CEO Message – WAFIC uncovers a wave of new developments set to impact offshore environments

This week I’d like to touch on some broader developments which have the capacity to impact upon our industry as we move forwards.

WAFIC has recently stumbled upon a couple of offshore wind energy turbine projects off the west coast – a couple either side of Geraldton, one just north of Bunbury and another in Commonwealth waters between Bunbury and Mandurah.  We’ve heard there are a number of others planned and some of these may even be located between Augusta and Esperance.  The concern we have is that the approval processes for such projects are unacceptable because there is no capacity for us to get our voices properly heard.  For instance, the one in Commonwealth waters off Bunbury will be the largest windfarm in the world with 200 towers, each 260 metres tall, spread over 4000 square kilometres of water.

To give some perspective of how big this really is, the total area is larger than six European countries and each tower will be 30 metres higher than the tallest building in St Georges Terrace.  As a guide, from Fremantle you can see Rotto, which is not much above sea level and 20 kilometres away – these towers will be almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower and located anywhere between five kilometres and 70 kilometres offshore, so they will be clearly visible for people living between Bunbury and Mandurah.  Yet locals will not be given a say and there’s only a bare minimum environmental assessment being undertaken.

Environmental assessments aside, the impacts on commercial fishing also aren’t being properly addressed. We don’t even have a forum to have our concerns heard and I doubt that the Department of Primary industries and Regional Development or the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions will even be approached for consultation.  And without this input, the long-term impacts and consequences are unknown.

For instance, the location of the towers may interfere with fishing grounds; unnecessary damage can be done to reef habitats when putting in the foundations; plume damage may occur from the dredging of cables; there will be exclusion zones during construction and operations; there will be navigation hazards in the future, we can go on.  The danger is there is currently so much political appetite for clean energy that there’s a flood of projects coming over the hill and the regulatory approval processes have simply not been developed to ensure there are appropriate checks and balances in place.

The other danger is that some of these projects are being developed by overseas ‘rent seekers’ who are trying to get the approvals in place to on-sell the package to investment banks, or high net worth individuals.  In other words, the proponents are being purely opportunistic and seeking a quick return on investment. They have no skin in the game and really don’t care about the short, medium or long term impacts on key stakeholders such as the fishing industry.

And the State and Commonwealth approval processes are so woefully short of an acceptable standard that these project proponents can virtually do as they wish and so we fear there may be unfortunate consequences.  From WAFIC’s perspective we are raising awareness of this situation within government and advocating through the media the need for proper formal consultation processes – not only for the fishing industry, but also other affected stakeholders.

This is just one major new challenge facing our industry. There are also wall-to-wall coastal industrial salt projects being mooted between Karratha and Exmouth Gulf, each with significant potential to impact nursery areas of key fish species.

We’re getting our voices heard, but it’s really hard to get some traction to ensure that appropriate protections can be put in place – and our State’s regulatory system unfortunately doesn’t look at the cumulative impacts.

I could also talk about the planned dumping of dredge spoils inside Shark Bay by the Shark Bay Salt company (a subsidiary of a supposedly environmentally conscious Japanese company, Mitsui & Co) and the resultant damage to seagrasses, prawns, scallops and a wide range of protected species inside the World Heritage area including turtles, dugongs and dolphins. We stood up and objected, but the EPA and the developers ignored our concerns.

Meanwhile there continues to be the sometimes dramatic, negative impacts of oil and gas seismic exploration on fish numbers and the efforts of some large resource companies to avoid having to fully decommission more than a thousand wells off the Pilbara coast.  The bottom line is that despite the challenges of marine parks and the like, which seek to take away too much valuable fishing water, we have an unrelenting wave of new challenges which will clearly impact upon fishing sustainability.

To date governments are showing little interest, so WAFIC will need to stimulate a greater awareness of the broader consequences.

Best wishes