US fishing interests concerned over seismic air gun blasting in Atlantic Ocean

Published on
December 7, 2018

A decision by NOAA Fisheries to issue five permits for seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean has drawn sharp criticism from business and environmental leaders who fear the blasts could be harmful for fish and other marine wildlife.

The blasting will be used to conduct surveys that will provide data to oil and gas industry businesses, who may then seek to conduct offshore drilling in federal waters between Cape May, New Jersey and Cape Canaveral, Florida. President Trump opened the door for such exploration in an executive order last year.

“The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has responsibility for permitting geophysical surveys, and makes decisions about energy development in the waters of the outer continental shelf,” NOAA Fisheries said in a press release.

Observers will be aboard survey vessels and will notify operators if a protected species comes near the air guns. Shutdowns will be mandatory when certain species are seen.

However, opponents to the plan fear the blasts, which they claim can impact marine life thousands of miles away, will still be detrimental to marine life and those whose livelihoods depends on fishing. The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast said it represents 42,000 business and 500,000 fishing families along the Atlantic coast.

In addition to the seismic blasting, they also fear disasters similar to the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico could happen in the Atlantic Ocean, where the U.S. stopped drilling in the early 1980s.

"The Outer Banks business community depends on a clean and beautiful coast to support our multi-billion-dollar tourism, recreation and fishing industries," said Karen Brown, President and CEO of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. "The release of these permits puts us one step closer to oil-covered beaches and economic disaster."

The five companies receiving permits are: ION, Spectrum, TGS, Western, and CGG. The companies plan to survey areas ranging from 13,062 to 58,300 square kilometers and use between 24 and 40 air guns apiece.

NOAA Fisheries issued the authorizations Friday 30 November. The permits are good for a year. 

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