Between January 28 and February 4, 1986 the transportation barge Apex Houston discharged an undetermined amount of San Joaquin Valley crude oil while in transit from San Francisco Bay to the Long Beach Harbor. The oil spill caused damage to State of California and Federal resources from San Francisco to the Big Sur coast. Approximately 9,000 seabirds were killed, including 6,000 common murres (Uria aalge), in addition to other aquatic life in and around the coastal waters of central California. Both the State and Federal governments responded to the spill and began assessing damages as a result of the spill.
The State and Federal natural resource trustees commenced litigation in this matter against potentially responsible parties in January 1989. The complaints alleged claims for natural resource damages, costs, and penalties pursuant to the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq., Title III of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1431 et seq. (formerly the National Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, "MPRSA"), the California Harbors & Navigation Code §§ 293 and 294, and other State Law.
In August 1994 the parties settled this matter in a Consent Decree entered by the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California for a total of $6,400,000. As part of the natural resources damage settlement, $4,916,430 has been allocated for the restoration of common murres in central California. The common murre restoration project is the subject of this Final Plan. An additional $500,000 has been allocated for the acquisition of habitat for the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), a species that is listed under the Federal and State Endangered Species Acts and was impacted by the spill. The murrelet project is being carried out under State lead and is included, but not described in detail, in this Final Plan. The remainder of the $6,400,000 collected in the settlement was for penalties and costs incurred as a result of the spill.
A Trustee Council, comprised of representatives of each Trustee (California Department of Fish and Game, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) was established to review and select restoration actions for natural resources injured by the spill. This Council will meet regularly during the duration of the project to review progress and make necessary changes. The Trustee Council has approved this Final Plan for restoration of common murres.
The goal of the common murre restoration project is to recolonize common murres at historic breeding colonies in the areas where colonies were extirpated or severely depleted by the Apex Houston oil spill. Social attractants (decoys and recorded vocalizations of common murres) will be used to attract common murres to nest at historic nearshore colonies in the vicinity of San Francisco and Monterey. Common murres will be monitored at these sites and at reference sites in the vicinity of Point Reyes and the Farallon Islands in order to evaluate and refine the recolonization project. Parameters to be monitored include colony size, reproductive success, behavior, and phenology of common murres. In addition, anthropogenic factors (e.g., boat disturbance, aircraft overflights, oiling) and natural factors (e.g., predation, diet) that may affect the success of recolonization efforts will be monitored. This project may take a minimum of 10 years to achieve success because common murres have inherently low reproductive rates and do not breed until they are several years old.