CAMPTONVILLE -- "It's a total fish story,"
said DeCosta. He argues that vacuuming by gold
dredgers, generally small-time operators,
actually removes mercury and helps the
environment by cleaning out river bottoms,
redistributing gravel and creating underwater
holes that are ideal for fish spawning.
every place I dredge, I come back later to a
greater population of fish," DeCosta said.
"The tailings (from dredging) create nice,
soft, even gravel beds and the fish are
In a 2006 court declaration, Peter Moyle, a
University of California, Davis, fisheries
biologist, said dredging can create underwater
gravel piles "that are attractive for
spawning." But he said they are also
"unstable" and can damage fish embryos.
Camptonville, where Fiddle Creek trickles into
the north fork of the Yuba River, Kinzie set
up his floating gold dredger. In a wetsuit,
snorkel and mask, he swam underwater using a
vacuum to suck up the river gravel into a
trestle sluice box.
"I like to think of myself as an
environmentalist," he said, taking a break
from the body-straining labor. He told of
cleaning up -- in a single day -- as much as 1
1/2 pounds of lead weights that fishermen left
in the river, and described how he also
routinely clears litter off the banks.
"This is about as picturesque and beautiful
place as you're going to find," he said. "We
are not going to disrupt it. Understand, this
is our backyard."
But Bill Carnazzo, a fishing guide in
Foresthill, said gold dredgers operating on
the middle and north forks of the American
River negatively "change the contour of the
bottom of the river," and deposit unsightly
silt and debris piles.
Wolk's bill grew out of a 2006 lawsuit
filed by the Karuk Indian tribe in far
Northern California. The suit charged that
gold dredgers were disrupting the Klamath,
Scott and Salmon rivers -- home to endangered
coho salmon and other threatened fish.
In a settlement, the state agreed to close
certain rivers and impose seasonal
restrictions to protect native species. But
after the settlement was challenged by a
gold-dredging club, an Alameda Superior Court
judge ordered the Department of Fish and Game
to perform an environmental review. The study,
estimated to cost $500,000 to $1.5 million,
was never funded.
Miners charge that Wolk's bill seeks to
bypass the court's decision before the actual
effects of gold dredging on fish populations
"I just wonder how the elected people are
going to make a decision if they don't even
know what dredging is," said Kilgore, who says
it is environmentally safe. "The fact is my
livelihood is tied to a bad bill."