Salmon Harvest to Go On in Oil-Tainted Prince William Sound With AM-Tanker Spill-Solutions, Bjt

VALDEZ, Alaska (AP) _ Commercial salmon fishing in oil-tainted Prince William Sound will begin next month on schedule, but 30 percent of what should have been a record $50 million catch may be lost, officials said Saturday.

Fishing boats will be barred from many areas of the sound when the season starts May 15, said state biologist James Brady.

At one time, officials had considered canceling the season altogether, just as they had canceled the $12 million herring fishing season and smaller seasons in the sound for shrimp and sablefish after the Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled more than 10 million gallons of oil March 24.

Instead, fishermen will be crowded into a smaller area in efforts to keep their nets clear of oil that would contaminate whatever salmon are caught.

''I feel confident that we will be able to proceed with our salmon fisheries,'' said Brady, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. ''But we will have to sacrifice some harvest.''

State officials will test whatever salmon is brought in by the 760 fishermen, and pledge that no contaminated fish will reach the market. Spotting and smelling fish tainted by crude oil is easy, biologists say.

Also Saturday, skies cleared and the seas were calm, allowing the cleanup to resume after several days of waiting out blustery weather.

Pilots in oil-hunting spotter planes and slicker-garbed crews aboard skimmer boats coordinated their collection efforts as the tar-like residue floated just off or coated shorelines on the Kenai Peninsula.

About 300 people using the USS Juneau as a floating hotel rode landing craft to Smith Island where crews are trying to hose down rocky beaches before pregnant harbor seals haul out to have their pups.

Teams from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from the state Department of Fish and Game toured Sugarloaf and Marmot islands off the Kenai Peninsula. Those may be next on the list to be cleaned for seals, the Coast Guard said.

The sections of Prince William Sound most likely to be closed for the May salmon season include prime fishing grounds along the outer edge where pink salmon arrive still a bright silver after months at sea, Brady said.

The 6 million salmon expected to return to the Sawmill Bay Hatchery probably will be off-limits to fishing ships because of the oil, although hatchery managers may be allowed to take fish inside the bay in order to recover expenses.

Other closures may include the western and southwest corner of the sound where non-hatchery salmon gather before making their runs up freshwater streams.

''A lot of the bigger slicks have moved out of the sound, or are hard on the beach,'' Brady said. ''But there's still a lot of oil on the water.''

There is some concern that fishing boats helping in the cleanup will be contaminated by the clinging goo. ''We have to make sure we don't have oily boats carrying clean fish,'' Alaska environmental commissioner Dennis Kelso said.

Exxon vice president Ulyesse LeGrange promised the oil company would stockpile extra nets in case fishermen's nets get contaminated, but state biologist Brady predicted, ''If fishermen hit oil, we will run out of gear.''

Fishermen are preparing for an unusual salmon season.

''We've heard a lot of politicians and even James Brady speak of a fishery as normal, and that concerns us,'' Mike Schomer of the Copper River Fishermen's Cooperative said.

''I don't think we're ging to have by any means a normal fishery.''