Lessons in marine diplomacy

19.05.2009
The 16 fishery experts who assembled in Ålesund during March have an average of 25 years of seafaring experience. But even the most experienced felt the course they were on provided them with a better understanding of their role ahead of the seismic shooting season.
  • Bjørn Rasen / André Pedersen (photos)

Fishery experts Finn Hansen (left) and Roy Sebulonsen took a stroll along the Ålesund waterfront during a break in the course. They found seismic survey ship m/v Bjørkhaug, a converted shrimper from the port, and seized the chance for a reunion and chat with skipper Roger Haugan (right).

Fishery experts Finn Hansen (left) and Roy Sebulonsen took a stroll along the Ålesund waterfront during a break in the course. They found seismic survey ship m/v Bjørkhaug, a converted shrimper from the port, and seized the chance for a reunion and chat with skipper Roger Haugan (right).

 

The training session for and with fishery experts is one of a number of measures intended to create orderly working conditions for the fishing and oil industries on the NCS.

Lessons still remain to be learnt and the independent role of the fishery expert has become clearer, acknowledged several of the people who took part in the three-day Ålesund programme.

They were among almost 100 fishing personnel who took part in the mandatory fishery expert courses this spring, which were also held in Bergen and Tromsø.

Nor is this a job for beginners. Even in stressful conditions, the person concerned must serve as a channel of communication between fishing vessels and seismic survey ships.

That can be a lonesome role, which calls for an understanding of two different industries and cultures. And communication takes place in different dialects and in English of varying quality.

Four centuries of combined experience from fishing and shipping were assembled when I sat in on the course in an Ålesund hotel.

The 16 men – because being a fishery expert is a male preserve – explained their backgrounds, which encompassed different types of vessel and varieties of fishing.

They included fishermen, mates, masters and shipowners, and had sailed on many of the world’s seas. Some were a little dubious about the course, wondering what more they needed to learn.

“Some of you have mixed feelings about what the authorities want with you,” commented Dagfinn Lilleng from the Directorate of Fisheries when he welcomed the class.

“I hope you’ll see the value of the course and will benefit from it. The fishery expert must be able to exercise their role on an independent basis. That’s what it boils down to.”

 

Like a pilot

A fishery expert can be compared with a pilot, in that both serve as an advisor to the vessel’s master. The aim is also to elevate the expert’s role so that everyone on a survey ship understands it.

“I feel we must also consider taking similar action towards the operators and the seismic survey sector,” Mr Lilleng comments.

He notes that the idea of giving way to fishing can be a bit difficult for certain foreign crew members to grasp. That rule does not necessarily apply in other waters.

During the part of the programme given over to discussion between the course participants, various experiences were swapped and one wish in particular emerged. The experts felt that there should be two of them on each survey ship. They are out on an expedition for several weeks at a time, and must be available around the clock.

A number of them have experienced being woken several times in the course of a night. But the desire for duplication is based not only on insufficient sleep, but also on the thought that two are stronger than one in the event of disputes.

During a break, Roy Sebulonsen from Troms and Finn Hansen from Vesterålen discussed the challenges faced during surveys on the basis of eight and six years respectively as fishery experts.

Both have experience as fishermen and masters “since I was a little boy”. They talked openly over the table, but said that things are different at sea.

“Communication there goes via VHF radio,” observed Mr Sebulonsen. “The sound quality even makes it difficult for a north Norwegian to understand somebody from western Norway.

“It goes without saying that misunderstandings can arise when the master isn’t Norwegian and has a different cultural background. We could have avoided a lot of extra work if all the skippers on survey ships were from Norway.”

 

Diplomacy

This is no job for a novice, he emphasised. “You’ve got to have experience and a bit of a flair for diplomacy when you’re the link between fishermen and seismic survey crew.

 

“Being a fishery expert’s no problem. I’m the fishing industry’s man, and feel accepted at home in Stokmarknes.”

Finn Hansen


How do you find being a fishery expert – is pressure from the oil industry and fishing at an unacceptable level?

Anders Solheim Anders Solheim, Hustad Master for more than 30 years, one trip as a fishery expert
“Things went very well on the first outing. We’re between the devil and the deep blue sea, but that’s our job and we must just deal with it. If you don’t use good sense, you’ve got a problem. We know that seismic shooting frightens the fish, but that they come back.”
Kurt Skjong Kurt Skjong, Valderøy Fisherman for 40 years, master for 30, fishery expert
“With 30 years of experience as a skipper, I’ve been involved in a lot and ought to be able to tackle contact between oil and fishing. Pressure isn’t a problem.”
Alexander Elvegård Alexander Elvegård, Tromsø Ten years as a master and mate, three as a fishery expert
“I haven’t experienced any problems over the past few years. A lot of other people find themselves under pressure. We have to live with it.”
Lindy Arild Hatlebakk Lindy Arild Hatlebakk, Elnesvågen Fisherman for 35 years, own boat, fishery expert for four years
“There’s always a certain amount of pressure, perhaps most from the fishermen. Most of the oil companies are observant and want to avoid conflicts. I’ve heard of, but haven’t personally experienced, oil companies who point out how much it costs to divert. With a little diplomacy, things go well.”
Frank Eivindsen Frank Eivindsen, Langevåg Fisherman for 17 years, now mate on a purse seiner, one season as a fishery expert
“I was in the Barents Sea, and we only saw a single fishing vessel. The challenges are undoubtedly greater in the North Sea. As a fisherman, I’ve experienced a fine dialogue on the open sea.”
Bengt-Are Korneliussen Bengt-Are Korneliussen, Skjervøy Fisherman since 1976, owns two vessels, fishery expert for 12 years
“I don’t experience this as pressure. The important thing is to inform fishing personnel – not all of them know what seismic surveying actually involves. They’ve been shooting seismic on the NCS for 40 years. It’s nothing to be frightened about.”
Perry Urkedal

