BOEM study will examine seismic air gun impacts on fish behavior

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will be studying the impacts of shooting seismic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico on commercially important fish there.

Jun 27th, 2019

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will be studying the impacts of shooting seismic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico on commercially important fish there.

“In the past, the emphasis was on physiological impacts. It’s currently thought there may be more impacts on behavioral interruption,” Mark Belter, from the agency’s Gulf of Mexico office, said on June 26 during BOEM’s 2019 Offshore Science and Assessment Committee meeting.

“There’s a good body of research already. The real problem is not that it’s limited data but limited relevant data. We’re trying to assess the movements of commercially and recreationally important fish in the presence of offshore seismic surveys,” Belter said. “We’re trying to determine what responses are, how long they occur, and when fish resume normal activity. This already is interrupted because of seismic operations already under way in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Erica Staaterman from BOEM’s Washington headquarters said, “The target species in this study will be red snapper from 3 months before to 3 months after the seismic survey. Four replicates will be covered under the current budget. Fifty adult red snappers will be tagged with VEMCO acoustic transmitters, half with depth and acceleration surveys.”

A second part of the study will look at larval fish with light traps in days immediately preceding a seismic survey nearby, Staaterman said. “The intention is to replicate the process at least four times. You can pick up the whole array and move it to the next site. Having another array that’s not affected by seismic activity could provide a control,” she said.

The main questions will be whether adult fish leave when a seismic vessel approaches, whether their behavior changes as the vessel passes overhead, and how BOEM can better use existing technology to achieve more satisfactory results, she said.

Other conference participants suggested that it would be beneficial to reach out to the oil and gas industry before more studies begin. They also said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is conducting studies offshore and has experience finding well-qualified researchers.

“The study we have ongoing is finishing up. The snapper showed a remarkable amount of fidelity to the reef in the habitat area,” Belter said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@endeavorb2b.com.

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