From mining waste to fine jewelry: The journey of Salmon Gold

Nature-positive gold, fully traceable and responsibly sourced using practices that restore habitats for salmon and other wildlife

Above: Chris Race, one of our Salmon Gold mine partners in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

21 June 2024

In the crisp morning sun deep in Canada’s Yukon Territory, Chris Race, a local gold miner, is hard at work. He is carefully rearranging heavy boulders in a stream, creating a pool for salmon and other endangered fish species to spawn. Chris is one of the miners Regeneration has partnered with for our Salmon Gold initiative, which remines gold from old placer mining sites. Regeneration then reinvests earnings into restoring natural habitat for salmon, grayling, or other species.

“Salmon Gold was born from the idea that when a mine closes, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story,” says Stephen D’Esposito, Regeneration’s President and CEO. “We shouldn’t let mine waste go to waste – we should treat it as an opportunity.”

Our industry partners, Apple, Mejuri and Rio Tinto, agree. They have played a key role in advancing our projects, providing funding, or using Salmon Gold in their own supply chains. In fact, Mejuri’s debut Salmon Gold Capsule Collection, launched in June 2024, is the world’s first jewelry collection made from gold 100% sourced from old mine sites where waste and previously disturbed land is remined and restored.

A person pouring gold into a containerDescription automatically generated
Above: Once considered ‘waste’, these gold grains come from remining and reprocessing material at old mine sites, with a commitment to creating salmon habitat. (Image credit: Mejuri)

From old mine tailings, emerges something beautiful

Throughout Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory and British Columbia, the river valleys are dotted with the remnants of gold mining operations. In the gold rush of the late 1800s, tens of thousands of prospectors headed north hoping to strike it rich, pumping soil from creeks and riverbeds in search of gold. In their wake, they left rock and sediment waste (known as tailings) in stream beds and piled along riverbanks, disrupting ecosystems and Indigenous ways of life.  

Today, there are still many small and large placer gold mining operations throughout this region. This part of the world is home to ecologically diverse habitats, including breeding grounds for salmon, grayling and other species. And the placer mining process – which removes vegetation and topsoil and disturbs riverbeds – has damaged vital fish habitats preventing them from migrating and spawning.

“I thought if you could get the gold out of the old piles of mining waste, you could use the money to restore the rivers, streams, and habitat, so that the salmon or grayling could swim up and spawn again.

“It could be a win, win, win: Gold buyers could get more responsibly sourced gold; salmon habitat could be restored; and modern placer miners could feel better about their business,” Stephen says. 

And so, in 2018, Salmon Gold was born. Since then, Salmon Gold has funded projects in five locations, restoring 1,825 linear meters of stream and 20 acres of upland habitat using funding from Salmon Gold sales. The sites are restored beyond regulatory compliance, using sustainable techniques and leading restoration practices.

We work with miners, Indigenous communities, conservationists, government agencies and restoration experts, to create a restoration plan for each stream before remining begins,” Stephen says. “Our placer mining partners, like Chris, are typically very good at stream restoration too.”

"First, we extract any gold that’s left over from past mining. Then the habitat is carefully restored using trees, soil and rocks rescued from waste piles. This includes stabilizing the stream with rocks, replanting the right vegetation, and, where needed, adding rock pools to support fish spawning. We found that with smaller-scale placer mining the revenue from gold does not typically cover the cost of restoration, so we rethought the concept, and we’re now working to develop revenue to support restoration. This summer we’re doing extra work to document our restoration process, methods and impact, producing quantifiable biodiversity and carbon credits for partners who have made voluntary commitments to be positive in these areas,” Stephen said.

Above: Before and after revegetation on Sulphur Creek in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

A ‘goldprint’ for a new mining model: Combining remining and restoration

Salmon Gold is a unique approach, blending conservation and commercial thinking and drawing on experts from different sectors. 

“Salmon Gold's progress has been possible because of our partners Apple, Newmont, Mejuri, Donlin, and MKS PAMP, who helped support our early remining and restoration efforts,” Stephen says. “We also gratefully acknowledge the Indigenous Nations on whose traditional land we work.” 

Regeneration and the Salmon Gold initiative is continuing to grow and evolve. We’re expanding to new locations, forging new partnerships, and securing resources to scale the program with revenue from remining and by valuing and funding restoration through nature positive commitments from global brands.

“Salmon Gold has shown us the model can work, and so it gives us a blueprint to work with other industries to produce responsibly sourced materials, such as cobalt and other critical minerals, which are essential for renewable energy technologies.

“Using this model, we can positively disrupt the status quo. We can attract global brands to fund restoration, work with Indigenous People to set priorities, support Indigenous guardians to monitor results, test and prove new technologies, remove and rework waste, and give these communities and lands a second chance.”

Interested in partnering with us? Contact us.

About Salmon Gold

Launched in 2018 by RESOLVE, Regeneration’s NGO founder, Salmon Gold works with miners, communities, conservationists, government agencies, restoration experts, and manufacturers and brands to produce gold that tells a positive story in the marketplace and demonstrates the value of restoration. We are currently working in Alaska, USA, and Yukon Territory and British Columbia, Canada, home to globally significant habitat for salmon and other fish species. Our current founding partners include Mejuri, Apple, and Rio Tinto. MKS PAMP contributes as a refiner and has worked with us through the early stages of the initiative. Paul Hastings provides legal support. 

What is placer mining?

Placer mining is the practice of separating minerals like gold from clay, sand or gravel where nature has already eroded the metals out of rock. Miners dig, dredge or pump sand and gravel from riverbeds, which is then washed and tumbled to separate gold from other material. This process leaves behind piles of rock and dirt, known as tailings.