Tuesday marked the twentieth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, an ecological and economic disaster of historic proportions, resulting in untold damage to wildlife, regional ecosystems, local industries, and generations of people who subsisted on natural resources in the area.
Around 10.9 million gallons of crude oil were spilled into the Sound, making it the largest such accident in U.S. history. An estimated 250,000 seabirds were killed, along with at least 3,000 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and untold numbers of fish populations, both at the spill site and throughout the Northwestern Pacific region, as toxins spread through the food chain. Over 1100 miles of coastline were affected. Millions of dollars were also lost by the local economy, which depended in part on tourism, and recreational as well as commercial fishing.
While some captains and crews managed to recoup some of their losses during fishing season that year and years following by leasing their boats or time to clean-up operations, the majority of the Alaskan fishing fleet experienced a major set-back in economic stability and a blow to their future resources, as well. It wasn’t until August of 2008 that Exxon agreed to pay 75% of the $507.5 million dollars in damages they were ordered to pay. Many fishing families never recovered, and most took a major hit to their plans for retirement.