Oil Spill Readiness & The Refugio Spill

Our fishermen actively train for participation in oil spill response, and are often the first responders to a spill on the water, such as in the case of the Refugio Oil Spill of 2015. Fishermen’s local knowledge of safe boating, tides and currents is critical to spill containment. The availability of dozens of nimble, small boats make our fleet indispensable in oil response.

Currently, 2 members of CFSB are part of a year-long Task Force through the Coastal Commission on the role of “Vessels of Opportunity” (i.e, fishing boats) in the State of California’s oil spill response practices.

Our fishermen also coordinate with the Clean Seas program and the Harbor Master of Santa Barbara to stay up-to-date with gear and training. Santa Barbara’s ideal oil spill response plan calls for having at least 60 fishing boats on active call for immediate response, 24 hours a day. This ideal is a constant challenge as boats and fishermen come and go from our fleet. We are working with community partners to identify new ways to optimize fleet readiness and rapid communication lines.

Importantly, Clean Seas is strongly considering cutting the Fisherman's Oil Response Team program entirely in 2017, despite consensus that fishing vessels are extremely well suited as first responders for this stretch of coast. If the FORT program were to sunset, the most urgent need is to find a program and funding source to continue annual ‘hazardous waste emergency response worker training’ (CFR1910120) for next year so that fishermen are able to respond at the time of a spill. 

The Refugio oil spill had a negative impact on local fisheries, both due to closure of fishing grounds and market fears that Santa Barbara Channel seafood was tainted. A Risk Assessment on Seafood Consumption released in December 2015 used lab testing of collected fishery species during the spill to confirm that there was no oil contamination of fishery species due to the oil spill.

Plains All American Pipeline set up a claims process in May 2015 for those who can document personal and/or business losses due to the oil release. In July 2015 a group of fishermen and buyers initiated a class action lawsuit.

Read the Coast Guard's May 2016 'Post Mortem' report on the Refugio Oil Spill response, with recommendations based on lessons learned.