Hop farms can affect salmon populations. A certification program is looking to change that.

By Mike Pomranz
July 19, 2019
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You might assume that all the beer you drink is “salmon safe.” Breweries operate on land. And it’s not like you’ve ever walked into a bar and seen a salmon with a drinking problem. But as the Northwest nonprofit news site Crosscut recently highlighted, not all beers are as safe for salmon as you may think.

The primary issue reportedly isn’t the beer itself, but hops. The vast majority of hops grown in the U.S. come from the Pacific Northwest, an area that is also a major salmon habitat. As a result, hop farms — if not specifically built to be safe to salmon populations — can be problematic due to issues like agricultural runoff. That’s where Salmon Safe tries to step in.

Dan Kent spun off Salmon Safe into its own organization in 2002, and for the past five years has been specifically targeting hop farmers in America’s top hop region, the Yakima Valley, encouraging them to get certified. Despite the costs, Kent says that hop farmers have been receptive, and currently 22 percent of all Yakima hop acres are officially “Salmon Safe.” “We’re getting the kind of market presence in hops in five to 10 years that it took us 20 years to get in wine grapes,” he told Crosscut.

Of course, most consumers aren’t buying hops or looking into their sourcing. That’s what brewers do. So to further the movement, a number of well-known beer brands have joined the cause, having their own facilities certified or buying hops specifically from Salmon Safe hop farms to create more salmon-friendly beers. Crosscut lists New Belgium Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Reuben’s Brews, Fremont Brewing, and Two Beers Brewing as some of the brands who have gotten involved.

For example, last month, Two Beers used certified Salmon Safe Chinook hops in their Southern Resident Killer Whale IPA — a beer intended to raise money to help orcas — in a nod to their favorite meal. “I thought, well, heck, all the reading I've done in the news about the demise of the southern resident killer whales is because [of a lack of] salmon,” Founder Joel VandenBrink was quoted as saying, “so let’s focus on ecological endeavors and use Salmon-Safe hops as a tribute.” Consider it one more thing to keep an eye on when looking for your next beer to drink.

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