NEAH BAY (September 16, 2003) The rescue tugboat Barbara Foss began its first day of duty of the 2003-2004 winter season today. The Neah Bay- based tug received a rousing send-off in Seattle Monday from Makah tribal council members, state legislators and other guests.

Unlike past years, the tug’s funding is firm for the next five. “This is a great step – to have the commitment from the state for multi-years and with bi-partisan support,” said Nathan Tyler, Makah Tribal chairman. “We are very grateful for that support and we hope to get the federal support to have that protection year-round, not just in the winter months,” he said.

The funding, also championed by Gov. Gary Locke, earmarks 25 cents from each car registration to pay for the $1.4 million annual cost of the tug. The state Legislature can re-authorize it after the five years.

Since 1998, a rescue tug has been stationed in Neah Bay from late fall through early spring. It has been called on more than 20 times to assist ships; while scores of near misses have been documented in ship logs.

“The tug provides some prevention against oil spills that threaten the resources important to our very existence,” said Tyler. Depressed fish stock and other marine resources that the tribe depends on for subsistence are all threatened by oil spills. In 1972, the M.C. Meiggs ran aground on Cape Flattery, spilling 2.3 million gallons of oil, killing hundreds of birds and causing untold damage to fish populations. More recently, the Tenyo Maru spilled 100,000 gallons of fuel oil after being struck by another fishing vessel in 1991, fouling beaches and again impacting the bird population.

“Those were terrible events, but they don’t even hold a candle to the Exxon Valdez spill of more than 10 million gallons, and that’s the kind of event we must prevent,” said Tyler. “It goes beyond fouling our food source. Our tourism is important too. Oil affects sport fishing, bird watching and enjoying our beaches,” he said.

The rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay also provides job training and employment opportunity for tribal members. The tug operates two crews that rotate every two weeks and will be stationed out of Neah Bay through April. Two tribal members have gone on to large ocean-going vessels and traveled the world.

“There are more than 10,000 commercial passages in the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day and traffic is growing,” said Tyler. “With a tug dedicated to this task, our resources and the resources of the state are better protected.”

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For more information, contact: Nathan Tyler, Makah Tribal Chairman, (360) 645-3235; Vince Cooke, Environmental Division Manager, (360) 645-3160; Debbie Preston, Coastal Information Officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (360) 374-5501