The Maine Woods

A Publication of the Forest Ecology Network

 Volume Five     Number One                           Late Winter 2001

 Lawsuit to Protect Salmon from Pesticides

Commercial fishermen have joined forces with two environmental groups to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to protect salmon from the harmful effects of pesticides. The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Washington Toxics Coalition, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and Institute for Fisheries Resources are suing to ensure that endangered salmon are a top priority for the new Bush administration.

The lawsuit challenges EPA's failure to take even the first steps required by the Endangered Species Act to protect salmon from harmful pesticides. According to the groups, it has been ten years since the first salmon were declared threatened, and EPA still has done nothing to comply with the Act.

Pesticide warning signs are a common sight on eastern Maine blueberry barrens in spring and early summer, and the rains wash these pesticides into Maine's salmon rivers.   Photo by Paul Donahue.

Recent studies by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency charged with salmon recovery, show that pesticides may severely impact salmon survival.

* Some registered pesticides are lethal to salmon, and large fish kills have occurred.

* Pesticides can impair swimming ability, cause abnormal sexual development and cause skeletal deformities.

* Pesticides can indirectly affect fish by changing the aquatic environment, by reducing the food supply and by eliminating vegetative cover used by young salmon.

* Pesticides can impair salmon's ability to transition from freshwater to sea water.

* U.S. Geological Survey has found concentrations of pesticides in Pacific Northwest rivers and streams at levels that are associated with negative impacts on fish growth, development, behavior and reproduction.

Of the 73 pesticides detected by U.S. Geologic Survey in Northwest waterways, 13 were above criteria set to protect aquatic life. The agency's most recent study of the Willamette River Basin found pesticides at higher concentrations than earlier testing revealed.

Salmon fry are particularly vulnerable to pesticides.

NMFS has indicated serious concern about the effects of pesticides on salmon. The agency stated "concentrations of pesticides may affect salmonid behavior and reproductive success." Current EPA pesticide use requirements were developed in the absence of information about some of these subtle but real impacts on aquatic species such as salmonids. According to the groups, EPA currently does little to determine the effects of pesticides on fish, and when serious detrimental effects are found, EPA rarely takes action.

The Endangered Species Act requires that federal agencies consult with the relevant agency (here, NMFS) to insure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out does not harm endangered species. EPA has failed to consult with NMFS to determine whether its actions related to pesticide regulation are harming threatened salmon. The Act also requires that the agency consult with NMFS to develop ways to proactively conserve endangered salmon; EPA has also failed to initiate this consultation.

The four groups, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, are filing suit to compel EPA to:

* Initiate a consultation with NMFS to evaluate the effects on salmon of EPA's regulations on pesticides;

* Review its programs and consult with NMFS to determine how to use EPA pesticide and water quality authorities to protect salmon and steelhead;

* Prioritize action on pesticides that are known to be toxic to fish and/or are likely to be found in fish habitat;

* Take immediate protective actions, such as restrictions on pesticide use near water

Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations Inc. said, "Our fishing communities are suffering because of the decline of salmon. Fishing families throughout the Northwest need our government agencies to pull out all the stops to recover salmon."

The full text of the lawsuit is available at:


Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Box 1393, Eugene, OR 97440; phone (541) 344-5044;

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