Perry Urkedal, Brattvåg Fisherman since 1969, master since 1981, fishery expert for two years
“I have experienced one episode when I was misunderstood. We’ve cooperated constantly. By pursuing dialogue at all times, you can avoid any difficulties.”

Oskar Pedersen Oskar Pedersen, Hafrsfjord Fishing for 35 years, has owned his own boat, one year as a fishery expert
“We must be able to communicate with both sides. That can be difficult or not. You’ve got to inform at an early stage. We need a rather higher status on board. Where the sea’s concerned, I’m not worried about the oil industry – which has expertise – but aquaculture.”

 

“You can’t just tell people to get out of the way. We’re the ones who have to give way, and you’ve got to explain things well to defuse potential disputes.”

“I’ve fished close to seismic vessels myself, and had big catches,” added Mr Hansen. “When we changed to a crossing course, we were called up on the radio and sorted things out through dialogue.

“That’s also been my experience as a fishery expert. We get heard. The public debate in Norway on seismic surveying versus fishing is often more about emotions.”

“The experts say that seismic shooting causes very little fish mortality,” Mr Sebulonsen agreed. “That’s an example of information which fails to get across.”

But the fishery experts would welcome more response to one aspect of their job – the reports they write after a possible conflict of interest between fishing and seismic vessels.

These accounts are sent to the Directorate of Fisheries, the NPD, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association and the relevant oil company.

“We write the reports, but seldom receive any feedback,” said Mr Hansen. “In the two cases I’ve had a response, it’s concerned clarification of paragraphs.”

After the course, he felt more confident about getting through to the authorities, and knew who to call at the various bodies to secure advice and replies.

That enhanced his sense of security in the job, but he sees no reason to dramatise how demanding the role is. “Being a fishery expert’s no problem. I’m the fishing industry’s man, and feel accepted at home in Stokmarknes.”

In a phone call after the course, Mr Sebulonsen says that the programme was very acceptable overall and that the organiser had clearly prepared well.

“I know more about how to deal with different circumstances, and about which contacts to use. The Coastguard could be a useful source of support, for instance.”

 

Silent listener

During the first part of the course, a silent listener sat at the back and made the occasional note to provide the basis for comments on the second and third days.

Psychologist Hugo Smith-Meyer offered no cut-and-dried answers, but heard afterwards that the participants were satisfied and found the programme useful.

He calls his contribution “mutual understanding and exercise of roles”, a topic he believes the fishery experts know a good deal about.

“The fishing industry needs its income, while the oil sector must have acceptable working conditions,” he points out. “You can’t just train to be a fishery expert, you need the experience first.”

The course aimed to give the experts an insight into the regulations and a better grasp of an industry they must know intimately, Mr Smith-Meyer explains.

He believes that the programme enhances their sense of security in a role which places them in many respects “in another man’s home”.

But he feels there is little risk they will end up in an oil company’s pocket. “They have their roots in fishing, and their job at sea.

“There’s a greater danger that people in the seismic survey sector won’t take them seriously enough. However, the sense of community which the NPD is building between the experts attending these courses helps to counter such a tendency.”

 

“You can’t just train to be a fishery expert, you need the experience first.”


Psychologist Hugo Smith-Meyer

 

Course topics

  • Regulatory and industry organisation
  • Exploration methods and geology
  • Permits, regulations and procedures
  • Consultation processes
  • Impact of seismic shooting on marine life
  • Fishery expert’s handbook
  • The fishery expert’s role
  • Communication on board
  • Contact with the authorities
  • Reporting
  • Knowledge test
  • Language test

 

The course has been developed by

  • NPD
  • Directorate of Fisheries
  • Norwegian Coastguards
  • Norwegian Institute of Marine Research
  • Consultants

More about fisheries and seismic surveys at www.npd.no

Lessons also for the industry. See Droplets

 

New development s in 2009

Regulations have been adjusted Easier access to the regulations via the web Better information about seismic survey plans.

Improved definition of data-gathering area Courses for fishery experts Closer cooperation between the Directorate of Fisheries, the NPD and the Coastguard Tracking of seismic survey vessels Efforts to improve rationalisation of seismic acquisition above the 62nd parallel (Norwegian and Barents Seas) Better follow-up of non-conformities.

 

Roy Sebulonsen (left) and Finn Hansen

The experts, Roy Sebulonsen (left) and Finn Hansen thinks that there should be two of them on each survey ship. They are out on an expedition for several weeks at a time, and must be available around the clock.


Topics: Seismic