June 29, 2017
by Timothy P. O’Brien
Recently, the Trump administration announced it would begin taking the next steps towards exploring for oil off the Atlantic Coast of the United States.
I am an angler and sportsman, and my customers are anglers and sportsmen. My business and my customers’ businesses will be hit hard if the exploration and drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast goes forward. But it is not just angling that is at risk, the entire coastal economy and way of life is under threat.
Here’s why: To find oil under the ocean floor, ships towing arrays of seismic airguns send blasts of noise into the water. These blasts of sound are the second loudest man-made noise in the ocean. The exploration under consideration would create a constant barrage up and down the East Coast; dynamite-like blasts every ten seconds for weeks to months on end.
Studies have shown that this type of disturbance can decrease catch rates of commercial fish species by an average of 50 percent over thousands of square miles. Further, these blasts are known to harm marine mammals and other species that are vital to a healthy ecosystem. We all like whales, dolphins and turtles, but what most concerns me are the fish.
Nobody has any idea how seismic airgun blasting will affect the forage fish, herring, shad, menhaden and others, which spawn in the rivers and estuaries all along the East Coast. As these species leave their spawning grounds, like the Chesapeake Bay, they become part of the food chain for the great pelagic species like Atlantic bluefin tuna, blue marlin and others. Seismic airgun blasting disturbing that migration would be disastrous to both the recreational and commercial fishing industries.
And that’s just exploring for oil. What happens if oil is found? The parts of the ecosystem that hadn’t been wrecked by the seismic airgun exploration would then be at risk from a blown-out well or spill. We saw what happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the ocean. For sure, it was an ecological and economic disaster, but thankfully the Gulf’s bowl-like shape largely contained the spill and its residual in that region.
A similar spill off the Atlantic Coast would be a disaster of global proportions. If oil entered the Gulf Stream it would be forced up into the Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River Valley, the Gulf of Maine, the Grand Banks (some of the richest fishing grounds in the world), and across the North Atlantic to Europe.
It is not just recreational and commercial fishermen that will be affected, this type of disaster will threaten every coastal business along the coast. For example, when the Cod stocks collapsed in Newfoundland in the 1990s, packing houses, grocery stores, gas stations, car mechanics, and countless other businesses of all sizes closed. In short, if you are making money on the Atlantic Coast, a hit to those fisheries will be a hit to your bottom line.
For these reasons and more, I’ve traveled to Washington, D.C. several times over the past few years, along with other business owners, private citizens and elected officials from all along the Atlantic Coast. We went because we felt like the Obama administration was not listening to us as they were preparing to open the Atlantic Coast to offshore oil drilling and exploration.
In the end, 125 East Coast municipalities, more than 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing more than 41,000 businesses and more than 500,000 fishing families officially said “no” to offshore oil exploration and/or drilling. We worked doggedly to make sure the administration heard our voices, and ultimately, they did. The seismic permits were denied and offshore drilling on the East Coast was taken off the table.
But now this.
I was all for draining the swamp in Washington, D.C., but the Trump administration is now preparing to overturn that hard-fought victory by allowing seismic exploration for oil off the Atlantic Coast. This decision is covered with the greedy and dirty fingerprints of corporate interests.
President Donald Trump claims to be all about business and creating jobs for Americans. Well, the 41,000 businesses and millions of people who will be most affected by this have already spoken. The costs of a disaster off the Atlantic Coast of the United States would be of unprecedented and unimaginable global proportions. This must not be allowed to happen.
Timothy P. O’Brien, the President of Tycoon Tackle, Inc, 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 Member of the Board of Directors of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.