Editor’s Log: Spill life

Good Friday 1989 changed the landscape of Alaska fisheries in Prince William Sound. It also led to increased (and mandated) monitoring of crude movement out of the North Slope and the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which requires tankers delivering to U.S. ports to be double-hulled.

Thirty years have gone by since that fateful day on March 24. Southbound from the trans-Alaska pipeline terminal at Valdez, Captain Hazelwood left the bridge of the Exxon Valdez just after midnight, after reportedly having enjoyed a few drinks on that dark spring evening. The ship collided with Bligh Reef 28 miles into its journey, outside established shipping lanes, with the captain absent from the bridge.

This story was first published in the March issue of National Fisherman. Subscribe today for digital and print access.

In the hours, days and decades since, the sound witnessed a catastrophic oil spill, years of cleanup, decades of protracted lawsuits and appeals. The human victims of the spill received modest recompense, roughly 10 percent of the original settlement amount. And that was only if they lived long enough to see the checks, which were issued about 20 years after the Valdez was sliced open on that reef and spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil.

Bruce Buls, the former technical editor of WorkBoat magazine and a longtime contributor to NF, has crafted a substantial recollection of the spill’s effects. Read the full story starting on page 24.

Far from Alaska, Florida’s Panhandle is a land all too familiar with catastrophic manmade and natural disasters. In October, Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, just around the corner from Panama City. The Category 4 storm caused a different kind of chaos and destruction. The hardest hit areas are still recovering, despite constant motion to clean up and get back to life.

The storm’s damage is estimated at around $14.5 billion dollars. A decent portion of that can be attributed to the Bering Sea trawler North Star, which was near completion at Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City. The 261-foot vessel is a state-of-the-art design by Seattle-based naval architects Elliott Bay Design Group and was getting finishing touches on electronics, gear and onboard processing. She was scheduled to begin her trip to the West Coast a month after the storm hit. Now she’s lined up for a complete overhaul. Read freelance writer and fisherman Corky Decker’s account of the cleanup on page 6.

At press time, another type of manmade mess was descending on federal fisheries as a result of the shutdown and funding impasse on Capitol Hill. Associate Editor Samuel Hill investigated how the lack of federal partners has affected the regional councils, what the trickle down effects might be — even after the impasse ends — and how the councils are preparing to ease limitations in preparation for future shutdowns. Read the story on page 28 and an expanded report online.

The shutdown has also kept two regular columns out of our pages — a note from NMFS Administrator Chris Oliver, and our Consequences column, which is compiled by the Coast Guard.

Some aspects of the industry are getting easier to access and manage. Technology and collaboration has made it easier to ship fish and seafood products, starting with onboard processing and handling advancements. In Boats & Gear Editor Paul Molyneaux’s story on fish transport, you may find the keys to moving fish — fresh or frozen. As always, the story behind wild fisheries is worth a premium. Check out the story on page 30, and let us know how you’re moving and selling your catch.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 12 years, worked in maritime publishing for 17, and has served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee for two years.

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