Injunction halting fish-killing project on Miramichi Lake expires

·4 min read
A plan to spray the Miramichi Lake with a fish-killing chemical could technically go ahead with the expiration of an emergency injunction Wednesday afternoon. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
A plan to spray the Miramichi Lake with a fish-killing chemical could technically go ahead with the expiration of an emergency injunction Wednesday afternoon. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

A plan to kill off an invasive fish, along with all other fish species in New Brunswick's Miramichi Lake, can go ahead — for now.

Last week, Court of Queen's Bench Judge Terrence Morrison issued an emergency injunction temporarily barring a group from using rotenone, a pesticide and piscicide, on the lake with the intent of killing off invasive smallmouth bass.

That injunction expired at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, and a hearing in Woodstock Court of Queen's Bench that was supposed to include arguments for and against the project was cancelled at the last minute.

The hearing had been scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, along with another hearing on an application by a second party seeking a similar injunction, which was also cancelled.

The group in charge of the rotenone project says it is now considering whether to take another run at Miramichi Lake.

The first injunction had been requested by a group of people who own cottages along the lake.

They filed a lawsuit against the North Shore Micmac District Council, a proponent in the project, arguing it would cause irreversible damage to the lake.

Last Tuesday, Morrison granted the emergency injunction to halt the project until the lawsuit by cottage owners could be heard in court.

Daniel Houghton, a cottage owner and one of the plaintiffs named, said the court hearing was cancelled because there was knowledge that another party would also be filing a motion in court to have the rotenone plan stopped.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

He said he was not briefed on why the other party's scheduled court appearance was cancelled as well.

Another item on the Wednesday court docket was for an application by Andrea Polchies and Terry Sappier against Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Charles Bryant, a lawyer representing the two applicants, said on Wednesday morning that his clients were the Wolastoqey mothers and grandmothers opposed to putting rotenone in the water. He said they were pursuing a judicial review of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's decision to allow the use of rotenone on Miramichi Lake.

"The purpose of today is to seek an injunction from the Court of Queen's Bench to prevent the spraying from occurring before the judicial review application can take place," he said.

In a later email to CBC News on Wednesday, Bryant said the hearing had been cancelled, but he did not respond to followup phone calls for more information about what would happen next.

Nathan Wilbur, ASF
Nathan Wilbur, ASF

The main proponent of the project, the Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi, has been trying to poison the fish since last year. It says the invasive smallmouth bass in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook and a portion of the Southwest Miramichi River has been threatening native Atlantic salmon and brook trout.

However, objections from local people and Wolastoqey grandmothers, including some who paddled on the lake when the rotenone application was scheduled last year, have stopped the Working Group so far.

Houghton, who lives primarily in Saint John, said he hadn't heard of there being any activity on Miramichi Lake as of Wednesday afternoon.

He said he's unsure what's supposed to happen next with the lawsuit he's party to. He said he's still opposed to the project and plans to "protest it peacefully" in the hopes the Working Group changes its plan.

Plan to try again before Sept. 30

Neville Crabbe, spokesperson for the Working Group, said his understanding was the cottage owners completely withdrew their lawsuit against the North Shore Micmac District Council.

As for the action by the Wolastoqey grandmothers, Crabbe said the application for the judicial review was filed in the wrong court, which led to it being rejected.

CBC
CBC

He acknowledged the judicial review and another injunction could still come down the line but said the Working Group otherwise plans to move ahead on the project this year.

He said the group has permission to carry out the work until Sept. 30.

"Nobody's going there tomorrow because this isn't a project that you can turn on and off like a light switch," Crabbe said  Wednesday afternoon, recalling what happened when the project had to be halted last week.

"As I mentioned, 136 people were staged and ready to begin … and dozens of volunteers that we had put through dozens of hours of training to be prepared to contribute to this critical conservation project, and all of that had to be let go.

"So, frankly, right now we're assessing what our options are and what our capability is to reactivate and maybe come back and try for a third time."