Ninth Circuit Parses Tribes’ 33-Year-Old Fishing Dispute

SEATTLE (CN) – The Suquamish Indian Tribe’s fishing rights will be adjusted to prevent encroaching on the Upper Skagit Tribe’s territory, the Ninth Circuit affirmed in the longstanding dispute.

Friday’s ruling is the latest in litigation dating back to a 1974 injunction by U.S. District Judge George Hugo Bolt in U.S. v. Washington, which affirmed certain tribal fishing rights the state had denied.

In 2014, the Upper Skagit asked U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez to find that the Suquamish’s usual and accustomed grounds excluded certain areas the Upper Skagit claimed.

The contested areas are off the coast of Bellingham, about 80 miles north of Seattle.

Martinez found that Judge Bolt did not intend to include the disputed waters in the Suquamish’s usual and accustomed grounds because the court record lacked evidence that the tribe fished or traveled through the area.

The Suquamish appealed in 2015.

On Friday, a three-judge panel found the Upper Skagit showed “there was no evidence before Judge Boldt that the Suquamish fished or traveled through Chuckanut Bay, Samish Bay, and a portion of Padilla Bay,” the contested waters.

The panel said Bolt relied primarily on the testimony of anthropologist Barbara Lane, who testified about various tribes’ traditional fishing areas in the 1974 case.

“Neither Dr. Lane’s testimony nor her reports contain any indication that the Suquamish fished or traveled through the Contested Waters. Rather, almost all the Suquamish fisheries Dr. Lane identified are located on the western side of Puget Sound, near the Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island. The only Suquamish fisheries Dr. Lane identified on the eastern side of Puget Sound are the Duwamish and Snohomish Rivers, which are located considerably south of the Contested Waters,” Ninth Circuit Judge Michael Hawkins wrote for the panel.

Bolt’s failure to name the disputed territory in the Suquamish’s usual and accustomed grounds “supports the conclusion that he did not intend to include them,” Hawkins wrote.

Ninth Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown and U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote, sitting by designation from the Western District of Louisiana, joined Hawkins on the panel.

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