Wine lovers in California have been particularly hard-hit by drought and water shortage issues. Even vineyards that have previously been made exempt from water restrictions are now having to adjust their irrigation practices. This has led to more vineyards starting to use Fish Friendly Farming practices in order to make sure that their farms are still able to provide the same amount of crops for wine enthusiasts and others. Fish Friendly Farming practices include using cover crops, and not disturbing the land between rows of vines during the off-season, to ensure that predators such as hawks and owls have places to conceal themselves.

In the face of record low water levels in the Delta, the catch of young fall-run Chinook salmon has been limited to protect the struggling adult fish. But a new certification program sponsored by the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) and Napa County Farm Bureau will help fish populations rebound. In order to qualify for the new “fish-friendly” label, participating growers will follow a strict set of guidelines that were developed to increase water sustainability and to help the fish population rebound.


Over 90% of the grape growers in Napa County are certified.

NAPA, Calif. (April 21, 2021) – With the arrival of warm weather, California appears to be headed for another year of drought.  If the potential impact on local agriculture and the fire hazard are two obvious concerns, what about the impact on our fish and our local environment?

Thanks to the popularity and effectiveness of Fish Friendly Farming certification among Napa County’s many grape growers, local streams and fish habitat are in better shape than in many other parts of California, said Laurel Marcus, executive director of Fish Friendly Farming.  She added: We originally developed this program for the Russian River watershed and then created a specific program for the Napa River watershed. Today, Napa County’s fish farm certification program is one of the most successful in California. More than 90 percent of the more than 1,000 farms in Napa County are certified fish farmers.

Drought can significantly reduce river flow, affecting fish habitat quality and the availability of freshwater organisms.  Reduced flow can also affect critical pools and dissolved oxygen levels, which in turn affects fish by eliminating freshwater reservoirs.  The negative effects of reduced water use also affect migrating juvenile fish, which can have a negative impact on fish populations for years to come.

We are proud that our vineyards are certified as Fish Friendly Farming, especially as stewards of 360 acres in the Napa Valley and miles of the Napa River.  I appreciate the rigorous scientific approach of Fish Friendly Farming.  All the projects and practices recommended by the California Land Stewardship Institute – from the environmental scientists who work there to the agencies they put us in touch with – are concrete, results-oriented and sustainable, says Russ Weiss, president of Silverado Vineyards. He added: Sustainability is about celebrating more milestones like this.  We will continue to rely on Fish Friendly Farming’s practical and visionary leadership in our efforts to preserve our land for future generations.

The Fish Friendly Farming certification program not only benefits the local environment, but is also a cost-effective and efficient management strategy for farmers.  As a result, local gardeners are revegetating along local streams that provide cool shade for fish to thrive.  In addition, the certification program includes erosion control on roads, which improves water quality and stream flow.  In addition, fish habitat protection requires fish screens at all water intakes, legally approved water rights, and water conservation in the vineyard.  The program included environmental improvements to more than 546 miles of roads, 225 miles of streams and 38 miles of rivers on 95,000 acres of land in Napa County.

Fish Friendly Farming not only provides an important third-party certification for sustainable farming practices that help me as a farmer, but also provides great benefits for the local environment, waterways and wildlife, said Matt Crafton, winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery.  He added: It is easy to walk along the streams on the ranch and see the benefits of our participation in this program.  Everyone in the Napa Valley benefits from fish farming.

Fish Friendly Farming was previously associated with Napa Green’s Napa Vintners program. However, these programs have now been separated to better distinguish Fish Friendly Farming’s environmental improvement certification from Napa Green’s marketing program.

Our role as an independent certifier in the Fish Friendly Farming program allows us to work directly with hundreds of farmers in Napa County to create better river conditions for steelhead and Chinook salmon by improving water quality and habitat, said Joe Dillon, water quality specialist with the National Marine Service NOAA.

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