While Bering Sea Gold on Discovery may not be short on drama, it can be short on some details about the gold mining industry in Nome, and for good reason. It’s a complex industry with a lot of specific rules and regulations, and it’s often boring.
But one question people are asking all the time is this: who owns the offshore gold mining claims in Nome?
The short answer is this: they aren’t (for the most part) privately-owned “claims” as portrayed on the show. The mining rights on “claims” featured in BSG are actually owned by the state of Alaska and sold as 10-year “non-competitive offshore leases” at auction. The state then collects a predetermined annual rent from the lease owner and a 3% production royalty.
Through the duration of the lease the owners have the option to sub-lease the rights to mine to another dredge in exchange for a royalty payment, which is a % of gold mined. Some owners work their leases exclusively, some just sub-lease and collect royalty payments, and some do a mix of both.
But there are actually several types of offshore mining areas. According to Alaska Department of Natural Resources, “There are many mining opportunities offshore of Nome in Norton Sound including two public mining areas, 89 offshore lease tracts, and numerous mining claims. There are currently no available offshore mining leases. An auction offering leases may occur in the spring of 2023.”
Let’s just talk about the ones you’re familiar with.
Tomcod is the largest lease tract portrayed on the show. It’s a whopping 2000 acres and apparently is actually made up of a number of smaller leases combined into one. It’s currently owned by Shawn Pomrenke.
Lease 56 is owned by Vernon Adkison – which he purchased in the offshore lease tract auction offered by the state of Alaska in 2020. Of the eleven lease tracts up for auction, 56 was the largest at 375 acres.
Lease 14 has been worked by Emily Riedel for several years now. She does not own it, but sub-leases it. It’s a bit larger than 56 at 550 acres, and is sub-leased by up to four dredges at a time, making it a competitive spot close to town.
The Rec Areas There are two public “recreational mining” areas maintained by the state that have been worked by many BSG cast members over the years – including Zeke and the Kelly’s in recent seasons. One is limited to 6″ diver-operated (non-mechanical) dredges and the other is limited to 8″ diver-operated (non-mechanical) dredges. These are open to anyone who applies and is within the nozzle and engine size limits. If you’re watching an “experimental” or very small dredge operation on tv, it’s unlikely that they can secure a coveted sub-lease on productive ground on one of the leases mentioned above and there’s a good chance they’re working one of the rec areas.
Every 10 years, in theory, the state of Alaska auctions off the leases that are up for renewal. The most recent auction was in 2020, where eleven tracts totaling 1,060 acres were up for bid.
Before that you couldn’t get your hands on a lease at auction since the 2011 stampede where 83 leases totaling 23,793 acres were sold by the state.
Allegedly there will be another auction in 2023 according to the DNR’s website. We’ll keep you updated.
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