(Beyond Pesticides, November 7, 2007) A lawsuit was filed in federal court on Monday by fishing and environmental groups seeking to force the federal government to uphold five-year-old rules aimed to keep toxic agricultural pesticides from endangering salmon and steelhead.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, petitions the court to order the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to identify measures needed to protect salmon from the pesticides and to complete required consultations with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The NMFS has failed to carry out these measures first ordered in 2002 by federal court. It was ordered to consult with the EPA to develop permanent methods for protecting salmon and steelhead from 54 toxic pesticides found in west coast salmon streams. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the NMFS is required to complete such actions within 90 days.
“Apparently what it takes to get this administration to do its job under [the Endangered Species Act] is to have someone there enforcing the law every step of the way,” said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for Earthjustice, the environmental public interest law firm representing the advocates.
Pesticides have been detected in every major salmon stream in the Pacific Northwest and California. It has been found that even at low levels these pesticides harm salmon and steelhead by causing abnormal sexual development, impairing swimming ability, and reducing growth rates.
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a commercial fishing industry trade association that is also a co-plaintiff in the suit, commented, “NMFS needs to protect the salmon and steelhead legacy for future generations. Protecting salmon and steelhead from pesticides could bring back tens of thousands of fishing jobs and a billion dollar industry to our region.” Joshua Osborne-Klein added, “This region has devoted far too much time and money to restore imperiled salmon runs to allow [NMFS] to sit on its hands while pesticides continue to contaminate streams and kill struggling salmon.”
For years, federal courts have been finding that NMFS has been negligent in its efforts to protect declining salmon populations. Hydroelectric projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers and failure to follow the Endangered Species Act in licensing pesticides for sale are still major issues threatening salmon. EPA documents have reported that the use of several dozen pesticides are likely to result in surface water contamination levels that threaten fish or their habitat. Additionally, water monitoring by the U.S. Geological Survey detected pesticides in salmon watersheds at concentrations at or above levels set to protect fish and other aquatic life. Previous lawsuits have challenged the inaction of EPA and NMFS. (See Daily News from 5/10/01 and 12/9/02).