Proposal for big seismic survey in Bass Strait knocked back

THE proposal for a massive seismic survey in Bass Strait, which was causing significant concern to the offshore fishing fleet, has been refused by the federal approval agency.

French company CGG wanted to conduct a marine seismic survey in fishing grounds from which most of the finfish sold through the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets are caught.

The area proposed for survey is eight times larger than Port Phillip Bay.

In its decision notification, the National Offshore Petroleum and Environmental Management Authority stated it was “not reasonably satisfied” that the environment plan met the criteria set out in its environment regulations relating to it being appropriate for the nature and scale of the activity, demonstrating environmental impacts and risks of the activity would be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable, and carrying out the required consultations.

Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull welcomed the news, having spoken on this issue in state parliament and made representations to NOPSEMA.

“In line with the concerns I raised, NOPSEMA ruled it was ‘not reasonably satisfied’ with the proposal,” Mr Bull said.

Mr Bull said CGG may resubmit a new proposal, but hoped it had got the message it needed to consult better.

“The initial proposal was the equivalent to eight times the size of Port Phillip Bay, at around 17,000 square kilometres — the largest to be undertaken in Australia,” he said.

“Under this proposal, the industry was being asked to leave fishing grounds for five months and then accept lowered catch rates for a year or more following the survey.

“Some fisheries such as the Danish seine fishery would have had all their grounds affected.”

South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association executive officer Simon Boag said while the fishing industry enjoyed the oil and gas industry’s petroleum products, the size of this survey, its intensity and duration meant many fishermen were unable to move out of the way and their businesses would be at risk of failure.

“The magnitude of the survey would have impacted fish supply and prices into Melbourne and Sydney,” he said.

“CGG engaged SETFIA to calculate the catch and revenue taken from the fishing grounds proposed to be surveyed.

“It was disappointing that CGG then refused to make this impact public.

“It became clear to us that CGG was not listening and had no genuine intention of modifying their plans.

“They would not engage in discussions about taking the survey smaller or about compensating the fishing industry if fishing vessels could not work or experienced lowered catches following the survey.”