A recent proposal by an oil and gas exploration company to perform seismic testing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, near the Cabot Strait, has provoked environmentalists and fishermen to call for a moratorium on oil and gas development in the area.
One hundred kilometres from St. George’s Bay, tucked just inside Newfoundland’s offshore boundaries, Halifax-based Corridor Resources is proposing to explore the Old Harry oil field, believed to contain up to 2 billion barrels of oil.
But eighty kilometres southwest of the site are the Magdalen Islands, whose economy relies heavily on fishing in the Gulf. The project is proposed for the fall of next year, but according to Ghislain Cyr of the Association of Pelagic and Groundfish Fishermen of the Magdalen Islands (RPPUM), the timing of the project is lousy.
“September, October, November is the best time for fishing for all species, like groundfish,” says Cyr. “That’s the time they are right there in the channel. And seismic blasts have been shown to disturb their migration patterns.”
His association is also concerned about the Atlantic cod which, they say, congregate near there at that time of year.
Cyr, along with the Magdalen Islands’ Association for Professional Fishermen (RPPIM), sent letters to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) highlighting their concerns and asked for more consultation with affected groups from the provinces in the region.
Corridor Resources met with the Magdalen fishermen, and stressed that the project would be using low-impact seismic activity, and the work would last for just over a week.
Nonplussed by the response, both the RPPUM and the RPPIM signed onto the moratorium, joining organizations like the PEI Fishermen’s Association, the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association and the David Suzuki Foundation.
“Maybe what they’re going to do is nothing, but it’s what might come after,” says Cyr. “We don’t want to see any drilling there. That’s the entrance to the Gulf for all the fish species. You cannot take a chance there.”
When contacted, the Fish Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW), representing Newfoundland fishermen, say they don’t plan to sign on to the moratorium request. They’re using a different approach to address their concerns, they say.
“No doubt about it, we do have concerns,” says David Decker, the FFAW’s Secretary-Treasurer, “but the position we’ve taken is to work with the oil and gas industries to work out those concerns. We believe we’ll make more progress that way.”
“We’ve been dealing with the oil and gas industry for a while here in Newfoundland, most dramatically off the Grand Banks, which is a rich fishing ground,” he adds. “It’s an important industry to the province and we understand that.”
The C-NLOPB is expected to make a decision about Corridor’s proposal soon, perhaps even sometime in early October.