Fishing groups ask court to halt ocean seismic testing

AP News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2015 1:33 PM

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) — Five fishing groups asked a federal court to stop scientists from blasting the ocean floor with sound waves, arguing their research is disturbing marine life off the New Jersey coast by exposing animals to noise comparable to a space shuttle launch or a nuclear bomb.

The lawsuit filed Friday seeks a halt to the program being carried out by Rutgers University, the University of Texas and the National Science Foundation.

The project uses sound waves to study sediment on the ocean floor dating back 60 million years to see how sea level rise has changed the coastline.

"It shows the arrogance of scientists," said Tom Foote, an official with the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit. "There's no need to do it this time of year, but because it's convenient for them, they're doing it when the fish are here."

The researchers say they take extensive steps to prevent disturbing marine life, and that the benefits of the study could help coastal towns better plan for and protect against storms. The findings could be used to help make decisions on where to elevate houses, build protective barriers, relocate critical infrastructure or retreat from certain spots.

"We're collecting data in full compliance with laws that protect marine life," said Gregory Mountain, the lead researcher. "When analyzed, our results will provide the factual basis for understanding and preparing for the impact of sea-level rise on coastlines."

He did not say how much of the study, which began on June 1, remains to be completed.

Environmentalists say such research has a history of harming marine life, which can become disoriented or stressed from the noise.

The lawsuit, separate from one filed by the state Environmental Protection Department, says the gear used in the survey generates blasts of over 200 decibels — louder than a space shuttle launch and only slightly less noisy than an atomic bomb detonation 250 feet from the blast site.

It asserts "the survey is irreparably harming the aquatic life" off Long Beach Island.

The other plaintiffs are the Recreational Fishing Alliance; The Fishermen's' Dock Cooperative; the Garden State Seafood Association; and the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.

The researchers actually tried to do the work last summer, but were thwarted by a mechanical breakdown that forced postponement of the study until this summer. A lawsuit by the state filed last year trying to block the project was dismissed.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC