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Crews on spill response boats work around the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. The federal coast guard is defending its response to an oil spill in Vancouver's harbour amid questions about how the slick washed up on beaches to the north.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The department of Fisheries and Oceans has banned fishing for shellfish and groundfish in Burrard Inlet in the wake of last week's fuel spill, and observers are questioning why the federal agency didn't make that decision sooner.

Fisheries and Oceans announced the closure, which includes the recreational crab fishery, in a notice early Tuesday evening. It said the closure covers the water between Point Grey, in Vancouver, and Point Atkinson, in West Vancouver, and runs as far east as the Lions Gate Bridge.

In its notice, the agency said the closure was a "precautionary measure" in response to the fuel spill on English Bay. A Fisheries and Oceans spokeswoman, in an e-mail Wednesday, said the closure was announced following a recommendation from Vancouver Coastal Health.

"While Vancouver Coastal Health is considering reopening beaches, it recommended that precautionary measures be taken by limiting recreational fisheries in the area," the e-mail read.

The spokeswoman added there is "no evidence that shellfish and groundfish in the area of the oil spill pose a danger, but due caution is being exercised until sampling results confirm they can be safely consumed."

While Fisheries and Oceans did not announce the closure until April 14, the Musqueam Indian Band issued its own notice on April 9. The band's notice was directed at crab and prawn fishers and advised them to cease fishing altogether.

Richard Sparrow, fisheries manager for the Musqueam, said it does not want any crabs or prawns coming into the community that "may have contamination issues."

"We don't want to take the risk," he said in an interview.

Mr. Sparrow, when asked if Fisheries and Oceans should have announced the closure sooner, said: "They're not thinking about their own families. That's what we do. My family goes and prawn- and crab-fishes and I'm not going to … recommend that they continue to do that, sitting here waiting for DFO. … We govern and manage our own fisheries and have been doing so for thousands of years."

Mr. Sparrow said it's difficult to measure the economic impact the spill has had on the band. He said marine resources are a staple of the community.

Rashid Sumaila, a professor and director of the fisheries economics research unit at the University of British Columbia, said Fisheries and Oceans should have announced the closure sooner.

"DFO was too slow in issuing such an order," Dr. Sumaila wrote in an e-mail. "It is similar to the delay in reporting the spill to the City of Vancouver, which unnecessarily delayed the clean-up effort: When an emergency such as a bunker oil spill, which is toxic and polluting, occurs, all relevant authorities need to take immediate action to protect people and the ecosystem."

The spill was first reported by a person on a sailboat around 5 p.m. on April 8. The Canadian Coast Guard has said it did not realize the seriousness of the situation until around 8 p.m. It has said it took until nearly 6 a.m. Thursday for a boom to be placed around the vessel that was the cause of the leak.

The City of Vancouver was not notified of the spill until approximately 12 hours after the initial report.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and B.C. Premier Christy Clark have said the Coast Guard's response was slow and inadequate, while the Coast Guard has hailed it as a success, pointing to the fact 80 per cent of the fuel was recovered within 36 hours.

Fisheries and Oceans did not hold a news conference regarding the spill Wednesday, and its only public update was released through Twitter. It said water samples taken recently near the scene of the spill "had hydrocarbon levels below laboratory detection limits." It said the water samples met federal and provincial guidelines.

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