore areas of Newfoundland and Labrador, and examined effects on Snow Crab catch rates, movement, physiology, and genomic response. The field study was replicated each summer, when both seismic and fishing occurs, over a 4-year period. Sampling was conducted in areas impacted by seismic surveying and other areas that were not impacted by seismic surveying as study controls. Sampling at all locations was conducted before and after seismic surveying for comparison.
This research did not measure consistent statistically significant impacts of seismic oil and gas exploration on commercial Snow Crab. Catch rates were inconsistent, higher in one year and lower in another year for experiments that exposed Snow Crab to extended periods (days-weeks) of seismic exposure (3D surveying), and no difference was detected in catch rate for all short-term (hours-days) exposures (2D surveying) to seismic surveying. The behaviour of Snow Crab exposed to seismic surveying supports the catch rate information; analysis of movement patterns found no significant differences owing to seismic surveying. There was also no evidence of physical damage to internal organs or based on histological examination, which confirmed expectations. Genomic effects of seismic surveying on sound-responsive genes also supported the physiology results, showing inconsistent results from one year to the next and did not show evidence of significant effects. However, environmental variables such as temperature, depth, 6 time of day, and different locations, had measurable effects on catch rates and the movement of snow crab, thus the analysis was sensitive enough to account for sources of natural variability.
The conclusion from this research is that if seismic surveying impacts commercial snow crab, based on factors considered by our experiments, it is within the range of natural variability. Consistency among several independent measurement metrics used in this study, including measure of catch rate, movement, physiology and genomic response, adds considerable weight of-evidence support to this conclusion. It should be noted that the Snow Crab fishery only catches large terminally moulted mature male Snow Crab, and this study did not explore potential impacts on juvenile or female snow crab. Findings from this research can help guide future research and decision making in the short, medium, and long term. Results are being used to provide important and accepted science-based management advice to regulators, interested and affected industries, and the general public.