New Brunswick

Judge bars pesticide spraying in Miramichi Lake until hearing

A judge is barring a group from spraying a pesticide to kill smallmouth bass in the Miramichi Lake area until a lawsuit filed by local cottage owners can be heard.

Emergency injunction granted after cottage owners seek their day in court

The Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi planned to spray the lake with chemicals this week to kill the smallmouth bass population, but an emergency injunction halted the project until at least Aug. 17. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

A judge has barred a group from spraying a chemical in the Miramichi Lake area until a lawsuit filed by local cottage owners can be heard.

Spraying of rotenone, a pesticide and piscicide, was scheduled Wednesday to eradicate invasive smallmouth bass, according to court documents. 

On Tuesday, Justice Terrence Morrison made an order preventing any spraying until the lawsuit objecting to it is heard on Aug. 17.

The Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi has been trying to spray since last year. It says the invasive smallmouth bass in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook and a portion of the Southwest Miramichi River has been threatening native Atlantic salmon and brook trout.

However, objections from local people and Wolastoqey grandmothers, including some who paddled on the lake when spraying was scheduled last year, have stopped the Working Group so far.

On Wednesday, things were quiet on the lake, with boats and canoes still in the water, tied to docks or buoys in front of the cottages along the shore. 

Grandmothers and mothers from Wolastoqey First Nations were gathered around a campfire, ready to take to the water again if they had to.

Members of the group said they do not consider themselves protesters and refer to themselves as water protectors instead. 

They said no one stopped by in the morning from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or from the Working Group, which includes the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the North Shore Micmac District Council and the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation. 

On July 12, Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick wrote to the DFO regional director general to formally withdraw its support for the Miramichi Smallmouth Bass Eradication Project.

The grandmothers and mothers said they didn't want to talk to reporters because they had concerns about their safety. 

Cottager John Hildebrand came down to join the mothers and grandmothers, saying he supports what they're trying to do.

"We're pleased to see them here again," said Hildebrand. 

Cottage owners want permanent ban

Since 1963, Hildebrand's family has had a cottage on the lake, which he described as a "majestic place to spend time." 

He believes the pesticide spraying would do long-term damage to the lake's ecosystem, a claim the Working Group disputes. 

Nobody effectively communicated with cottage owners about the spray plans for this year. The cottagers received only a day's notice of the planned start to the spraying on Wednesday, which he called "unfair." 

John Hildebrand's family had a cottage on the Miramichi Lake since 1963. He said he believes chemical spraying would cause long-term damage to the ecosystem. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"The cottage owners had a plan that we had been working on irregardless of the schedule that we felt there was some, you know, potential legal recourses that we could look at and that's what we did."

On Aug. 2, three cottage owners filed a lawsuit against North Shore Micmac District Council Inc., claiming the spraying would cause them irreparable harm. They asked a judge to make an order preventing the spraying either permanently or conditionally. 

In the following days, the bass eradication group said it would go ahead with the spraying, prompting the cottage owners to ask for an emergency injunction Tuesday because spraying would make their lawsuit moot.

The application for the emergency injunction said "there is a serious issue to be tried," and "the applicants will continue to suffer irreparable harm" if spraying goes ahead before their lawsuit is heard.

Justice Morrison of the Woodstock Court of Queen's Bench agreed and made the order without lawyers for the eradication group present.

Morrison said this so-called ex-parte order is necessary because waiting to notify the other side would have "serious consequences."

None of the claims have been proven in court, and the North Shore Micmac District Council., Inc. has not filed a statement of defence.

Trish Foster, another cottage owner, filed a supporting affidavit to accompany the emergency injunction request. 

She said she and her husband have owned a cottage on the lake for 20 years, and her family has owned land there for much longer.

Foster said that since the smallmouth bass are likely in the Miriamichi river system already, she believes eradication is not achievable. Netting, barriers and electric fishing should be used instead, she said, to control the population.

"Why does it require such a nuclear option?" asked Foster, who said she's concerned about the "delicate ecosystem of the lake."

Foster said the cottagers just want their day in court, which is why they filed for the emergency injunction.

"If at that point it rules against us, it rules against us," she said. 

Working group responds

Neville Crabbe, spokesperson for the the Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in the Miramichi, released a statement from the group around 3:40 p.m. Wednesday. 

The statement said 130 personnel from around the world who were staged in Fredericton had to be dismissed following the emergency injunction order. It said the working group was not aware an emergency hearing was happening so was unable to present any arguments or evidence.

Neville Crabbe, spokesperson for the smallmouth bass eradication group, said 130 people assembled for the spray project had to be dismissed because of the injunction. (CBC)

"The Working Group intends to vigorously oppose the cottage owners' request for the injunction to be extended at a hearing scheduled for August 17th," the statement said. 

In an interview with CBC News, Crabbe said the consequences of not spraying are severe and called the project "a race against time." 

He said the North Shore Micmac District Council, the named defendant in the lawsuit, is preparing a defence in hopes of stopping an extension of the injunction. 

The federal government has given the green light to the spray program.

Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation previously released a statement earlier on behalf of the North Shore Micmac District Council in support of the chemical spraying of the Miramichi watershed. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Rudderham is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick. She grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and moved to Fredericton to go to St. Thomas University in 2018. She recently graduated with a bachelor of arts in journalism. You can send story tips to hannah.rudderham@cbc.ca.

With files from Shane Fowler

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