San Francisco Feels Effects of Last Week's Oil Spill

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Last Wednesday, a tanker ship hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and released an estimated 58,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean, affecting wildlife and the fishing industry.


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is suspending all fishing in areas of San Francisco Bay contaminated by last week's oil spill. The suspension starts Thursday. It was a week ago tomorrow that a container vessel sliced into the Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the bay. More than 500 birds have died. Crews are out on the beaches and on the water to try to clean up the mess.

Before the governor's announcement today, I spoke with Larry Collins, he's a commercial fisherman and president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, which has 22 boats out doing clean up.

Mr. LARRY COLLINS (Commercial Fisherman; President, San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association): It's ugly. I mean, ugly. They're picking up a lot of dead birds. There's dead crabs floating. It's in every rip, where the currents come together and make a rip.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COLLINS: The oil is thick in the rips. It started to get into the eelgrass. It's following all the beaches and all of the coves. It's everywhere.

NORRIS: And what are you trained to do when you're out there on your boat to try to stop the oil from spreading?

Mr. COLLINS: Well you - basically, you see a batch of oil and you throw these pom-poms through it and the oil sticks to this oil-absorbent cloth. And then you haul that up on the boat. You put it in bags. And then, you put new pom-poms down and then you just do that over and over and over again.

NORRIS: And this is a heavy bunker fuel?

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. And it's in, you know, from little droplets the size of your thumb up into football-sized blobs.

NORRIS: Football size?

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. It's ugly.

NORRIS: What happens if you find a bird that's in distress? What are you supposed to do?

Mr. COLLINS: Most of the birds we're finding are way past distress.

NORRIS: And then?

Mr. COLLINS: All the birds we're finding are - the birds that are in distress tend on the beach themselves. The ones that are floating out in the water are dead.

NORRIS: What kinds of birds are these boats finding?

Mr. COLLINS: Western grebes, (unintelligible) - somebody found a night heron yesterday - four or five different species of ducks. The diving birds are the ones that are really got hit bad because they come right up in the middle of a slick, you know, when they're hunting for food.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COLLINS: Then they get oiled. And it's, you know, we've been finding some grebes that only have a quarter sized spot of oil on them but they're dead.

NORRIS: Really?

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. So it's surprising how little bit of oil can kill the birds.

NORRIS: And then you just collect them and take them…

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. You drag them up.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm. How many have you found?

Mr. COLLINS: Let's see. I talked to the boys yesterday. There were - the high boat was six or seven, everybody had a couple up to six or seven.

NORRIS: The high boat?

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. We have 22 boats out there. Fishermen are competitive. They're competitive about who catches the most oil, who finds the most birds - so there's nobody better to do this job than commercial fishermen because they're all trying to outdo each other.

NORRIS: Oh, so you're saying the high boat was the one who found the most birds?

Mr. COLLINS: Roger.

NORRIS: Tell me about what the impact of this could be on the fishing industry around San Francisco.

Mr. COLLINS: It's not going to be good. The markets are all - have all crashed. You know, the demand just evaporated when that ship ran into that bridge.

NORRIS: Well, Mr. Collins, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. COLLINS: Okay. My pleasure.

NORRIS: Larry Collins is president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association.

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