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DFO seismic study scrapped in two of last three years, with question mark around 2023

A Fisheries and Oceans study of the potential risks of seismic surveys on groundfish stocks like cod and turbot was scrapped in 2020 due to Covid, and while the program went ahead in 2021, the at-sea work was cancelled again this year due to a lack of offshore seismic surveys, with a question mark around 2023.

This May 2019 picture shows two seismic ships anchored in Bay Bulls harbour. (The ships were reportedly too wide to enter The Narrows, the entrance to St. John's.) Seismic ships toe airguns behind them that shoot loud blasts of compressed air miles into the seabed, which reflect back information about buried oil and gas deposits.

A DFO official gave an overview of the seismic study during a recent meeting of the department's advisory committee for groundfish (excluding cod) off Labrador and eastern Newfoundland (fishing zones 2+3KLMNO).

DFO science worked with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to regulate seismic surveying to allow for science experiments, and with DFO fisheries management to coordinate with commercial fishing (turbot in June and July) to allow seismic during science experiments.

Only there hasn't been much offshore seismic work on the go lately.

The annual seismic program off Newfoundland and Labrador has been in place since 2010, but the provincial government cancelled the program earlier this year to save on the $20-million cost.

Industry Minister Andrew Parsons said the data from previous surveys was "more than enough to allow investors to make informed decisions."

The province has yet to announce whether there will be a seismic program in 2023, which will have an obvious impact on DFO's seismic study.

DFO says if no seismic goes ahead next year the department will wrap-up the project with existing data.

DFO finally gets around to studying the impact of seismic surveys on groundfish species such as cod, and the seismic surveys have all but wrapped up.


In 2017, then Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady described the 3D seismic program off the province's shores as one of the largest underway in the world, and the 2D program as unrivalled in the modern exploration era.

Any fishermen worth their salt will tell you seismic has an impact on fish stocks because they’ve seen it first-hand.

An Australian study published in 2017 in the journal Nature found that seismic testing can destroy plankton populations.

A Canadian biologist also suggested in 2019 that seismic blasts may be killing plankton,

DFO has also reported that plankton numbers have been down in waters around Newfoundland and Labrador.

A 2021 DFO study on the potential risks of seismic on snow crab found no measurable impact on mature male snow crab. (The study did not explore potential impacts on juvenile or female snow crab).

The bottom line is that boards like the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board allowed offshore seismic surveys to proceed even before the science was in on the impact to the marine ecosystem.

Blast first, ask questions later.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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