12 March 1991 - Current
Mr T. BULL (Gippsland East) (17:12:18) — (14 791) I raise a matter for the attention of the Minister for Agriculture in the other place. The action I seek is for her to write to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) — that is a mouthful — over concerns being raised in relation to the proposed seismic testing off the East Gippsland coast. There are currently four surveys planned in south-east Australia, but one in particular is causing great concern due to its size and its major overlap onto critically important fishing grounds. The French company CGG intends to undertake a 17 000-square kilometre survey in eastern Bass Strait in what would be one of the largest surveys seen in the country. The area proposed for survey is eight times the size of Port Phillip Bay. I am advised the company has no authority to extract oil or gas in Australia but simply intends to undertake the survey with the intention of onselling the results. No-one is asking them to do this.
Recent research off Tasmania has shown that after four seismic passes 20 per cent of scallops died and that after exposure to a seismic survey crayfish lost the ability to extend their tails and right themselves if turned upside down. Other research showed that a seismic survey produced a 2-kilometre dead zone where two-thirds of zooplankton died. This also raises concerns about the effects on fish eggs and larvae which float in the water column. International research shows that, understandably, fish swim away from large seismic soundwaves. Fishermen across the world report that following a seismic survey marine habitats become unproductive and catch rates drop for a year or longer. In certain cases seismic testing must occur of course, but the scale of this proposal over vital fishing grounds when no-one is asking for it to be done raises massive concerns.
The fishing industry is very concerned about CGG's plans, which will impact on rural communities like Port Welshpool in the electorate of Gippsland South and Lakes Entrance and Mallacoota in my electorate. Under this proposal the industry is being asked to leave fishing grounds for five months and then accept lowered catch rates for a year or more. I am advised that CGG has completed a study into the financial effect this will have on the fishing industry but refuses to release this information. The industry believes that the cost could be in the vicinity of $10 million. Some fisheries, such as the Danish seine fishery in Lakes Entrance, will have all of their fishing grounds impacted by this.
The fishing industry in south-east Australia is proud of its history of working in partnership with oil and gas companies — more than 10 surveys have been completed over the last 10 years — but this one has the alarm bells ringing. I ask the minister to take this matter up with NOPSEMA, as I intend to do myself.