KENAI, Alaska -- The largest oil tanker spill in Alaskan history has polluted the red salmon fishing grounds in Cook Inlet and restricted fishermen as peak season approaches, officials say.
Driftnet boats and shore-based set-net commercial fishermen were confined Friday to areas believed free of oil, said Lance Trasky of the state Fish and Game Department.
Traksky confirmed the restriction would curtail the predicted 5 million fish harvest, valued at $50 million to $75 million.
The 774-foot tanker Glacier Bay began leaking 130,000 gallons of crude oil into Cook Inlet July 2. When the full extent of the spill was realized Wednesday, the Coast Guard labeled it the biggest crude oil spill to occur in Alaska, source of one-fifth of U.S. oil.
The Glacier Bay, owned by the Trinidad Corp., St. Louis, had almost reached the Texoro refinery at Nikiski with a cargo of North Slope crude from the Valdez terminal of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline when the ship hit a submerged object and began leaking.
Trasky said the fishing boundary restrictions would remain as long as oil remained in those waters. Jim Hayden of the state Environmental Conservation Department said that could be one week to two months.
The red salmon run -- ocean fish returning to spawn in the rivers and streams that flow into Cook Inlet -- is expected to peak in about 10 days.
Petty Officer Ed Moreth said the Coast Guard-supervised cleanup operation is in high speed 'using old-fashioned muscle power and shovels.'
Moreth said cleanup crews 'will keep going as long as there's good daylight -- from about 5 a.m. until midnight.'
The cleanup has been hampered by strong currents, debris mixed with oil slicks and cold water hardening the crude into elusive blobs that often hang below the surface and are not easily detected, Hayden said.