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Ecological Disaster: Fuel Spill Kills Thousands of Goldstream Salmon

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A fuel spill along the Goldstream River on Vancouver Island in mid-April may have killed much of the young salmon in several First Nations fisheries, and authorities are still investigating the long-term effects of what has been termed a full-fledged environmental disaster.

The five affected First Nations—the Tsartlip, Tsawout, Pauquachin, Tseycum and Malahat—are angry that they were not consulted directly by truck owner Columbia Fuels, whose vehicle spilled the fuel. Columbia contacted Indian and Northern Affairs Canada rather than deal with the nations directly, they said in a report in the Victoria Times Colonist.

“We want people to know that we are here,” said Ivan Wayne Morris, chief of Tsartlip First Nation, in a videotaped interview with the Goldstream News Gazette. “The five nations here have an ownership here in what belongs to all of us because it’s something of a real devastation to our children, our elders, our community.”

In addition, Tsawout First Nation fisheries manager Dan Claxton told the Goldstream News Gazette on April 21, if the nations had been consulted earlier, fish and wildlife personnel could have been brought in and minimized environmental damage in conjunction with the Native experts while authorities dealt with the immediate danger and public safety issues.

The First Nations that depend on the river's bounty for their livelihood said more could have been done to contain the spill at the accident scene while investigations began into the crash of a Columbia Fuels tanker that spilled 42,000 liters of gasoline and 650 litres of diesel. Much of the fuel seeped into the river and killed salmon, trout and insects. The full range of damage won't be known until 2012 and '13, when whatever salmon escaped the slaughter are due to come back to spawn, fisheries biologist Ian Bruce told the Goldstream News Gazette.

Since then experts from the First Nations and Canada's environment ministry have been meeting with company officials.

Morris said the First Nations want full restoration of the river and its environs.

“When we came down here that day there was absolutely nothing swimming around in there," Morris said. "It was all dead.”