Undertaking seismic surveys in Victorian managed waters

Policy for Victorian fisheries






Environmental plan consultation








DEDJTR – Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources

DELWP – Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

NOPSEMA – National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority

OCS- Offshore Constitutional Settlement.

Proponent – any entity including oil and gas companies and public entities such as universities or government agencies applying to DEDJTR or NOPSEMA to undertake a seismic survey in Victorian waters

SIV – Seafood Industry Victoria

VFA – Victorian Fisheries Authority

VRFish – Victorian recreational fishing representative body


Seismic surveying is commonly used in the earth resources sector to gain a better understanding of subsurface geology.

In line with their legislated responsibilities, the VFA is committed to ensuring that where possible, seismic surveys cause minimal disturbance to fisheries, fish habitat and the businesses and community accessing these resources in Victorian managed waters.


This policy is primarily intended to provide clarity about the role of the VFA in assisting either a proponent seeking approval to undertake seismic surveys in Victorian managed waters, or a fisher operating in waters in which seismic surveying is planned to take place.  It describes the fishing related matters and mitigation strategies to be considered by proponents when planning and implementing seismic surveys in commercially and recreationally fished waters. 


This policy relates to all marine waters in which the VFA has regulatory responsibility for the management of fisheries. This includes all state waters out to 3 nautical miles (NM) and Commonwealth waters where the VFA manage fisheries on behalf of the Commonwealth under OCS arrangements. OCS arrangements are joint management arrangements of particular marine living resources that are found in waters subject to both Commonwealth and State control. Such arrangements allow for the management of the resources by State authorities, even in waters outside the State three NM territorial sea boundary. In Victoria, such arrangements are in place out to 20 NM for key species such as scallop and rock lobster.


The VFA is an independent statutory authority established to manage Victoria's fisheries resources under the provisions of the Fisheries Act 1995.  This policy is aligned to the objectives of the Fisheries Act 1995 which include, relevantly —

  • to provide for the management, development and use of Victoria's fisheries, aquaculture industries and associated aquatic biological resources in an efficient, effective and ecologically sustainable manner;
  • to protect and conserve fisheries resources, habitats and ecosystems including the maintenance of aquatic ecological processes and genetic diversity;
  • to promote sustainable commercial fishing and viable aquaculture industries and quality recreational fishing opportunities for the benefit of present and future generations;
  • to facilitate access to fisheries resources for commercial, recreational, traditional and non-consumptive uses.

These objectives are fundamental to best practice fisheries management.  The VFA will advocate that any plans to undertake seismic surveys in an area fished by Victorian fishers carefully considers these objectives, and addresses impacts and mitigation strategies as part of their Environment Plan preparation. 

The Victorian State Government (DEDJTR) administers offshore petroleum exploration and greenhouse gas activities and development within Victorian State waters. Under the Victorian Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Regulations 2011, a proponent must not carry out an activity unless there is a ministerially approved environment plan in force for the activity.  Environment plan applications and summaries are published to keep the stakeholders and community informed of activities.


 NOPSEMA regulates the environmental management of petroleum activity or greenhouse gas activity carried out in an offshore area in Commonwealth waters.   Under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009, proponents must submit an Environment Plan to NOPSEMA for assessment before beginning any petroleum or greenhouse gas related activities in Commonwealth waters; this includes seismic surveys.

Environment plan consultation

As part of their Environment Plan submission, proponents must demonstrate that they have consulted with 'relevant persons' or organisations whose functions, interests or activities may be affected by the petroleum activity. Proponents are also required to address the merits of any objection or claim about the activities made by relevant persons and include copies of full text responses. Because of the OCS arrangements in place in Victoria for some key fisheries, the VFA is a 'relevant person' in both the state and commonwealth context and should be consulted by proponents during the consultation and planning phases of their Environment Plan preparation.

Role of The Victorian Fisheries Authority

Consistent with the objectives in the Fisheries Act 1995, when consulted on a proposed seismic survey in Victorian managed waters, the VFA will expect that the proponents address the ecological, economic and social impacts of their activities including:

  • Suitability of location for seismic surveys including consideration of:
    • cumulative impacts on fish, fish habitat, and fishing activity
    • patterns of commercial and recreational fishing activity and likelihood of displacement
  • Suitability for timing of surveys including consideration of:
    • reproduction phase and moulting phase for each species identified
    • peak fishing periods
    • commercial fishing closures
  • Historic catch of species prior to seismic survey
  • Suitable mitigation measures to protect against possible detrimental effects and employing accepted best practice where known.
  • Up to date scientific advice on impact of seismic survey on relevant species.

