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With BP oil spill billions at stake, why did Gulf fishermen suddenly settle?

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“The faster Gulf Coast residents can move on with their lives, the better – and if the settlement can help speed that process along, it’s a win,”'s Bryan Walsh writes.

It's a contention backed up by scientific evidence. According to studies of fishermen in Cordova, Ala., near the Valdez spill, “Data revealed that as important commercial and subsistence resources failed to recover and litigation remained unresolved, many local residents ... experienced chronic psychological stress, social disruption and collective trauma.”

The study, co-authored by psychologist Stephen Picou of the University of South Alabama, drew parallels between the two disasters, noting similarities between communities tied both economically and psychologically to the natural resources affected by the spills. It noted that stress levels in some Alaska communities remained at the same level in 2009 as they had 20 years earlier, in the days after the Valdez spill. Picou said that more recent data “suggest that similar consequences may be forthcoming for Gulf of Mexico communities affected by the BP oil spill.”

But differences have also emerged between the two historic oil spills. For one thing, while thick oil affected shorelines and fish stocks for decades in Alaska, conditions in the much warmer Gulf promoted deterioration of the oil and may have limited its long-term effects on fish and shrimp stocks. While many tourist towns basically wrote off 2010 as a lost season, tourists largely returned to the Gulf's beaches in 2011, lessening concerns about long-term economic impacts of the spill. And fishermen who saw their catch nearly halved in 2010 say many fish stocks appear to have rebounded.

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