‘It seems like we are left behind’
Harvester says recent recordbreaking oil and gas bid puts the fishery to the wayside
It’s a record-breaking year for offshore oil and gas exploration in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the province’s fishery is greeting the news with serious concern.
When Gander-based harvester Heather Starkes heard the news that $1.3 billion was successfully bid for new oil and gas activity, and that two of these bids are within marine refuge areas where fishing is restricted, she says it is a worrying sign for the fishery.
“When you hear these things over the news and announcements like this coming from government, you see the fishery is certainly not at the forefront,” Starkes said. “It seems like we are left behind.”
Starkes has been fishing for over 39 years. She is chair of the shrimp committee and a working member for the turbot committee in the 3K/3L fishing zone. Working in these offshore fisheries, Starkes is disappointed that areas off limit to her industry, in the name of conservation, are open to the oil and gas industry.
“These marine protected areas (MPA) are in place for a reason. If you can’t fish there anymore then why should they be able to go in and blast there for oil?” she said. “To me, there can’t be this double standard. If there’s a rule, policy or law in place, everyone should have to abide by it.”
The bids were awarded to the companies BHP Billiton Petroleum, Equinor, Suncor Energy and Husky Oil. Their work will total over one million hectares of offshore areas, in both the eastern Newfoundland and Jeanne d’arc basin regions.
Recommendations not taken
With the prospect of MPAs and other fishing grounds being impacted by these new oil and gas bids, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) Union also expressed their upset with the recent announcement.
The union was disappointed that recommendations provided to the federal government earlier this year for a standardized approach to these MPAs were not implemented.
In September, the National Advisory Panel on MPA Standards released its report and recommendations to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. The report called for a prohibition on oil and gas exploration and extraction in federal MPAs, and that the federal government adopt international standards for conservation to ensure all industries face the same restrictions on said MPAs.
According to an emailed response from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the government is still assessing the panel’s recommendations, and the recently announced bids were not affected by their report.
“Oil, gas and seismic activity is continuing completely unrestricted in these supposed protected areas,” FFAW president Keith Sullivan said in a press release. “This is understandably frustrating for harvesters who have given up considerable fishing grounds in the name of conservation.”
Ensuring conservation goals continue
Scott Simms, MP for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame Bay, says he understands the concerns being voiced by the FFAW and harvesters in his constituency, and that any oil and gas exploration done in an MPA should first ensure it will not interfere with conservation efforts.
“If a marine protected area is put in place to protect turbot, then any oil and gas exploration in that areas needs to first prove, with a great deal of confidence, they will not affect that goal,” Simms said. “It’s my understanding that there are ways to do oil and gas exploration that will not negatively affect marine protected areas or damage the overall ecosystem. The onus should be on the companies to show that any activity in these areas satisfies the goals of the marine protected area.”
Earlier this month, the offshore rig SeaRose caused the largest oil spill in the province’s history, with 250,000 litres of oil leaking into the ocean.
Simms acknowledged there are always unforeseeable risks and the possibility for accidents like oil spills that can negatively impact the ecosystem, but that this alone should not prevent these oil and gas bids from going ahead.
“Accidents can happen, but we can’t just order all oil and gas exploration out of the question because of that risk,” he said.
In an emailed response from the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), which announced the bids earlier this month, the board stated that protecting environmentally significant and sensitive areas is pivotal to their work. According to the email, in offshore oil activities the CNLOPB issues project-specific environmental assessments, in accordance with the federal and provincial government Atlantic Accord Implementation Acts.
The C-NLOPB also stated they plan to continue working with the DFO, fishing interest groups and other agencies in support of Canada’s marine conservation goals.
While the exact extent of the activity and environmental impact that will result from these exploration bids has yet to be seen, harvesters like Starkes hope sacrifices made by the province’s fishery do not prove futile because of this recordbreaking push for more offshore oil.
“I think our provincial government needs to take a better look at the concerns of fishermen. We need to have a voice,” Starkes said. “The people in the oil and gas industry want a livelihood and it’s the same with the fishery. We want young people interested in the industry, but in order to have that there has to be a fishery there for them.”
In light of the announcement, Starkes hopes more pressure will be put on government to ensure the fishery is of higher concern in any future oil and gas explorations.
Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame Bay MP Scott Simms says any oil and gas exploration planned for a marine protected area ought to first prove with considerable confidence that their work will not affect the conservation goals of a marine protected area.
Gander-based harvester Heather Starkes says the record-breaking announcement for successful oil and gas bids reflects poorly on the government’s concern for the province’s fishery. Starkes is chair of the 3k shrimp committee, and a working member for the area’s turbot committee.