To assist proponents in addressing these matters, the VFA will:

  1. Provide fishing catch and effort data to the proponent upon request for determining scale of possible impact of the survey activity.
    • There are limitations on the ability of the VFA to provide this data.  The VFA is bound by the secrecy provisions in the Fisheries Act 1995 (section 146) as well as confidentiality clauses on fishing licence holder's logbooks.  Data that is submitted in the logbooks can only be published or provided in an aggregated form. This requires that data must be aggregated from at least five licence holders in any reporting area.  This is to ensure that no individual's operations can be identified.
    • If data is requested from the VFA, to facilitate access to data, it is recommended that proponents clearly define the data fields they would like to be provided with.  Fields may include area of interest, time period (e.g. 5 fiscal years or 5 fishing years), species, days fished (fishing effort) etc.  Please note that the ability of the VFA to provide data at this level of detail is dependent on the confidentiality issues described above.  The Catch and Effort Unit of the VFA (refer to page 10) can assist in providing maps of fishing reporting grids to enable identification of relevant areas of interest.
    • The VFA may assist proponents to seek permission from licence holders to access more detailed, non-aggregated data if required.  This may only be facilitated if the proponent drafts a letter of request for data.
    • The VFA may send the letter out to specific fisheries licence holders on behalf of the proponent seeking permission to access their logbook data.  If such a request is granted, or
    • If fisheries licence holders provide data directly to the proponent, the VFA may assist in validating any catch and effort data for accuracy by cross checking the Catch and Effort database.
  2. Provide a list of key fisheries contacts for consultation in the survey area.  This includes fishing representative bodies and associations.  Fisheries licence holders personal contact information will not be provided by the VFA.
  3. Advocate for further data collection regarding the impact of seismic surveys on key Victorian marine species (e.g. through requirements for proponents to invest in further independent studies).
  4. Assist proponents to ensure that appropriate fishing interests from Victoria are consulted in a targeted and constructive way.  Untargeted, broadly disseminated information should be avoided.
  5. Suggest mitigation strategies to manage specific risks to key species (refer to Table 1).

Contact details for such assistance are provided in page 10 of this document.


Marine seismic surveys are carried out by a specialised vessel towing a sound wave source that produces sound pulses in a controlled frequency range at set intervals.  The sound signals are reflected back by underground rock formations and are captured by hydrophones (acoustic receivers) in 'streamers' that are also towed by the vessel. The data collected by the hydrophones is recorded on board the vessel for later analysis and interpretation.

The VFA will advocate for all relevant research to be taken into account by proponents and any adverse findings included and addressed as part of the environmental planning process. It is the responsibility of the proponent to demonstrate that the environmental impacts and risks of the activity will be of an acceptable level and will be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable.  Ultimately the relevant Minster must be satisfied that the proposal meets this intent in-line with the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act.  

The VFA will therefore advocate that proponents consider all recent relevant scientific literature related to the possible impact of seismic surveys on fisheries and consider investing in further research to better understand the impact.  Also, the VFA would expect that proponents consider mitigation strategies in consultation with affected fishers and fishing organisations, and make every reasonable effort to put in place strategies to minimise the impact of seismic surveys on fisheries and fishers activities.


The VFA can assist in providing relevant stakeholder contact details and catch data to assist the proponents to mitigate potential impacts of seismic surveys on Victoria's fisheries. A number of mitigation strategies which proponents should consider are provided in Table 1.

Table 1 is not exhaustive and will be updated periodically as new information comes to hand. The VFA may request further actions beyond those outlined in Table 1, and recommends that, where appropriate, proponents do not limit their mitigation strategies to those outlined in the table. Close consultation with effected fishers will assist in identifying more detailed or species-specific mitigations. 

To help the proponent determine which mitigation strategies are relevant, a table identifying spawning periods and key commercial fishing activity of key Victorian fisheries species have been provided (Table 2).


The VFA will not recover costs from fishing licence holders under the fisheries prospective cost recovery system (or by any other means), for any activity it undertakes in assisting either the fishing industry or proponents in relation to the undertaking of seismic surveys. 

Costs may be recovered from the proponents for the provision of data or other analytical services.  This will be assessed on a case by case basis.


Timely consultation with all relevant stakeholder groups potentially impacted by the survey work, including the VFA, is necessary during the preparation of Environment Plans.  The VFA would expect that consultation on any offshore or near shore seismic survey in the Victorian managed waters apply the following principles:

  • The consultation process will adhere to the principles of natural justice to those people who may be adversely affected by a proposed activity, and allow them to have their views heard before a regulatory decision is made.
  • Consultation should be targeted to reflect the possible impact of the survey on relevant persons and fisheries resources.  Fishing industry representative bodies (e.g. SIV and VRFish) and associations may assist in determining the relevant persons.
  • All consultation will be made in a timely manner to allow genuine concerns to be raised.
  • Reasonable efforts will be made by oil and gas companies or other proponents to determine who may be affected by the seismic survey.  These may include the Victorian Fisheries Authority, relevant commercial fisheries licence holders, recreational and commercial fishing representative bodies and any other users of the fisheries resource.
  • The consultation process will enable the hearing of all relevant views and contribute to proponent's understanding of the management of impacts and risks of the activity to those potentially affected.
  • Consultation must include sufficient information about the way in which the proposed activity may impact on the stakeholders' functions, interests or activities.
  • Consultation will be undertaken with a genuine desire to further understand the environments in which the survey will be undertaken.
  • Consultation will inform the activity such that any seismic surveys shall not interfere with fishing, fisheries or fisheries habitat to a greater extent than is necessary for the reasonable exercise of the rights and performance of the proponent.
  • Outcomes of all consultation will be transparent, accurately documented and provided to the resources regulator (DEDJTR or NOPSEMA) for consideration in its regulatory decision.
  • All issues raised should be clearly documented in the Environment Plan and each specific objection or claim raised should be reasonably addressed.
  • Consultation process must consider expert advice, and consideration must be given to any recent relevant scientific studies regarding the species or fishery which may be impacted by the seismic survey.


