The offshore oil and gas industry is a very important component of Western Australia’s economy and a significant player in the shared marine environment.

Although the economic scale of WA’s commercial fishing industry is smaller than oil and gas by some orders of magnitude, fishing, pearling and aquaculture remain a crucial part of the State’s social, cultural, environmental and heritage perspective – particularly in regional WA.

During the past two years WAFIC has worked closely with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) – the offshore oil and gas sector’s peak body – to develop a Memorandum of Understanding.

This push for an MoU was prompted by the rapidly escalating amount of petroleum and gas sector activity occurring off WA’s coast and its potential impact on resources such as pearl oyster, finfish and rock lobster fisheries.

WAFIC identified the need to develop an improved method of cross-industry communication in order to manage and resolve competing interests and together with APPEA, we developed a MoU that agrees on a framework to foster cooperation, communication and consultation between WA’s fishing sector and the offshore oil and gas industry.

One of the immediate results of this new approach was highlighted by a working group that met in late August 2014 (with representatives from WAFIC, APPEA, NOPSEMA, PPA, Curtin University researchers and the Department of Fisheries) to discuss the limited research related to the impacts of seismic surveys on marine species.

The group acknowledged the lack of scientific consensus surrounding this issue and resolved to collaborate on an agreed position on available research following various literature reviews by industry and government.

The intention is to use this agreed baseline to help determine future research priorities and improve cross-sector and government communication.

It is early days, but this new approach has strong potential to provide greater certainty for the fishing industry by improving engagement with the oil and gas sector and achieving positive research, communication and consultation outcomes.