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Because we’re getting more liberal about marijuana laws, we may have to sacrifice a bit on the salmon front

In 2013, we saw a shift in marijuana legalization viewpoint — more people approved it than not. That led to legalization in Colorado, which led to the first person ever to buy it legally in Colorado, which led to this epic photo:

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Now we have one of those yin-and-yang issues, though: in California, pot cultivation is going to negatively affect salmon. (There’s more via NPR here.) The basic issue is that, as you might expect, it takes a lot of water to run a marijuana farm, and 24 tributaries of the Eel River went dry this past summer. That’s the third-largest watershed in California, and salmon are unlikely to return this summer as a result of the ecological shifts. The Eel River was one of the primary salmon runs in California, so obviously this news is a bit troubling.

There’s another issue too: in the Sierra Nevada area, pot farms are using rat poison to, well, keep away rats. The problem is, it’s also killing fishers, a medium-sized animal. Let Discovery explain:

“Exposure of wildlife to pesticides has been widely documented, but this is a fundamentally different scenario,” said wildlife biologist Dr. Kathryn Purcell.

“In marijuana cultivation sites, regulations regarding proper use of pesticides are completely ignored and multiple compounds are used to target any and all threats to the crop, including compounds illegal in the U.S.,” she said.

Back to the salmon issue for a second. We’ve clearly got some problems with certain types of marine life, especially those that we eat. With regards to California specifically, 2013 was a high drought year, especially in the North, so the issue isn’t completely marijuana growers. In terms of the broader salmon market, a good portion of it comes from Norway, Chile and Scotland — so a shift in the Eel River, while it could adjust domestic cost, probably won’t affect supply in the intermediate-to-long term. The U.S. is responsible for roughly 28 percent of global consumption of salmon, with most of that coming from Chile and Canada.

The odd thing about this 1-2 step in northern California is that — and this is primarily within my experience, but I have seen it more broadly — often the people smoking the most pot in their late-teens to mid-20s are the people that, in their 30s, are buying salmon on the regular at Whole Foods (I actually think this was the entire shift of 1960s to 1980s America — the hippies became the kingmakers). So it’s weird to see a yin and a yang between pot growth and salmon decline, but that analogy might be a bit of an overreach.

Salmon supply world-wide right now is a bit tight, so any of these types of stories will get some attention (remember the global wine shortage situation in late October?) For the short-term, it should be alright (both on the salmon front and the wine front, for those of you that like to pair fish with a nice red), but a bigger issue here might be the guidelines put in place for marijuana cultivation, especially if we see more states ‘crop’ (HA HA!) up with legalization.

Ted Bauer

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