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Fish Have Feelings

by | Apr 21, 2021

Contributed by Ashleigh Hayden – YCH Field Marketing Manager & Levi Wyatt – Corporate Social Responsibility Coordinator

As a grower-owned hop supplier, we understand the importance of water. Eighty percent of the hops grown in the United States use water from two Northwest wild salmon watersheds, Yakima Valley and Willamette Valley watersheds. Salmon are continually declining in population and if this misfortune continues, we will likely see a large ripple effect on the health of many ecosystems and communities. “Human pollution has killed millions of salmon and continues to threaten their existence,” said Ted Strong, YCH Board Member and Yakama Nation representative. Considered a keystone species for the enormous benefits salmon provide, it is imperative that action must be taken to ensure that species remain healthy and abundant for years to come. Strong said, “People need to change their lifestyles to accommodate all species. Destruction of waterways and forests means the salmon are losing their place in this world.” Growers and brewers alike are looking for ways to be a part of the solution.

We spoke with Sodbuster Farms and Coleman Agriculture on their decision to become  certified farms. “To keep our state’s vast economies thriving, we need to be good stewards of the land and protect the waterways around Sodbuster Farms,” said Alexa Weathers. The Salmon-Safe certification is a way that growers can showcase their commitment to adopting resilience-building practices that keep streams healthy enough for salmon, including conservation practices which protect water quality and help to restore wildlife habitat in Northwest salmon watersheds. Sodbuster Farms has been Salmon-Safe certified for nine years and strives to improve farm management practices every year. “Getting Salmon-Safe certified is one way for us to show the general public that we are treating the land with the utmost respect. It was simple for us,” Weathers said. To become Salmon-Safe certified, Sodbuster Farms had to show current irrigation practices, nutrition, pest and disease management, and biodiversity.
In addition to being Salmon-Safe Certified, Sodbuster Farms is also GlobalG.A.P. certified, performing a more thorough evaluation of our Good Agricultural Practices. “The thing is, we all have to be on board with adapting for the better in order to pass down the legacy. Without any consideration of the environment from each generation, there would not be a succession,” Weathers said.

In addition to the Salmon-Safe certifications, many of our growers are actively pursuing the rigorous GlobalG.A.P. certification as well. This is designed to showcase how farms are implementing agricultural practices that minimize detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reduce the use of synthetic chemical inputs, and ensure responsible approaches to worker health and safety are taken. YCH believes this certification will represent positive change across the industry that will result in sustainable practices becoming standard farm practices creating healthy hops year after year. As part of the Chief Commitments as a company, YCH has committed to having 100% of our growers GlobalG.A.P. certified by 2025. Currently 41% of our growers hold this certification.

Coleman Agriculture has a passion for being environmentally friendly to preserve the land, water, and wildlife for future generations. “Salmon-Safe is designed perfectly for agricultural companies similar to ours who produce agricultural commodities while trying to remain sustainable,” said Mitch Sturzen of Coleman Agriculture. Being Salmon-Safe certified allows Coleman Agriculture to provide hops proven to be sustainably grown to brewers who are equally concerned about Oregon’s watersheds and environment. “Since many of our hop fields are located next to the Willamette River and Abiqua Creek, we feel it is important to participate in programs that help our watersheds remain clean and pure for many years to come,” Sturzen said.
Coleman Agriculture complies with Salmon-Safe guidelines to ensure sustainability. Some of these practices include:

  • Planting cover crops between hop rows.
  • Implementing soil conservation techniques.
  • Following procedures that relate to the management of nutrients and pests.
  • Maintaining and establishing riparian areas to encourage biodiversity.
  • Reducing the use of chemicals near watersheds.

Beyond the certification placard, our growers truly understand the significance of sustaining the land that sustains them. By taking care of the land today and participating in programs that strengthen their farm management practices, our growers are committing to producing quality hops without jeopardizing the health of the environment.

These practices resonate with like-minded brewers, like organic brewer Aslan Brewing Co. out of Bellingham, Washington. Aslan Brewing is passionate about providing customers with access to environmentally mindful beers that make as little impact on the planet as possible. “Organic beer can be a world-class product, and our goal is to demonstrate this to beer lovers throughout the Pacific Northwest. We aim to create a more natural and authentic product. Wherever possible, we seek out local ingredients from partners in our backyard, reinvesting in our local community,” Austin Umbinetti-Hutton said.

