San Francisco Reassures Tourists Following Oil Spill

Kelley Groesser expected to wade through throngs of out-of-town visitors eating crab sandwiches when she visited San Francisco's famed Fisherman's Wharf, epicenter of the city's kitschy tourist trade.

Instead, the Temecula resident watched hordes of fishermen repairing nets by their idled boats as the governor imposed a temporary ban on all fishing in areas affected by last week's oil spill.

The spill occurred after a cargo ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and at 58,000 gallons was San Francisco Bay's biggest in nearly two decades.

That had civic leaders and business owners working to assure would-be visitors that the City by the Bay is still open for business.

"We are very concerned about the economic impact the oil spill has had on the city's not just fishing industry, but tourism industry as well," said Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom.

"With the delay of crab season, it's a big concern."

Along with Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, eating Dungeness
crab is an essential part of any tourist itinerary, and also a Thanksgiving tradition for many residents.

The crab season had been scheduled to begin Thursday, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's executive order delayed opening day until Dec. 1, or when fish and game officials decide it's safe.

Most seafood sold at Fisherman's Wharf is caught far offshore, or elsewhere on the Pacific Coast.

Even the crabs on ice in front of wharf eateries were likely shipped in from the Pacific Northwest, but some tourists weren't taking any chances.

"We haven't had it," said Eileen Klinkatsis, visiting from North Carolina for the Oracle World software conference.

As she spoke, she looked out over the barking sea lions at Pier 39. "I
really don't think we're going to have it at all."

The sea lions and other marine mammals have largely avoided exposure to the oil, and the stench of bunker fuel that had hung over the bay has dissipated. But dark, patchy slicks continue to float in some areas, and several beaches remained closed as teams in yellow hazmat suits shoved sticky globs of oil and sand into plastic bags.

Sue Kelvington's visit to Ocean Beach turned messy when some of the children in her group went swimming and emerged with oil stains on their skin.

"They'd never seen the ocean," said Kelvington, here from Salt Lake City visiting family with her daughter and some cousins.

Explaining why they ignored warnings to stay out of the ocean, she
said: "(They) were going to have fun anyway."

The group also tried to visit Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge, but the area was closed because of the oil cleanup.

Over the weekend, the spill forced organizers of the San Francisco Triathlon to make it a biathlon: about 900 athletes, including dozens hoping to gain points to qualify for the Olympic Games, weren't allowed to swim in the bay.

The California State Park Service also temporarily closed Angel Island and canceled all public ferry service to that popular hiking and biking destination.

Angela Jackson, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention &
Visitors Bureau, said ferries to Alcatraz were still doing a brisk business.

"To date, none of the water-based tour companies have reported any change in business," she said. "They're still carrying on all of their tours, so for now it has not impacted tourism."

Ballard said it's too soon to know whether the spill cost the city tourism dollars - hotels were mostly booked this week because of the Oracle conference.

But city officials will work with the Convention & Visitors Bureau to compare hospitality revenue from this November to the same period last year.

They may also launch a promotional campaign to reassure the public.

Anthony Geraldi, co-owner of Fisherman's Grotto restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf, said he's worried because seafood sales are typically the one bright spot for the city's tourism industry during what is otherwise a slow time of year.

"It's not going to be a pretty picture," he said. "It's definitely going to hurt."

Some tourists seemed less than concerned.

British retirees Ken and Chris Green arrived at their Fisherman's Wharf hotel Monday and immediately went out for a seafood dinner on Pier 39, even though they'd seen television reports about the oil spill.

They were also planning ferry trips to Alcatraz and Sausalito.

"I'd guess there would be controls that would forbid contaminated food from getting to the table," said Ken Green.

Holly Ashland, a stay-at-home mom from Durham, N.C., said she'll avoid the wax museums and tasteless T-shirt stands, but not the seafood stalls and restaurants of Fisherman's Wharf.

"Smells good, tastes good," Ashland said as she savored a sourdough bowl full of clam chowder. "Isn't it just as safe as eating beef from cows who had pesticides? How much guarantee do we ever have of food safety?"

Joe Oropeza, who packs and ships seafood on nearby Pier 45, munched a crab sandwich slathered with Tabasco.

"I know where this stuff comes from," he said. "It's from a long way from shore, and the oil spill didn't affect that area."

But Groesser, who's planning to come back next year, worries about the long-term effects of the oil spill on the region.

"When I go to Santa Barbara with my girlfriends, we can see the oil tankers offshore, and you come back from a walk on the beach with oil on your bare feet," she said. "It's not pleasant. I hope the same thing doesn't happen here."


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