Conservation and fishing groups today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle challenging the continued failure of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect West Coast salmon and steelhead from toxic pesticides.
The suit seeks to force EPA to finally implement measures such as no-spray buffer zones to reduce the levels of pesticides in salmon-bearing streams. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has said these measures are necessary to protect salmon, but EPA has yet to implement any of them.
"This is the fourth time we have had to turn to the courts because EPA has failed to protect endangered salmon from pesticides,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the groups. “It's been eight years since the courts have ordered EPA to comply with the law, but we still don’t have a single safeguard in place to protect salmon from these chemicals.”
In 2002, a successful lawsuit brought by Earthjustice established that EPA has the duty to protect salmon and comply with the Endangered Species Act when registering pesticides for use. As a result of that and subsequent lawsuits, the EPA is consulting with NMFS to determine whether EPA’s pesticide registrations potentially jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead. Some of these consultations are now complete, but EPA has failed to implement the protections required by NMFS to avoid jeopardy to salmon.
“EPA continues to ignore the science provided by expert fishery biologists,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “Instead of implementing necessary safeguards to restore these endangered species, EPA has capitulated to the demands of the pesticide industry. We should not be poisoning our most precious fish and wildlife for the benefit of corporate profits.”
Pesticides can harm salmon in a number of ways, including killing them directly, affecting their food supply and habitat, impairing their ability to swim, and interfering with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn.
"Pesticides are deadly by design,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a West Coast commercial fishing industry trade association that is also a co-plaintiff in the suit. “Unfortunately, pesticides also can kill salmon after these poisons wash off fields, orchards and lawns into salmon streams. EPA's job is to regulate their use so they don't violate the Endangered Species Act, but so far the EPA is failing miserably. This case seeks to give salmon what they need to survive, as well as help the coastal and inland communities that depend on those fish for their livelihoods.”
Two years ago, NMFS issued the first of several biological opinions requiring EPA to implement no-spray buffer zones and other pesticide restrictions to keep these deadly chemicals out of salmon streams. The EPA has failed to put any of these restrictions in place and is allowing toxic pesticides to continue to contaminate the waters of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.
“EPA’s refusal to put these needed salmon protections in place hurts everyone from farmers to fishermen,” said Aimee Code of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. “The best science and the law both require these protections—it’s time to put an end to the uncertainty and move on.”
The groups represented by Earthjustice, which include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Defenders of Wildlife, are asking that the court order EPA to put protective measures in place for salmon and steelhead.