Commercial setnet fishermen work nets between the Cook Inlet beach and a tanker moored in Nikiski several years ago.
File photo by M. Scott Moon
When a Tesoro-leased oil tanker grounded earlier this month, anxious commercial fishermen recalled devastation from oil spills past, but since have said they generally approve of how this month’s incident was handled.
“The borough, the state and everyone involved were doing the best they could,” said Steve Tvenstrup, president of United Cook Inlet Drifters Association.
And responders were quick to do what needed to be done, said Dyer VanDevere, a driftnetter.
But while the grounding appeared to be in good hands, commercial fishermen were concerned until the precariously situated tanker was safely refloated and no longer posed a threat to their livelihoods.
The Seabulk Pride grounding rekindled grave memories from two previous spills, the 1987 Glacier Bay spill in Cook Inlet and 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound.
“I didn’t fish because of the Valdez,” VanDevere said. “It greatly impacted me. It was probably the worst summer of my life.”
Had the grounded Seabulk Pride sprung a leak before or while it was removed from a Nikiski beach earlier this month, it could have devastated upcoming fishing seasons, Tvenstrup said.
“It was not a nice thing to be seeing in Nikiski,” he said. “It makes a guy’s tonsils go down to think that this could happen again.”
A spill anywhere in the Cook Inlet would keep commercial fishermen awake at night, but a spill near Nikiski would hit them particularly hard.
In an interview on Feb. 13, Paul Shadura, a setnet fisherman and executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, called the beach the Seabulk Pride grounded on the most productive beach in Cook Inlet.
“It is very productive,” said Nate Berga, a setnetter. “They do really well there.”
Although the area is only open to fishing for short periods of time, boats fishing there catch big fish and catch them quickly, he said.
Fishermen also wrung their hands over the timing of the grounding. Had it occurred in the summer, cleanup vessels could at least mitigate any resulting spill, but with large ice floes in the way, cleanup vessels would have been able to do little to clean up a spill occurring in February, they say.
“It would have been such a mess if (the Seabulk Pride) had broke apart,” VanDevere said. “If it ruptured what could you do? ... Skimmers can’t skim in ice.”
A major leak from the Seabulk Pride would likely have cost an entire season of fishing, Tvenstrup said.
“I just don’t know how they would have cleaned it up on time,” he said.
Berga said that, although he was not convinced the grounding was likely to result in a spill, he was more than a little relieved when the Seabulk Pride was refloated without incident.
“It’s not something that can be fixed overnight,” he said. “It’s good to see everything came out good in the end and that, as fishermen, we have a season this year.”
In addition to devastating this year’s fishing season in Cook Inlet, a major spill would have ruined fish stocks for years to come and deliver economic consequences that would hurt the entire state, he said.
Despite the extraordinary repercussions a spill could have inflicted upon their industry, commercial fishermen expressed a pragmatic view of the coexistence of the oil and fishing industries in Cook Inlet.
“The oil industry is just as important as the fishing industry,” Berga said.
Tvenstrup shared Berga’s sentiment.
“I need fuel for my boat when I go fishing,” he said. “So we need the oil companies around.”
But he did not entertain optimistic fantasies over the future of oil spill prevention.
“It’s unfortunate, but it will probably happen again,” he said. “Somehow, sometime, somewhere there’ll be a spill.”
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.