Fishing industry split on oil activity

Some parts of the fishing industry may be willing to soften their opposition to the prospect of oil activity off scenic Lofoten and Vesterålen in northern Norway, but only if oil companies meet a long list of demands. Others remain firmly opposed to oil exploration and drilling.

A local fishing fleet berthed at Henningsvær in Lofoten. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that the main fishing organization in Øksnes, a municipality with nearly 300 registered fishermen, has agreed on what they’ll demand in terms of compensation if oil companies hope to win exploration and drilling rights in waters that are among the richest fishing grounds in the country.

“The oil industry will generate economic problems for the fishing industry, which must be compensated,” said Kurt Karlsen, leder of the Øksnes Fiskarlag, which represents fishing industry players in the area.

He wouldn’t go so far as to say his group would be receptive to oil exploration and extraction as long as the demands are met, however. “There will be area conflicts and conflicts around the effects of exploration and development,” Karlsen told DN, explaining that the area in question is relatively small with many small, local fishermen dependent on it. The North Sea, he noted, was much bigger with more mobile fishing fleets, so conflicts with the oil industry have been fewer.

The Øksnes fleet will demand, for example, that seismic activity must be limited and only take place during periods when there are relatively few fish in the area. Seismic exploration, the fishermen believe, scares off the fish and companies using it must offer a predictable and unbureaucratic means of compensating the fishing fleets.

The fishing industry also demands creation of credible oil spill prevention measures, which would include and provide income for fishing boat owners. The oil industry must employ the knowledge of the local fishing industry and buy services from the fleets, contribute to a regional business development fund and consult the fishing industry on any placement of equipment on the sea floor.

Hege Marie Norheim, who heads state oil company Statoil’s efforts to promote oil activity in the area, welcomed Øksnes Fiskarlag’s initiative and hopes for more from other fishing organizations in the area. She may wait in vain: Andøy Fiskarlag was furious over Øksnes’ flirt with the oil industry, while Nordland Fylkes Fiskarlag would re-examine its firm opposition to oil activity.

Lars Haltbrekken of environmental group Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth Norway) remains firmly opposed to any oil activity off Lofoten and Vesterålen, known for its many islands and mountain ranges that rise sharply from the sea. The fishermen, he said, “are in another situation, fighting a desperate battle to survive.”

The Lofoten oil exploration issue is among several threatening to split Norway’s three-party government coalition. A decision on whether to allow oil activity in the area has been postponed pending release of another study of its consequences.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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