Statement from the Mi’gmaq Chiefs of New Brunswick – ‘Uniting to Save the Salmon’

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Atlantic Salmon Federation - Logo (CNW Group/The Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi)

JUNIPER, NB, Aug. 20, 2021 /CNW Telbec/ – The significance of salmon to the Mi’gmaq and Wolastoqey cannot be overstated. Community members rely on this fish to sustain themselves and their families. The health of the salmon is essential to our ecosystem and a significant food source for our People.

Smallmouth bass were introduced in Miramichi Lake to provide sport fishers with a recreational opportunity and without consideration of the negative impacts on the already threatened Miramichi Atlantic Salmon. In 2019 we discovered smallmouth bass had spread to a small section of the Southwest Miramichi River. The negative effects of smallmouth bass on salmon have been devastating where not addressed, and along with other factors could result in the decimation of the salmon. For the past 13 years, attempts have been made to contain and physically remove invasive smallmouth bass from Miramichi Lake, but such efforts have failed to eradicate this species. After significant research and working with world experts in the field, it was determined the application of rotenone is necessary to ensure the protection and preservation of the Miramichi ecosystem.

Rotenone is an organic compound found in the roots of many bean plants. It was traditionally used by Indigenous people in South America and the Pacific isles to fish for food. Rotenone formulations have been used in fisheries management in North America since the 1950s. It has become the most common method for addressing aquatic invasive fish worldwide because it is safe and effective. There are no anticipated negative consequences from rotenone treatment for birds, mammals, amphibians, and people. Rotenone is toxic to fish at very low concentrations, but not so to non-gill breathing organisms.

Over the past two years, the plan to apply a Health Canada approved rotenone formulation to Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook, and 13.6 kilometres of the Southwest Miramichi River has undergone a provincial Environmental Impact Assessment and a federal assessment led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) which included review by ten federal and provincial agencies. Overall, sixteen permits have been obtained and the Working Group, made up of Indigenous and conservation organizations, has persevered for years to get to this point. We would not be moving forward with this application if we felt it was dangerous or would cause harm to our people or the environment.

There has been consultation with both Mi’gmaq communities and Wolastoqey organizations in New Brunswick. However, there was a breakdown in communication on the part of DFO in the consultation process with the Wolastoqey Nation through no fault of the Wolastoqey Nation. The Wolstoqey Nation did not receive all the information it asked for and did not receive proper advance notice of the planned treatment. North Shore Micmac District Council (NSMDC) acknowledges that not all community members received relevant materials related to this project and that better efforts should have been made to ensure information about the project was shared. NSDMC has committed to take the necessary steps to address the concerns raised by the Wolastoqey Nation about the project, including providing for Wolastoqey monitors on site for the application and for meaningful Wolastoqey participation in the five year post-treatment ecological monitoring program.

After a review of the project and supporting scientific documentation, the Wolastoqey Nation supports the project as long as there is continued Wolastoqey involvement. Everyone agrees that the overall goal is to save the Atlantic salmon and action needs to be taken.

The project underway to eradicate invasive smallmouth bass from the Miramichi watershed to preserve the native ecosystem has been paused to allow time for conversations with the Wolastoqey unsure of the plan. Because of the critical nature of the project, the intention is to have the necessary conversations and return later in 2021.

The Wolastoqey Nation has made a title claim that includes Miramichi Lake. There have been talks between the Chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick and the Mi’gmaq to determine how we best to move forward. The Mi’gmaq and Wolastoqey will continue discussions on territory and shared territory in the coming weeks and months.

We cannot wait any longer. We are confident in the science and the application needs to go ahead to ensure the sustainability of the salmon and our People.

For more information about the project, please visit www.miramichismallmouth.com

SOURCE The Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi

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