Oil spill response fleet pay to rise

Elizabeth Bluemink

The operator of the trans-Alaska pipeline and Valdez tanker port announced Tuesday it is offering a substantial boost in pay to Southcentral fishermen who participate in its oil-spill response program.

It's not clear yet whether the pay increases will be satisfactory to the fishermen, however.

The pay raise was triggered by declining participation by fishing boat owners in the program. This winter, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., fell out of compliance with state rules that require it to keep a certain number of fishing boats under contract to provide aid in the event of a Prince William Sound oil spill.

Fishing vessel owners and an oil-spill watchdog group say participation in the program has been falling for years due to low pay, lack of respect toward fishermen, and the exclusion of them from decision-making about the oil-spill response program.

Fishing fleet representatives in Kodiak, Homer, Valdez and Cordova told Alyeska in March and April that more fishermen plan to leave the program unless the company offers satisfactory pay increases by May 1.

On Monday, Alyeska sent e-mails to the 400 fishing vessel owners in the program describing its pay increases, which vary depending on the size of a boat and how quickly the boat must respond to a tanker spill. For example, the base-rate compensation for a fishing vessel that participates in annual oil-spill training exercises is increasing by 48 percent and the base-rate compensation for a fishing vessel responding to an oil spill is increasing by 63 percent.

Cordova fishermen involved in the oil-spill program plan to meet on Thursday to vote whether to accept the pay raises, according to Mark Swanson, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council.

"The Cordova fleet did have some issues with (Alyeska's proposal)," Swanson said.

But Swanson said he thinks there's a strong likelihood that Alyeska and the fishermen will reach agreement this week.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.