Biologists Warn 3 Pesticides Harm Salmon

Published on May 15th, 2009 | by

Three common agricultural pesticides carbaryl, carbofuran and methomyl are jeopardizing the survival of salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.  Federal biologists warn these pesticides can affect andronomous fishes’ abilities to smell, swim, grow, and avoid predators, and ultimately will kill them in certain concentrations.  The National Marine Fisheries Service is recommending restrictions and bans be placed on these pesticides’ applicationa near salmon habitat.

Image by pflyThree pesticides blamed for harming salmon.
Three pesticides blamed for harming salmon.

Ironically, one of the pesticides is used in another seafood industry:  oyster harvesting.  Carbaryl is sprayed on oyster beds to control the population of burrowing shrimp.  Overfishing of predator fish has caused the burrowing shrimp population to explode.   Burrowing shrimp burrow under oyster beds collapsing the beds and smothering the oysters.

The three pesticides in question mainly affect the aquatic insects salmon feed upon. They are designed to kill agricultural insects, but when they enter waterways, aquatic insects succumb.  These pesticides threaten the survival of 22 listed Pacific salmon and steelhead species.

The biologists’ findings are a result of a 2001 lawsuit filed by salmon fisherman and environmentalists. Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney with Earthjustice, explains:

Overall, we think this is a huge step forward in ensuring that salmon and steelhead are protected from these poisons…We don’t think it goes quite far enough…It’s high time we reduce or eliminate the use of deadly pesticides in order to protect salmon, an icon of the Pacific Northwest’s natural heritage.

The EPA is in the process of banning uses of carbofuran, which is commonly used on alfalfa, corn, and potatoes.  The National Marine Fisheries Service is recommending spray buffer zones around salmon waters that range from 600 to 1,000 feet for aerial applications.  Environmentalists were disappointed the agency did not call for additional 20-foot vegetative strips that help filter pesticides before they enter waterways.


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