Obama Faces Whale of a Problem Along Jersey Shore

   05.05.14

New Jersey recreational and commercial fishermen, along with a coalition of grassroots environmental groups and local activists, are protesting the irresponsible scheduling of a seismic testing program just 15 miles off Barnegat Inlet, a study that very well could last into August.

Scheduled to start on June 3 – which coincides with critical fish and marine mammal migration periods along the Jersey Shore – the seismic testing incorporates high-energy, seismic blasting by way of four- and eight-airgun arrays mounted on a large research vessel that produces sound levels of up to 253 decibels fired in an alternating sequence every 5 seconds.

Approved by the Obama administration as a climate change study designed to access deep sea sediments, the seismic blasting study off the Jersey Coast is being run by Rutgers University and is expected to last 30 days and cover 230 square miles of ocean, though sources believe the effort could continue later into the summer months.

“Our federal government couldn’t have picked a worse time to coordinate such an invasive study,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). “Our fishing community is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, and this explosive study will scatter fish and potentially do damage to migratory species like bottlenose dolphins, humpbacks and even right whales along our coast that time of year.”

Donofrio said members of the for-hire fleet, as well as well as local commercial fishermen, are fearful of the potential impacts on local marine life posed by the seismic airgun blasts. A recent study in the Journal of Acoustical Society of America has confirmed that seismic airguns used in similar underwater oil exploration efforts have damaged the auditory organs of fish. In announcing the $369,358 grant to Rutgers University to perform this seismic study, the National Science Foundation specifically noted how final results of the study “may be of relevance for hydrocarbon exploration industry.”

“Under the guise of a climate change study, the Obama Administration has proposed another job-killer for the coastal fishing industry during the prime summer months,” Donofrio said. “They’re obviously going forward with this study despite our concerns, but at the very least it could be coordinated at a different time of year when the negative impacts of marine life and local economy are minimized.”

RFA and other groups are urging the Obama Administration to step in and reschedule the seismic blasting for the winter months of January through March when the effects would be less damaging to marine life and the coastal resource.

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