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Fishermen Say ‘I Told You So’ After Huge Oil Spill With AM-Tanker Spill, Bjt

March 28, 1989

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Fishermen who warned years ago that an oil spill could wreak havoc with Prince William Sound’s pristine environment say their worst fears have been realized.

″It’s a heck of a way to win an argument,″ said fisherman Knute Johnson, 62, who opposed the 1977 construction of an oil terminal in Valdez, the nation’s northernmost ice-free port.

Johnson joined a group of fishermen who testified in the 1970s before a congressional committee considering construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the oil terminal.

″We were concerned about what biological damages could be,″ Johnson said Monday. ″We were concerned about tankers piling up on reefs.″

The oil companies ″ignored us,″ he said. ″All they said was that the latest technology would be used. They said not to worry about a spill because it would never happen. Now it’s happened.″

The tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground early Friday on a charted reef as it maneuvered around floating ice 25 miles south of Valdez. Cleanup of the 10.1 million-gallon spill, the largest in U.S. history, was proceeding slowly Monday as high winds and currents spread the oil over more than 100 square miles.

A $12 million herring-roe fishery expected to open in early April may be ruined, while other fisheries may suffer this summer and for years to come, said Marilyn Leland, executive director for the Cordova District Fishermen United. Some fishermen could go broke waiting for other fisheries to open, she said.

Last year, fishermen on Prince William Sound caught $131 million in salmon, herring, halibut and shellfish.

Even if this year’s catch is good, marketing the fish could be difficult, said Sandra Cesarini, co-owner of a Valdez fish-processing company. ″People are concerned whether the fish will be edible,″ she said.

Charter boat operations and other businesses dependent on tourism say the spill is tarnishing the pristine image of the island-dotted sound, which is surrounded by glacier-topped mountains and filled with whales, bald eagles, porpoises and other wildlife.

Leland said one of the hardest-hit towns may be Cordova, 30 miles east of the spill. The town’s population swells to 6,000 residents during fishing season.

″Everybody is here because of fishing in Cordova,″ Leland said. ″We can be looking at a devastating loss.″

Up to 50 fishermen offered their boats for the messy job of pulling containment booms around fingers of the oil spill, but by Monday only four boats had been used.

Cesarini said she already is losing money because of the spill. A boat en route to the cannery with 14,000 pounds of scallops had to be diverted because the spill closed the Port of Valdez.

″We’re talking about $1 million lost income right this second,″ with more losses likely to follow, she said. ″We’re pretty outraged. This was to have been our best year.″

Fishermen met Sunday with Exxon officials to discuss claims for compensation for immediate losses as well as losses expected from damage to the marine environment during the next 20 years. The company said it will operate claims offices in Valdez and Cordvoa.

The spill may affect dozens of charter boats, cruise ships and state-run ferries that cater to the summer tourist trade. In Valdez, population 3,100, motels and restaurants are packed now with oil spill workers, government officials and journalists, but the boom soon may give way to a bust.

″I wouldn’t expect people in Iowa will want to see beautfiful Prince William Sound with oil floating in it,″ Leland said.

″It’s a negative we’ll probably live with all summer long,″ said Bob Scott, owner of Alaska Glacier Tours in Anchorage, which coordinates cruises in Prince William Sound. ″Any time something negative happens, that’s what people remember. They don’t remember that it’s cleaned up.″

--- EDITOR’S NOTE - David Foster is the AP Northwest regional reporter, based in Seattle.

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