National Fisherman

Exxon's empty promise

By R.J. Kopchak

On March 24, 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez grounded at Bligh Reef, Prince William Sound, Alaska. Over 11 million gallons of oil quickly spread with the currents, oiling over 3,000 miles of the Alaska coastline stretching from Bligh Reef to Kodiak Island. The oil and cleanup efforts killed hundreds of thousands of birds, thousands of marine mammals, and countless other marine life. The poisons in the oil, dispersants, and cleaning chemicals and compounds damaged all living tissue, but especially embryos in developing eggs.

Not long after the spill, Don Cornett, from the giant Exxon Corp., came to our small town of Cordova, Alaska. Mr. Cornett told the crowd gathered in the gym that we were lucky that Exxon Corp. was here. Just before Mr. Cornett's arrival, my pregnant wife and I had chartered a small plane and flown over the spill area. We did not feel we were very lucky.

It was early spring, the start of the Pacific herring fishing season. The season had been canceled, and our way of life was about to end. Mr. Cornett assured us that Exxon was going to clean up their spill, and make the fishermen whole. "You are lucky. You have got Exxon. We take care of our problems."

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