Second court challenge in the works against plan to kill fish in Miramichi Lake

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Terry Sappier describes herself as a water defender and says a group she's part of has applied for a judicial review of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada decision to allow the use of a fish-killing chemical in New Brunswick's Miramichi Lake. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
Terry Sappier describes herself as a water defender and says a group she's part of has applied for a judicial review of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada decision to allow the use of a fish-killing chemical in New Brunswick's Miramichi Lake. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

A second court challenge is in the works to stop a planned kill-off of fish in Miramichi Lake, according to a Wolastoqey woman.

Terry Sappier describes herself as a water defender and is one of several members of a group known as the Wolastoqey mothers and grandmothers, which has taken a stance against a plan to release a chemical known as Noxfish II in the lake located near Napadogan.

The chemical is made up petroleum distillates as well as rotenone, which is used as a pesticide.

She said her group applied Wednesday in federal court for a judicial review of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada decision to approve the plan, which is being pursued by a group of non-governmental and First Nations organizations in a bid to kill off the invasive smallmouth bass.

Nathan Wilbur, ASF
Nathan Wilbur, ASF

The group, known as the Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi, says the chemical is the only option left to stop the smallmouth bass from getting into the rest of the Miramichi River watershed and threatening native species such as brook trout and Atlantic salmon, which are prized among anglers.

However, Sappier said Fisheries and Oceans Canada didn't properly consult Indigenous stakeholders before signing off on using the chemical, which would kill all gilled fish in the area where it's applied.

"The federal government of Canada, particularly DFO, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has an obligation to consult with the Wolastoqey people on activities or projects that are going to be done on our territory," Sappier said, by phone on Thursday morning.

"And for some reason, DFO doesn't feel like they have to talk to us about it, and that is against reconciliation."

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Not all First Nations groups are against the project, however, including Natoaganeg First Nation Chief George Ginnish, who said he wanted to see the work go ahead earlier this month.

CBC News has asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada about its efforts to consult Indigenous peoples on the project and is awaiting a response.

Project blocked by earlier injunction

The Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi was set to come together last week, along with other partners and volunteers to release the chemical.

But last Tuesday a New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge granted an emergency injunction barring the Working Group from carrying out the project until a lawsuit brought by cottage owners on Miramichi Lake could be heard in court.

Atlantic Salmon Federation
Atlantic Salmon Federation

That injunction expired on Wednesday afternoon, and the cottage owners' lawsuit was withdrawn, according to Neville Crabbe, a spokesperson for the Working Group.

Sappier said further to the judicial review application filed on Wednesday, her group also plans to seek its own injunction to stop the Working Group from carrying out the project until arguments on their application are heard in court.

Sappier said the request for an injunction would be filed either Thursday or Friday.

CBC News was unable to obtain a copy of the application for a judicial review on Thursday.

In an interview on Wednesday, Crabbe said even if there's no injunction in place at the moment, the large scale of the operation means it can't be implemented on quick notice.

Pierre Richard/Radio-Canada
Pierre Richard/Radio-Canada

He said the Working Group has approval until Sept. 30 to carry out the release of rotenone, and that the plan is to get it done sometime before then.

Asked about the possibility of the injunction getting denied, Sappier said she'd physically block the project from being carried out.

"I will sit on the water," she said. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to sit on that water until they can't do it no more."

The project had to be called off last August after the Wolastoqey mothers and grandmothers canoed onto the lake and refused to leave.