A plan to begin applying the fish-killing pesticide rotenone to sections of the Miramichi watershed has been delayed by at least one day, the Atlantic Salmon Federation says.
Approved by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) earlier this year, the plan gave the green light to eradicate smallmouth bass, an invasive species, by spraying sections of the Miramichi watershed beginning on Tuesday.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation and the North Shore Micmac District Council have been pushing for the project to protect salmon for several years now, and originally hoped it would go ahead last summer.
The federation has said smallmouth bass threaten salmon and trout by taking over their food and habitat. But on Tuesday, the federation told the CBC the application has been delayed until at least Wednesday. It would not disclose the reasons for the delay.
The plan prompted a dozen grandmothers and mothers with the Wolastoqey First Nations to take to the water to protect it.
The women have been canoeing across Miramichi Lake since Monday in an attempt to halt the application of rotenone, according to their lawyer, Charles Bryant.
The women, members of the Tobique, St. Mary's and Woodstock First Nations, claim there hasn't been adequate consultation, Bryant said in an interview Tuesday.
"They're not saying it's an unconditional no, that this project cannot proceed," he said. "The Wolastoqey mothers and grandmothers are respectful of the process and the decisions of their communities, but this has not gone to their communities yet. The consultation is not complete."
The chiefs representing the Wolastoqey First Nations asked for a series of conditions to be met before proposing the project to their communities for approval, and these conditions were not met, Bryant said.
"That raises alarm bells and the response is to get out on the land and the water and protect. That's where we stand now," he added.
The pesticide was scheduled to be applied in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook and 17.2 kilometres of the Southwest Miramichi River over two days this August, and will kill the vast majority of fish in the waters being treated.
Lake Brook and the Southwest Miramichi River will then receive a second one-day treatment in September.
Neville Crabbe, the spokesperson with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said that as far as he was aware the Wolastoqey First Nations had already provided their approval for the project during consultations with their group and with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Crabbe said Tuesday that he had been on the road all day and was "not aware of what's going on down at the lake."
However, he said, the federation had participated in a Crown-led Indigenous consultation process ahead of securing approval for the project.
That process "involved years of meetings and letters back and forth, and answering questions with every First Nation and Treaty organization in New Brunswick, including the Wolastoqey Nation, who did offer their support for the project," Crabbe said.
Crabbe believes the use of rotenone will get rid of the majority of smallmouth bass in the water.
"We've been planning over several years in consultations with experts in aquatic invasive species. They've told us that we have a very good likelihood of success," he said.
"There's not a 100 per cent guarantee of success, what in life is guaranteed by 100 per cent? However if no action is taken, those invasive fish will spread."
Aboriginal Peoples council also opposes project
The New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council also opposes the project, and have said throughout consultations that they doubt eradication efforts will be successful.
The council represents off-reserve and non-status Indigenous people in the province.
In a report submitted to the environmental minister, Chief Barry LaBillois said community members have reported catching smallmouth bass outside the areas being targeted for treatment.
While LaBillois agreed smallmouth bass will devastate the ecosystem in the water, he said there are too many risks involved with the use of the pesticide.
Solvent naphtha, which makes up just over 50 per cent of the product, has been shown to be toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.