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 to native fish species in the Miramichi. 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 led 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.
Staff from New Brunswick's Department of Energy and Resource Development, DFO, Anqotum, MSA, and ASF respond with angling, netting, and electrofishing efforts to assess the distribution of smallmouth bass in the river and remove as many as possible. From Lake Brook, and the Southwest Miramichi River, 36 smallmouth were removed, none of them young-of-the-year.
In December 2019, members of the Working Group met at Eel Ground First Nation and discussed the scope of the project in light of the capture of smallmouth in the Southwest Miramichi River. It was resolved that an amended application from the North Shore Micmac District Council to Fisheries and Oceans Canada would be submitted and include a statement of intent to treat the section of the river where smallmouth are present.
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
2020: In April, the North Shore Micmac District Council and Working Group partners submit an amended application to eradicate to DFO, including a description of treating an approximately 15-kilometre section of the Southwest Miramichi River. In the weeks following receipt of the application, DFO launches their formal Indigenous consultation process.
Containment and removal efforts resume, with the first smallmouth bass of 2020 angled at McKiel Pond Pool on June 5th. Around this time J.D. Irving staff constructed a roadway and boat launch into McKiel Pond Pool from the nearest access point, allowing provincial staff to launch and operate an electrofishing boat. Continuing into October, regular sweeps of McKiel Pond Pool proved effective, leading to the capture of more than 80 smallmouth, most clustered between 19 and 28 centimetres, or approaching sexual maturity. No young of the year have been captured as of October 15th 2020.
In Miramichi Lake, the seasonal DFO crew began fishing with nets and traps early in the season. By September 17th, DFO staff reported that 3,356 young-of-the-year smallmouth, four adults, and two juveniles had been captured.
On July 13th the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government informed the North Shore Micmac District Council that the proposal must be registered for environmental assessment, to determine if a comprehensive study is required or if the project may be released with conditions.
On October 8th, the project was officially registered by the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government. It can be viewed on their public registry website.