Leaking diesel fuel from a sunken Bristol Bay fishing vessel led the state Department of Fish and Game to shut down a key setnet fishery and close an area for drift gillnet boats Friday afternoon. If the Lone Star's fuel can be contained, commercial fishing for sockeyes could resume on Saturday, area biologist Tim Sands of Fish and Game said.
"The whole fishery might last two or three weeks," Sands said. "So every day they lose is a huge part of their season, especially when it's the good part of the season. It's the only income a lot of those people have."
The department issued emergency closure orders for the Igushik River setnet fishery, affecting 52 permit holders, and for a six-mile arc around the northern boundary where the drift boats fish at the river mouth.
"It's a precaution," he said. "There's zero tolerance for any kind of oiled fish."
The driftnet boats can fish elsewhere, he said. But for the setnetters working along the shoreline, the shutdown is a big blow.
The Lone Star began to sink June 30 after its anchor line struck a part of the vessel, damaging the hull, the crew told the Coast Guard, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The setnet fishery along the river banks also was closed immediately after the sinking, then allowed to reopen on July 1.
The new closure came after state and Coast Guard officials monitoring the sinking flew over the area Friday morning and spotted a growing rainbow sheen of diesel fuel. The DEC report said the sheen was 1.5 miles long by 30 yards wide and moving upriver with the tide.
A spill response company, Alaska Chadux, dispatched a vessel from Dillingham to contain the leaking fuel and is sending a second one and arranging for helicopter support, the DEC said. A salvage company, Magone Marine Services, plans to remove the fuel from the Lone Star once it can assemble the equipment and receive government approvals. A dive team was supposed to seal the boat's fuel tank vents on Thursday, but a miscalculation of river currents by the dive support vessel caused them to miss low tide. They were planning to try again on Friday evening.
The Lone Star was carrying 13,750 gallons of diesel fuel and 300 gallons of other petroleum products. It's owned by Charles Burrece, according to the DEC report. State fishing permits list his residence as Bellingham, Wash.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER