What is TU doing about suction dredging?

What is TU is doing about suction dredging in Washington State?

Currently, suction dredging is relatively unregulated in the state of Washington, posing threats not only to important populations of native fish, but also to the millions of dollars that have been invested in habitat across the state. 

The evident shortcomings with the current regulatory system in Washington have compelled TU to take action. TU has been instrumental in advancing suction dredge mining regulatory reform in other states, including Oregon and Maine, and it is important we continue that momentum to bring about change on this front here in Washington.

The time to act is now: many of the suction dredgers that have been prevented from operating in other West Coast states due to the recently tightened regulations have moved into Washington State, creating much greater pressure on our streams and a dangerous situation for our ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

TU has a successful track record of working with our stakeholders and legislators on both sides of the aisle in Olympia to advance key legislation, and we have a strong relationship with WDFW to ensure effective policy follows suit. Our campaign objectives and current partner list are outlined below.

How you can help

Contact us to learn about how to get involved on this issue, including contacting your local Washington State representative or senator and joining us for upcoming rallies and events: gbafundo@tu.org.


TU’s Campaign Objectives

TU’s long-term policy objectives for MRMP reform in Washington State include the following improvements to the existing regulatory system:

  • Tracking/Enhanced Accountability – We need a strong permit system that allows for tracking and evaluation of suction dredging activities and their impacts, especially cumulative impacts. Currently, there is no tracking system for 95% of motorized recreational mineral prospecting activities in Washington.
  • Evaluation of Cumulative Impacts – Washington State currently has no regulatory mechanism for evaluating cumulative impacts associated with any activities subject to the Hydraulic Code (including motorized recreational mineral prospecting). All fisheries scientists TU consulted agreed cumulative impacts (i.e., the net effect of all impacts from these operations in any given area over time) pose the greatest threat to native fish populations when it comes to these activities.
  • Permitting Fee – We need to establish a fee system for these mining activities, just as every angler and hunter in Washington must pay for a license to fish and every project proposed in and around our waterways must pay for a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) permit. Currently, all recreational mineral prospecting activities, whether covered by the Gold and Fish Pamphlet or permitted by an individual HPA, are exempt from state fees.
  • Protection for ESA-designated Critical Habitat – We need to tighten controls to ensure these mining activities don’t threaten the survival of our ESA-listed salmon, steelhead, and bull trout by instituting strict regulations and monitoring programs in Critical Habitat areas. Under existing regulations, motorized recreational mineral prospecting under the auspices of the Gold and Fish Pamphlet in ESA-designated Critical Habitat is not subject to special controls or oversight.
  • Increased Disincentives for Violations – Through direct field observations and conversations with WDFW staff, it is apparent that many motorized recreational mineral prospectors operate in a manner that violates existing WDFW regulations. Currently, WDFW’s enforcement authority is limited to a $100 per day fine for violations and enforcement staff are severely capacity-limited. WDFW staff consistently say enhanced civil enforcement authority for WDFW is likely the single most important reform that would significantly reduce impacts from these activities. This enhanced enforcement authority needs to include (1) a more significant fine for violations, and (2) Stop Work Order authority.



TU has been laying the groundwork of this campaign since August 2013, and we have developed strong partnerships with other groups committed to advancing reforms for motorized recreational mineral prospecting in Washington State. Our current coalition of support on this issue includes the groups named below; with your help, we plan to grow this list and cultivate an even broader base of support.


Government Agencies

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington Department of Natural Resources

NOAA Fisheries

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Forest Service


Tribes and Tribal Entities

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Nooksack Tribe

Snoqualmie Tribe

Upper Skagit Indian Tribe

Swinomish Tribe and Sauk-Suiattle Tribe – Skagit River System Cooperative

Puyallup Tribe

Yakama Nation

Colville Confederated Tribes


NGOs and Other Organizations

Washington Fly Fishing Club

Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board

Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group

Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group

Fish Not Gold

Cascadia Wild

Patagonia, Inc.


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