Timeline: Smallmouth bass in the Miramichi
2008: An angler in Miramichi Lake reports catching a smallmouth bass to provincial fisheries officers. A response led by New Brunswick's Department of Natural Resources and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) confirms the presence of multiple age classes of smallmouth bass in the lake. An enforcement investigation determines the bass were illegally introduced, but no individuals are prosecuted. A barrier is installed at the outflow of the lake and crews begin electrofishing Lake Brook, which connects to the Southwest Miramichi, to search for smallmouth bass moving downstream.
A smallmouth bass is removed from a gill net in 2008, part of the early federal-provincial response to the discovery in Miramichi Lake. Courtesy N.B. Department of Energy and Resource Development
2009: DFO publishes a risk assessment on the impact of smallmouth bass on Miramichi Atlantic Salmon. The report concludes "a measurable decrease in abundance of native populations is likely to occur," and "none of the consequences of smallmouth bass introductions will be positive." DFO installs a two stage, seasonal, barrier at the head of Lake Brooks and begins physically removing smallmouth bass from Miramichi Lake. Sixty four smallmouth of multiple life stages are captured and transported to the Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton, N.B.
2010: As calls for eradication grow, DFO publishes a review of options. The author concludes that containment and removal measures are "not likely to prevent smallmouth bass from spreading throughout the [Miramichi] system," and "chemical reclamation offers the highest potential for eradicating undesirable fish." At the same time, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, supported by the Miramichi Watershed Management Committee, the Miramichi Salmon Association, and staff from the New Brunswick government launch a three year plan to contain the bass and remove as many as possible. 2,584 bass are taken before ice up.
The seasonal barrier at the outflow of Miramichi Lake has been operated since 2008, but has not prevented the escape of smallmouth bass. Photo ASF/Neville Crabbe
2011 to present: Efforts to remove smallmouth bass continue. Methods include electrofishing, gill netting, fyke-netting, beach seining, and angling. Despite expert advice, DFO officials cite "regulatory constraints and concerns over the ecosystem in Miramichi Lake," for not using chemical methods to eradicate smallmouth. In July 2017, the 6,000th bass was removed from Miramichi Lake.
2015: To contain and rollback introductions nation-wide, Canada enacts the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations, giving DFO the authority to use products like rotenone to eradicate invasive fish. Operation of the seasonal barriers and removal efforts continue at Miramichi Lake, at an annual estimated cost in excess of $100,000.
2016: The Working Group on Smallmouth Bass Eradication in Miramichi Lake is formed. Motivated by the passage of Canada's Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations, First Nations organizations and non-government organizations renew efforts to advocate for eradication.
2017: The Working Group commissions Brian Finlayson and Michael van den Heuval to evaluate options for eradication, select the best option, and develop a plan to eradicate smallmouth bass from Miramichi Lake. The expert report is completed and a plan to eradicate smallmouth bass from Miramichi Lake using rotenone is presented to DFO officials in a July 2017 meeting at the Crown Plaza in Moncton.
This picture from July 2017 shows young-of-the-year smallmouth bass and includes the 6000th individual removed since 2008. Photo ASF/Neville Crabbe
2018: In April, working group co-chairs Mark Hambrook (MSA) and Peter Cronin (NBSC) write to Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, inquiring about progress on items discussed with DFO officials in July 2017. Nearly three months later a reply is received, indicating "DFO will not be a proponent for a chemical eradication project in Miramichi Lake and will remain solely as a regulator for such a project."
2019: In April, the North Shore Micmac District Council, a founding member of the Working Group, submits an application to DFO to eradicate smallmouth bass from Miramichi Lake using rotenone. Department officials acknowledged receipt of the application and began a regulatory review. In August, reports of a smallmouth bass angled in the Southwest Miramichi lead to an investigation at the mouth of McKiel Brook, downstream of Miramichi Lake. On August 22nd, UNB researcher Allen Curry photographs a smallmouth bass underwater, and on September 1, ASF New Brunswick program director Nathan Wilbur catches and kills the first smallmouth bass ever taken from the Miramichi River.
ASF's Nathan Wilbur displays the first three smallmouth bass caught in the Southwest Miramichi River on September 1st, 2019, marking a new phase of eradication efforts. Photo ASF/Nathan Wilbur