Australian trawlers group demands French seismic company compensate for lost catch

The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) has expressed concerns that the French seismic company CGG will be concluding its seismic survey in southeast Australia without compensating fishers that have been affected by the operation.

CGG Services covered more than 13,000 square kilometers of seabed east of Melbourne, mapping for oil and gas reserves. SETFIA said that CGG is required by the Australian government to pay compensation to fishermen if catch rates drop as a result of the survey, but that the organization has doubts about the seismic company’s willingness and ability to pay.  

“Our concern has always been that CGG will finish this survey and sail back to France leaving destruction behind. In 2017, CGG announced a USD 128 million [EUR 117 million' loss, their debt increased to USD 2.6  billion [EUR 2.4 billion] and they filed for bankruptcy,” SETFIA CEO Simon Boag said in a statement.  “Only a restructure saw them continue. Given their refusal to pay compensation, their precarious financial position, and the downturn in oil price (which reduces the number of buyers for their data), we are concerned that they will leave and never remedy the damage they are causing.”

CGG and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) have jointly funded a study on the impact of the survey on commercial fishing, and early results from the scientific study showed that catch rates dropped by two-thirds for some species, while others vanished completely.

Boag said CGG has not released data to the fishing industry about how many claims have been made by fishermen, and how many have been paid. SETFIA added that from the information they have gathered only three claims out of 20 have been paid after nearly four months of the survey.

The survey was started in January 2020 and is supposed to end by June this year.

He said that CGG’s non-payment of compensation will result in hardship to the fishermen in East Gippsland already impacted by bushfires, reduced tourism, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After more than 100 years the deep-sea fishing industry is one of the only significant industries in East Gippsland to survive this – it is still working and employing people,” Boag said. “However, unless the Australian government can force CGG to pay the compensation they promised, the fishing industry in East Gippsland will not survive.”

Boag said the CGG had promised to release data about claims made and paid on 1 May; SETFIA also lodged a formal complaint to the regulator of marine seismic surveys NOPSEMA in March due to the delay in payments.

“The only response we have received is via CGG, who tell SETFIA that NOPSEMA found that their claim process was working well and has no issues,” Boag said.

Boag added that while the fishing industry supports oil and gas exploration, the fishermen taking the burden of the damage that the marine seismic survey caused deserve compensation.

“CGG must be forced to keep their promise and pay fishermen for lost catches where they have occurred – the Gippsland economy needs to continue after CGG departs,” he said.  

Photo courtesy of SETFIA


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