O’Brien: Offshore drilling’s risk is too great for Virginia’s fishermen

Below is an opinion editorial by my friend Tim O’Brien of Virginia.  His concerns about the impact of offshore oil exploration and drilling apply equally to South Carolina and all the Mid-Atlantic states.  Tim’s  company also does business in South Carolina.


Richmond Times-Dispatch
January 7, 2016

By Timothy P. O’Brien

As the president of a Virginia-based business that caters to the sportfishing industry, an adviser to a fisheries regulatory council and a representative to an international fishing association, I am acutely aware of how important healthy oceans are to our way of life. My father founded our family business out of a love of fishing and a commitment to creating local jobs, and I am fortunate to continue these traditions 80 years on.

What’s more, I have directly witnessed the value of fishing to the Virginia economy. Virginia’s coastal economy depends on many industries, especially tourism and both recreational and commercial fishing. Coastal tourism directly generates more than $4.4 billion annually and supports more than 43,000 jobs, while fishing generates more than $2 billion annually and supports nearly 30,000 jobs. But these valuable industries are in danger of profound change if the oil and gas companies get their way to begin offshore seismic testing and oil and gas drilling.

The Obama administration is nearing its final decision on whether to open the Virginia coast to offshore drilling, and some of our elected political leaders, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, continue to insist that offshore drilling will be an economic boon to our state. In 2010, when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell began promoting the idea of drilling for oil off of the Virginia Coast, many Virginians favored the idea, even in the tourism-dependent coastal cities and towns. But, after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, of which the long-term implications are yet to be fully understood, and as more information became clear about the risks to our coast and vital industries, Virginians began to question the wisdom of offshore drilling.

I am part of an industry that relies on oil to fuel up at the dock. But the potential problems caused by drilling off our waters far outweigh the potential benefits. Should a major spill like we saw in the Gulf ever occur in our waters, the effects would be felt throughout the Northern Hemisphere, creating an ecological disaster of international and epic proportions. Even without a major spill, the infrastructure associated with this kind of drilling would render our coastline almost unrecognizable — with rigs, refineries, pipelines, tankers and more. Secondly, the number of oil and gas jobs that could possibly be created would be much fewer than the number of already established local jobs that could be lost. In short, well-established, thriving coastal industries in Virginia, especially fishing and tourism, could easily be destroyed if the oil and gas industries get their way.

Now, more than 90 coastal communities from the Delmarva Peninsula to Savannah, Ga. have taken a strong stance against oil and gas exploration. Growing numbers of Virginians are standing firmly opposed to the proposal to open our coasts to offshore drilling — business owners, community members, families along the coast and fishermen like me. After all, the fishermen, shellfish growers, crabbers and watermen are the ones whose jobs and livelihoods would be put at risk if offshore drilling begins off our coast. Further, the South Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Councils, the Southeastern Fisheries Association, the Billfish Foundation and the International Game Fish Association have now officially voiced concerns and passed resolutions against the plan to open the Atlantic coast to drilling.

However, politicians are seemingly ignoring the will of their constituents and are proceeding in a “full steam ahead” manner to gain approval to open the coast to drilling. We fishermen have a unique knowledge of healthy ocean ecosystems, and we are extremely concerned about the serious risks posed by offshore drilling and seismic testing. In recent years, the Atlantic fishing community has worked diligently to harvest fish sustainably and rebuild populations while continuing to contribute to our coastal economies. The thought that the negative effects of seismic testing — or the devastating repercussions of a major spill like we saw in the Gulf — could destroy the fish populations we rely on and rebuilt is unacceptable to us.

The Atlantic Ocean is a magnificent resource that brings a way of life to millions of Americans from Florida to Maine, and I am committed to do all I can to ensure that local citizens and tourists can enjoy these incredible resources in perpetuity. I hope that Governor McAuliffe will listen to the concerns from our industry.

Timothy P. O’Brien is president of Waynesboro, Va.-based Tycoon Tackle, Inc. He serves on the International Committee of Representatives of the International Game Fish Association, the Ecosystem and Ocean Planning Advisory Panel of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and is a trustee for the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. Contact him at tpobrien@tycoontackle.com.



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