A representative of the region’s recreational fishing community has slammed the company that plans to conduct seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle in April.
But MEC Resources, which will look for gas by shooting acoustic pulses into the ocean floor about 30km off the coast, has defended its actions.
Jason Nunn, who owns a Lake Macquarie tackle shop, said he was involved in consultative meetings with MEC Resources representative Toby Foster last year.
Mr Nunn said anglers told Mr Foster that August would be the least disruptive month, while April would be a peak fishing period.
He said he felt “blind-sided” when he received notification last week that the 2D seismic testing would take place over three-to-four days from April 9 when “we hadn’t heard boo from them for ages”.
Mr Nunn accused the company of failing to properly consult the fishing community about the April test date.
“We thought this whole thing had gone away,” he said.
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“There’s a very, very high chance they’re going to find what they’re after [gas] – this is the thin edge of the wedge.
“Are we going to create jobs at the cost of the environment? Take the seismic testing and take the potential gas rig somewhere else.”
But Mr Foster said the company had been in contact with a range of groups, information had been available through the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) and updates had been provided to the Australian Stock Exchange since last year.
“Natural gas exploration drilling was undertaken previously by the company in 2010, when a semi-submersible rig was anchored for a short period 55km east of Newcastle,” he said.
“Subsea field development is very common, such that the many gas fields operating off the Victorian coast and supplying gas to NSW for decades are invisible.”
Read more: Seismic testing approved off Newcastle coast
Mr Nunn said the 2D seismic testing was considered less disruptive than the 3D version, which “pulverised” a fertile fishing spot off Port Stephens about decade ago.
But he argued that MEC Resources would return for 3D tests if the 2D testing showed promise and he feared the end result would be a gas rig off Newcastle’s coast.
“When that 3D survey happened out her 10 or 12 years ago, I was out there in the boat fishing at the time and you couldn’t catch a fish in that whole area,” he said.
“Areas that were prolific with catch-rates have never been the same since.”
When asked about future plans, Mr Foster said “3D seismic, airborne geophysics, exploration drilling, water and sediment sampling and many other activities” were options.
He said each of these activities would require NOPSEMA’s approval.
Greenpeace calls for review
Greenpeace has called for seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle to be suspended pending a full review.
It comes less than a fortnight before the three-to-four-day testing is set to begin on April 9.
Greenpeace has lodged a complaint with the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority over its approval of MEC Resources’ plan, alleging the organisation failed to properly consult with key stakeholders, including the whale watching and fishing industries.
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“Given the growing objections from local industries, conservation groups and the community, NOPSEMA must immediately place a hold on the activity until a review of the environment plan can be conducted and all relevant persons have been consulted,” Greenpeace senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.
“There is a growing chorus of voices calling for this testing to be stopped including commercial fishermen, tourism operators, Liberal state politicians, as well as conservation groups and the local community.”
MEC Resources spokesman Toby Foster rejected the idea that the company hadn’t properly consulted stakeholders.
“We have been in contact with a variety of interest groups for a considerable period of time,” he said.
“Through consultation with all stakeholders, we have committed to undertaking the activity outside the peak commercial and recreational fishing periods of Christmas, New Year, Australia Day, Chinese New Year and Easter. Furthermore, we will be undertaking the survey outside the peak whale migration period.”