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Driving better relations between the commercial fishing and offshore petroleum industries

27 February, 2023

A new guidance framework has today been published to help drive improved cooperation between the offshore petroleum industry and the fishing industry and help manage direct impacts to fisheries that may occur as a result of seismic surveys.

Led by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISR), the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), in collaboration with the industry sectors, the framework is intended to foster the cooperation and coexistence of the offshore petroleum industry and the commercial fishing industry in Australia’s Commonwealth marine area during the preparation for, and implementation of, marine seismic surveys. 

Cameron Grebe, the head of NOPSEMA’s Environment, Renewables and Decommissioning Division, said: “The fishing and petroleum industries are important for food security and energy production, respectively, and both have rights to operate in Commonwealth waters.

“This can create challenges when titleholders wish to conduct seismic surveys in established fishing grounds.

“Looking at how these challenges have been addressed in leading jurisdictions such as Norway, we identified a need to improve the way the two sectors engage. The purpose of this guidance is to enhance and facilitate effective cooperation between these two important industries in a more efficient proactive manner.”

The framework, which aims to improve the effectiveness of consultation and also notably includes principles to underpin loss adjustment processes where appropriate, should drive improved cooperation and positive engagement.

Under the current legislation, companies wishing to conduct a seismic survey must develop an environment plan, including rigorous consultation with relevant persons, and it’s during this process that the concerns of the fishing industry are identified.

This new, voluntary framework will support the petroleum or geophysical company to better understand and address these concerns and likewise support the fishing industry in expressing them.

Wez Norris, AFMA Chief Executive Officer, said: “AFMA is pleased to see the guidelines provide for genuine consultation and engagement between the fishing industry and the petroleum industry to identify and minimise on-water conflicts or loss of catch and to resolve those concerns where they are unavoidable.”

Improved collaboration between industries

The development of this guidance builds upon a number of recent, significant instances of collaboration between the petroleum and fishing industries. 

For example, as part of its Collaborative Seismic Environment Plan (CSEP Project), National Energy Resources Australia (NERA), along with project partners, developed two protocols to support effective engagement with the commercial fishing industry and management of potential impacts associated with interactions in Commonwealth waters off Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The NERA protocols were developed in consultation with the WA Fishing Industry Council, the Northern Territory Seafood Council, the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, the broader commercial fishing industry active within the CSEP Operational Area, plus key Commonwealth, State and Northern Territory government agencies and other relevant stakeholders. 

The Commercial Fishing Industry Operational Protocol sets out commitments for communication with the commercial fishing industry and implementation of spatial and temporal controls to manage impacts on commercial fishing. The Commercial Fishing Industry Adjustment Protocol includes a practical, evidence-based process for reasonable monetary adjustment to commercial fishers for loss of catch, displacement and fishing gear loss or damage. 

Importantly, the Adjustment Protocol also includes an overarching commitment for the petroleum and seismic companies to ensure best endeavours will be made to avoid, minimise and mitigate potential impacts on the commercial fishing industry before adjustment processes in the NERA protocol are applied. 


Notes to editors

  • This guidance is not intended to address all potential impacts from seismic surveys on fish stocks and/or commercial fishing activities but focuses on the direct impacts to fishers that may occur as a result of seismic surveys and for which relevant evidence can be provided to support claims for monetary adjustment. 
  • Impacts and risks arising from individual seismic surveys will continue to be addressed on a case-by-case basis through activity-specific environment plan processes. 
  • The scope of this guidance does not extend to recreational or charter fishers.
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