While there’s been seismic blasting in our offshore waters for decades in the search for oil/gas reserves — generating huge debate about the impact on fish stocks/plankton/marine life — a new study by the government of Western Australia has found the practice dazes and potentially kills lobster.
This May 2019 picture shows two seismic ships anchored in Bay Bulls harbour. The ships were reportedly too wide to enter The Narrows into St. John's. Seismic ships toe airguns that shoot loud blasts of compressed air miles into the seabed.
That’s particularly concerning considering the areas off southern/southwestern Newfoundland that have been targeted for potential offshore wind farms also have thriving lobster fisheries.
Lobster has overtaken northern shrimp as the province's second most valuable fishery after snow crab, with a 2023 landed value of $114 million.
Seismic blasting has been used to guide the construction of some international offshore wind turbines — which may be build off Newfoundland and Labrador soon enough.
The federal/provincial governments have launched an assessment of offshore wind development in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the above shaded areas off the island's south/southwest coasts targeted as key areas for development.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., new research by the government of Western Australia has found lobster exposed to seismic testing had a 30% initial mortality rate, as well as modified behaviour.
There are plans to build four offshore windfarms in Western Australia, with consultations expected to begin next month.
Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, a federal/provincial assessment of offshore wind development is ongoing — with in-person information sessions planned for Nov. 6th in Marystown (1-3 p.m. at the Marystown Hotel), and Nov. 8th in Harbour Breton (1-3 p.m. at the Lions Club).
An obvious question will be whether/how much seismic blasting will take place to make way for any offshore wind farms.
SEISMIC SURVEYS PEAKED IN 2017
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).
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 in 2022 due to a lack of offshore seismic surveys.
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.
Unless they're needed for wind energy farms, of course.
A FINAL NOTE ON OFFSHORE WIND FARMS
Ottawa's offshore accords with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are being updated to promote development of offshore wind farms.
Executive Director, SEA-NL
Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization that serves as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Visit sea-nl.ca to join. If you have any issues contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 709 682 4862.