Fish-eradication project in Miramichi has begun, opponents say

·4 min read
Indigenous residents have been canoeing on the Miramichi Lake to prevent the application of rotenone, a fish-killing pesticide deemed necesary to eradicate the invasive smallmouth bass. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
Indigenous residents have been canoeing on the Miramichi Lake to prevent the application of rotenone, a fish-killing pesticide deemed necesary to eradicate the invasive smallmouth bass. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

The project to eradicate invasive smallmouth bass from Miramichi Lake by using rotenone is now underway, according to people who oppose the plan.

On Thursday, Indigenous opponents of the project were again canoeing on the lake to prevent workers from pouring the toxin into the water. This is what prevented the project from going ahead last year, because the chemical can't be applied when there are people on the water.

There are also unconfirmed reports of an arrest.

According to multiple sources, including opponent and cottage-owner Barb Hildebrand, one of the people camping on the beach in the hopes of waylaying the project was arrested by provincial peace officers Thursday and accused of theft.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Indigenous opponents have been camping there since word came in early August of the impending application of rotenone.

Peter Chisholm, from Woodstock, has been at the lake for around a month, leaving for a few days to shower and get supplies and come back.

"I'm here protecting the water and protecting the land ... I'm here for the things that can't speak," he said Thursday.

Chisholm he saw two people wearing hazard protection on Thursday and a few provincial peace officers at the outlet where the river feeds into the lake. He said there were "dead fish everywhere."

Chisholm said he didn't see anyone adding a chemical to the water, but he could see an "oily substance" and fish were floating up.

No confirmation of arrest

The Department of Justice and Public Safety confirmed officers were at the lake, but refused to say whether anyone was arrested or charged.

The eradication project is led by the North Shore Micmac District Council, Inc, and a coalition of six other salmon conservation and wildlife protection organizations. Their goal is to use rotenone to kill all the fish in the lake, including the non-native smallmouth bass, and replenish the lake with native fish over the next few years. They say smallmouth bass is threatening the ecosystem and harming the local salmon population.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

The project received provincial and federal approval last year.

Neville Crabbe, spokesperson for the group, has not responded to multiple requests for confirmation and comment. The remaining organizations have either not responded to requests or said they did not have anyone available to speak to media.

A surprise chemical smell

Cottage owners believe this project amounts to trespassing on their land and will irreparably harm their ability to enjoy their property.

They and the Indigenous opponents believe the rotenone would also harm the environment and needlessly kill other beneficial fish. Indigenous mothers and grandmothers also said they deserve to be consulted, and said the project was approved without their input.

Hildebrand said on Thursday morning she was out on the lake on her kayak looking for loons and enjoying the quiet when she started smelling something chemical. She then started seeing posts on social media that the proponents had started adding the rotenone at the outlet of the lake.

"There was no signage posted or anything," she said. "It's scary."

Nathan Wilbur, ASF
Nathan Wilbur, ASF

Signs were first posted saying the group had permission to add the chemical on Aug. 10 and a no-swim warning would last for two days after that. CBC was not able to confirm if the group had posted updated signage with new dates.

Group ordered to pause project

A coalition called the Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi has said it was granted permission to begin applying rotenone in early August. Signs were posted in the area and Crabbe contacted cottage owners saying crews would begin the work on Aug. 10.

However, on Aug. 9, cottage owners were able to get a judge to issue an order preventing the group from applying the chemical until a lawsuit they filed could be heard.

A week later, the day the lawsuit was supposed to be heard, the cottage owners instead agreed to remove their request for the judge's order, and the North Shore Micmac District Council agreed to let go of its right to sue for damages.

The group has been free to begin the project since Aug. 17. In a statement issued that day, it said it had to dismiss 130 people who were supposed to start working but were prevented.

The group said said it "will resume activities to support the completion of our conservation project, however several significant challenges must be overcome because of the delay."