Judge Upholds Best Science to Protect Endangered Salmon from Pesticide Peril


A big win for fish and human health


Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1027

Aimee Code, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, (541) 344-5044, ext. 27

Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, (541) 689-2000

Jason Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 682-9400

Today, a federal judge upheld measures required to protect endangered salmon and steelhead from three highly toxic pesticides. The protections were included in a biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2008. Pesticide manufacturers seeking to overturn those protections challenged NMFS’s findings, but the court squarely rejected their challenges.

The pesticides harm salmon in a number of ways, including killing them directly, affecting their food supply and habitat, and interfering with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn. (Steve Mashuda / Earthjustice)

Earthjustice, representing Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Defenders of Wildlife, intervened in the case to defend these important safeguards for west coast salmon and the fisheries jobs they support.

“The best available science shows that these toxic pesticides pose a major threat to Pacific Coast salmon,” said Steve Mashuda, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the groups. “Today’s ruling is yet another reason why the government must move quickly to ensure that pesticides are removed from Northwest salmon waters.”

The court’s ruling turns back efforts by the pesticide industry to undermine no-spray buffer zones and other measures required to protect imperiled salmon from exposure to the organophosphate pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion. These pesticides are known to contaminate waterways throughout California and the Pacific Northwest.

These pesticides harm salmon in a number of ways, including killing them directly, affecting their food supply and habitat, and interfering with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn. In addition to poisoning salmon, the class of organophosphate pesticides has been linked with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and childhood developmental delays.

“The Court’s decision is a victory for everyone’s health,” said Aimee Code with the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. “It foiled the pesticide industry’s attempt to evade the laws that protect both people and wildlife.”

“This case was ultimately just a diversion from the main issue. The fact is, many pesticides are getting into the nation’s rivers and poisoning fish as well as destroying fisheries jobs,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). “With this diversion behind us, the agencies can now turn to solving the real problem.”

The case stems from a lawsuit originally filed by conservation and fishing groups represented by Earth justice in 2001. In response to that litigation, the fishery experts at NMFS evaluated these pesticides and determined that no-spray buffer zones next to streams and vegetated strips to catch pesticide-laden runoff from fields are needed to protect salmon.

NMFS handed off implementation of the pesticide restrictions to EPA, the agency charged with regulating pesticides, almost three years ago. Yet, EPA has still not taken any actions to implement any of these measures.

“EPA’s priority should be preventing the poisoning of America’s endangered wildlife, not boosting the profits of pesticide manufacturers,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Now that the court has ruled, hopefully the agency will get back to saving imperiled salmon and steelhead without further delay.”

Already numerous alternatives to these pesticides exist. Many farmers avoid the use of these heavy-handed, broad-spectrum chemicals because they kill beneficial insects and can lead to greater pest problems over time. In addition, many growers already set back crops from streams—land enrolled in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program utilizes setbacks from water bodies.

Today’s ruling was issued by Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

Read the ruling.

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