Nfld. & Labrador

New oil regulation means step backwards for fishermen, FFAW president says

Sullivan said the faster approval of environmental assessments, along with seismic work expected to take place in the province later this year, adds up to a larger impact on the environment and the waters people fish in.

Environmental assessment process length cut from 900 to 90 days

Fisheries union president Keith Sullivan says fishermen consultations have been removed from the environment assessment process as result of new regulations. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

The change to allow environmental assessments for exploratory drilling offshore to be done quicker will impact Newfoundland and Labrador's fishing industry, according to the president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union.

Earlier this week, Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan announced Newfoundland and Labrador will be exempt from federal environmental impact assessments in favour of a regional assessment, which will cut the approval process from up to 905 days to as little as 90 days.

The move was made to help the province's oil and gas industry, which has faced countless setbacks over the course of the year.

However, FFAW President Keith Sullivan says the new regulation has removed fishermen from the consultation process.

"There's serious concerns from harvesters, there have been for some time, for the development of oil and gas and the prime fishing grounds," Sullivan told CBC Radio's The Broadcast Friday.

"We want to see progress go the other way, and have some respect for harvesters," he added. "But this is clearly a step clearly designed to improve things for oil companies, investors, and not for the people who are living and making a living in the fishing industry."

Sullivan said the faster approval of environmental assessments, along with seismic work expected to take place in the province later this year, adds up to a larger impact on the environment and the waters people fish in.

"More exploration and drilling in areas can cause problems either directly, and then there's added risk of things like oil spills in these pristine environments we depend on for the fishery," he said. "Not knowing the impacts on the environment, whether it's phytoplankton or other things like that, what impact does [it] really have overall? There's so many questions that people deserve answers to."

The province has heard from Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan on the new regulations, but Keith Sullivan said he would like to hear from the provincial government. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

Sullivan said union members have been calling for more consultation on the issue in the past, and will continue to do so. He said he hopes to hear from government as to how they will work to protect the fishery, similar to how they have worked to protect the offshore oil sector in recent weeks.

"[What] I'm thinking now is 'What is the premier, what is Minister Coady, what is Minister Byrne, what are they going to tell tens of thousands of people in the fishing industry?" he said. "How are you going to assure these people that they're not going to lose their valuable, sustainable fishing grounds?"

"We need provincial government to step up and dearly consider what's happening to the people who are fishing here too, not just one of the industries."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The Broadcast

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