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According to wine aficionados, pinot noir pairs quite well with salmon. But growing this grape — and several other varietals — is actually hurting the coho salmon population in California’s rivers and streams.

“Like other agricultural industries in California, vineyards rely on water for their operations. But at the same time … fish need enough cool water in their streams to survive,” said Liz Spence, the Nature Conservancy’s associate project director for the north coast region in California. “So the real challenge is how to balance the needs for both – nature and fish and the industry.”

The main concern is the coho salmon, which is endangered in northern California. (There are other “runs” of coho salmon on the West Coast that are not endangered.) But steelhead trout also have been affected by reduced water levels. The fish face trouble when there is not enough water in a stream, Spence said, or if there are changes in the temperature or habitat of the stream.

Beyond water needed to grow the grapes, there’s a method to reduce frost that also calls for copious amounts of water -- 50 gallons for each acre, every minute, according to an August 2011 report by the Bay Citizen, a San Francisco-based news organization. “In smaller tributaries, the technique can literally suck stretches of a stream dry,” the article reports.

To help solve the problem, vineyard owners have been turning to more efficient irrigation: storing water in the winter months to be used in the summer when there’s less rainfall, and planting cover crops to guard against soil erosion. “They know that maintaining and preserving good water resources ... is integral to their ability to produce quality grapes in the future,” said Spence. The Nature Conservancy is also encouraging vineyard owners to work together to coordinate water demand and supply.

Both oenophiles and salmon lovers can see which vineyards are taking action via Fish Friendly Farming, a certification project from the non-profit and Napa-based California Land Stewardship Institute, which gives its stamp of approval to wineries and farms that work on habitat and water-quality issues. Several vineyards and winegrower associations also have partnered with the national conservation group Trout Unlimited for the “Water and Wine” project.

And it is not just a California issue – Oregon is also known for wonderful wine and delicious salmon. This year, more than 250 vineyards in the Pacific Northwest have been given the “Salmon-Safe” certification for protecting fish habitats by planting trees along streams or using natural pesticides. Check out the list, or look for the “salmon-safe” label on bottles of wine.

Travellers who want to create a wine-tasting-and-salmon-spawning tour should head to portions of the Russian River in Sonoma and the Navarro River in Mendocino in the fall. We hear there are some great wineries nearby.

Lori Robertson writes the Ethical Traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to bbcethicaltravel@gmail.com.

 

 

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