Can oil, fishing industries coexist?
Bodo University High North Center seminar in Norway seeks productive ways for two industries to cooperate in northern waters
The controversy regarding the lifting of the oil and gas leasing moratorium in Alaska’s Bristol Bay may give the impression that petroleum exploration and commercial fishing are mutually exclusive activities — i.e. each can only thrive at the expense of the other.
A two-day seminar in Henningsvaer in Norway’s Lofoten Islands in the spring sought to find solutions for the two industries to peacefully coexist.
Called “Peaceful and Productive Coexistence in the High North” and organized by the Bodø University High North Center for Business, the seminar brought together international representatives from the fishing industry; the oil and gas industry; community leadership; and indigenous peoples to discuss how the industries could work together cooperatively.
“Our hope was to foster discussion and share regional experiences from such diverse locations as the county of Nordland, Norway, North Aleutians, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico to fully examine the benefits and challenges associated with offshore commercial fishing and oil and gas activities,” said Jan Oddvar Sørnes, program director and associate professor of the High North Center.
Regional similarities include indigenous peoplesNorthern Norway and Alaska share similar climates and face similar issues concerning the relationship between the fishing and energy industries. Both regions also have significant populations of indigenous peoples – and some of the toughest environmental protections in the world.
The staff from Bodø University think that, with more than 40 years of experience of supporting both the fishing industry and the oil and gas industry, Norway can offer “a good lesson for those Alaska communities that are examining the prospects of expanding offshore oil and gas production.”
“A sound working relationship and knowledge of the needs of the fishing industry and environment are vital to future coexistence,” said Hugo Bjørnstad, mayor of Vågan. “There are many striking similarities between the Lofoten Islands and the East Aleutians area in Alaska. The fishing industry has been, and will continue to be, very important for us — even after oil and gas resources have been depleted,” he said.
“The goal of peaceful coexistence is to ensure that energy extraction does not interfere or give the appearance of interfering with offshore fishing activities,” said Per Eidsvik, advisor at Nordland County Council. “We in Nordland are keenly aware of migration patterns and the need to maintain our fishing habitats. We are also aware of the benefits natural gas and oil provide to our economy. The ongoing challenge is to properly harmonize the two industries through technology, improved mapping and common understanding. … The point is we can and should properly coexist with the necessary safeguards.”
Case studiesParticipants from Shell, Statoil and “a variety of fishing interests” shared successful case studies from the Norwegian fishing and energy industries with the Alaska delegation that attended the seminar.
“Statoil has a long history of working cooperatively with local and national officials to improve understanding and ensure all necessary social, environmental and technological challenges are met,” said Harald Finnvik, vice president communication and government affairs, Barents region, for Statoil. “Our Snohvit LNG development project in Hammerfest is a good example of finding constructive and sustainable solutions to these various challenges. Close cooperation with the regional and local authorities, local commercial interests and non-governmental organizations has led to solutions ensuring that our oceans are protected and our fishing communities continue to thrive along with a new industrial development in the region.”
Representatives from commercial fishing industry in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico also spoke about their experiences.
“Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico have almost 60 years of productive history with both fishing and oil and gas,” said Darrel Rivere, representing the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. “While we have had some issues to overcome, it has been a remarkably good, cooperative arrangement with both industries playing a significant role in our region’s economic development.”
Positive responseThe Alaska delegation at the seminar seems to have liked what it heard.
“This was an exciting and worthwhile event,” said Stanley Mack, mayor of Alaska’s Aleutians East Borough. “… Our discussions were productive and made me very enthusiastic about the prospects for having the oil and gas industry join with the fishing industry in the North Aleutian region to provide more economic opportunities for citizens.”
“Our region of Alaska has relatively few citizens spread out over a great distance,” said Tiel Smith of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. “For thousands of years we have relied on fishing. It is important that any offshore production not disturb our fisheries. I found the discussion and the exchange of ideas here in Norway to be very helpful to my understanding of the complex issues involved. I look forward to taking the discussions I have had here back to Bristol Bay and to continuing this dialogue in Alaska as soon as possible.”
The High North Center for Business at Bodø University says it will undertake “a study of the global experiences, benefits and challenges faced by offshore fisheries, indigenous populations, and oil and gas throughout the world, with a particular focus on circumpolar operations.”