Fisheries Service Finds Three Pesticides Imperil West Coast Salmon

Findings illustrate danger of Bush proposal to dump Endangered Species Act


Joshua Osborne-Klein or Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340

A new draft biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service has found that three commonly-used agricultural pesticides are increasing the chance of extinction for 28 different threatened and endangered salmon stocks. The assessment by the federal fisheries service reverses earlier assurances from the EPA that the three poisons pose either no or minimal threat to protected salmon stocks.


NMFS found “overwhelming evidence” that three pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion — interfere with the ability of salmon to swim, find food, reproduce, and escape bigger fish trying to eat them. If these pesticides are used as currently authorized, they are “likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of all 28 threatened and endangered salmon populations, the 377- page assessment concludes.


The assessment was completed as a result of several years of legal wrangling by Earthjustice attorneys. Back in January 2001, Earthjustice first went to court to force EPA to protect salmon in the Pacific Northwest from 54 pesticides that EPA approved without checking with federal fish biologists, as required by the Endangered Species Act. As a result of that lawsuit, a federal court ordered EPA to consult with federal fish biologists at NMFS on the impacts these pesticides have on salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest and California.


In 2007, Earthjustice filed a second lawsuit because the court-ordered consultations were never completed. As a result of a settlement reached in that second lawsuit, NMFS agreed to complete the long overdue assessments over a four-year period. The new assessment, released pursuant to that settlement agreement, represents the first time NMFS has evaluated large-scale impacts of pesticides on salmon. The assessment concludes that three of the most dangerous pesticides still on the market are “jeopardizing” salmon and steelhead stocks, a finding 180 degrees at odds with EPA’s earlier conclusions.


The new NMFS assessment and EPA’s total failure to catch this in their internal review, comes during the same week the Bush administration has proposed that all federal agencies be released from legal requirement to consult with federal wildlife scientists on many actions that affect endangered species.


“The federal government has just admitted that these three deadly poisons are washing off into our rivers and streams and harming west coast salmon runs and who knows what else,” said Joshua Osborne-Klein, of Earthjustice. “The government says these poisons are increasing the risk of salmon extinction substantially. We need to find alternatives and act quickly to prevent these chemicals from reaching west coast rivers and streams.


“We got into this mess because the Bush administration’s EPA refuses to take seriously the harm that pesticides pose to salmon. The biologists at the National Fisheries Management Service have now confirmed that EPA failed to acknowledge the true danger posed by these poisons. Earlier this week the Bush administration announced a set of proposed rules that would cut these all federal wildlife experts out of similar future decisions. They must think no one is noticing,” he concluded.


Read the draft Biological Opinion (warning, large pdf)

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