As you know, many Washington streams are regularly closed to fishing, ranging from a few months up to the entire year. The reasons for closure vary, but most are due to concerns over ESA-listed fish or degraded or delicate habitat. Yet even though fishing may be prohibited, suction dredge miners operate without regulation or enforcement in many of the very same waters during so-called 'work windows'. On some waters, the mining work windows are actually longer than the open period for fishing. In many waters that are completely closed to fishing, mining is permitted anyway. For instance, Nason Creek, Lost River, Early Winters, the Wenatchee and Twisp rivers are all closed to fishing yet open for dredging. A suction dredge is like a gas-powered vacuum cleaner mounted on pontoons that works underwater to suck up gravel from the riverbed and run it through a sluice to separate out any gold it may contain. A dredge can move over 2,000 cubic feet of gravel a day, displacing or destroying everything that it sucks up. The discharge creates a 'plume' of gravel, sediment and toxic metals extending hundreds of feet downstream, covering spawning redds and suffocating eggs, juveniles and invertebrates. To uncover even more sections of the riverbed, miners routinely use winches and comealongs to move large boulders, logs and root wads - structure that fish depend on for shelter. Taxpayers spend millions and millions a year and countless volunteer hours on restoration projects in the very streams and rivers that suction dredge miners vacuum up. A growing body of scientific research is implicating suction dredge mining in damage to fish and fisheries. A federal court recently cited that research in upholding a lawsuit that forced California to implement a 20 year moratorium on all suction dredge mining. After considering the same research, last summer the Oregon legislature voted to cap the number of permits for dredging at just 850 per year. Oregon is currently working on even tougher rules to limit the damage from mining. In Idaho, the EPA restricts dredge mining on most of the streams running through USFS land. Yet of the four western states, only Washington continues to allow virtually unrestricted suction dredge mining. Our own WDFW is charged with both protecting fish and fisheries AND regulating these small-scale 'hobby' miners. Thanks to an act passed by the legislature in 1997, WDFW was specifically directed to make it easy for miners by not imposing 'onerous regulations', charging miners any fees, or even requiring a simple application. In effect, miners got a free pass thanks to their lobbying efforts and some sympathetic legislators. The very few regulations Washington does impose on miners are contained in the Gold and Fish pamphlet, a slender PDF booklet available on the WDFW web site that lists equipment restrictions and work windows. WDFW readily admits it has no idea who is mining, where or when. If WDFW doesn't even know where to look, how can they make sure miners are following the rules? The organization Fish Not Gold was founded to shine a light on the conflict between suction dredge mining and fishing and to increase awareness of the issue. Its goal is to partner with other organizations to persuade and enlist legislators and WFW Commissioners to enact and enforce common sense remedies that hold miners to a higher standard. If waters are closed to fishing, they should be closed to mining as well. If fishermen are subject to rules and can be held accountable if they fail to obey them, so should miners. If fishermen pay fees for licensing and permits with revenues supporting WDFW, so should miners. For more information have a look at the Fish Not Gold web site at http://www.fishnotgold.org. Then 'Like' Fish Not Gold's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/fishnotgold or follow it's Twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/fishnotgold to stay abreast of the latest news.