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THE OUTDOORS : Outdoor Notes / Rich Roberts : Despite Huge Oil Spill, Only 5% of Alaska’s Fishing Spots Are Affected

With their prime season approaching, Alaska’s sportfishing interests are concerned that potential customers will think the oil spill has wiped them out.

“There’s a whole bunch of the state that hasn’t been touched by this at all,” said Nick Pierskalla, president of the Alaska Professional Sportsmen’s Assn.

Morry Israel, president of the Alaska Sportfishing Lodge Assn., said: “Only 5% (of the lodges) are in the affected area.”

Most of the other 95% will remain safe, no matter what the whims of the winds and currents that shift the drift of the spill daily. They are located in the Iliamna Lake region to the west on waters flowing into Bristol Bay, which is buffered from the spill by the Alaska Peninsula.

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The perceived impact of the spill depends on the size of the picture. Zoom in on Prince William Sound, where the tanker Exxon Valdez dumped 10.1 million gallons of crude, and track the goo down the southeast side of the Kenai Peninsula and it’s disastrous.

But pull back to an overview of the largest state and the impact on sportsfishing seems less bleak--although the peak of the crisis is still perhaps weeks away.

The concern is for what may happen. If the oil, estimated to be 60 to 100 feet deep, slips between the Kenai and Afognak Island into the Cook Inlet or through the narrow Kupreanof Strait between Afognak and Kodiak Island into the Shelikof Strait, the outlook would be gloomy.

“The south side of the Kenai is getting slimed,” Israel said. “But we’ve been super-lucky that there hasn’t been a south wind pushing this up into the Cook Inlet.”

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So much for the good news.

“It’s going to get worse,” Israel said. “That thing is out there, moving every day.”

According to Pierskalla, considerable damage has already been done.

“Those (salmon) spawning beds have got to be cleaned up,” he said. “The main consideration is not how lousy the fishing is going to be this year but what’s going to happen four years from now. The fry come out of the rivers, hang out in the ocean and return in four years. They’re coming out now.

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“When the tide goes out, it leaves the oil on the spawning beds and at the entrance to the spawning beds. Salmon school up in the mouths, and when the tide comes in, it might come up 13 to 20 feet, backfill those creeks, and then the salmon go up. Once that oil’s been deposited, they have to swim through it. That whole creek bed in some of these areas is going to be totally covered. That’s where they’re going to be laying eggs.”

Tim Berg, who operates the Alaskan Lodge at Soldotna on Cook Inlet, said: “We’re set up where the current should push it away, but we’ve had a ton of calls--half from people already booked wanting to know if it was still all right and half from people booked into resorts that might be affected. It’s a devastating blow to the areas in its path. The bulk of the oil has gone to Kodiak.”

Some Alaskans already are looking to the future, Pierskalla said. “Time will heal this wound, but we need to revamp the management system. Alaska has to wake up to the fact that its long-term economic base is the renewable resource, and the best renewable resource it has, dollar for dollar, is tourism.”

Meanwhile, Israel said: “The whales are just starting to show up. If you think those three whales up in Barrow were a story last winter, wait until 200 whales hit Prince William Sound.”

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Israel said information on current conditions for sportsmen is available by phoning (800) 352-2003.

After a year’s hiatus, Malibu Pier Sportfishing is back in business.

Starting May 1, the Aquarius, a 58-foot sportfisher owned and operated by Jon Christensen, will run half-day trips seven days a week through at least March 31, 1990.

Briefly

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A state Assembly committee Tuesday shelved a bill that would limit the use of controversial gillnets by commercial fishermen off the Southern California coast. The Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee agreed to hold a more extensive hearing on the issue in September or October. . . . The Long Beach Casting Club will conduct free weekly flycasting classes each Tuesday at 7 p.m., starting next week. For details, call (213) 433-9408 or (213) 598-7486.


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