Fishermen and crew get Exxon Valdez checks

Posted: Sunday, December 01, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- About 2,000 commercial fishermen and crew will be getting checks for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The fishermen and crew will receive a combined total of $21.4 million, according to Joseph Malatesta Sr., investigator for Soldotna attorney Arthur ''Chuck'' Robinson, who represents the fishermen.

Setnet fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet already have been paid. Drift gillnet fishermen will receive their checks as soon as next week, Malatesta said.

Paul Shadura II, a Kenai setnetter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, said the checks he and other fishermen are receiving couldn't come at a better time.

''I thank God that these checks are here,'' he said. ''Everybody knows that the price of salmon is down to a very low point. Any help financially right now is a godsend, especially around the holidays.

Through the winter, fishermen in other regions of the state will receive checks, all drawn from a pool of $100 million that has been held in trust for years as part of Exxon Valdez litigation.

The money includes compensatory damages that Exxon paid but weren't paid out in the aftermath of the spill, plus some Native claims settlements and interest, Malatesta said.

According to Malatesta, the payout took a long time to organize, due to the tedious process of establishing who should get how much. Attorneys used tax returns, state records of fish catches and other criteria to determine how much each fisherman should receive, he said.

Fish processors, cannery workers, local governments, Native organizations whose lands were oiled and others will also receive money, Malatesta said.

In coming months, fishermen and claimants in several other regions like Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Kodiak will receive their share of the $100 million, he said.

David Ring of Anchorage said he and his wife, Jean, recently received checks. Ring said he received a total of $6,403, while his wife received even more.

''She fishes a better spot than I do,'' said Ring. The couple have worked setnet sites for sockeye and silver salmon for 51 seasons on Point MacKenzie, just across Knik Arm from downtown Anchorage.

Ring, 76, said that he's not sure his payment is enough to cover the Exxon spill's disruption to his commercial fishing but that it was nice to receive the money all the same.

The payments are separate from the $5 billion punitive damages judgment against Exxon, which is still being contested in court.

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