Today, a coalition of fishing and environmental groups settled a law suit with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency charged with protecting threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
The settlement requires NMFS to examine the impacts that 37 pesticides commonly used in the Pacific Northwest and California have on the protected salmon and steelhead. NMFS must also design permanent measures to help pesticide users minimize the harmful effects of those pesticides.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the 37 toxic pesticides at issue in the settlement may harm protected salmon and steelhead. Most of the pesticides have been detected in major salmon and steelhead rivers in the Pacific Northwest and California. Scientists have found that, even at low levels, toxic pesticides can harm salmon and steelhead by causing abnormal sexual development, impairing swimming ability, and reducing growth rates.
"This settlement starts the federal agencies down the path of honestly addressing a serious problem endangered salmon still face in our rivers -- too many pesticides and other chemicals. It also brings more certainty to the agricultural community by ensuring that these issues will not be hanging over them indefinitely. Cleaning up our rivers is good for both fishermen and farmers, and will also help restore thousands of lost fishing jobs to the Northwest," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), a commercial fishing industry trade association that is a co-plaintiff in the suit.
More than five years ago, a federal court ordered EPA to consult with NMFS on the impacts that certain pesticides have on salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest and California. EPA began submitting the required assessments to NMFS, but NMFS never identified the measures needed to protect salmon and steelhead from the pesticides. The federal Endangered Species Act required NMFS to complete such actions within 90 days of receiving EPA's assessments.
Today, NMFS agreed to complete the long overdue assessments over a four-year period, with the first decisions due by October 2008. These consultations are expected to culminate in on-the-ground measures designed to reduce the amount of pesticides that run into salmon-supporting rivers and streams. It is uncertain what protective measures the government will impose. This is the first time NMFS has evaluated large-scale impacts of pesticides to salmon.
"Today's agreement is a victory for all of us," says Aimee Code of Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, a plaintiff in the case. "Keeping pesticides out of the river also keeps pesticides out of drinking water and out of our bodies."
Earlier this year, a government study found pesticides in drinking water drawn from Oregon's Clackamas River. The Clackamas River supplies drinking water for 300,000 Oregonians and supports the last remaining wild coho salmon stock in the Columbia River basin.
"We're extremely pleased with the settlement, but it is only the first step," said Joshua Osborne-Klein, one of the Earthjustice attorneys who represents the coalition. "We'll continue to keep a close eye on this process to make sure that salmon and steelhead are protected from these dangerous poisons."