Optimising processes and policy to minimise business and operational impacts of seismic surveys on the fishing industry and oil and gas industry

Project Number:



Seafood Industry Victoria Inc (SIV)

Principal Investigator:

Johnathon Davey

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





The fishing and the oil/gas industries have rights to operate their respective businesses in the marine environment. At sea, there is a degree of spatial/temporal overlap between marine seismic activity and established fishing grounds. For shared access to work effectively, a high level of respect, cooperation, communication, coordination and compromise is required between industries. With some notable exceptions, many fishing operators in areas of high offshore prospectivity report this doesn’t always occur. They feel as a result, their businesses are negatively impacted, with little if any recognition by the oil/gas industry. Importantly this does not only relate directly to loss of catch, possibly arising from seismic activity, but to disruptions at an operational and business level including; time and resources to input into the process, reduction of fishing opportunities during peak/open seasons and marketing/staffing issues (onshore and offshore) due to unplanned variations in fishing activity. Oil and gas explorers also report that interactions can negatively impact on their operations at high cost. These issues were highlighted at a FRDC supported ‘Empowering’ workshop in 2011 attended by the fishing and oil/gas industries, agencies and researchers. It was agreed that a project designed to examine and improve processes and policies to minimise impacts of seismic surveys on operations and businesses was a priority. Since then, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) was established. This authority is the national regulator for a range of offshore oil and gas operations, including environmental management. DPI Vic indicated the project approach is a long time coming and stressed the need for discussions before exploration leases are released, the benefits in educating both sectors on impacts of their activities on the other and the value this will provide in forward planning for both sectors to minimise negative interactions and optimise efficiency and profitability.


1. Review legislative consultation, notification and response processes and policies regarding interactions between fishers and seismic exploration activities

2. Use case studies to assess interactions and impacts between seismic exploration activities and the fishing industry

3. From case studies outline key areas and types of impacts experienced by businesses

4. Highlight key pathways within current legislative framework for both sectors to effectively raise and address concerns

5. Recommend improvements to current practices for both stakeholders to improve consultation and minimise impacts on both stakeholders

6. Identify key information needs from both sectors to aid consultation and minimise two-way impacts.

Final Report - 2013-209-DLD - Optimising processes and policy to minimise business and operational impacts of seismic surveys on the fishing industry and petroleum industry

Final Report
Author(s):Johnathon Davey
Date Published:October 2016

Authors: ​​Ian Knuckey, Chris Calogeras and Johnathon Davey

Key words: Seismic, petroleum industry, fishing industry

Executive Summary:

Around Australia the fishing industry and the petroleum industry (also referred to as oil and gas industry) operate their respective businesses in the marine environment. Sometimes there is a degree of spatial and/or temporal overlap between these operations that has the potential to negatively impact one, or both, of these industries. To minimise these impacts, a high level of understanding, respect, cooperation, communication, and compromise is required between the industries. The benefits of this approach would be felt by both the fishing and petroleum industries through improved relationships and a shared understanding of potential impacts (financial, operational, logistical), and the ways they can be minimised. The aim of this project is to improve processes to achieve this end, specifically in relation to seismic operations. Improved operations would lead to the savings of many millions of dollars through reductions in lost time and improved operational efficiencies.

It is important to point out that this project was not about investigating the potential impact of seismic activity on the behaviour, or mortality, of fishery resources. There have been numerous studies in this area, and many such studies are continuing in Australia and around the world.

It should be noted that even during this project there have been significant improvements in consultation between the petroleum and fishing industries. The establishment of National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Agency (NOPSEMA) saw the regulatory requirement for petroleum companies to demonstrate in an Environment Plan (EP) that they have consulted with potentially affected parties in the vicinity of their operations.

However in some instances this improved engagement has led to consultation fatigue or apathy.

Case studies identified opportunities to improve relationships between industries by recognising areas of negative impact, but more importantly, highlighting examples of best practice. Specific case study areas that had overlapping high levels of fishing and seismic activity were initially identified by the Project Advisory Group (PAG), and later through the Cross-sector Roundtable Group (Roundtable).

The three regions identified were Bass Strait, Northern Territory and North-West Western Australia. Interviews with stakeholders in the petroleum industry and the fishing industry in each of these regions covered all phases of seismic operations. Issues discussed were compiled and then categorised into six major areas:

  1. Need for easy access to two-way information between the petroleum and fishing industries;
  2. Complexities in liaison with multiple stakeholders, industries and/or companies;
  3. Lack of understanding by one industry for the other’s operational requirements and constraints;
  4. Minimisation and/or resolution of sectoral impacts;
  5. Minimisation and/or resolution of individual business impacts; and,
  6. Costs and access to port-based infrastructure.

It is believed there are four overarching processes by which these issues can be addressed:

  • Having accessible, easy to use central website-based information on the two industry’s associated communication processes;
  • Undertaking Roundtable discussion and feedback into overarching policy and process;
  • Holding annual regional stakeholder meetings to discuss future planning and issues; and,
  • Undertaking one-on-one industry/individual discussions.

The Roundtable has endorsed this approach and NOPSEMA has been provided with this information as part of the review of their current operations.