Cordova is a town on the east coast of Prince William Sound in Alaska. A sound is a section of the ocean that is between coastlines.

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Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Source: The New York Times , World Atlas

In the 1970s and 1980s, Cordova was a hot spot for commercial herring and salmon fishing. 800 of the town's 2,100 people were fishermen. Their collective catch amounted to as much as $40 million.

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Source: The New York Times

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef in Prince William Sound, spilling more than 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean.

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Courtesy NOAA/Handout via REUTERS

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The oil spread about 1,300 miles down the coast. At the time, it was the biggest oil spill in history.

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Source: National Geographic

Immediately afterward, Exxon recognized its role in the incident and the organization that represented the oil tanker took responsibility for cleaning up the spill. Several others helped clean too, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

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Mike Blake/Reuters

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , The New York Times

The spill killed 250,000 seabirds, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and around 3,000 sea otters per a National Geographic article.

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REUTERS/Mike Blake

Source: National Geographic

The spill also killed billions of salmon eggs and caused the area's Pacific herring population, which fishermen heavily relied on, to plummet.

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Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Source: National Geographic

Rick Steiner, a marine biologist, told National Geographic that it's impossible to clean up an oil spill entirely. In 2016, Smithsonian Magazine said that this is because there is no technology that can clean it up fast enough.

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Courtesy United States Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Source: National Geographic , Smithsonian Magazine

By 1994, scientists estimated that 50% of the oil in Prince William Sound had biodegraded, 20% had evaporated, and 14% had been cleaned.

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Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

That means that 16% of the oil remained 13% in sediments, 2% on shorelines, and 1% remained in the ocean.

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JUDY GRIESEDIECK/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-led 2015 study found that these oil levels were linked to growth problems in salmon and herring.

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Lindsay Claiborn/Reuters

Source: American Association for the Advancementof Science

The study stated that fish embryos absorb oil into their skin while they are developing into fully-formed fish and this reduces their ability to swim and their chance of survival.

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Erik Hill/Anchorage Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Between 1990 and 1992, Alaska caught a record number of salmon and herring. However, in 1994, both species' populations plummeted and the local herring fishery closed. State and federal scientists said this was linked to the lingering oil in the ocean, the New York Times reported in 1994.

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Associated Press

Source: The New York Times

The state sued Exxon following the spill, and the federal government said the company violated the Clean Water Act, which states that no one can add pollutants to water without a permit. It cost the oil company more than $1 billion in settlements.

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Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Source: The Washington Post , The New York Times , Business Insider

In 2006, U.S. and state officials asked Exxon to pay an additional $92 million for cleaning up long-term damages. The company refused and in 2015, the judicial action was dropped.

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Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Source: Business Insider

More than 32,000 fishermen and Alaska residents collectively sued Exxon for its impact on the fishing industry which had led to economic depression in Cordova, The New York Times reported in 1994. They sued for $5 billion, but the Supreme Court changed the amount to half a billion in 2008.

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Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Sources: The Washington Post , The New York Times

After the spill, some who initially moved to Cordova for the fishing industry began traveling south to California. Others turned to odd jobs like construction work.

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Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Sources: NPR , The New York Times , NPR

By 2014, salmon, cod, and halibut populations had rebounded in Cordova, but herrings had not.

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REUTERS/Environmental Protection Agency/Handout via Reuters

Source: NPR

The Alaska Department of Fishing and Game has not released a report on Commercial Herring Fisheries in Prince William Sound in four years. According to the latest report in 2016, the commercial harvest of the fish was not likely the following year.

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Nick Didlick/Reuters

Source: The State of Alaska , The Alaska Department of Fishing and Game

But Cordova's fishing industry is making do without the herring population. According to a 2018 study, residents made $33 million in gross fish earnings.

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Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game , Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

In May 2020, the New York Times reported that the fishing town is concerned that about this year's Copper River salmon season because of the coronavirus. The small town is worried that out-of-state travelers will spread the virus in Cordova.

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Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

Thousands of fishermen from around the world travel to the town each year to catch Copper River salmon, which sell for about $75 a pound.

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Mark Leffingwell/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

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