A group of conservation partners is ready to implement a plan to eradicate smallmouth bass from the Miramichi Lake and its tributaries.
Smallmouth bass are considered an invasive species not native to the lake.
It’s believed the fish was introduced to the waterway illegally in 2008 by people attempting to create a population for angling.
The North Shore Micmac District Council is leading a group that will apply a pesticide called Noxfish II, containing an active ingredient known as rotenone, to the water starting August 17 which it believes will kill the smallmouth bass.
The plan has been approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, known as DFO.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation is one of the partners. Spokesman Neville Crabbe said smallmouth bass prey on native species in the Miramichi watershed, including other fish.
“They would compete for habitat, and also indirectly compete for prey by consuming the insects and other food items that native species rely on,” Crabbe said.
Many sport fishing lodge owners, have backed the plan.
Ledges Inn owner Caroline Taylor said allowing the bass to reproduce jeopardizes already reeling Atlantic salmon stocks.
“We could see another reduction in the salmon return in the Miramichi,” Taylor said. “That would basically put our business into dire straits.”
A group of about 20 cottage owners along Miramichi Lake have written to DFO in opposition of the plan.
Spokesperson Barb Hildebrand said they have been in consistent contact with the federal department without a response.
She said the impacts of the pesticide will be far-reaching.
“You’re talking about disrupting the whole food web because all the zooplankton is going to be killed and invertebrates and fish,” Hildebrand said. “So it’s not just a single part of the ecosystem that gets impacted.”
Hildebrand also said the eradication plan will not be successful because the fish have been present in the lake too long and they’ve spread out into the Miramichi River and other waterways.
“It’s not possible,” she said. “Unless you kill all of the individuals, it’s not possible.”
Crabbe admits there is no perfect solution, but he said the pesticide has been used in other eradication projects around the world.
He said the plan involves using much less of the toxin than is currently allowed. For the river portion of the eradication, he said potassium permanganate, a water purification chemical, will be used to deactivate the rotenone.
The New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council is also opposed to the plan.
Chief Barry LaBillois said smallmouth bass have been caught in Blackville, N.B., about 80 km away from Miramichi Lake, and noted DFO trapped a smallmouth bass in Millerton, N.B., 150 km away from the lake.
He believes the pesticide will do more harm than good.
“Look at the spraying program that they have currently in the province of New Brunswick to kill the hardwood, to help the softwood grow,” he began. “Go in afterwards and see what’s there. There’s nothing left. You can’t see a bug, you can’t see a bird or anything. This is what’s going to happen to river system as well.”
LaBillois said even if the eradication goes ahead as planned, stakeholders will be talking about the same problem again in 10 years.