Lansing — The Department of Natural Resources and six of the seven tribes that are parties to the 1836 Treaty of Washington concerning American Indian fishing rights in the Great Lakes have reached a preliminary agreement on a new consent decree.
The decree has been submitted for approval to U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney, who is overseeing the negotiations. The Sault Tribe has not agreed with the negotiated decree and has asked the court to allow it to self-regulate and not be bound by the decree.
Dave Caroffino, who is in charge of Native American fishing affairs at the Department of Natural Resources, says the DNR has achieved its main goals with the decree.
“The state had three main goals, to ensure the resource is protected; if we don’t do that we have no purpose for existing,” he said.
“Our second goal was to improve the quality of the data.
We did get a system of vastly improved data collection and sharing.
“Our third goal was to minimize the impact of gill netting on recreational fishing.”
Immediate reaction to the proposed decree from the recreational fishing community has been mostly critical of the agreement.
Amy Trotter, the executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which is a member of the Coalition to Protect Natural Resources – a group that was given amicus status in the case – said the liberalization of gill netting for tribal fishers is a significant issue.
“The abundance of large-mesh gill nets in the agreement disappoints us,” she said. “After the 2000 decree, the state invested $14 million to convert the fishery from gill nets to trap nets. This new proposal really takes a 180 on that.”
Trotter said a provision that allows tribal gill net usage in the former northern Lake Huron refuge, which has been closed to fishing since the 2000 decree, is also a problem.
“We’re concerned about how this will affect not only recreational fishing, but the ecology of the Great Lakes.”
Trotter said lawyers are studying the decree and could file objections with the court.
“We tried to intervene in this case since July, but that was denied by the court,” Trotter said. “We appealed to be considered a full party in October.”
Tony Radjenovich, president of the Coalition to Protect Michigan Resources, was blunt in his criticism. The proposed decree “lacks common sense,” he said.
“It’s not good for the resource, it’s not good for the fishermen, and it’s not good for the state,” he said. “Additional gill netting will create an enormous increase in by-catch (non-targeted fish) and the new additional opportunities are in places where they are currently not allowed to fish.”
But Caroffinno said the DNR took pains to make sure the expanded gill netting opportunity, which the tribes sought, would not be detrimental.
“The expanded opportunity is where there would be minimal impact,” he said. “There are some places the tribes will be able to fish with gill nets, but it’s not going to have major impact to the resource and will have minimal impact on the recreational fishery.”
Tribal fishermen will be allowed to use gill nets in Little Bay de Noc, but will be limited to 300 feet of gill net, will only be allowed to fish for 10 days, and will be limited to 20 fish (walleye) a day.
Under the 2000 consent decree, which remain in effect, the tribes could not use gill nets in Little Bay, but they could fish year-round with trap nets and were limited to 100 pounds per day.
“That’s a big improvement,” Caroffino said.
Caroffino said he knows not everyone will be happy with the proposed consent decree, but that’s the nature of negotiations.
“We are not happy with everything in the document and the tribes are not happy with everything in the document,” he said. “It’s a good compromise we adopted.”