Herring and the "Exxon Valdez" oil spill: An investigation into historical data conflicts

Richard E. Thorne, Gary L. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


It was generally believed that the 1989 "Exxon Valdez" oil spill did not cause the collapse of the Prince William Sound Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) population because of a 4-year gap between the spill and the collapse. However, we noted in a previous paper that some data suggested an earlier timing for the herring decline. We examine historical patterns of herring spawn, anomalies in historical fisheries model predictions, changes in predation behaviour of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), and a decadal database of acoustic measurements of herring biomass. Behaviour of adult herring makes them especially vulnerable to damage from oil spills, something that was either unknown or misunderstood at the time of the spill. We therefore argue that the start of the herring decline was coincident with the oil spill, and that the decline took place over a 5-year period, rather than the single-year collapse previously reported. Although a comprehensive management approach is now in use for herring, the tools were not in place at the time of the oil spill or the subsequent collapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-50
Number of pages7
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • "Exxon Valdez" oil spill
  • Acoustic survey
  • Age-structured assessment
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Pacific herring
  • Prince William Sound
  • Stock assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography


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