BABBITT HELPS END FISHERMEN'S BLOCKADE OF VALDEZ

BABBITT HELPS END FISHERMEN'S BLOCKADE OF VALDEZ

Negotiations by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt helped end a blockade by Prince William Sound salmon fishermen that had prevented three oil tankers

from loading at the trans-Alaska pipeline's terminal, protesters and government officials said.

Cordova-based fishermen, who lined up nearly 100 boats starting Friday in the Valdez Narrows to block access to the pipeline's port, said they were disbanding the protest after meeting with Mr. Babbitt and representatives of Atlantic Richfield (Arco) and British Petroleum (BP) onshore in Valdez Sunday."We have called off the blockade in return for them doing what they can to bring some resolution to the situation," said Earling Carlson, a protesting fishermen on a boat in the sound.

The protest was launched to call attention to what the fisherman called the disastrous Prince William Sound fishing seasons after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and subsequent ecological damage.

This summer, four years after the 11-million-gallon spill, less than a fifth of the forecasted pink salmon run is expected to show up in Prince William Sound. The herring run also collapsed this spring and last year's harvests were poor.

Although Exxon was the target of the protest, no Exxon representative attended the meeting in Valdez, Mr. Carlson said. But Mr. Babbitt and the others promised to work to speed up environmental restoration in the area damaged by the nation's worst oil spill, Mr. Carlson said.

Along with Exxon, BP and Arco are two of the major owners of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., operator of the pipeline and its marine terminal.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the fishermen caused one tanker, the BP- chartered Atigun Pass, to turn around before entering the Valdez Narrows. Two more tankers, Exxon's Baton Rouge and the Arco Alaska, delayed their entry into the sound, the Coast Guard said.

Protesting fishermen could face fines of up to $25,000 for violating a port order to provide a "safety zone" for the tankers, Coast Guard spokesman Don Atwell said.

Even though fishermen were headed out of the protest area, the Coast Guard planned to continue monitoring the situation to ensure that the Arco Alaska and the Atigun Pass reached the narrows as scheduled later Sunday, Mr. Atwell said.

Mr. Carlson, speaking from the Bligh Reef, the boat owned by protest organizer Jim Gray, said the fishermen were unconcerned about possible fines. He said they believe they have called attention to their plight.

"A lot of it was just the frustration of no fish coming back to Prince William Sound, the boats going bankrupt and the destruction of the ecosystem," he said. "I think we made our point that Prince William Sound is not all well."

Valdez resident Joe Bridgman, who serves on a panel that oversees operations at the pipeline terminal, said he ran into the protest during a recreational boat trip Saturday.

He said he saw about 100 fishing boats linked up across the mile-wide Valdez Narrows, some with floodlights on and banners with such slogans as "No More Lies, Exxon."

"All these guys were just clogging the narrows. There was no way in hell that a tanker could get through," he said.