National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



Today started out rather nicely. Summer has arrived, even here in what has been damp and cool Maine. The sky is blue, it's a warm and sunny 80 degrees, and I could feel my mood brightening by the minute.

Then I saw the news. The Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reduce the punitive damages resulting from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million.

That pretty much killed the good mood.

According to a Reuters article on the decision, the court ruled that the $2.5 billion sum — which previous legal wrangling had whittled down from the original $5 billion total a jury determined in 1994 — was excessive under federal maritime law. Instead, the court set the award amount at $507.5 million, limiting the total to an amount equal to relevant compensatory damages.

I wish I knew how to elegantly sum up the feelings that are surely welling up with this decision. Anger, disillusionment, despair, depression, bitterness are just some of the emotions I imagine the 33,000 people whose livelihoods and lives have been irreparably harmed by the Valdez spill are feeling.

For years, Exxon has fought against having to pay the $2.5 billion award. According to the Reuters article, Exxon-Mobil generated $2.5 billion in two days during the first quarter of 2007 — a year in which the oil giant enjoyed record earnings of $40.6 billion.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young aren't pleased.

"Today's ruling adds insult to injury to the fishermen, communities and Alaska natives who have been waiting nearly 20 years for proper compensation following the worst environmental disaster in our nation's history," they said in a joint press statement.

"As a result of today's ruling, we are redoubling efforts to get signed into law the delegation plan to give the 33,000 victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill the ability to increase retirement contributions and to provide tax relief through income averaging of the individual settlement amounts."

As the legal wrangling stretched out year after year, some 6,000 of the plaintiffs died. The court battle also took a toll on fishermen, their marriages, their families, their communities.

But they waited for a resolution, hoping it would let them get on with their lives.

This is what everyone's been waiting for? This is closure?

Inside the Industry

NMFS has awarded 16 grants totaling more than $2.5 million as part of its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.

The program supports the development of technological solutions and changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch and aims to to find creative approaches and strategies for reducing bycatch, seabird interactions, and post-release mortality in federally managed fisheries.


Abe Williams, who was elected to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association board last spring, has been selected as the new president as of September.

Williams fishes the F/V Crimson Fury, and is president of Nuna Resources, a nonprofit that supports sustainable resource development in rural Alaska, including fighting for an international solution to issues raised by the proposed Pebble Mine project.

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