Creating waves

The relatively peaceful co-existence maintained by seismic surveyors for many years with fishing interests and the media has come under heavy pressure. Several hundred critical press reports bear witness to the change.
  • Eldbjørg Vaage Melberg / Emile Ashley (photo)

Sissel Eriksen and Mona Fredheim in Stavanger’s fish market

Sissel Eriksen, the NPD’s director for exploration and seismic surveying, hails from a fish exporting family in western Norway. So she feels right at home with Mona Fredheim in Stavanger’s fish market.


Underlying this barrage of negative reporting is the strong opposition to seismic shooting in the Nordland VII and Troms II areas off northern Norway’s Lofoten and Vesterålen islands.

The NPD gathered two-dimensional data in these fish-rich waters for four months, and conducted a three-dimensional survey for three weeks. Fishermen were particularly angered by the length of the 2D work.

Sissel Eriksen, the NPD’s director for exploration and seismic surveying, says it will be different in 2009.

The NPD intends to shoot 3D seismic in these two areas for six weeks – in other words, a much shorter period than this summer. 

Does this mean that the NPD is now taking account of fishing industry demands?

Yes, it does. We’ve always been concerned that seismic data gathering should cause minimum harm to fishing. At the same time, this activity takes time and the area involved is large.

The Storting (parliament) has given us three years to conduct these surveys. That’s not long for such big regions as Nordland VII and Troms II. At the same time, extensive fishing takes place in these waters year-round.

We got most of the 2D data we need from the lengthy survey this summer, so that we can concentrate next year on 3D work in a period of six weeks in two or more smaller areas. Some fishermen don’t want seismic shooting at all, and we must take note of that.

The media have spoken and written about conflicts. What form have these taken?

Fishermen and their organisations have clashed with the authorities, primarily over the period for seismic surveying and over the regulation of the Greenland halibut fishery.

The latter is normally done by the Directorate of Fisheries, but the fisheries and petroleum ministers intervened in the early summer and changed the rules. That created great discontent among many fishermen.

But everything went well at sea. The NPD had one survey ship shooting 2D seismic and two in succession gathering 3D data. Each vessel carried two very able fishery experts, making it possible for them to serve watch and watch about.

These experts did a fantastic job, keeping in close touch with fishermen in the area and with the Coastguard report centre for fishing gear at Sortland, which is notified of all deployments.

Their job was precisely to help prevent conflicts. Apart from a couple of episodes, no disputes arose at sea. One of these incidents was our own fault.

Did the NPD fulfil its data-gathering plans?

We succeeded in doing most of what we’d planned. However, we’ve some holes in the 2D data coverage in areas close to land. This is because of fishing but that is not a problem for us.

Fishing off Lofoten and Vesterålen differs from activity in the North Sea, for instance. The latter is mainly conducted by large and mobile vessels which can move out of the way of survey ships.

Where we were this summer, smaller boats go out in the morning and return in the evening to deliver their catch. They are by and large less mobile than their colleagues further south.

What is the NPD doing to restore relations with fishermen before the 2009 season?

We want good relations with the fishing sector, and will do our best. Before awarding contracts for seismic vessels, we clarified plans for six weeks of 3D surveying with the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association and the Norwegian Coastal Fishermen’s Union.

Meetings have also been held with council chairs and local fishing association leaders in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja to provide information and hold discussions.

Another round of dialogue with the fishing organisations is planned for February, when we’ve completed initial interpretation of the material gathered last summer and identified the most interesting areas for 3D shooting.

In addition, we’ll be returning to Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja to provide information. We’ve understood the value of a good dialogue with fishing interests.

A planned research project which would have looked in part at how seismic shooting might scare fish was cancelled this year. What is going to be done in 2009?

It’s most regrettable that no research was done in 2008 because of many unfortunate collisions. But it will be pursued next year. We need a more robust programme which can cope with the unexpected.

The Norwegian Fishermen’s Association and the Norwegian Coastal Fishermen’s Union have also accepted our invitation to appoint representatives to a reference group for the project.

Topics: Seismic