Late last month, the New England Fishery Management Council joined its Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic council colleagues in officially documenting concern over Trump administration-backed plans to use seismic airgun blasting to search for oil off the Atlantic coast. Offshore oil exploration threatens decades of progress toward making America’s fish stocks great again and thereby threatens economies and livelihoods along the East Coast.
It’s not worth taking these risks, especially considering the small amount of oil at stake.
In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump’s secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, the council expressed concern about the effects seismic airgun blasting — a loud, ecosystem-disturbing process — would have on marine life. Seismic airgun surveys have not been conducted at the scale currently proposed in the Atlantic for more than two decades.
The letter reads:
“The Council is a steward of these species and the habitats that support them, and is very concerned that oil and gas exploration and extraction activities may harm these resources and the communities that depend on them.”
The council urged the Trump administration to hold off on allowing this extremely disruptive practice until additional research can determine how it will affect fisheries and marine resources. A few days earlier, a new scientific study was published showing that seismic airgun surveys significantly decrease nearby zooplankton abundance, a crucial foundation of the ocean food chain.
The fishery management councils are important stewards of our fisheries. These nonpartisan bodies bring together stakeholders from commercial and recreational fishing sectors with those with environmental, governmental and academic interests. The councils are charged with developing fisheries management plans aimed at rebuilding and maintaining abundant fish stocks.
A lot of work and careful research goes into striking the right balance between enacting short-term limits on fishing and realizing the best long-term benefits. When done correctly, fish stocks rebuild and we wind up with more catchable fish in the ocean.
That can’t happen when fish are threatened with things like a constant barrage of noise. The seismic survey permits the president is considering would allow at least five different companies to tow miles-long arrays of seismic airguns back and forth throughout some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, blasting every 10-12 seconds for weeks to months on end.
Just how damaging this will be to the fishing, restaurant and tourism industries is unknown. But it won’t be good. Seismic airgun blasting has, according to some studies, reduced fish catches by an average of 50 percent over thousands of square miles.
Many fishers are already making sacrifices by adhering to seasonal closures and catch limits that are necessary to rebuilding some of the more-vulnerable fish stocks. Prioritizing corporate fossil fuel interests over those of these working men and women could prolong these difficulties and prevent the needed rebuilding of fish populations.
The East Coast already has a strong coastal economy. More than $95 billion is brought in every year from the recreational and commercial fishing and tourism industries, which represent nearly 1.4 million jobs. These businesses depend on a healthy ocean. Exploring and drilling for oil will jeopardize that.
Disruptive seismic airgun blasting represents the first step toward offshore oil drilling, which will bring with it an industrialized coast and the ever-present threat of oil spills. And there’s not even that much oil out there. The hardworking men and women in the fishing industry should be incensed to find out that their livelihoods are being risked for what scientists have estimated to be less than five months’ worth of oil at our current consumption level.
Why would we bet a sure thing that we know helps our economy — thriving fishing and tourism industries — on a prospect that we know will harm our economy — disruptive and dirty oil exploration and drilling?
I agree with the fishery management councils. I agree with the fishing interests. I agree with an alliance representing 41,000 businesses and more than 500,000 fishing families on the East Coast. All have said that offshore drilling is a bad bet in the Atlantic. A good business man doesn’t gamble on a losing hand. I hope President Trump can see there is nothing artful about this deal.
Jacqueline Savitz is a senior vice president at Oceana, an international ocean conservation and advocacy organization.