How has subsistence harvest changed over time in the Exxon Valdez oil spill region?

This graphic image demonstrates how the number of different resources harvested by the average household decreased over time. In 2003, 21 different types of resources were harvested. In 2014, the average household harvested just 13 different types. Data compiled from five Alaska communities: Tatitlek, Cordova, Chenega, Port Graham, and Nanwalek.
Image of the word subsistence, which is defined in the image caption.
A way of life that includes the harvest and use of wild resources for food, raw materials, and other traditional uses. Subsistence has been a central part of the customs and traditions of many cultural groups in Alaska for centuries.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill changed the harvest and use of wild resources in Southcentral Alaska. Various anecdotal reasons such as concerns about oil contamination meant folks were hesitant to use these traditional resources.

The Council recently partnered with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Subsistence to study and document why and how the spill affected subsistence harvesting activities, both immediately after the spill and in the years since.

Fish and Game researchers analyzed data collected from the communities of Cordova, Chenega, Tatitlek, Port Graham, and Nanwalek from 1984 to 2014.

That data confirmed that harvesting decreased during the first few years after the spill, but numbers started recovering around two to three years after the spill. Overall, the rates increased steadily through the 1990s and into the 2000s. By 2014, however, two important facts became apparent.

Reduced diversity of harvested species

This graphic image demonstrates how the number of different resources harvested by the average household decreased over time. In 2003, 21 different types of resources were harvested. In 2014, the average household harvested just 13 different types. Data compiled from five Alaska communities: Tatitlek, Cordova, Chenega, Port Graham, and Nanwalek. Harvesters collect fewer types of resources than before the spill. Fortunately, the surveys tracked more than just numbers. Interviews with residents pointed to several causes, which changed over time.

While the drop immediately after the 1989 spill was mainly attributed to concerns about safety, this was less of a concern in more recent years. Among other causes, interviewees blamed overharvesting by both locals and hunters from outside the community.

A Nanwalek elder interviewed in 2014 noted that easy-to-access locations suffered the most. “Some people don’t have boats so they can’t go too far,” the elder told the surveyors. “They don’t even give ‘em a chance to get bigger.”

Fewer households harvesting more of the resources

Another discovery is that harvesting activities have become more concentrated. In later years, a smaller proportion of households harvested a relatively larger proportion of the resources.

For example, data for sockeye salmon harvests in Tatitlek shows that in 1987, the top 1/3 of the harvesters collected about 55% of the combined total. In 2014, the top 1/3 collected over 90%.

Sometimes those harvests are not shared with the community.

“The oil spill in one way was worse for subsistence and traditional community culture because it gave everyone money, and this gave them the ability for each individual to have their own boat motor,” noted an elder from Nanwalek in 2014. “Lots of people ended up doing subsistence only for themselves and overall, people shared [a lot] less together.”

How does this information help?

This project is helping the Council assess the potential long-term social consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and other factors that may affect subsistence harvests in the spill-affected region. These effects are critical to document to help plan and be prepared in case of a future oil spill.

More about this report:

Watch a presentation by the researchers on our YouTube channel:

Download the report summary:

Study Overview - Recovery Of A Subsistence Way Of Life (1.0 MB)

Download the full report:

Recovery Of A Subsistence Way Of Life (2.9 MB)

Request for Proposals: Review of EPA Air Quality Rule

The Council is inviting proposals to evaluate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule that amended the 2004 National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Organic Liquids Distribution.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has objected to the rule, arguing provisions of the rules would adversely affect the operation and maintenance of their facility and would not significantly improve local air quality.

This work includes:

  • A review of the 2020 rule and survey of research related to the topic
  • Evaluate the strengths of APSC’s concerns and summarize findings
  • Prepare a written final report
  • Identify gaps in the research on this topic and provide recommendations for future research

The final work product of this effort is a written report and virtual presentation to the Council’s Board of Directors on the results.

Submittal Deadline: May 14, 2021
Award Announcement: May 21, 2021

For more information about this RFP, including background information, a detailed scope of work and timeline, and instructions on how to submit your proposal, please download the full RFP: 

RFP: Review Of EPA Air Quality Rule (0.3 MB)


Inquiries regarding this request for proposals should be directed via email to Alan Sorum.

The Council received several questions about this RFP. Clarifications are below: 

Question: Will the following documents or information be available for the contractor to review during the project?

