Fishing industry concerns over oil exploration

As a group of international oil companies prepares to begin seismic testing on the Argentinian seabed, the country’s fishing sector has launched a campaign in order to seek fair compensation in case of damage to their operations.

The Argentinian government has auctioned several coastal blocks and some of them are at the same latitude as the major fishing port of Mar del Plata. One of these blocks, CAN 100, could become active any time soon. Norwegian company Equinor, associated with Shell and YPF, aims to exploit it.

‘We noticed that these operations lack adequate preliminary impact assessments. The information we have is that the existing reports are based on ancient data,’ said Darío Sócrate, president of the Chamber of Deep Sea Vessel Owners (CAABPA) who is representing several fishing organisations in discussions with the government over the oil ventures.

Fishing companies in Argentina are nervous about licences granted for oil industry prospecting. Image: Gobierno de Argentina / Las empresas pesqueras de Argentina están nerviosas por las licencias concedidas para las prospecciones petrolíferas

‘The way things have been conducted, it will be hard to evaluate the real impacts of oil drilling on fishing,’ he said.

The fishing companies fear that shock waves and sound propagation generated by drilling may drive off various marine species, with consequences for their reproduction, development, growth, and migration patterns.

‘The studies that have been presented deal with large sea mammals and don’t mention fishing,’ Darío Sócrate added.

He said that the industry’s major concern is the potential impact on Argentine shortfin squid, mentioning international studies that demonstrated that seismic activity has effects on cephalopods.

Mar del Plata is a major fishing port and its activities could be threatened by oil exploration. Image: Gobierno de la Provincia de Buenos Aires / Mar del Plata es un importante puerto pesquero y sus actividades podrían verse amenazadas por la exploración petrolera

‘Unfortunately, the Argentinian squid jigger fleet already has to deal with illegal fishing. So, more problems would probably be too much to handle,’ he said, commenting that other stocks such as pink cusk-eel (also known as pink ling) could be at risk.

‘To pretend that the sound doesn’t have an impact on fish behaviour is a big mistake,’ he concluded, alluding to the consequences of drilling a few years ago in San Jorge gulf off the southern coast of Argentina.

‘Artisanal fishermen used to catch hake there and all of sudden it was gone. It took several months in order to things come back to normal,’ he recalled.

The industry representatives participated in a meeting with government officials and delegates from the oil companies at the beginning of July and will continue to follow the events.

The oil exploration zone is an area already identified as suitable for marine conservation zone due to its importance for marine life. Image: Gobierno de Argentina / La zona de exploración petrolera es un área ya identificada como zona de conservación por su importancia para la vida marina

Darío Sócrate argues that the Argentinian government should have conducted adequate studies before auctioning the oil blocks. The companies now demand that more exacting impact assessments be carried out and outlining of measures to mitigate potential damage.

‘We’ll also look for fair compensation in case of interference with our activities,’ he stated.

Luisina Vueso, Greenpeace Argentina’s ocean campaign co-ordinator, commented that sound may have an impact on the viability of fish eggs.

‘Seismic activity has effects on the sea fauna and on all trophic chains in the ocean, leading to large-scale consequences. Moreover, studies have shown that this kind of operation will necessarily result in oil spills at some point,’ she said, and argued that Argentina still has time to halt the process and avoid the oil companies’ activities in the area.

‘We have to find a way to reduce those companies’ ‘social permit’ and the priority they seem to have over other industries, such as tourism and fishing,’ she said.

According to Luisina Vueso, the oil blocks’ zone coincides with the continental slope, which is a spawning area for many sea species.

According to the Argentinian industry media, a group of ocean scientists identified that region in 2014 as a prime candidate to be a marine reservation, due to its relevance for the sea ecosystem and for biodiversity.

On 28th June, the association of coastal fishing, which brings together small and medium-sized fisheries, issued a statement about its concerns with the upcoming oil projects.

‘In all parts of the world that kind of [oil] exploitation has produced effects, some of them very harmful, for the fishing communities,’ stated the association’s director Sebastián Agliano.

‘Oil exploration and exploitation in the sea are never innocuous. They always generate impacts on the ecosystem. When we talk about ecosystem, we consider not only marine life, but also the people who depend on it.’