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February 26, 1999

Massachusetts Fishermen Urge Extension of Georges Bank Oil and Gas Moratorium

Members of the Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership (MFP) voted this week to urge the Canadian government to extend their oil and gas moratorium on Georges Bank. Without government action, the moratorium will expire at the end of this year. The fishermen are concerned that failure to act now could pave the way for seismic exploration and drilling as early as 2000 or 2001 with possible field development to follow.

David Bergeron of the MFP stated, "Whatever Canadians do on Georges Bank impacts our fishermen. Less than a third of the Bank is currently controlled by Canada, but currents could carry any contaminants into US waters. We also fear that critical spawning and nursery grounds could be damaged by oil and gas operations."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recently sent a strongly worded recommendation to the Georges Bank Review Panel giving their reasons why the Canadian Moratorium should be extended. The report, "Even if contamination could be contained, it would adversely affect the many species of fish and marine mammals that use both the Canadian and US portions of Georges Bank at some point in their life cycle."

On June 12, 1998, President Clinton extended the Moratorium on new oil and gas operations on the US continental shelf until 2012. In a statement at the National Ocean Conference in Monterey he declared, "Our oceans are the key to the life support systems for all creatures on this planet." In the case of Georges Bank, it is the life support system for the entire Gulf of Maine and all who depend on it for their livelihoods.
The MFP position is also in accord with the New England Fishery Management Council; whose Chairman, Joseph Brancaleone, stated, "American fishermen and their communities are already being asked to make sacrifices to improve stock rebuilding and the risks associated with oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank could confound those sacrifices. It appears that while the petrochemical industry would receive most of the short-term gains from any drilling that occurs in the area, it is the Canadian and American Fishermen and their communities that are expected to absorb the potentially significant and long-term costs associated with exploration and drilling activities."

The future of New England's fishermen depends on a health Georges Bank ecosystem. We simply cannot afford a mistake, and the history of the oil industry virtually guarantees that mistakes will be made.

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