As the environmental, economic and social impacts of the Nathan E. Stewart fuel spill unfold, fisheries are being closed and the Heiltsuk Nation fear the worst for their clam harvest and other species. Rather than world class, community members are describing the spill response to the Nathan E. Stewart as “poorly coordinated” and “nightmarish.” “There was not enough responding equipment or safety equipment,” said Jess Housty, elected council member of the Heiltsuk First Nation. “Not enough people, not enough boats.”
Some of the first responders to the scene were Heiltsuk community members. It took nearly 24 hours for the first official spill response vessels to arrive. Despite reports to the contrary, oil booms have failed to limit the spread of diesel, as have attempts to remove diesel from the water using absorbent pads. “Now the Heiltsuk wait to determine the true environmental impact,” said Misty MacDuffee, wild salmon program coordinator for Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “We are all victims of government oil spill response rhetoric, but the brunt of the consequences fall on local communities and wildlife.”
Although the full extent of damage is unknown, diesel has reached nearby Gale Creek and coated the clam beds in this inlet. “These are the most important clam beds in Heiltsuk Territory,” described Housty. “They provide employment and contribute to economic stability. This area is part of our identity; it’s a village site, and one that we have stewarded sustainably for millennia.”
These impacts will need to be carefully monitored, which will likely fall to the Heiltsuk, as oversight for contaminant monitoring has been dropped by the federal government. Advice is being provided by groups like Raincoast and other non-profits.
Kyle Artelle, Raincoast biologist and Bella Bella resident, noted that Seaforth Channel is a maritime highway not only for vessel traffic, but also for wildlife such as killer whales, humpback whales, salmon and herring. “Last summer I was just outside Gale Creek when I bumped into a superpod of 60 resident killer whales, right where the diesel slick now lies. Just around the corner wolves and bears eat herring eggs from the beach and eagles feed on the fish.”
“Right now, BC seems to be planning for world class oil spills by facilitating the introduction of greater threats,” said MacDuffee “They need to bring existing vessel safety and spill response capacity up to much higher standard.”
By providing leadership, boats, crews, and sampling initiatives, the Heiltsuk Nation are doing all they can to minimize the ongoing environmental damage. They have also initiated an independent investigation. Donations to support the costs of their work can be made to: https://fundrazr.com/c1At54?ref=sh_460ol9.
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