Editor’s Note: We do not condone over-harvesting from the Earth. The people of Filthy Riches are practicing their jobs in a way that has been passed down from generations and done with a high regard for nature’s resources.
Q: What is National Geographic Channel’s stance on people who forage for natural resources, as portrayed in the new series “Filthy Riches”?
A: Filthy Riches focuses on blue-collar Americans making their living by procuring and selling wild eels, mushrooms, ginseng, bloodworms and burls—all of which are important natural resources. The harvesting of these resources goes back many generations and, in most cases, is now subject to federal, state, and local laws. National Geographic Channel encourages anyone contemplating these activities to research and follow all legal requirements and sustainable practices.
Q: Can you get rich doing this?
A: The type of work featured on the show requires skill and patience, and our characters make considerable investments of their time and money to try and earn their living in this way. If someone has a good day in the wilderness, maybe they cover the cost of their expenses and have extra to live off of. If they don’t have a good day, they might be out the money they invested in permits, materials, and transportation. There is no guarantee of a quick and easy paycheck doing the types of jobs featured on the show.
Q: What kind of money can you make?
A: There are many factors that influence the amount of money the characters can make on the show; for instance the length of the season they are permitted to forage, demand for the resource they are gathering, the size and quality of the product, and the amount of competition they face from other foragers. As a result, actual income varies widely from season to season, and from job to job.
Q: Is there concern for replenishing the resources that are being foraged on this show?
A: The characters on the show love working outdoors and care about the sustainability of the resources they are collecting—their livelihood relies on stocks being maintained. Through understanding the challenges the characters face to make their living off of the land, we as a network hope to engage people’s interest in what’s happening with these natural resources.
Q: Are eels fish, and where do you find them?
A: Freshwater eels are ancient fishes and one of the few fish species that spawn in the ocean and then spend their adulthood in lakes, rivers and estuaries. Eels may spend decades in rivers before returning to the ocean to spawn, after which they die.
Q: What is a weir?
A: A weir is a dam, trap, or enclosure placed in a stream to alter its flow and often to catch fish. It takes eel fisherman Ray Turner, featured on Filthy Riches, the better part of four months each year to rebuild his weir in preparation for the eel run that occurs in September. Turner’s weir is shaped like a giant “V” and is designed to trap eels.
Q: Do you need a special permit to build a weir?
A: Yes. Turner holds a license to build such a weir on the East Branch of the Delaware River. Read more about Turner and his eel weir in National Geographic Magazine’s article from September 2010.
Q: What are bloodworms?
A: A bloodworm is any of certain bright red, segmented, aquatic worms of the phylum Annelida. Found along the eastern coast of North America, they grow to about 15 inches in length (source).
Q: Where do they find bloodworms on “Filthy Riches”?
A: Bloodworm diggers Jim Campbell and Andy Johns, featured on Filthy Riches, hunt for bloodworms along the coastal mudflats of Maine, where they have obtained licenses to do so. Campbell and Johns are paid more for larger bloodworms, which are sold as prized bait for fishermen around the world.
Q: When and where do people find mushrooms?
A: Mushroom hunters like Chris Matherly and Levena Holmes, who are featured on Filthy Riches, cross the country, traveling between different climates and regions to find different types of mushrooms.
Q: Are there any concerns to be aware of while gathering wild mushrooms?
A: Knowing where a particular species grows and when it typically appears is crucial to correct identification. If you’re planning on eating wild mushrooms, nothing less than 100 percent positive ID will do (source). Another risk is getting lost in the forest, since mushroom hunters often go off trail and have their eyes glued to the ground. In addition, rules for mushroom hunting vary from state to state and can be confusing. Adhering to the rules can be complicated, even for pros like Matherly and Holmes. Consult an expert and research all local, state, and federal regulations before attempting to forage for mushrooms.
Q: Where does ginseng come from?
A: Wild American ginseng grows in the hardwood forests of eastern North America from Quebec to Georgia. Most wild-harvested ginseng comes from the southern Appalachian Mountains. (The Appalachian Mountains stretch from central Alabama to central New York.) On Filthy Riches, Billy Taylor and his sons hunt for ginseng on privately owned land in the mountains of Kentucky, where they have obtained permission to do so. Taylor is also a fully licensed wild ginseng dealer in the state.
Q: Why is ginseng so popular?
A: Ginseng is one of the most widely harvested medicinal plants in the United States. When consumed by humans, it is thought to boost energy and increase concentration. The majority of American ginseng harvested is exported to China. In the United States, the harvest of wild American ginseng for international trade began in the mid-1700s (source).
Q: Is ginseng going extinct in the wild?
A: The volume of ginseng exported each year spurred its listing in 1975 on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The international treaty protects plants and animals that are internationally traded. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implements CITES in the United States. Most state laws require harvesters to plant seeds wherever they uproot plants. Taylor promotes sustainability by planting ginseng berries and encouraging all of his diggers to do the same. Read more about ginseng in a 2005 article published by National Geographic News.
Q: What is a burl?
A: A burl is a bulge, bump, or growth that forms on the bole or a branch of most species of trees (source). Woodworkers prize burls, which tend to cluster near the base of a tree but can appear farther up the trunk, for their swirling grain patterns, particularly the circular shapes called “eyes.” Craftsmen turn the burls into furniture, bowls, clocks, and knickknacks.
Q: What about recent reports documenting illegal burl poaching in the Pacific Northwest?
A: There are legal sources for burls from trees on private land and, with proper permitting, on some public land. But demand is high and illegal harvesting for quick money is a problem. A March 2014 National Geographic News article addressed the issue of redwood burl poaching in national and state parks along coastal northern California. Burl hunters Al DeSilva and Greg Dahl, featured on Filthy Riches, get clearance with the proper authorities and landowners, and take steps to minimize their impact.