(CN) – The Suquamish Tribe can fish in Puget Sound areas outside their traditional grounds, the 9th Circuit ruled, explaining that a 1978 federal court decision clearly allowed the tribe to fish in Saratoga Passage and Skagit Bay.
The Skagit Tribe and federal government challenged the Suquamish Tribe’s fishing in these Puget Sound zones, as the Suquamish only recently changed their fishing patterns to include these areas.
The Suquamish Tribe, along with the state of Washington, appealed U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez’s grant of summary judgment to the Skagit Tribe.
The 9th Circuit found that the 1978 decision, written by now-deceased U.S. District Judge Boldt, unambiguously defined the Puget Sound as bounded “from the northern tip of Vashon Island to the Fraser River.” This clearly includes Saratoga Passage and Skagit Bay, the appeals court said, as these regions lie in the sound’s center.
Nor did Judge Boldt include any language limiting Suquamish fishing within Puget Sound as he had for other tribes, the court noted. Boldt’s “lengthy and detailed opinions” relied heavily on studies by Dr. Barbara Lane, who also pointed out that the Suquamish had limited resources in their home territory and were thus required to range farther to fish.
Saratoga Passage and Skagit Bay “lie on the natural route between two traditional Suquamish fisheries,” the 9th Circuit concluded in reversing and remanding the case.
A series of 1850s treaties first codified Native American fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest, which regional tribes continue to adjudicate. The 9th Circuit issued another ruling this July regarding fishing at Hood Canal, in which the court expressed frustration over being required to determine fishing rights and promoted internal tribal resolutions instead.