Obama Administration Agrees to Stronger Protections for Salmon From Pesticides

Fishing and conservation groups praise stronger stream buffers from toxic sprays


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

Kim Leval, NCAP, (541) 556-3167

Glen Spain, PCFFA, (541) 689-2000

Jason Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 682-9400, ext 145

Joanna Nasar, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 488-7711

A coalition of advocates for alternatives to pesticides, conservation organizations, and fishing groups have reached a significant agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agreement restores reasonable no-spray buffer zones to protect salmon and steelhead from five broad-spectrum insect killers—diazinon, chlorpyrifos, malathion, carbaryl, and methomyl.

“We know our Northwest farmers and growers to be good land and water stewards. In reaching agreement, EPA will now give clearer direction to farmers on how to better protect fish, if and when they choose to use these chemicals near salmon-supporting streams,” said Kim Leval, Executive Director of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), the lead plaintiff on the lawsuit that led to the settlement agreement. “We know, for example, that many fruit growers in the Columbia Basin have already implemented larger buffers with assistance from public and private funding sources. NCAP is committed to working in partnership with affected farmers to develop and implement alternatives to the five insecticides.”

“Poisoning salmon rivers puts our people out of work while creating an unnecessary and expensive public health hazard,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a West Coast commercial fishing industry trade association and co-plaintiff. “This agreement helps the coastal and inland communities that depend on salmon for their livelihoods and provides more certainty for landowners on safer use of these chemicals.”

The buffers prohibit aerial spraying of the pesticides within 300 feet of salmon habitat and prohibit ground-based applications within 60 feet. The agreement provides detailed notice to state regulators, pesticide applicators, farmers, and the public about the required no-spray buffer zones. These buffers will remain in place until the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) completes analyses of the impacts of these five pesticides on the fish. Then, the EPA must implement permanent protections grounded in the Fisheries Service’s findings.

“This is a huge step forward for the health of our rivers and salmon fisheries,” said Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing NCAP, the conservation groups and fishing organizations. “Before this agreement, we lacked effective ways to keep these poisons from entering our rivers and streams. EPA and the Fisheries Service can now continue to work together toward permanent protections that keep pesticides out of our waters.”

These insecticides, some of which are derived from nerve toxins developed during World War II, can harm salmon in a number of ways. They can kill the fish directly, obliterate their habitat, and impair their ability to swim or interfere with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn. They can also kill the insects salmon need to eat to survive.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer that salmon and pesticides don’t mix,” said Jason Rylander with Defenders of Wildlife. “Today’s agreement will go a long way towards ensuring that these highly toxic chemicals stay out rivers and streams and out of the food chain.”

“Keeping these highly toxic pesticides out of streams and rivers protects the health of salmon and our children,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “It is way more cost effective than trying to clean up the mess after the fact.”

“We have many areas of overlap in California between farming and imperiled salmon and steelhead runs, including many coastal river valleys, wine-growing regions, and the Central Valley,” said Lowell Ashbaugh of the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers. “Many farmers in these areas are already engaged in fish-friendly practices, and these measures will ensure that all farmers keep poisonous chemicals out of sensitive rivers and streams.  Preventing the release of these chemicals into the environment is the most sensible and cost-effective way to ensure the health of our fisheries.”



The buffers reinstated under the agreement were previously required by a 2004 court order after the federal courts ordered the EPA to consult with the Fisheries Service over the impacts of these chemicals on the imperiled salmon. That injunction expired when the Fisheries Service completed its analysis of these chemicals in 2008 and 2009. While the Fisheries Service required the EPA to adopt extensive permanent protections to keep these deadly chemicals out of salmon streams within one year, EPA failed to take action, leaving salmon and steelhead with no protection from these neurotoxic chemicals. The agreement resolves litigation filed by these groups in 2010 to compel EPA to adopt permanent protective measures in line with the Fisheries Service’s findings. This settlement will end years of litigation and save taxpayer money by allowing the EPA to focus its resources on permanent solutions.

Spawning salmon.
Spawning salmon. (gwb / Shutterstock)

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.