After the Exxon Valdez oil spill soiled pristine Alaskan waters 22 years ago Thursday, (March 24) one of the tiniest victims was herring-a cornerstone fish species of Prince William Sound and a booming source of income for fishermen.
The devastation to this small creature exacted an enormous cost: dozens of fishermen lost their livelihoods and effects rippled through the marine food chain.
Today, those fishermen and the oil that is still persistent in the soil of Alaska's most pristine environment are reminders of the need for caution as our nation moves forward on more offshore drilling projects from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.
To see the lingering effects of the Valdez disaster and hear from one of the fishermen, below is a video produced by my colleagues at the Pew Environment Group.
Many of the nation's oil-rich regions are home to dozens of important fish species, with a significant number forming the backbone of our seafood supply. Oil's effects on fish are not well studied and scientists are still trying to determine the impact of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Some species were in their spawning seasons, and it remains unclear if the oil affected the eggs.
To protect our seafood and our marine environment, it is critical that Congress pass legislation that includes key recommendations of the National Oil Spill Commission and put more money into adequate environmental planning, industry oversight and research into spill response. More funding also is needed to train and hire inspectors. Even a budget-slicing year is not the time to cut corners. To avoid another major disaster, the nation needs more than one inspector per 54 rigs in the Gulf and a much greater presence in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
Your next seafood dinner may depend on it.
IMAGE: The Exxon Valdez supertanker lies hard around Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Credit: Natalie Fobes/Science Faction/Corbis.