  1. Document: Valdez Marine Terminal’s (VMT) latest Title V permit and its associated permit applicationAnswer: The VMT’s latest Title V permit and associated application will be available for this project. The latest Title V permit was issued in 2012, while the latest Title V permit application was submitted in 2016, as part of the renewal of the 2012 permit. Both documents will be added to this webpage for review. That webpage is referenced on page 6 of the request for proposals.
  2. Document: Operating data the VMT may have provided as inputs for the latest (if any) air dispersion modeling (whether done by VMT or others) – Answer: The Council is not in possession or aware of operating data Alyeska may have provided for recent air dispersion modeling.
  3. Document: Speciation of the North Slope crude oil typically received (e.g., C1 to C10 straight-chain alkanes and HAPs as defined by MACT standards)Answer: The Council has a detailed report regarding the physical and chemical properties of a 2015 Alaska North Slope crude oil sample obtained from the VMT. That report includes the straight-chain alkanes as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons contained in that 2015 oil sample – among other physical (e.g. density, API gravity, viscosity) and chemical information (e.g. biomarkers, sulfur content) contained in the report. A more recent report pertaining to a 2019 Alaska North Slope crude oil sample may be available, but that will need to be obtained from oil industry partners and should be obtainable in a timely manner.
  4. Document: Latest TRI reporting of point and area air emissions for HAPS (since the state emissions inventory does not speciate VOC) – ideally in the form of the facilities calculation workbook – Answer: The Council is not in possession or aware of this information. It would likely need to be requested from Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
  5. Document: Methodology by which the emissions from the conservation vents to the atmosphere have been estimated by VMT (or its contractors) – Answer: The conservation vent emissions methodology may be contained in the Valdez Marine Terminal’s latest Title V permit application or in past air quality exceedance reports that Alyeska Pipeline Service Company provided to the Alaska Division of Environmental Conservation. The Council has the latest Title V application and at least some of the past air quality exceedance reports. If the Council is not in possession of this information, it should be attainable from Alyeska Pipeline Service Company or the Alaska Division of Environmental Conservation.

Question: Will it be possible for our team to contact VMT staff directly to gather information (or do so through your organization), during the project, or must our work be done using only currently disclosed information? – Answer: Yes, it will be possible to contact VMT staff, through the Council, during the project. However, depending on the request, obtaining information from Alyeska Pipeline Service Company can be a slow process. Therefore, to the greatest extent reasonable, to meet the goals of this project in a timely manner, we would like it to proceed with the currently available information.

New weather buoys establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska

Collaboration promotes navigation safety and protection of coastal marine resources

Photo of new buoy deployed in 2019.
Buoy off Jackson Point in Port Valdez with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal in the background.

The Council has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska. PORTS® (Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System) improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management by providing real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other geospatial information to mariners. To help bring this resource to Valdez, the Council is streaming data from two new weather buoys to PORTS®.

In 2019, the Council worked with regional partners to deploy two buoys in Port Valdez; one off Jackson Point at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal and one near the Valdez Duck Flats. These buoys collect data to improve understanding of the meteorological and physical oceanographic environment at the terminal and Duck Flats.

The objectives of the PORTS® program are to promote navigation safety, improve the efficiency of U.S. ports and harbors and ensure the protection of coastal marine resources. The Council is mandated by Congress to study wind and water currents and other environmental factors in the vicinity of the Alyeska terminal which may affect the ability to prevent, respond to, contain and clean up an oil spill. The Council works with industry and regulators to ensure response readiness, evaluate risks and propose solutions. Allowing these weather buoys to integrate with PORTS® furthers these efforts while also meeting the system’s objectives.

“While the Council’s sole purpose for installing these buoys is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers, we believe the integration of this metocean data into NOAA’s PORTS® will benefit and improve safety for a variety of other maritime users,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the Council. “This is another excellent example of how collaborative science can have wide-ranging impacts for the betterment of all.”

Data from the buoys is already being provided to the Alaska Ocean Observing System. AOOS is a network that consolidates critical ocean and coastal weather observations and related information products. By monitoring the state’s coastlines and ocean waters, AOOS helps provide the information needed by residents to make better decisions concerning their use of the marine environment.

“This new system, and the others like them around the country, reduce ship accidents by more than 50 percent, increase the size of ships that can get in and out of seaports, and reduce traffic delays,” said Steven Thur, Ph.D., acting deputy director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “They also provide real-time, resilience-ready data as coastal conditions rapidly change, potentially threatening our coastal communities.”

The buoys were made possible through donations from Fairweather Science and partnerships with the Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the City of Valdez and Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The installation has been permitted by several agencies and cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has allowed the Council access into the marine security zone that borders the terminal.

The Council has a direct interest in the successful operation and maintenance of weather buoys and stations installed in Prince William Sound because weather affects safe oil transportation and spill response.

Science Night 2019

On December 5, the Council hosted Science Night, an evening to hear about the latest research affecting the safe transportation of oil through Prince William Sound. This annual event is an initiative of the Council’s Scientific Advisory Committee. SAC, as it’s known, ensures Council projects are based on the best scientific practices available.

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