In 2018, Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland hosted the inaugural Salmon-Safe IPA Festival. Aslan brewed a beer for this event, and the first iteration of Fish Have Feelings was hatched. Fish Have Feelings is designed to bring awareness to Salmon-Safe farming practices. “Now that we have this beer established, we continue to use Salmon-Safe hops as a way to showcase the facts that it is possible to be organic and salmon-safe. We love having an opportunity to highlight organizations that align with our mission statement,” Umbinetti-Hutton said.

The 2021 version of Fish Have Feelings is a West Coast IPA brewed with all Salmon-Safe ingredients, including Centennial, Mosaic®, Chinook, Idaho 7®, and Ekuanot®. With flavors and aromatics of pine, citrus rind, and a hint of pineapple, this IPA is balanced in the way it delivers bitterness to the palette. A soft, bready malt backbone provides the structure that allows for the hops to shine. Fish Have Feelings will release on Earth Day this year. It will be available for purchase at all three Aslan locations and distributed to retailers throughout WA and CA.

Proceeds from this beer will go to Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA), which educates, inspires, and engages the community to take action to keep wild salmon here for future generations.

NSEA works to enhance river, creek, and riparian habitats while educating people of all ages to provide Pacific Salmon & Steelhead the best chance at survival. Aslan Brewing will donate 15% of the profits from this year’s Fish Have Feelings directly to the NSEA. For the entire month of April, Aslan is also matching all donations up to $2,000 made to NSEA through checkout platforms online and in-store.

“Salmon-Safe hops ensure the farmers we purchase these ingredients from are protecting water quality, maintaining watershed health, and restoring habitat for salmon. By building symbiotic relationships with organizations like Yakima Chief Hops, we can increase the availability of new organic beers in our community,” said Umbinetti-Hutton.

“Whether it is buying local ingredients, making organic beer, or using Salmon-Safe farming practices, there are a ton of different ways breweries can reduce their impact on the environment.” Individually, there is a limit on what one organization can accomplish. Together, small sustainable decisions add up quickly and can positively impact our communities and our planet.

Further up the food chain, another brewery is collaborating to support the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Southern Resident Killer Whale Food Security Fund. Vancouver Island Brewing is releasing their second annual Pod Pack. The Pod Pack will again be a four-pack of tall cans where each beer is a collaboration with another Vancouver Island brewery, corresponding with a different member of the Southern Resident Killer Whale community.

The four collaborations are:

  • Ucluelet Brewing Co. Wave Walker Helles Bock
  • Mayne Island Brewing Co. Tahlequah Pacific Gose
  • Whistle Buoy Brewing Co. Mike Brut Rose Pale Ale
  • Ace Brewing Co. Solstice Plum and Rosemary Saison
The Southern Resident Killer Whale community is a total of 75 whales across three pods, spending most of their time in inland waterways of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and southern Georgia Strait. Salmon play a significant role in the survival of certain ocean species during their time in salt water. For example, the Chinook salmon are the primary prey for the southern resident killer whale and there is an intrinsic relationship between salmon health and killer whale populations.

Each collaboration is named after a member of the Southern Resident Killer Whale community.

  • Wave Walker got his name because when researchers first saw him, he glided along the top of the water in his mother’s slipstream.
  • Tahlequah is the whale who became famous for carrying her dead calf for 17 days.
  • Mike was named after the late Canadian scientist Dr. Michael Bigg, known as the “father of killer whale research.”
  • Solstice is most often seen traveling with his mother, Spirit.

If you want to know more about the Pod Pack project, you can learn more here. Pod Packs will be available later this summer. Vancouver Island Brewing will donate a dollar from each Pod Pack sale to the Southern Resident Killer Whale Food Security Fund.

At the end of the day, our mission at YCH is to connect family hop farms with the world’s finest brewers. In purist of this mission, it is imperative that we are operating our businesses in a sustainable way that ensures our ability to grow quality hops well into the future without jeopardizing the health of the planet. With access to water being so important to our industry, our growers are implementing best practices within their fields to ensure this natural resource is sustained, and that we are not negatively impacting these water ways which are so important to aquatic species like salmon and killer whales. Certifications such as GlobalG.A.P. and Salmon-Safe are vessels for us to become more mindful of how our actions can influence the ecosystems with which we interact.

If you are interested in purchasing Salmon-Safe hops for your brewery, reach out to your Regional Sales Manager or Inside Sales Specialist.