Court backs Karuk Tribe against California Fish & Game

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OAKLAND, Calif. – A lawsuit filed against California’s Department of Fish and Game by the Karuk Tribe, fishermen, and conservationists has been decided in favor of the tribe and its co-litigants.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch has issued an injunction creating a moratorium on the issuance of suction dredge mining permits in California. The moratorium will be in effect until a claim filed by taxpayers asserting that Californians’ tax dollars are being used to illegally subsidize suction dredge mining, is resolved.

In 2005, the Karuk Tribe sued Fish and Game for allowing the practice of suction dredge mining to occur in areas known to be critical habitat for endangered and at-risk species such as coho salmon, Pacific lamprey, and green sturgeon.

That suit ended in a court order in 2006 directing Fish and Game to conduct an environmental impacts review and amend its regulations by June 20, 2008. Fish and Game has yet to initiate this process, essentially ignoring the court order.

“It is morally reprehensible and illegal for California Fish and Game to continue to use tax dollars to subsidize the destruction of our salmon fisheries, especially so in the midst of a budget crisis,” said Glen Spain, representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a major commercial fishermen’s organization and a litigant in the case. “It is great that the judge decided that the merits of our case warrant an injunction.”

Less than half the cost of issuing roughly 3,000 dredge mining permits each year is collected from permit fees, according to Craig Tucker, plaintiff and Karuk Tribe spokesman. “The rest is subsidized by California taxpayers, including tribal, commercial and recreational fishermen who depend on healthy salmon runs for their livelihood or their businesses.

“While legislators are cutting basic programs for our children and elders in an effort to balance the budget, Department of Fish and Game is subsidizing hobby mining. Miners should not be allowed to mine in critical fish habitats and they should pay their own way if they mine at all.”

Suction dredges are powered by gas or diesel engines mounted on floating pontoons in the river. It is claimed that the process reintroduces mercury left over from historic mining operations to the water, and the food chain.