Gilmour Point, Prince William Sound

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Gilmour Point is a headland on the northwest coast of Montague Island, at the northeast end of Montague Strait, about 30 miles (48 km) east of Chenega Bay, Alaska. The name was first shown on a 1787 sketch map by Captain Nathaniel Portlock of the Royal Navy. Many of the sheltered bays in Prince William Sound, such as those near Gilmour Point, have extensive eelgrass beds that provide habitat for spawning herring.

Herring are a cornerstone species in many marine ecosystems. These small, silvery fish fuel marine food webs and directly support predators such as salmon, marine mammals, and a large diversity of marine birds. They also stage one of the natural world’s most spectacular events with their annual spawn. Each year, tens of thousands of tonnes of herring migrate from offshore waters to more sheltered nearshore bays and estuaries where they spawn. Male herring release milt (containing sperm), which colors nearshore waters a chalky white, sometimes for many kilometers of coastline. In this opaque water, female herring lay eggs upon the intertidal and nearshore vegetation, which often includes eelgrass and kelp.

The herring population in Prince William Sound crashed in 1993, just 4 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill released 11 million gallons (42 million l) of crude oil. The collapse put an end to an $8-million-dollar-a-year fishery, and left a hole in the marine food web. Scientists have spent years trying to understand if and how the oil spill played a role in the herring’s demise and the results have been controversial. All of the legal proceedings finally closed in 2015, with herring listed as an impacted species but with most herring fishers feeling poorly compensated. Read more here and here. Click here to download the CoastView app and explore Gilmour Point and Montague Island.

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