Miramichi Leader

Editorial: No Time to Waste on Smallmouth Bass

Sep 3, 2019
If the worst-case scenario following the discovery of an invasive smallmouth bass in the upper reaches of the Miramichi River ends up playing out, there's no mystery about where the blame should fall.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has tried nearly everything to eliminate the problem. It's just too bad the only thing the department hasn't tried is, in our view, the only move that makes sense given how high the stakes are.

This is an issue that's been lingering ominously in the background ofthe wider conversation involving the plight of the Atlantic salmon for more than a decade.

The non-native bass were illegally introduced to Miramichi Lake, a small body of water that connects to the main Miramichi river system via a narrow brook, all the way back in 2008.

In the years since, government officials have at different intervals come out and said that the problem remained contained to the lake, and that non-chemical eradication efforts were proving to be effective.

And, in fairness, using the least invasive methods possible to resolve the problem was indeed a good place to start, 10 or 11 years ago.

But with the presence of bass in the lake still persisting despite years of angling, electro-fishing and the deployment of gillnets and trap nets, you'd think it would have dawned on somebody in a position to make such decisions that it might be time to change tact.

Smallmouth bass are known for their ability to adapt to new environments, and for rising to near the top of the food chain once they do.

A discussion paper written by scientists in 2009 couldn't have been more clear or specific about the risk.

"There is a high likelihood of widespread establishment of smallmouth bass in the Southwest Miramichi River and in the Gulf Region rivers in general."

There isn't a lot of room for interpretation there.

Yet, here we are today, staring that potential outcome in the face after researchers from the University of New Brunswick earlier this month confirmed the presence of a smallmouth bass not far from where the lake brook feeds into the mainstream ofthe Southwest Miramichi.

While there's no hard evidence that this fish somehow managed to breach the barrier in place at the lake, there's also no proof that it didn't.

The fact that it was found such a short distance away is most certainly a red flag that the situation may not have been as contained as the department thought it was.

What's clear is that DFO has had ample opportunity to nip the situation in the bud. Groups like the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Miramichi Salmon Association have been calling on the government to treat the lake using rotenone.

The chemical occurs naturally in the stems and roots of different plant matter, and while it is effective in killing fish, it is known for not having any adverse impact on other species such as amphibians or waterfowl.

The idea would be to remove as many native fish from the lake as possible prior to using the chemical, and restocking it a few days later.

But that ship may have already sailed. Regardless of how this might have happened, DFO needs to accept responsibility and show leadership on this file through decisive action to mitigate any further risk to the salmon.

Controlling the spread ofthe bass further into the ecosystem needs to be made an immediate priority.

Anything less than that would be simply unacceptable.

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