Rules for mineral prospecting and placer mining

Gold and Fish pamphlet

images of gold mining
Photo by WDFW

Mineral prospecting and placer mining activities in or near water qualify as hydraulic projects and require a permit (Chapter 77.55 RCW). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulates some of these activities through the Gold and Fish pamphlet. People who operate within the rules of the Gold and Fish pamphlet do not need to apply for an individual Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA).

The current edition of the Gold and Fish pamphlet was released on May 19, 2021 and authorizes certain non-motorized methods of mineral prospecting. Mineral prospecting methods not authorized through the pamphlet, including the use of any motorized or gravity siphon equipment, require an HPA.

Individual Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA)

An individual HPA is required to use motorized or gravity siphon mining equipment, or to operate outside the rules of the Gold and Fish pamphlet. WDFW will work with you to ensure your proposed activity does not harm fish. You must then follow the provisions in your individual HPA to ensure compliance with the law. Learn more about the HPA application process.

As of June 11, 2020, many waters of the state are closed to motorized or gravity siphon aquatic mining. Before applying for an HPA that includes motorized or gravity siphon equipment, confirm the activity is allowed at your proposed location(s). To operate in an allowed area, you will also need a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the Department of Ecology. The HPA application asks for a copy of your NPDES permit OR a letter from Ecology stating that an NPDES permit is not necessary for your proposed activities. Visit the Department of Ecology’s mineral prospecting webpage for more information about NPDES permits and a map of the potential use areas.

You may apply for a maximum of five sites within the same watershed, per application. A site is defined as:

  • The length of a registered mining claim, or
  • 1,300 linear feet of stream if the project is not conducted on a registered claim

Annual reporting discontinued

The annual reporting requirement included in some suction dredging HPAs has been eliminated. Permit holders are no longer required to submit annual reports of suction dredge activity to WDFW.

Other permits and requirements

Aquatic invasive species inspections

All motorized or gravity siphon equipment used in waters outside of Washington state must be inspected for aquatic invasive species by an authorized WDFW representative before equipment can be used in Washington waters. Call the aquatic invasive species hotline at 1-888-933-9247 or email

Landowner permission

You must get permission from landowners before prospecting on their property.

Other agencies 

Several federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies may have their own requirements pertaining to water rights and mining claims. The Gold and Fish pamphlet explains other agencies' interest in prospecting and placer mining and provides contact information.

Learn about other required permits from the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance.