Wolastoqewi mothers and grandmothers are seeking to delay the application of a pesticide to Miramichi Lake.
The eradication process is scheduled to begin Aug. 17 as a group of seven organizations calling themselves “conservation partners” plans to add Noxfish II to the lake, a section of Miramichi River and associated waterways, in an effort to eradicate smallmouth bass.
Lawyer Charles Bryant said the mothers and grandmothers met Monday with representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and local cottage owners.
Bryant said his clients only learned the plan was proceeding in recent days, even though the eradication would take place on unceded Wolastoqewi land.
“And the consultation efforts have been minimal at best,” Bryant said. “Those resulted in a series of conditions for moving ahead.
“Those conditions have not been met, and yet here we are, the day before this project is planned to proceed and DFO essentially told us (Monday) that there is no stopping the project.”
Smallmouth bass are considered an invasive species not native to the region. It’s believed the fish were added to the waterways illegally in an effort to produce a population for angling.
The conservation partners, led by North Shore Micmac District Council, say the fish are competing for habitat and prey that native fish and other wildlife rely on.
“It’s our position that this cannot move forward and DFO is in breach of its duty to consult,” Bryant said.
He said Wolastoqewi members plan to be on the water in canoes to try to have the project delayed.
“The waterways are extremely important to the Wolastoqewi people,” Bryant said. “And, from their perspective, they don’t have enough information to make a decision on whether they would allow this to go.”
Some opponents of the program believe the pesticide will kill many more species than smallmouth bass and damage the ecosystem.
Barb Hildebrand, who represents a group of fellow cottage owners opposed to the plan, said the meeting was disappointing.
She said DFO told attendees that the smallmouth bass population is more widespread outside the areas due targeted with pesticide.
As a result, Hildebrand said the department confirmed what cottagers already believed: the poisoning will not eradicate the smallmouth bass population, but rather attempt to control it.
“It’s disheartening at this point to hear that when all along, any meeting we had with DFO was very much they were reviewing as an eradication effort and not a control effort,” Hildebrand said. “And now that is obviously not the case.”
Hildebrand said there’s no point moving forward with the plan if there is little or no benefit.
Bryant said it’s likely too late to fight the plan in court unless there is a delay.
Global News contacted DFO, but were not able to arrange an interview.
Neville Crabbe, a spokesman for group applying the pesticide, said the plan is moving ahead as scheduled.