State shuts off pumps

Places temporary ban on suction gold dredging in streams

Suction dredging for gold in California streams became illegal last week, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that slaps a temporary moratorium on the practice.

Suction dredges are huge motorized pumps that vacuum streambeds, sucking up gravel and river rock—and fish roe and fingerlings with them—in search of gold specks. The material is then run through a floating sluice system to separate out the gold.

The moratorium will remain in place at least until the Department of Fish and Game completes an environmental study on the effects of the practice on fish habitat and issues new regulations to protect trout, salmon and steelhead.

The commercial salmon industry has suffered in recent years, as low fish counts have led to harvesting restrictions.