Miramichi fish-eradication project paused for 2nd year

·4 min read
Smallmouth bass was introduced illegally in Miramichi Lake in 2008, according to Neville Crabbe, who has spoken at times for proponents of the pesticide project. (Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture - image credit)
Smallmouth bass was introduced illegally in Miramichi Lake in 2008, according to Neville Crabbe, who has spoken at times for proponents of the pesticide project. (Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture - image credit)

A group trying to kill smallmouth bass in Miramichi Lake has agreed to stop more applications of a rotenone-bearing  pesticide and pause the eradication project until next year.

This marks the second year the project has been delayed after opposition from Indigenous women and local cottage owners.

A consent order filed in Woodstock Court of King's Bench says the North Shore Micmac District Council has agreed not to apply any more Noxfish II, a pesticide containing rotenone, this year.

The eradication project is led by the council and a coalition of six other salmon conservation and wildlife protection organizations, including the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Together, they're called the Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication.

Want smallmouth bass eliminated

Their goal is to eliminate the invasive smallmouth bass population from the lake, which they say is threatening native species such as trout and salmon.

The consent agreement comes after Andrea Polchies, a traditional Wolastoqey leader as well as a band councillor in Wotstak First Nation, formerly Woodstock First Nation, filed a motion requesting a judge to force the group to stop the project.

The agreement says the group will not apply any more rotenone and Polchies will withdraw her motion.

In an interview, Polchies said this is good news but not the end of the fight. She is still challenging the pesticide project in court through a separate request for a judicial review.

"Somebody's got to defend the water. If not me, who?" she said.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Charles Bryant, Polchies's lawyer, said he can't speak to why proponents of the eradication project agreed to pause it.

"It just so happens that we were able to reach an agreement on the remedy that we were seeking."

Neville Crabbe, who has spoken for the proponents in the past, declined requests for an interview or comment.

Polchies and other Indigenous mothers and grandmothers have been camping on the lake shore since early August. She said they disbanded the camp on Monday.

"To get home was one of the best feelings in the world," she said.

Bryant said because it's possible the project will go ahead next year, he will try to have a judge review and rule on the project this year, despite the agreement.

"I'm hoping to convince the court that we can just argue it now, since we already have the parties at the table," he said.

Bass threatening ecosystem, group says

The pesticide would kill all the fish in the area, not just smallmouth bass, and kill some insects and other invertebrates. The plan, which has been approved by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says the "do nothing" approach would do more damage than the fish kills caused by rotenone.

"The risk of doing nothing is too high," the plan says.

The group is responsible for monitoring the lake system and adding back non-migratory fish that do not return to the lake naturally within two years.

"We do not expect or aim for the resulting fish community to be the same as the pre-treatment state, but we do expect overall rapid recovery of the ecosystem," the plan says.

The group received federal and provincial approval to apply the chemical to the area in multiple phases between Aug. 8 and Sept. 30 of this year.

On Sept. 8 the group released Noxfish in Lake Brook and along about 15 kilometres of the Southwest Miramichi River. It said this was the first phase, and the second phase "calls for a simultaneous treatment of Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook, and the 15-km stretch of the Southwest Miramichi River."

The group did not commit to a timeline for the second phase. But according to the licence it received, the second application must be at least two weeks after the first.

Now, the second application will not happen.

Polchies said the agreement is bittersweet because many fish have already died from the first application.

"It was kind of mixed emotions. I was happy that they decided not to, but the again, I was still pretty pissed off that they got Lake Brook and the southwest branch of the Miramichi."

She said opponents are not saying the lake should be left alone and the smallmouth bass should be allowed to invade the area.

Polchies said they believe there are better, safer ways to control the bass population without killing every fish in the lake, and want to work with ecologists and other Indigenous groups to make that a reality.

"They can be speared, or netted. ... You don't need to poison every fish," she said. "Nobody ever said 'do nothing.'"

What this agreement means for the project, whether both phases will have to be repeated, and whether the group will have to re-apply for federal and provincial approval is not known.

One judge had already ordered the group to temporarily stop spraying this year. Several cottage owners filed a lawsuit alleging the project will irreparably harm them and their property, and they asked for the ban until their lawsuit is heard.

That injunction expired after the cottage owners agreed to abandon it. In that consent order, the North Shore Micmac District Council agreed to not seek any damages from the losses caused by the ban.