Seismic Survey Ship Forced Off of Fishing Grounds by a Flotilla of Small Boats

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“We don’t just want to hear about meagre compensation for our financial hardships. We want to fish, living the way we’ve lived for thousands of years. This is our legacy, our right and what we know best. It seems to be a case of feeding the rich and depriving the less privileged. We are scattered all over Trinidad and Tobago which makes it easy to divide, fool and conquer us to get us out of their way as they have done just last week with our fellow fishers on the south coast, who accepted the untruths and inadequate packages dangled at them, as we once did, because of their financial distress and ignorance, just as ours, distress which is counted on to weaken our resolve and fool you, the public.” Diane Christian-Simmons
Photo courtesy of Diane Christian-Simmons.
Fed up with trying to work through government channels, the fishing community of Trinidad Tobago has held a series of peaceful pickets to protect the fish that have fed their nation for thousands of years – fish that are known to be harmed by oil companies in the seemingly unquenchable offshore quest for oil and gas.
A research article (see page 205) speculates that humpback whales have not returned to that area because of the noise associated with the activities of oil companies, and the whales and dolphins of that region will also benefit by enforcing environmental constraints on big oil.

Photo courtesy of Newsday.
Photo courtesy of Newsday.

Now that the seismic surveys – which bombard the environment with loud noise for weeks or months at a time – have begun in spite of the fishing community demands, the fishermen decided to take their protest to the waves, and two dozen or so small fishing boats dodged police boats and slowed the huge seismic vessel.
According to the Caribbean New Media Group, a cat and mouse game ensued as the oil company police boats tried to block the local fishing boats, called “pirogues”:

Even with faster, bigger and more powerful vessels, the efforts of Petrotrin Police were frustrated. They could halt the progress of a pirogue or two, but they could not stop them all.
Several fishermen told C News they were prepared to face guns if need be to protect the fishery. But on Saturday morning, the only thing pointed in their direction from the authorities were cameras.
The convoy of fishing boats continued their pursuit of one of the ships being used in the seismic survey, with the Petrotrin Police boats in hot pursuit.
The police boats used their powerful engines to churn up wake, crossing in front of the bows of the smaller fishing boats to slow them down.
Coincidentally, it was a tactic that the fishermen planned to use as well. Using their greater numbers, they found their way into the path of the seismic survey ship and slowed their pace, forcing the ship to slow to a crawl to match their pace and allow the ship’s captain a chance to think of his next move.
Mr. Gary Aboud of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea said: “He cannot stop because the cables are in the water. He is doing the bombing already. But it is illegal so we are going to go in front the ship and stop it. But you have to be ready to pull out at a moment’s notice because the ship cannot stop.”
A maritime cat and mouse game ensued as the seismic survey ship turned and sped over to areas uncovered by the pirogues and Petrotrin’s Police offered whatever resistance they could muster to slow down the pursuit.

Eventually the seismic ship, the Sanco Star, was forced into rougher water where the small boats could not follow.
From a post I wrote last fall, explaining the significance of the problem fisheries have with the seismic search for oil:
Last November, a peaceful picket resulted in the dramatic arrest of Gary Aboud, head of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), environmentalist Cathal Healy-Singh and La Brea fisherman, Wayne Henry.
Gary Aboud, head of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (left), Diane Christian-Simmons, president of the Cocorite fishing association (center), and environmentalist Cathal Healy-Singh (right). This statement accompanied the press conference.
The situation in Trinidad Tobago is particularly complex because that well-educated nation enjoys a good standard of living in many sectors as a result of the extensive oil reserves that have built the economy, and which created a government that is closely tied to the industry.
In a press release, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea note that the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has never required Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) before seismic surveys for oil and gas are undertaken. They understand that oil exploration will undoubtedly occur there, but they are requesting something very significant: They just want basic science to figure out the degree of impact on fisheries, and they want the fish stock restored.
“Bombing” is a colloquial term for the seismic surveys, the fishermen (colloquially referred to as ‘fisherfolk’) understand the science of seismic surveys. Photo courtesy of Christian-Simmons.
The fishing community demands reasonable compensation from the oil industry for loss of income. The next oil survey will keep them from the area for eight months, and studies show that the fish may disappear from the region due to the noise.
Arrested in last week’s protest, environmental engineer Cathal Healy-Singh has documented the situation there in detail, and provided the information to the government.

There is a plethora of scientific data worldwide which concludes that Seismic Surveys (SS) are damaging to not only marine mammals but also to fish and other marine organisms. In 2011, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, presented to the EMA (and all relevant government agencies and fishing groups) a substantial technical document which compiles the results of scores and scores of research papers from scientific groups around the world which clearly and unequivocally recognizes the damage that SS does. “During the last 20 years there has been growing concern with respect to the impacts of offshore SS activities on marine life”

From the press release:

Since they [EMA] failed to require EIAs in the past, there is no documented evidence of where, how much and what types of fish are being caught, and what the impacts of previous specific Seismic Surveys have been on national fisheries and particularly commercial fisheries, since only the landing sites and gross quantities caught are intermittently documented by the Fisheries Division (according to fishermen).As a result, the EMA is not in a position now, nor will they be after the Guidelines are written, to “ensure that offshore activities are conducted in a regulated manner”. Hence they would have failed to “uphold principles of sustainable development”
Everyone is now fully aware of the grave concerns of fishermen forced, precisely because of a lack of consultations, to have to come into the full public gaze and demonstrate peacefully at the POS waterfront. They are reporting up to 70% drop in catch; lasting months after the Seismic Surveys are completed.

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