Gold rush on the Töss: Zurich to clamp down on gold panning

Gold rush on the Töss: Zurich to clamp down on gold panning

In what will likely sound like a headline from 1840s California, authorities in Canton Zurich are having to clamp down on gold panning in local rivers. The so-called “gold rush” on the Rivers Töss, Thur and Rhine is now heavily restricted, due to the practice’s impact on the environment.

Authorities to clamp down on Zurich gold rush

According to a letter from the Office for Landscape and Nature (ALN), given to the Tages-Anzeiger, authorities in Zurich are tightening the rules on gold panning in local rivers. The practice has become a lot more popular in recent years, especially on the Töss, Thur and Rhine rivers where the most patient among us are able to come across small slivers of gold.

Unlike the massive gold rush that sent thousands of Americans out west to California in the 19th century, the practice in Switzerland is a far more artisanal and hobbyist affair. Most Swiss panners are equipped with small shovels, which they use to dig holes in the river. The sediment created is then filtered or “washed” through a pan, with the luckiest able to find tiny gold flakes in the sand.

Gold panning restricted in Zurich to preserve the enviroment

Unfortunately for those hoping to take up the hobby, authorities in Zurich are now clamping down on the practice. Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger, building department spokesperson Isabelle Rüegg said that while it may be fun to fish for gold, the practice silts up local rivers and destroys local flora and fauna.

Currently, panning for gold is banned on Zurich’s rivers from the start of October until the end of April - for the Thur and the Rhine, the ban lasts until mid-June. This is in order to protect newly spawned fish like grayling and snouts. In addition, in Canton Zurich, gold panners are now limited to certain sections of the Rhine, Thur, Töss and Fuchslochbach. Gold panning is banned on all other Zurich waterways.

From now on, a permit from the ALN is required if multiple people want to pan in the same place. Motorised pumps are also banned and the local authorities will begin to enforce the previous rules more closely than before.

Don't try to make money from Zurich gold, says geologist

Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger, geologist Franz Hofmann discouraged people from trying to make gold panning in Zurich into a job or business. From his calculations, for every gram of gold found, panners would have to sift through 25 cubic metres of Rhine gravel. The gold, therefore, is of “no economic importance,” Hofmann noted.

“The returns are micro,” admitted Sepp Niederberger, co-president of the Swiss Gold Panning Association. “On a good day I find 0,1 grams of gold, on a great day maybe 0,25 grams”, he added, noting that for most Swiss gold panners, being in nature trumps all the tiny financial gains that may be had.

For more information about gold panning in Zurich, check out the official website (in German).

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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