Ninth Circuit Expands Tribal Fishing Territory

A Washington State tribe can now fish in traditional waters stretching from British Columbia to north of Seattle.

The Richard H. Chambers Courthouse, home of the Ninth Circuit. (Courthouse News photo / Bill Girdner)

SEATTLE (CN) — The Ninth Circuit expanded the Lummi Nation’s fishing grounds on Thursday, finding a previous ruling improperly limited territory for the Washington state tribe.

The new area includes the Lummi’s historical fishing area in British Columbia and Washington.

The tribe is now cleared to fish from Trial Island near Victoria, British Columbia, to Point Wilson on the westerly opening of Admiralty Inlet, bounded on the east by Admiralty Inlet and Whidbey Island, and bounded on the north by Rosario Strait, the San Juan Islands and Haro Strait.

The Lummi previously won a victory in 2017 when a three-judge panel overturned a federal judge’s decision excluding the tribe from fishing in waters west of Whidbey Island, ruling the territory was part of the tribe’s usual and accustomed grounds under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot.

The tribe then appealed the federal court’s interpretation of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, saying the water boundaries set by the court were improperly limited.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the Lummi, finding the tribe’s usual and accustomed grounds should include all of the previously contested area.

The “waters west of Whidbey Island” were meant to be read as “the waters contested here,” which were wider than the limited interpretation of the lower court, according to the unpublished opinion.

The ruling is part of a decades-long dispute over fishing rights.

U.S. District Judge George Hugo Boldt affirmed certain tribal fishing rights in U.S. v. Washington in 1974, but the Lummi have filed numerous challenges to the area Boldt determined was their usual and accustomed fishing grounds.

Members of the current appellate panel were Circuit Judges Michael Hawkins and M. Margaret McKeown, both Bill Clinton appointees, and Western District of Louisiana Judge Elizabeth Foote, a Barack Obama appointee sitting by designation.

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