New Brunswick

Invasive fish photos cause alarm along the Miramichi River

Photos are circulating on social media depicting what could be a troubling reality for New Brunswick conservationists; the appearance of smallmouth bass in the Miramichi River.

Facebook post claims smallmouth bass — a threat to salmon — caught in Miramichi River

The pictures of the smallmouth bass posted on Facebook. They are claimed to have been caught in the Miramichi River on Thursday. (Facebook/Jeff Lyons)

Photos are circulating on social media depicting what could be a troubling reality for New Brunswick conservationists-- the appearance of smallmouth bass in the Miramichi River.

The fish is an invasive species, not native to Miramichi Lake, where they first appeared in 2008. Smallmouth bass are known predators to species, such as Atlantic salmon, which use the Miramichi River as a spawning ground. The bass are a threat to the younger salmon, as well as their eggs.  In recent years, salmon numbers in the river have dropped. 

Major concerns if photos authentic

Joel Lyons posted the pictures to his Facebook page on Thursday and said they were caught earlier that day. Lyons said four of the fish were caught by his friend in Boiestown, where the Taxis River meets the Miramichi. Lyons said his friend wished to remain anonymous, but verified the photos were real.

I'm certainly concerned. The assumption has been for the last few years that these fish were contained.- Jerry Doak

The post has sent many scrambling to authenticate the veracity of the photos. Since 2008, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, along with other conservation groups, have been trying to contain smallmouth bass to Miramichi Lake.

Neville Crabbe of the Atlantic Salmon Federation said despite those efforts, fish continue to spawn in the lake and remain on the doorstep of the river.   

"If indeed fish have made it down to Boiestown, it means that those containment efforts really haven't worked," he said.

Crabbe said there's a need to determine if the photos are authentic. He noted the number Lyons said were caught is enough to raise eyebrows. Four fish caught in an area not known to contain them is reason enough to be skeptical, he said, noting that if the fish had established a home in the river system, more anglers would likely be catching them.

But, if the photos are real, "it's just one more big obstacle in front of Atlantic salmon and their recovery in the Miramichi River system," he said. 

Talk of the town

In communities along the Miramichi River, the post has garnered a lot of attention. Keith Wilson said it was all people were talking about in his local gas station. Since 1855, Wilson's family has run a sporting camp offering fly fishing excursions in McNamee. The fourth-generation of his family to run the camp, Wilson has watched as the multi-million dollar Atlantic salmon industry declined to the point where it is now catch-and-release.

"This year seems to be slightly better than last year," Wilson said of salmon numbers. "But it's dramatically worse than 2011 and it's not even on the chart compared to what it was in, say, 1910."

Sense of dread

Seeing the smallmouth bass photos taken not far from his business fills him with a sense of dread. If the invasive fish have in fact established a colony in the river, Wilson said it shows DFO hasn't succeeded in managing the region's natural resources.

"They should have been killed long ago and the lake brought back to its natural state," he said.

Some suspicions

Jerry Doak, who runs W.W. Doak's Fish and Tackle in Doaktown, is also concerned. 

"The assumption has been for the last few years that these fish were contained," he said. 

Doak said there have always been suspicions as to the effectiveness of DFO's efforts to keep the smallmouth bass out of the river. If this is the tip of the iceberg, he said, it's extremely distressing.

CBC News contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for comment on Saturday. At that time, a spokesperson could not confirm if the department was aware of the photos or whether it was investigating.