The biggest blow to commercial fishermen has been the decline in stock of Pacific herring. Herring—caught for their roe and before the spill worth up to $300,000 per day to fishermen in the sound—are so scarce that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has not allowed anyone to fish for them since 1993.
Has all this been caused by the Exxon Valdez spill? Few think so. "We have correlation but not causation," Senner says. "It's very difficult to prove these things." Even Hawxhurst, perhaps Exxon's fiercest critic, says, "It's just not as black and white as some people would like to think."
The effects of the spill on humans is much clearer. Steven Picou, a sociology professor from the University of South Alabama, has spent a few months in Cordova each year since the spill. Picou is a welcome outsider to the men and women of Cordova, who say they didn't talk much about their feelings until the professor arrived and started interviewing them. Picou has documented widespread depression and stress in town. "Victims of these things hide," Picou says. "We know people are buying more at the liquor stores and sitting less in the bars." Just as it is with the killer whales, says Picou, the social structure among the residents of Cordova seems to be threatened.
Doug Pettit, 44, Dan's big bother, has a larger boat than Dan—and larger debts that he says are driving him to bankruptcy. The state, which lent Doug the money to get into, of all things, the herring business, wants its money back. Doug does not have it, so the state has decided it will take his and his wife's "permanent fund dividend" checks for the next dozen years. The checks, for as much as $1,000 a year, are mailed to every man, woman and child in Alaska as their direct share of state oil revenue. Taking a person's check away is like stripping him of his citizenship.
"Exxon sold themselves as champions of the people, telling us, 'Don't worry, we'll make it right,' " Doug says. "But they have spent their effort, time and money trying to get out of their obligations." This is not just the ranting of a desperate fisherman. U.S. District Court Judge Russel Holland, who is hearing pretrial motions before Exxon's appeal of the $5 billion payment, said in a June ruling that the company was acting "as a Jekyll and Hyde, behaving laudably in public and deplorably in private." The judge was referring to a settlement reached between Exxon and seven seafood processors, in which the processors would kick back $745 million to Exxon after they received their share of the settlement.
Judicial indignation does little for the Pettit men. "It's like a rat in your storage locker—it just keeps nibbling at you," Doug says of his hard luck since the oil spill. "I have fallen on my ass, a total failure, and that is really hard to take. People keep telling us, 'Go on with your life.' How can you go on with your life? This was our life. We fish. What, are they nuts?"