Fishermen sporting black armbands told oil industry, federal and state officials that they fear their livelihood - the Prince William Sound fishery - may be imperiled by the nation's largest oil spill.
John Booren, who fishes in the sound, said fishermen know this year's catch will fetch little money, even if oil damage is contained. Just the publicity will destroy the market for the area's fish, he said.A high school gymnasium, which is the largest meeting place in this town of 2,500, was packed Tuesday night as fishermen, many with families in tow, voiced their anger and apprehensions.
"Some of the old-timers tell me this is the biggest crowd they've seen here since the town turned out to protest the pipeline," City Manager Don Moore said. The town opposed construction of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s, Moore said.
Moore said many fishermen are bitter because their initial offers to help contain the spill went unanswered. He said Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which has the responsibility for immediate response to oil spills in the sound, had issued emergency telephone numbers prior to the spill.
When our fishermen called to offer assistance, nobody would answer the phone, he said. The company has said some employees were off in observance of Good Friday the day of the spill.
Alyeska President George Nelson and Exxon spokesman Don Cornett were treated with relative restraint by the crowd.
"What's your way of life worth to you?" a woman shouted at Cornett. "Not very much tonight," he replied.
Cornett said he would not try to duck legitimate damage claims filed by fishermen hurt by the spill.