Treaty tribes in Washington win major decision in fishing case

A federal judge on Friday ordered the state of Washington to fix culverts that prevent salmon from returning to tribal usual and accustomed fishing places.

Under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, the state has an obligation to protect salmon habitat, Judge Ricardo Martinez previously ruled in the case. He followed up with a permanent injunction that sets timelines for the state to repair about 1,000 culverts over 17 years.

"As a result of widespread alterations of waterways and sharply diminished salmon populations, the areas available for tribal harvest of salmon have decreased significantly since 1855," Martinez wrote in the decision accompanying the preliminary injunction.

The tribes already used the treaty to ensure a right to half of the fish catch in the state as part of the Boldt decision. The new ruling is an outgrowth of that historic case.

“This culvert case is a ringing of the bell, OK you got to wake up,” Ron Allen, the chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, told The Seattle Times. “We have to protect and restore the environment while we continue to look creatively for ways to develop new job and industry opportunities.”

During the litigation, the state balked at cleaning up the culverts, in part due to the high price tag. It's been estimated that it could cost more than $1 billion to fix the waterways.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, US v. Washington.

Get the Story:
Tribes’ court win may flow beyond culvert repairs to protect fish (The Seattle Times 4/1)
Judge orders state to fix culverts blocking salmon (The Seattle Times 3/30)

Earlier District Court Decision:
US v. Washington (August 22, 2007)

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