You are here: Home Blog 2014 June 05 EPA Agrees to Stronger Protections for Salmon from Pesticides

EPA Agrees to Stronger Protections for Salmon from Pesticides

by Ashley Chesser — last modified Jun 05, 2014 11:25 AM
Filed Under:

Fishing and conservation groups praise stronger stream buffers from toxic sprays

Salmon Buffer Infographic

UPDATE: August 14, 2014 

Important Victory for Salmon! Yesterday, NCAP and the EPA finalized an agreement that restores interim no-spray buffer zones along many western waterways to better protect threatened and endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead from five commonly used insecticides. The agreement underwent public comment in June and received nearly all positive feedback. As a result, it was filed without any substantive changes.

"These buffers are a big step in the right direction, but there is more work to do. The science is showing the buffers should be even larger. Moreover, farmers need assistance to find alternatives to pesticides and to install buffers. NCAP will continue to advocate for comprehensive, science based solutions to conserve our Pacific salmon and steelhead runs for the long haul while helping farmers find alternatives.” -Kim Leval, NCAP Executive Director


NEWS RELEASE: June 4, 2014

SEATTLE, WA – 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.”

BACKGROUND: 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.


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 





Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides works to protect community and environmental health and inspire the use of ecologically sound solutions to reduce the use of pesticides.


Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is by far the largest and most active trade association of commercial fishermen on the west coast. For nearly the last 30 years, we have been leading the industry in assuring the rights of individual fishermen and fighting for the long-term survival of commercial fishing as a productive livelihood and way of life.


Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.


Defenders of Wildlife is a nonprofit environmental organization with nearly one million total members and supporters. Defenders is dedicated to the protection of native wild animals and plants in their natural communities and advocates for new approaches to wildlife conservation that will help keep species from becoming endangered.


Turtle Island Restoration Network works to mobilize people and communities around the world to protect marine wildlife, the oceans and the inland waterways that sustain them. The Salmon Protection And Watershed Network(SPAWN) is a project of Turtle Island that works to protect endangered salmon and their habitat in the Lagunitas Watershed.


Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers works to promote the sport of fly fishing, and the conservation, preservation, and restoration of fishery resources in northern California and northern Nevada.