Sound the alarm: new research warns of urgent need to monitor impact of seismic testing off Newcastle on fish, shellfish and crustaceans

The NSW Greens are calling on the Department of Primary Industries to partner with commercial fishers to conduct robust studies into the impacts of recently approved seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle on local fish, shellfish and crustaceans.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority approved Asset Energy’s environmental plan for seismic testing for oil and gas in the waters off Newcastle in mid-December.

However, research in Southern fisheries that funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and published in the December edition of its FISH magazine shows exposure to seismic tests has physical impacts on lobsters and scallops. The researchers also found seismic tests may have long-term impacts on animal health and more research was needed

Greens MP and Marine spokesperson Justin Field said while the  community remain opposed outright to the idea of oil and gas exploration and mining off the Newcastle coast, there is a desperate need to do more research into the impacts of seismic exploration on local fisheries. 

“This new research raises serious questions about whether seismic testing will leave fish, shellfish and crustaceans vulnerable and have long-term negative effects,” Mr Field said

“The decision to allow seismic testing off Newcastle has been shrouded in secrecy with the environment plan and the conditions imposed remaining hidden from public view. The community has no idea if their genuine concerns about the impacts on migrating whales, fisheries and the natural environment have been adequately considered.

“This new evidence that exposure to seismic exploration is having an effect, possibly long-term, on lobsters and scallops, two valuable seafood species shows the need for dedicated local research, in conjunction with local fishers that is transparent and available for the public to consider.

“Given the Government and regulator have pushed ahead with this risky activity, they now need to guarantee it won’t have an impact on local fisheries, marine life and habitat, and supporting this kind of research is an important step.

“The NSW Government should work with local commercial fishers on research to monitor the impacts of local seismic testing on local fish stocks and marine environments, with triggers for halting activity if significant behavioural and physical changes are observed,” he said.

View article  ‘Sound responses’, FISH magazine (Fisheries Research and Development Corporation), December 2017 pg. 28:

Summary of ‘Sound responses’, FISH magazine (Fisheries Research and Development Corporation)

  • FDRC-funded research finds has impacts on creatures that live on or just above the sea floor.
  • Exposure to seismic surveys is associated with behavioural and physiological changes in both scallops and Southern Rock Lobsters.
  • Southern Rock Lobsters exposed to the air gun used during seismic testing had

- a decrease in their simple tail extension reflex,

- damage to the statocyst, which functions in a similar way to the human inner ear, leading to problems righting themselves after being placed on their back, and

- a decrease in immune cells, serving as an indicator of general poorer health.

  • Researchers said results for these rock lobsters raise concerns that exposure during seismic testing may affect their immune system months post-exposure and leave them vulnerable.
  • Exposed scallops showed lower immune cell counts.
  • Exposure to seismic surveys may have long-term effects on marine life health and requires further research.


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