New Brunswick

Spraying of rotenone in Miramichi watershed held off for second day

Wolastoqey grandmothers and mothers who have been canoeing on Miramichi Lake since Monday say they're prepared to stay as long as is necessary to prevent the spraying of rotenone, a fish-killing pesticide.

Wolastoqey women say they're prepared to stay at Miramichi Lake until proper consultation happens

Grandmothers and mothers with the Wolastoqey First Nations have been camping at Miramichi Lake since Monday. The pesticide rotenone can't be applied when anyone is swimming or boating on the water. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Spraying of the fish-killing pesticide rotenone in New Brunswick's Miramichi watershed has been delayed for the second day in a row now, according to conservation officers close to Miramichi Lake. 

Grandmothers and mothers with the Wolastoqey First Nations began paddling on the lake on Monday, and say they intend to stay there until proper consultation happens.

The chemical can't be applied when people are on the water.

"We have a right to be consulted in our own land," said Andrea Polchies of Woodstock First Nation, who came out to the lake with her canoe at midnight Monday, the night before the spraying was scheduled to start. 

The Atlantic Salmon Federation and the North Shore Micmac District Council have been pushing for the project to protect native salmon for several years now and originally hoped it would go ahead last summer.

The women on the lake did not want to be called protesters and described themselves instead as protectors.

"We're protecting the land, the water, the birds, everything," said Polchies, who emphasized she is not being hostile but doing what she needs to do to defend the habitat. 

Atlantic Salmon Federation members have volunteered to do the rotenone spraying.

"We remain committed to carrying out this necessary and time-sensitive conservation project," Neville Crabbe of the federation said in a statement to CBC on behalf of the Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication on the Miramichi..

The federation says smallmouth bass threaten salmon and trout by taking over their food and habitat.

The spraying was scheduled to happen over two days this month in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook, and 17.2 kilometres of the Southwest Miramichi River, and will kill the vast majority of fish in the waters being treated. 

Lake Brook and the Southwest Miramichi River will then receive a one-day treatment in September.

Andrea Polchies of Woodstock First Nation arrived at the lake with her canoe on Monday night. She wants to help stop the spraying of a pesticide that will kill most life in the lake in an effort to get rid of the invasive smallmouth bass. (Shane Fowler )

The North Shore Micmac District Council, which provides a variety of infrastructure, economic development and other services to several Mi'kmaw communities, has been a strong supporter of the rotenone project in the past.

But chiefs representing Wolastoqey First Nations asked that some conditions be met before proposing the project to their communities for approval, and these conditions were not met, said Charles Bryant, a lawyer representing the mothers and grandmothers from Woodstock, St. Mary's and Tobique First Nations.

"They're not saying it's an unconditional no, that this project cannot proceed," he said Tuesday. "The Wolastoqey mothers and grandmothers are respectful of the process and the decisions of their communities, but this has not gone to their communities yet. The consultation is not complete."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans granted permission for the project in late April. 

"They have a duty to consult our people and they have not done that," said Brandy Stanovich, the president of the Indigenous Women of the Wabanaki Territories. I know they didn't consult me as president, so how can I talk to my members about that?

Brandy Stanovich says she's staying at the lake as long as she needs to. (Shane Fowler/CBC )

"They may have gotten consent from other First Nations but not the Wolastoqey mothers and grandmothers." 

According to the label for the product being used, Noxfish Fish Toxicant II, the pesticide cannot be applied while people are boating or swimming in the area. Those applying the product are required to wear chemical-resistant protective equipment while carrying out spraying, according to label put out by Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency

New Brunswick's Environment Department would not comment on the situation or say who has the authorization to decide when the pesticide can be applied. 


Miriam Lafontaine

Former CBC journalist

Miriam Lafontaine is a former journalist with CBC Montreal. Miriam worked for CBC during the year 2022. She previously worked with CBC in Fredericton, N.B.