What do you get when you do a hi-def mash up of Deadliest Catch and Gold Rush Alaska? Why, Bearing Sea Gold, of course – the Discovery Channel’s instant blockbuster documentary/reality series airing every Friday night at 10/9c. The show follows several crews who man (and woman!) dredges just off the coast of Nome, Alaska. And, to be honest, they don’t really look like they know what they’re doing.
Most of the stars of the show admit to being newbies, and most of the dredges appear like crazy, thrown together mousetraps of old car parts bolted to floats. So, you have to wonder … can just anyone throw a VW engine on a raft, don a wet suit, and start sucking up gold?
As it turns out, the answer is yes and no. Some of the offshore land near Nome is divided into non-competitive claims, some is open to prospectors who have a permit, and some is set aside for normal (but perhaps a little crazy) folks like you and me who want to see what gold fever feels like first hand.
The regulations for land use in Alaska are complicated, so don’t think you can use this article in a court of law! If you’re serious about offshore gold dredging in Alaska, you should, by all means, take a look at the regs yourself. Here’s the 2009 Mining Code I used as reference, but I’m sure you could write to the Alaska DNR for the most current version of the relevant laws and regulations.
So … let’s say you have a good feeling about a patch of underwater land in Alaska. What should you do? Well, first you should go to the Department of Natural Resources and make sure that no one else has a non-competitive claim on the land. If there’s already a current claim in effect, then you’re out of luck. If there isn’t, then you can apply for a prospecting permit.
With the prospecting permit in hand, you can go out and look for evidence of gold on the land that your permit covers. It appears that quarter mile chunks are the standard. If you don’t find anything, then your permit will run out and someone else will have a chance. If you do find gold, though, you can go back to the DNR and apply to have your prospecting permit converted to a non-competitive claim.
When you have a non-competitive claim, you have to pay the state rent and give evidence that you’re actively mining the claim. In 2009,
The amount of the annual rental payment is $.88 per acre during the first five years of the lease, $1.75 per acre during the next five years of the lease, and $4.25 per acre after that.
If you miss your rent or don’t do anything with the claim, then the DNR can jump back in. But, as long as you’re current, the claim is all yours. (That’s why it is called non-competitive.)
But, let’s say, you can’t find a patch of land that isn’t already being prospected or mined. Do you have to pack your aqua-jalopy and go home? No way! Alaska has you covered. There are two public mining areas in the Nome area, alone: The Eastern Nome Public Mining Area and the Western Nome Public Mining Area. Of course, there are some rules you have to follow if you’re going to jump in and mine in these public areas, since, by design, you can’t lay claim to any part of it for non-competitive mining. You can find those regulations here.
Interestingly enough, a quick look at the regs for using the Public Mining Areas suggests that all the Bearing Sea Gold miners might be in compliance. Does that mean that, at least from the perspective of the DNR, all the Bearing Sea Gold miners are amateurs? Hobbyists? Maybe. That would explain a lot. Hmmm … I wonder if I could break away next summer. I know where I can find an old pontoon boat and a rusted out Honda Civic. I’m halfway there!
For more information about Emily Riedel, the opera singing gold miner featured on Bering Sea Gold, check out our profile post on her and click here to watch and listen to her doing what she does best – singing opera!