Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, March 19, 2012

Contacts:  Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318
Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, (541) 689-2000 

California Agency Approves Destructive Suction Dredge River Mining

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Department of Fish and Game has adopted a program to increase river mining and pollution in California’s waterways. The agency on Friday approved a new suction dredge mining program that can turn a clear-running mountain stream into a polluted waterway unfit for wildlife and people by stirring up harmful mercury from historic mining. The decision will allow suction dredge mining to resume once a current moratorium on the practice expires in 2016.

Suction dredge mining is a net loser for the state of California: It pollutes our waterways, harms endangered fish and wildlife, hurts cultural resources and wastes taxpayer money,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Suction dredge mining uses machines to vacuum up gravel and sand from streams and river bottoms in search of gold. The Department of Fish and Game’s new decision would allow suction dredge mining throughout California, in areas that are sensitive habitat for imperiled wildlife, including salmon and steelhead, the beloved California red-legged frog and sensitive migratory songbirds.

The agency avoided addressing significant water quality, wildlife, and cultural/historical impacts of mining. The State Water Resources Control Board urged a complete ban on suction dredge mining because of the significant impacts to water quality and wildlife from mercury pollution. The California Native American Heritage Commission has also condemned suction dredge mining’s impacts on priceless tribal and archeological resources.  

"Suction dredging can be very harmful to California's commercially valuable salmon runs, and should be banned wherever that happens. Loss of valuable salmon habitat means lost salmon-dependent jobs in our industry," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), which is the West Coast's largest organization of commercial fishing families. "The toxic mercury suction dredges stir up harms both fish and people."

Adding insult to injury, a legislative analysis found that the suction dredge mining program has cost the state more money more than it earns; it lost close to $1 million dollars in 2009 alone — all in the name of benefitting a few thousand hobby gold miners.

Suction dredge mining for gold has been pervasive on many California rivers and streams for years. This form of mining uses a powerful motor and pump, attached to a hose that is used to suction up gravel from the stream bottom. Gold is then sorted out from the gravel, and the remaining sediment-laden water is flushed back into the stream. The adverse impacts of this mining are well documented by scientists and government agencies. Suction dredging can harm habitat for sensitive, threatened and endangered fish and frogs, as well as release toxic plumes of mercury left over from the Gold Rush into our waterways.

Environmental analysis by the California Department of Fish and Game identified several significant impacts caused by this mining practice, which

• discharges toxic levels of mercury, harming drinking-water quality and potentially poisoning fish and wildlife;
• harms fish, amphibians and songbirds by disrupting habitat; and
• causes substantial adverse changes statewide in American Indian cultural and historical resources.

Unfortunately, by approving this destructive and costly mining program, the Department of Fish and Game has ignored laws limiting suction dredge mining. Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 120 in July 2011, legislation that ordered the Department of Fish and Game to develop a program that eliminates significant environmental impacts and pays the costs of the program in order to lift a current moratorium on suction dredge mining set to expire in 2016.

Suction dredge mining has a history of controversy. California courts have repeatedly upheld challenges brought by tribal, environmental and fisheries groups that the suction dredge mining program violated state laws and poses threats to wildlife. The coalition of tribal, environmental and fisheries groups have been represented by the Environmental Law Foundation.

Learn more about the Center for Biological Diversity’s Toxics and Endangered Species campaign.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is trade association of commercial fishermen on the west coast dedicated to assuring the rights of individual fishermen and fighting for the long-term survival of commercial fishing as a productive livelihood and way of life.

The Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of fish populations and the human economies that depend on them.

The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environmental and public health. ELF is legal counsel for the Karuk Tribe, fishermen’s organizations, environmentalists and river enthusiasts who have been litigating the harms of suction dredge mining for nearly six years.

Go back