Protect our fish from ‘seismic bombings’
It is a challenge to write about responsible natural resource management and sustainability issues in a resource rich country fraught with crime, corruption, poverty and pollution for no other reason than the failure of basic good governance and till now, very low expectations from the general public.
However, there is growing courage and determination from certain grassroots sectors to protect and sustain their livelihoods and demand responsible action from the Government. One such example is the actions being taken by local fishermen to put a stop to unregulated seismic surveying deployed by the oil/gas sector to determine the presence and quantify of deposits of sub-sea hydrocarbons.
Seismic surveying or, as the fishermen say “seismic bombing” (SB), involves literally discharging thousands of sub-sea acoustic explosions over large areas, which move through the water in all directions, penetrate the seabed and bounce back giving valuable information to help calculate optimal oil/gas drill points. The problem is that these sub-sea explosions disorientate, scatter, damage and kill fish.
In the developed world SBs are regulated by time, space and duration/intensity. In some areas SBs are not allowed due to the presence of endangered sea mammals. In others, based on data collected on fish breeding and migratory patterns, SBs are restricted to certain places and certain times of year.
The developed world values responsible exploration for oil/gas.
In T&T however, the EMA does not require companies which carry out SBs to undergo any environmental scrutiny. Certificates of Environmental Clearance are issued without carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). We in T&T have not over the last decade gathered data on oil/gas and fisheries and have not created composite pictures to measure impacts, identify vulnerabilities and appropriate times and places to conduct exploratory SBs.
This situation is not acceptable to the fishermen. For many years they have complained to the deaf ears of the government and been silenced by small compensation money. But over the last few months fishermen have been mobilising in an unprecedented manner sensing that “talk is cheap” and realising that the steady declines in fish catches due to SB and multiple other problems facing them, not least of which is the destructive shrimp trawling will lead very soon to the complete destruction of their way of life.
The oil/gas sector has been unregulated so far, certainly in terms of its environmental impacts. It has indeed buttered our national bread and for this we are all grateful. But has our bread been wisely buttered? This question may appear all too subtle given daily blatant crimes and growing poverty. But the national gas tank is less than half empty now and the divisions between rich and poor, crime, corruption and pollution are out of control.
I have attended several of the meetings held by the fishermen. I am deeply proud they are no longer prepared to accept the small money thrown at them by big foreign companies to silence them, as if it were some form of adequate compensation for mashing up their fish stocks and denying them and their families an income, while our government wines and dines the same company executives at the Hyatt.
These are desperate times in the world and high time T&T fixed itself. Come out and support our fishermen. Demand that the Prime Minister send word to the EMA to consider regulation of seismic bombing. No more sonic bombing of the ocean in local waters unless they are subject to environmental assessments that generate sufficient data for a responsible decision about where, when and how the seismic activity should be conducted and how much compensation is due to fishermen when they are carried out.