Under what circumstances would it be acceptable to poison the Miramichi River watershed’s largest lake, the 5-km outlet brook of that lake, and 17.2 km of the Southwest Miramichi River?
Under what circumstances would it be acceptable to poison 5.5 billion litres of water in just the lake alone? To directly kill 100,000s of fish, aquatic crustaceans, aquatic insects, immature stages of amphibians, and the zooplankton (the base of the food web)?
Under what circumstances would it be acceptable to conduct the largest intentional poisoning of a freshwater ecosystem in Canadian history and leave that biodiverse ecosystem seriously damaged?
It is certainly not acceptable if the goal — the eradication of smallmouth bass from the Miramichi River watershed — cannot possibly be achieved. It is certainly not acceptable when the freshwater ecosystem is damaged and no longer supports the animal population that depends on it. And it is certainly not acceptable when non-toxic measures to control the smallmouth bass numbers are available.
These are the circumstances under which a coalition of six organizations now wishes to poison Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook, and approximately 17.2 km of the Southwest Miramichi River.
Attempting to eliminate smallmouth bass by poisoning Miramichi Lake and the Miramichi River will fail. The bass have been in Miramichi Lake since at least 2008 and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has confirmed smallmouth bass as independent breeding residents in the Southwest Miramichi River since at least 2014. After seven years of breeding and dispersing throughout the Miramichi River, smallmouth bass have been reported– by anglers, First Nations groups and DFO – far above and far below the pesticide poison zone – ranging over some 180km of the Southwest Miramichi River. Smallmouth bass are widespread, established residents in the watershed.
The pesticide poison is very toxic, despite the claims from the proponents that it is not. The combination of rotenone, a known neurotoxin, and other toxic co-formulants are labelled by the manufacturer as “fatal if inhaled” and as a “category 2 carcinogen”. It directly kills the zooplankton (the base of the food web), aquatic crustaceans, the aquatic insects, immature life stages of amphibians and the fish. In short, the aquatic animal life in the pesticide poison zone will be devastated.
This leaves all animals that depend on this ecosystem and food web without primary food sources or suitable habitat for residence, breeding, rearing of young, or for migration resting and feeding. Habitat loss is a serious threat for all species. Nesting birds such as bald eagles, loons, fish eating ducks, kingfishers, osprey, herons, bitterns, sandpipers, as well as otters are just a few of the animals that will face severe negative consequences of this destruction – the direct loss of the 100,000s of fish and most aquatic animal life.
Since eradication is impossible with this project, all measures become control measures. In general, control measures need to be sustained efforts, ongoing and repeated year after year. There is no place for poison in this scenario as both initial and cumulative negative impacts to the environment are staggering. The pesticide poisoning of so much aquatic life is not and can not be justified at this stage. Effective, non-toxic solutions can be employed through the combined efforts of First Nations, cottage owners, angling organizations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other interested community members and groups.
It is past time to abandon this project and institute measures to control the smallmouth bass population while avoiding grievous harm to the environment.
Barb Hildebrand is a veterinarian and owns a cottage along Miramichi Lake.