Bernie Culbertson has been fishing Prince William Sound since the 1970s. These days you'll find him on his 15-year old purse seine vessel named Hogan Isle working the waters to catch fish. But sometimes the spectacular views make it hard to call it "work."
"I've been to a lot of places in the world and I've never seen a place that can make your jaw hit your chest on a regular basis," Culbertson said.
Culbertson says 25 years ago when the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into his beloved Prince William Sound, a future of uncertainty struck simultaneously.
Hard lessons were learned a quarter of a century ago during what was then the biggest and most devastating oil spill North America had ever faced.
The world got a real-time education as to what could and would happen if spill prevention and response plans were not in place. It's a motivating thought that's ever present in Culbertson's mind.
"There's an obligation on a different level, not necessarily a social pressure obligation but a responsibility of living here and recognizing what this place is," Culbertson said.
Following the Valdez oil spill, Alyeska Pipeline's Ship Escort Response Vessel System--SERVS--began its "Vessels of Opportunity" program, an emergency response team made up of local fishermen, ready to jump in and help out in the event of a spill.
Mike Day, SERVS operation manager, says the vessels are needed to operate response equipment like containment boom, skimmers and the hydraulic power packs the system uses to operate as well as the oil storage barges. It's these dedicated community members that turn in to first responders if another oil spill happened again.
"We teach them safety tools that we use in our industry to keep ourselves safe," Day said. "I think that if you ask them over the years we've probably actually changed the culture somewhat of the fishing industry in Alaska."
SERVS expects to dispatch eight vessels within an hour of any incident. Over the next six hours, 60 more vessels would be in place to serve as the backbone for the response, with 185 additional vessels dispatched within the next 18 to 24 hours to join the effort. At any given time, SERVS says 279 vessels will be on-call ready to assist, including 500 local fishermen and their own vessels, all of which are contracted and trained in advance.
"You have a personal responsibility to get it to where it was and to keep it where it is and not let that sort of situation happen again," Culbertson said.
But if it does happen again, Culbertson and his vessel "Hogan Isle" will be standing by ready to do their part.