Norway opens season for oil hunters in fish-rich Lofoten area of Northern Norway

Publish date: May 22, 2008

OFF THE COAST OF LOFOTEN, Northwest Norway - Despite protests from Bellona and other environmental organisations who say they are readying acts of civil disobedience, the Norwegian Oil and Energy is set to begin collecting seismic data off the coast of Norway’s northerly Lofoten region.

The basis for the environmentally disruptive project is a report from Norway’s Institute of Marine studies that even the institute itself acknowledges gives less than a complete picture of how the Oil and Energy’s prospecting could impact the environment.

Bellona’s Kallinika is already in the area, and Bellona President Frederic Hauge said that acts of civil disobedience targeting the vessel taking the seismic readings in the area have not been ruled out.

Fishermen in the area have also expressed outrage at the oil-prospecting project, which they say will threaten their livelihoods by scaring fish out of their prime fishing territories and interfere with haddock spawning.

The areas below the waters of the Lofoten region are considered to contain major amounts of oil and the Norwegian oil industry has long considered the area to be one of its most promising oil boomtowns.

At issues is the spawning of haddock, which the Ministry of Oil and Industry promises it will not disturb by remaining at least 50 kilometres off shore during the haddock spawning season. But environmentalists and fisherman say that will not be enough, and that spawning season has not yet ended.

The seismic date collection project got the go ahead after the Ministry of Oil and Energy struck a compromise with the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal affairs.
Bellona’s Hauge said the oil project is “very worrying considering that this is the spawning season for the fish.”

How seismic research is done

The process of sounding out the Lofoten area’s oil deposits is accomplished by shooting air canons from a ship. The signals that are then reflected can give researchers and idea about what kind of oil harvest is to be had from the sea bottom.

Bellona has long claimed that seismology in especially vulnerable areas like spawning grounds around Lofoten are covered by pollution legislation, which also includes noise, and thus must get sanction from the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority.

The seismic sounding process was slated to begin around May 15th. Bellona, along with the fishing community and other environmental organsiations has led a campaign of pressure against the work. The Institute for Marine Studies’ earlier advice was to limit the seismic sounding to 50 kilometres from land.

The ship that will conduct the seismic sounding is currently at dock in the Northwestern Norwegian port of Bodø and has conducted no air cannon sounding.

There have been contradictory signals from various governmental departments in the government and it is expected the government will issue a final statement on whether to begin the seismic sounding Thursday Evening or Friday morning.

The Institute of Marine Studies has said that its investigations of the area to be surveyed have indicated no spawning is currently taking place – something Bellona disputes, having caught haddock full of roe on their way to spawn in the Lofoten area.

Limited report draws Bellona’s cricisism
Senior researcher with the Institute for Marine Studies, Erik Olsen, told Bellona Web that, “there are methodical limits to what we have done.”

He said that the Institute’s studies had included trawling the bottom of the sea, among other methods.

“There was a desire to get the results ready as soon as possible, therefore the report does not include a discussion of the methods used. That bit could have been done more comprehensively,” he said, adding that researchers had worked through the night to complete the report.

But he said the report, relative to its conclusions that haddock are not spawning in the region now, holds water.

But a day prior to Olsen’s comments on the lack of spawning in the area, Hauge was holding a freshly caught haddock full of roe.

“You have concluded that there are no fish ready to spawn in Lofoten,” said Hauge in response to Olsen’s remarks. “How do you clarify Bellona’s catch of a haddock ready to spawn?”

Olsen responded that, “We don’t say that you are finding nothing. We are saying that the spawning period is in the main over.”

“We are talking about the effect on the level of stock (of haddock) and we mean to say it is light. We don’t mean there is no danger because the recruitment of the coming of the coming generation is in danger,” he said.

Report’s deficiencies should halt seismic exploration
Bellona researchers have zeroed in on the report’s deficiencies as reason for delaying or calling off the seismic sounding process altogether.

“We have taken note of the weaknesses of the report. It is important that the government pay attention now that they are evaluating if they will start up the seismic sounding,” said Bellona advisor Elisabeth Sæther.

Bellona does not question for the time-being the findings, but points out that the research has not taken into n the circulation of herring larvae that are drifting in a northerly direction.

Nor does there exist thorough research on what effect seismic sounding could have on types of plankton that are food for many fish larvae.

“We don’t think seismic sounding can begin before someone can patch up the holes in knowledge that exist,” said Sæther.

Tone Foss Aspevoll reported from aboard the Kallinika, and Charles Digges reported from Oslo.

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