Just a few months after DFO cut crab quotas, now the oil and gas industry may be interfering with the livelihoods of harvesters, according to fisheries unions.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) has approved offshore seismic testing to take place in prime fishing areas on the Grand Banks. 

The board approved the request from Multi Klient Invest AS (MKI) for three-dimensional seismic testing in two areas from mid-July to mid-October and from mid-July to the end of August.

'Harvesters depend on the fishery and it's too important to risk with seismic blasting.' - Keith Sullivan

Seismic testing involves using blasts of sound to search for oil and gas reserves.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) issued a press release on Friday, calling on the petroleum board to reconsider its decision.

Keith Sullivan, president of FFAW-Unifor, says the testing would interfere with the snow crab fishery taking place in July. 

Keith Sullivan

FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan says the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board needs to reconsider its decision to approve offshore seismic testing. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC News)

"This is the most important fishery for harvesters who are fishing on the Grand Banks right now," Sullivan told CBC News. "This must stop until after the fishery is done."

The president of FISH-NL agrees.

'Incredible impact'

Ryan Cleary wrote the C-NLOPB at the end of June, asking to suspend seismic testing in order to study its impact on marine life.

"We have the Grand Banks that are already sensitive — most commercial stocks are at critical levels or headed that way," Cleary said.

"At the same time that we've got … seismic testing that's going on, that may have this incredible impact on the marine environment." 

Ryan Cleary

The President of FISH-NL says the oil and gas industry needs to stop seismic testing in order to study its effect on marine life. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC News)

While Cleary and Sullivan are both concerned about the environmental impact of seismic testing, Cleary said the relationship between FFAW and oil and gas companies has become "too close" and questions whether the voices of fishermen are being lost as a result. 

Sullivan denied that accusation.

"That's absolutely not true," Sullivan said. "[At] times in the past, we'll work with the oil and gas industry. We're going to talk to the companies if they're moving a rig, to protect our harvesters or people who depend on the fishery."

Oil and gas companies want the best information before spending hundreds of millions on drilling programs, Sullivan said. That typically requires seismic testing.

"They certainly have to re-examine their decision here and look at a different option for getting the information they need," Sullivan said.

Crab on the Burin Tradition

Keith Sullivan says oil and gas companies need to find a different way to get the information they need. (Winston Pitcher)

"Harvesters depend on the fishery and it's too important to risk with seismic blasting going on right now."

The C-NLOPB issued a statement in response the union's press release late Monday afternoon.

The board "expects seismic survey operations to avoid actively fished areas," a spokesperson told CBC News in an email.

They have also asked the FFAW and MKI to "reach a solution that protects the crab fishery and allows seismic activity to occur when fishing activity has concluded."