For further information about this policy please contact:

Dallas D'Silva
Director – Policy and Licensing
Victorian Fisheries Authority
Phone: (03) 8392 6846

For specific data requests or advice on catch and effort information available please contact:

Catch and Effort Unit
Victorian Fisheries Authority
Queenscliff VIC 3225
Freecall: 1800 620 896
Fax: (03) 5258 4553

Please refer to the VFA website at vfa.vic.gov.au for information and data about Victoria's fisheries including

  • Data on state wide catch contained in the VFA's Commercial Fishing Bulletin
  • Species specific information
  • Contact information for any fisheries management issue
Table 1 - Actions, impacts and mitigation strategies for seismic surveys1
Issue Action required by proponent Potential impact Recommended mitigation strategies
Finfish Consultation with the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA), Seafood Industry Victoria (SIV), Victorian Recreational Fishing representative body (VRFish) and individual fishers as appropriate Economic
  • undertaking surveys in peak recreational and commercial seasons
  • restricting movement of fish away from the source of seismic sounds
  • key fishing grounds where possible (in particular near shore and proximal to bays and inlets).
  • Minimise the sound intensity and exposure time of surveys.
    Minimise exclusion period of fishers from fishing grounds and transit routes.
    Address specific advice from SIV, VRFish and individual fishers.
    Rock Lobster/ Giant Crab Consultation with the VFA, SIV, VRFish and individual fishers as appropriate Economic
  • undertaking surveys in peak recreational and commercial seasons and closed seasons.
  • key fishing grounds (to be determined based on testing site)
  • spawning period
  • Minimise the sound intensity and exposure time of surveys
  • Minimise exclusion period of fishers from fishing grounds and transit routes.
    Investigate undertaking targeted research during operations to better understand impacts. 
    Address specific advice from SIV, VRFish and individual fishers.
    Scallops (ocean) Consultation with the VFA, SIV and individual fishers as appropriate Economic
  • undertaking surveys in key commercial seasons
  • key scallop beds where possible
  • spawning season
  • Minimise the sound intensity and exposure time of surveys
    Minimise exclusion period of fishers from fishing grounds and transit routes.
    Investigate undertaking targeted research during operations to better understand impacts. 
    Address specific advice from SIV, VRFish and individual fishers.
    Abalone Consultation with the VFA, SIV, VRFish and individual fishers as appropriate Economic Avoid:
  • undertaking surveys in key recreational and commercial seasons
  • key fishing grounds where possible (in particular near shore and rocky reefs).
  • Minimise the sound intensity and exposure time of surveys.
    Minimise exclusion period of fishers from fishing grounds and transit routes.

    1 This is a table of some specific mitigation strategies which the VFA would like considered when planning and undertaking seismic surveys in Victorian managed waters.  This list is not exhaustive and may be periodically amended.  These strategies are designed to assist proponents comply with Section 276 of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2010 which requires that a proponent must carry on their activities in a manner that does not interfere with navigation or fishing to a greater extent than is necessary for the reasonable exercise of the rights and performance of the duties of the proponent.  Strategies should be considered on a case by case basis in consultation with the relevant fisher.

    Table 2 - Spawning (blue) and peak commercial fishing periods (red) for key Victorian fisheries














    Rock lobster[2]

    Snapper[3], [4]



    [2] https://vfa.vic.gov.au/commercial-fishing/rock-lobster/fishery-overview

    [3] Patrick C. Coutin, Shellie Cashmore and K.P. Sivakumuran (2003) FRDC Final Report Assessment of the snapper fishery in Victoria  FRDC Project No. 97/128

    [4] Whilst snapper is a key commercially and recreationally targeted finfish species, there are many other species which should be considered in any given area.  Consultation with SIV will assist in identifying key finfish fisheries in any given area.

    [5] Izzo, C, Gillanders, B.M and Ward, T.M (2012). Movement patterns and stock structure of Australian sardine (Sardinops sagax) off South Australia and the East Cost: implications for future stock assessment and management. Final Report to the FRDC. SARDI Research Report Series No. 611. 102pp. (note – sardines are taken throughout the year, but peak catches occur throughout March and June)

    [6] https://vfa.vic.gov.au/commercial-fishing/scallop