Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Suction Dredge Ban

I came across an article on the California Trout Inc. and the New 49'ers Newsletter website I thought was interesting. What I thought was interesting was the bias each side took regarding suction dredging. If you don't know what suction dredging is, I'm going to explain, because I have personal knowledge of this process. I spent 3 years gold mining on the North Fork of the American River. This is what a suction dredge looks like. What's it for, you ask? Extracting gold from the river bottom.

So, what's the bias. Fishermen say its ruins the spawning beds of trout and Steelhead. Gold miners say they have the right to pursue their hobby. I can see the point from both sides until you look at what the dredge actually does to the river. I had a gold claim on a creek outside the town of Foresthill, California. I spent every waking hour of every weekend working that claim for 3 years. "Gold Fever", does it exist, you bet. It's worse than drugs. You live, every waking hour, for the pursuit of gold. Do you get much, nope. It's a lot of work for very little payback unless you get that one break that drops a good size nugget into your pan. Few and very very far inbetween.

What does it do to the creek/river? Let me explain the process. You are underwater with a "vacumn" hose sucking up sand and gravel and spitting it into a "sluice box" attached to the dredge that's floating right behind you. While that's happening, you are constantly throwing rocks to the side (the ones you can pick up by hand) or winching (a cable & come-along) bigger rocks out of the way. Your goal is to get to bedrock where, if there is gold, that's where it will be. OK, so you're moving around a little sand & gravel. It'll all settle back to the bottom, right? Wrong. You end up with piles of rock and piles of sand & gravel. Not the smooth gravely bottom that fish need to spawn. Sure, when Winter comes and the torrents fill the rivers, it all smooths out, but fish spawn long before that happens. The other thing that happens is that digging up all that sand & gravel also digs up the mercury that the 49'ers used, without regulation, to separate the gold. That all washes downstream and gets into everything including the fish. Some things are best left alone.

Now that I've explained dredging, I'm not saying that it should be outlawed and it's not. Although, depending what side you look at, one side says it should while the other says it shouldn't. It's just that the regulations are being tightened giving the native fish a better chance. Remember the Salmon fishing ban this year? I won't go into all the things said, but if you want to look over the articles, here's the links.

Finally, I have a couple of stories about gold mining I'd like to share. First, I'm not sure if you'll remember a show that was on TV some time ago called Rescue 911. They had an episode where a gold dredger got caught under a rock, under water, in the North Fork of the American River. That was the exact place where I gold mined and I have to tell you, I'm not surprised that happened. It was a real story. I've seen these guys upside down, underwater, on the down stream side of a huge boulder, sucking all the sand and gravel away. It's a wonder more didn't end up like this guy with a rock rolling over on him. He was hooked up to the air compressor on the dredge and they kept it running for hours until the rescue unit could get him out. He survived, by the way.

The other story is when you're dredging, you come across fish in the water. Small sucker fish and the like. We would suck one up and run him through the sluice box and back out into the water. Shortly there after, he was back for another run. Kind of like an E-ticket ride at Disneyland.

So what it comes down to is that the dredgers don't like the fishermen and the fishermen don't like the dredgers. A feud that will go on for eternity.

Like everything else, just my opinion.

Till next time, remember: "A bad day fishing is better than being sucked through a gold dredge".



  1. Like a lot of things, suction dredging is a matter of scale. If there's just a few hobby gold nuts poking around a few creeks, no big deal. But everything counts in large amounts, and if there are two or three working over my favorite reach of a NoTellum Creek here in Montana, I'll be first in line to testify for a bill at the legislature.

    ATVs were like this. When only a few people had them and didn't ride much, it was no big deal. Now these motorized locusts are totally out of control and the habitat damage is terrible.

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  3. LMAO @ the part about the e-ticket riding sucker fish.

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