Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Suquamish Tribe over Puget Sound Fishing Rights

Here is the Ninth Circuit’s (crabby) opinion in Upper Skagit Tribe v. Washington.

The briefs:

Suquamish Opening Brief

Upper Skagit Tribe Brief

Tulalip Tribes Response Brief

Swinomish Tribe Brief

Port Gamble and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribes Brief

Suquamish Tribe Reply Brief

The key holding:

We conclude that it is at least as likely as not that Judge Boldt meant what he said; the Suquamish treaty territory “include[s] the marine waters of Puget Sound from the northern tip of Vashon Island to the Fraser River.” This broad, unlimited fishery is what Dr. Lane described in her report and testimony. Dr. Lane stated that marine fisheries “are far more difficult to delimit than fresh waters.” She repeatedly underlined that her report did not, and could not, list all of the usual and accustomed fishing locations of the Suquamish. She noted that the Suquamish had more limited resources in their home area than most tribes, and thus had to travel more extensively to fish.

Dr. Lane said that she had no documentary evidence that the Suquamish fished in the San Juan Islands, but nonetheless found it likely that they did so. Judge Boldt agreed, deciding in the absence of any specific evidence that the Haro and Rosario Straits were part of the Suquamish traditional fishing grounds. This demonstrates a lack of specific evidence would not have precluded Judge Boldt from including Skagit Bay and Saratoga Passage in Suquamish’s territory.

And why we think the court is being crabby:

We are obligated to discern what a deceased federal district judge intended when he adjudicated Suquamish’s fishing grounds more than three decades ago. And that district judge attempted to determine the location of the tribe’s fishing grounds more than three quarters of a century earlier, despite the paucity of any very reliable evidence. Thus we are compelled to make legal determinations based on grossly inadequate foundations. But for now there seems to be no preferable alternative.

3 thoughts on “Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Suquamish Tribe over Puget Sound Fishing Rights

  1. charles sampson September 13, 2009 / 3:41 pm

    I truly beleive that the 9th. cirt.court was the
    right decision in favor of the suquaish tribe, it has been my long beleif that at or before treaty times the sky was the bountry for indiand fishing rights as long as we can avoid inter tribal disputes it could be veiwed as another great victory for us,
    sincerly chuck Sampson
    of the Kweetsa Tribe of the quinault indian reservation

  2. waterfront resident September 14, 2009 / 12:41 pm

    Are gill nets required to have beacons (lights) on them so boaters don’t accidentally run over them at night?
    Thank you

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