PRESSURE is mounting on the Oslo government to halt or at least restrict exploratory oil drilling in several important fish breeding areas.
In the most recent protest, both the country’s Marine Research Institute and Fiskebat, its Fishing Vessel Owners Federation, have said that if drilling in an area known as the Viking Bank off the coast of Norway is allowed to continue unchecked then damage will be cause to fish stocks. The Environmental Directorate has recently given the multi-national energy company Statoil a licence to drill there.
Audun Maråk, CEO of Fiskebat, said: “The area around the Viking Bank is an important spawning field, especially for sandeels. We cannot accept that fishing interests have been ignored in this way, and we now plan to appeal this decision.
The Institute of Marine Research (IMR) says the area in question is both valuable and vulnerable and if drilling is allowed to go ahead as planned there a real risk of damage to the sandeel..
This latest episode is another example of the ongoing tensions between Norwegian fishermen and the oil industry, with claims that seismic tests and other exploratory work has damaged fish stocks. . More recently, the IMR said the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja fishing areas (known as LoVeSe ) should not be opened up to oil exploration.
The IMR has described the region a vitally important spawning and breeding areas for a variety of fish species where ocean currents feed in eggs and larvae from a huge variety of marine life including herring, haddock, seaweed, snowbirds, coastal cod, and catfish.
It also points out that 70 per cent of fishery resources in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea started their life in the LoVeSe breeding area which it describes as a “vascular flowering system where the basis for fish larvae and fry is laid for a short period of spring when there is enough sunlight after a long dark period.” It was also an area where the plankton flourished in large quantities and in turn provides substantial food to the fish larvae
The IMR says candidly:”Nowhere else have we observed such a high concentrations of fish eggs in one place. A significant part of the annual production of several fish stocks in the north may be affected by an oil spill, particularly if it takes place at a key breeding time. A number of other species such as seals, whales and corals also live in this area.” Marine life especially during its early stages was highly sensitive to oil spills, adding: “The institute has given its advice based on the best available knowledge. The final decision is now down to the politicians.”