A temporary set gillnet closure was lifted and fishing was open again Monday night along the mouth of the Igushik River near Dillingham, quelling fears that a capsized vessel Sunday morning could leak diesel and other fluids into the Nushagak Bay where salmon fisheries are located.
The accident aboard the 78-foot fishing vessel Lone Star occurred about 6:55 a.m. Sunday, when the Coast Guard received a mayday call from a crew member aboard the vessel. The changing tide had reportedly swung the anchored ship into its anchor chain, which caught on the transducer and coolant lines, pulling them loose and creating a hole in the steel hull of the boat.
Commercial setnet fishing was shut down Sunday through Monday morning and a closure ranging six miles from the mouth of the river was in place, halting the work of about 50 setnet fishermen.
Tim Sands, area management biologist for commercial fisheries with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, flew over the site this afternoon. A team flew seven miles along the river looking for signs of impact on the beach, river banks and wildlife. No impact or oil contamination was spotted or reported by local fishermen.
Sands said that setnetters were back in business, with around 20 nets visible in the water and pulling up salmon on Monday afternoon.
One possible complication is the sighting of a pod of beluga whales about 3 miles upriver from the accident. Their presence "certainly is a concern" for DEC as they move forward with extracting the vessel from the site, said Steve Russell, environmental program manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
They will need to "conduct the response accordingly so as to not agitate the belugas," Russell said. He wasn't sure what that would entail.
Meanwhile, the Lone Star remains partially submerged in 18 feet of water. The ship reportedly has 14,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 150 gallons of lube oil, 150 gallons of hydraulic fluid and 250 gallons of gasoline on board. The amount of fluid spilled from the vessel is unknown at this time, but leakage appears to be decreasing. On Sunday, a four-mile sheen extended behind the partially submerged vessel, said Coast Guard spokesperson Sarah Mooers. By Monday afternoon the trail had decreased to 300 feet long and 20 feet wide.
Owner of the Lone Star Charles Burrece said that the ship is full of water but "sitting pretty good," not moving anywhere or leaking any fluids. He wasn't sure of the exact cause of the accident, but said the ship rapidly "started filling up with water" Sunday morning.
Prior training from the Coast Guard helped to get everyone off the ship safely, he said. His main concern now is how the accident could affect the fisheries and fishermen.
"She's not leaking -- that's the main thing," he said.
Burrece has owned the boat since 1974. He said he's never been in an accident or had any problems with the vessel. Having his ship 18 feet under the water stirs "a lot of emotions" he said.
A salvage plan is being developed, and it's not clear yet whether the vessel will be a total loss, Russell said.
Burrece said that even if the Lone Star is declared a total loss, he'll fix the ship up again.
Contact Laurel Andrews laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com