An environment plan for petroleum exploration company Asset Energy to start seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle has been accepted by the federal regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.
The company says it hopes to begin testing an area 30 kilometres off the Newcastle coast, where it hopes to find significant gas reserves. The tests, planned for April, will shoot loud noise signals into the ocean floor to measure the structure of the seabed.
The NSW Professional Fishermen's Association says it is dumbfounded by the decision to allow testing in what were “extremely viable and profitable commercial fishing grounds”.
Spokesperson Tricia Beatty said numerous studies have shown seismic surveys damage marine life.
“We have enough research to show that there would be an impact especially on benthic invertebrates, which is the beginning of our food chain,” she said.
“We have no doubt that there will an impact to commercial and recreational fishers in the region, and our concerns were also supported by the NSW government. So we're completely dismayed that the Australian government has approved petroleum exploration when there are known and unknown impacts to marine life.
“Despite the fact that there will be an impact to our fisheries, they deem it acceptable. Despite the fact that the location is in a highly traversed international shipping lane and the fact that it's in a major whale migration pathway, for some reason the Australian government thinks that this will be accepted by the community.”
Greens marine and fisheries spokesperson Justin Field called for the seismic testing to be abandoned.
“Seismic testing in the waters off Newcastle poses an unacceptable risk for ocean habitat, marine wildlife including migrating whales, and productive local fishing grounds,” he said.
“The NSW government should intervene and ban this risky activity from the waters off Newcastle and elsewhere in the state waters. Our oceans are no place for oil and gas exploration.”