In a news release issued Monday afternoon, Sept. 12, the Working Group heading the Miramichi Lake bass-eradication project confirmed the completion of Phase 1 of the project to treat the watershed with the fish-killing agent containing rotenone.
"On Sept. 8, crews completed Phase 1 of the conservation project to remove illegally introduced, invasive smallmouth bass from the Miramichi watershed," Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) spokesperson Neville Crabbe said in the statement. "A rotenone product was applied to Lake Brook and approximately 15 kilometres of the Southwest Miramichi River."
The Working Group consists of the ASF, the North Shore Micmac Council, Inc. and others.
While calling Phase 1 a success, the Working Group's release didn't mention the efforts of Indigenous protesters trying to stop the project.
Just before noon on Thursday, Sept. 8, Wayne Narvey of Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) First Nation told the River Valley Sun he and Peter Chisholm discovered the Working Group applying Noxfish II to Lake Brook without prior notification.
Narvey confronted the working crew, eventually turning off the flow of poison into the river and taking the container back to the protesters' campsite. The RCMP later arrested Narvey, charging him with theft.
In the Working Group's release, Crabbe said that applying Noxfish II into Lake Brook and 15 kilometres of the Southwest Branch of the Miramichi River took six hours.
"By late evening on Sept. 10, testing at our deactivation site indicated that the rotenone had been completely flushed from the project area and was successfully deactivated," Crabbe said.
He said the deactivation ensured limitation of the project's effects to the treatment area.
"Treating Lake Brook and the short stretch of the river where smallmouth bass are known to be present is a step forward in the effort to eradicate this invasive fish from the Miramichi watershed," Crabbe said in the statement. "However, the established population of smallmouth bass in Miramichi Lake, which was the source of smallmouth bass found in the brook and river, continues to threaten the ecosystem and native species of the Miramichi watershed."
The Working Group release said Phase 2 of the project calls for simultaneous treatment of Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook, and the 15-km stretch of the Southwest Miramichi River.
Narvey said Noxfish II's impact on the river proved quick, noting he saw dead fish even before he shut off the flow of poison. He pointed out, however, that smallmouth bass was not among the dead fish floating to the surface.
"In just a few minutes, there were at least 50 fish dead," said Narvey. "It was not something I expected to see - so many fish dying so quickly."
The Working Group, established in 2016, gained federal and provincial government approval for their project.
Narvey told the River Valley Sun that he and Chisholm set out on canoes after hearing voices nearby on Sept. 8.
"I could hear them talking, and I was like okay, they are just around the bend," said Narvey. "As I came around, my heart sank right out of my chest. There is a public safety guy I know, Ben O'Donnell. I met this guy before, spoke with him, and he seemed like a pretty good guy."
Once informed the application already began, Narvey said he ignored the warnings of O'Donnell and headed to where men in hazmat suits were applying Noxfish II to the brook.
While streaming live on Facebook, Narvey approached the large white container of chemicals, turning off the drip line of poison and placing the container in his canoe.
He told the public safety officers they could retrieve the container at the campsite where he and other Connecting to the Land members and Indigenous mothers and grandmothers have been camping since mid-August.
Used to de-escalating tense confrontations, Narvey remained calm throughout his efforts to grab the container.
He said a Public Safety officer arrested him shortly after he returned to the campsite.
Because of his exposure to the poison, the arresting officers first focused on treating Narvey.
"They took me from the public docking area to Nappadogon Mill, where I had the pants cut off me, and my legs were washed with saline," he said.
An ambulance, with the RCMP following, transported Narvey to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton.
Because of the long wait time, DECH didn't treat Narvey. The RCMP charged him and ordered him to stay at least 10 kilometres from the lake.
Narvey said doctors finally treated him 17 hours after his exposure, sending him home with two puffers and instructions to return if he felt any problems.
During an interview with the River Valley Sun Monday afternoon, Sept. 12, Crabbe called the completion of Phase 1 of the project "a real step forward," noting the Working Group has been on a holding pattern since Aug. 9.
He said the brook and river treatment was not a deviation from the approved plan, explaining that a single treatment of the lake and two for the balance of the approved area was always part of the process.
He said the project crew is no longer in the area but would return when Phase 2, which includes treatment of the lake, brook and 15-km section of the river, moves forward.
Crabbe said he couldn't provide a date for Phase 2.
He said no one has advised the Working Group of any legal action blocking plans to complete the project.
Crabbe said the group is following the requirements laid out in the project approval. He said the Working Crew moved forward on Sept. 8 without previous notification, noting the remote brook and river area are not used recreationally in September.
Lawyer Charles Bryant, representing Indigenous mothers and grandmothers, says that dumping Noxfish II into Lake Brook violates the authorization initially awarded to the Working Group.
He pointed out that last year, the Working Group provided 48-hour notice and 24-hour notice this year.
"I don't really know how we could get here if everyone is acting in good faith," Bryant told the River Valley Sun last week. "There is a high degree of disingenuousness. It appears that they took steps to hide their actions."
Crabbe said the Working Group believes the Noxfish II treatment delivered the desired effect, but, at this point, it does not have accurate kill numbers for any fish species. He said few dead fish of any species arrived at the barrier downstream from the treatment area.
With the treatment of the entire approved area on the horizon, proponents and opponents remain at loggerheads.
The approved eradication plan includes a five-year monitoring project, contracted to the North Shore Micmac Council, Inc., and restocking of the watershed if the lake doesn't recover on its own within two years.
Despite the federal Department of Fisheries and N.B. Environment approvals, project opponents call the plan dangerous and destructive.
"Poison has never been the answer, and this particular poison kills everything in the lake. I just can't see how that is even acceptable," said Narvey.
— With files from Theresa Blackburn, River Valley Sun
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun