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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Wild Salmon Endangered by Pesticides
Fisheries agency opposes EPA's reckless re-registration of common farm pesticides
by Craig Weatherby

Sensible regulation of toxic pesticides has often been lacking.

Sadly, what we don't understand about the health effects of the hundreds of approved pesticides far exceeds what we do know.

Among other things, pesticides' health and environmental effects are not very well studied, with many pesticides having been “grandfathered in” with little or no study.

And almost no research exists on the common practice of applying more than one pesticide at a time (Such combinations typically cause more problems in animals than exposing them to one chemical at a time).

Now, a new federal report says that current pollution of rivers and coastal waters by three pesticides used commonly in west coast agriculture pose substantial risks to wild Pacific Salmon.

Pesticide runoff doesn't cause significant residues to appear in wild Salmon meat… and we test ours for pesticide residues, to ensure their purity.

But the U.S. study finds that the minuscule concentrations found in Salmon migration rivers and nearby coastal waters may threaten the survival of all Salmon species, by subtly impairing key behaviors.

Federal study finds pesticides threaten Salmon survival
Back in 2001, the EPA re-approved three common pesticides without consulting with federal fisheries scientists… despite a federal law requiring them to do so.

The EPA ignored the pesticides' possible adverse impacts on wild Pacific Salmon populations ranging from California to Alaska.

Yet, the EPA is supposed to consult with scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service before registering (approving) a pesticide or renewing its approval.

But the EPA ignored this requirement when it re-registered three common pesticides: chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion.

Fortunately, folks at toxics-monitoring and fishing associations in the Pacific Northwest noticed the evasion, and in 2001, they sued the EPA with help from lawyers at EarthJustice (slogan: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”).

Late last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued an exhaustive, 377-page draft opinion.

Suspect chemicals harm Salmon at current aquatic concentrations
Scientists at the federal fisheries agency reported finding “overwhelming evidence” that normal agricultural use of the three pesticides would likely kill the fish and plankton upon which wild Salmon depend, and interfere with their swimming, reproduction, and ability to escape predators.

Importantly, the NMFS researchers concluded that these adverse impacts would affect key Salmon habitats at the pesticide concentrations already found in coastal rivers and ocean waters (Rain washes the three synthetic pesticides off farm fields and orchards, and into rivers and the ocean).

As the authors wrote, normal use of these pesticides is “…likely to jeopardize the continued existence…” of all 28 threatened and endangered salmon populations.

(One can only wonder how much of the disastrous decline in California's King Salmon runs may be the result of decades of pesticide use in the state's extensive fields and orchards.)

Thank heaven for vigilant citizens and free legal services. Otherwise, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might have gotten away with a kind of murder.

We're still a long way from removing this threat to wild Salmon, since the report is just that.

It will take further court action to force changes in the use of pesticides in agricultural regions close to salmon spawning rivers and the coastal seas they empty into.

Folks who enjoy these fish or depend on them for their livelihood need to remain vigilant… and support the free legal services that make challenges like this possible.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Draft Biological Opinion: EPA Registration of Pesticides Containing Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, and Malathion. July 31, 2008. Accessed online August 14, 2008 at
  • EarthJustice. Salmon Must Be Protected From Pesticides. November 8, 2002. Accessed online August 14, 2008 at