Original Published on Sep 08, 2022 at 16:55
By Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A provincially and federally approved plan to eradicate smallmouth bass in the Miramichi Lake watershed began Thursday morning, Sept. 8, but the operation, near Nappadogon, was called off when Connecting to the Land members paddled into Lake Brook to investigate.
Just before noon, Wayne Narvey of Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) First Nation jumped from a canoe and waded to the spot where two Public Safety officers and two unidentified men in hazmat suits were watching over a Noxfish II drip system.
In a live video broadcast, later posted to Facebook, Narvey can be seen stopping the drip line and removing a white container from a large rock in the brook. Narvey estimates nearly two gallons of the toxin were released before he got there.
He later tells Public Safety officers they can retrieve the container at the campsite where he and other Connecting to the Land members and Indigenous mothers and grandmothers have been camped since mid-August.
“I’ve been told to arrest you,” said one Public Safety officer in the video.
RCMP officers arrested Narvey for theft shortly after he returned to his campsite. He was transported to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton as a precaution before officers processed him.
Earlier in the day, a public safety vehicle blocked access out of the beach area where members of the Connecting the Land group and Indigenous mothers and grandmothers set up camp.
Thursday’s events are the latest attempt by a Working Group, comprised of the North Shore Micmac Council, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and others, to treat the lake with Noxfish II, a rotenone-base toxin designed to kill all the fish and other invertebrates in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook and a section of the South West Branch of the Miramichi River.
The project is designed to eradicate the smallmouth bass, considered an invasive species and a threat to salmon, from the Miramichi river system. Proponents argue that Noxfish II offers the only option to eradicate the bass.
Opponents of the plan, including cottage owners, Wostaqey Nation and other Indigenous groups, argue the risks are too high, suggesting other means of eradication, including electrofishing, are safer options.
Lawyer Charles Bryant, representing the Indigenous mothers and grandmothers, who call themselves “Water Protectors,” says that dumping Noxfish II into Lake Brook on Thursday violates the authorization initially awarded to the Working Group.
Last year, the Miramichi Lake Working Group posted signs notifying people in the area 48 hours before it began the eradication project.
Earlier this summer, the Action Group gave cottage owners and others 24-hour notice of its plans to treat the lake on Aug. 10.
Like last year, Indigenous groups and cottage owners managed to halt that attempt through protests and court challenges.
Bryant said there wasn’t a notice this time around.
“I don’t know how we could get here if everyone is acting in good faith,” Bryant said when reached by telephone after Narvey’s arrest.
“There is a high degree of disingenuousness. None of the cottagers were given notice of the application of the poison; my clients certainly were not. And it was known that they were on the water. It appears that they took steps to hide their actions. In my reading, applying the substance to the river and the brook only would be in violation of the authorization. It’s just a really bad situation.”
Cottage owner Katie Harvey said they haven’t been at the lake recently but found out what was happening by reading social media posts from Andrea Polchies, one of the Water Protector leaders.
Indigenous mothers and grandmothers and members of the Connecting to the Land group say they are on high alert at Miramichi Lake. Roads were blocked, preventing people from entering or leaving the area for most of the day.
The River Valley Sun has reached out to the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the RCMP, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
A DNR spokesperson responded with a one-line statement.
“The North Shore Micmac Council Inc. is the project lead,” stated Nick Brown with DNR communications, “and can better speak to today’s operation.”
The River Valley Sun has also reached out to the North Shore Micmac Council.
Polchies, a Woodstock First Nation councillor, and Neqotkuk (Tobique) First Nation member Terry Sappier have been at the forefront of preventing the Working Group’s smallmouth bass eradication plan from going forward.
“I am very disappointed and heartbroken,” said Polchies after Thursday’s incident. “The fish our members saw that died were chub, trout, and salmon fry. Not one bass.”
Connecting to the Land members say they witnessed more than 50 dead fish in the brook shortly after the application.
The Noxfish Fish Toxicant II safety sheet notes the substance “may be fatal if swallowed and enters the airways, causes eye irritation, (is) fatal if inhaled, may cause respiratory irritation, may cause drowsiness or dizziness, (and is) suspected of causing cancer.”
The caution notice goes on to say that if a person is exposed, they should seek medical advice and attention immediately.
— With files from Theresa Blackburn, River Valley Sun