Lansing, Mich. — The process of reaching an acceptable consent decree between five native American tribes covered under the 1836 Treaty of Washington and the state of Michigan concerning tribal fishing operations in the Great Lakes continues with no immediate resolution in sight.
The next important date for the proposed consent decree has been set for Jan. 20.
The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is challenging the court’s authority to order implementation of the consent decree, and Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan has set that date for the parties to respond to the Sault Tribe’s challenge.
The Sault Tribe wants to self-regulate its fishing operations and not be subject to the consent decree.
The other tribes covered under the treaty include the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. They all have agreed in principle to the new tentative consent decree
The two amici in the proceedings – the Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sport Fishermen and the Coalition to Protect Michigan Resources, an umbrella group of recreational fishing groups that includes Michigan United Conservation Clubs – are expected to file their objections to the decree as ordered by Jan. 20.
The amici are expected to ask to be admitted as full parties in the negotiations.
The amici have objected to the provisions in the decree to allow gill netting.
The agreement between the parties to allow new gill netting is deemed necessary, said Dave Caroffino, the tribal fisheries coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources, because the whitefish stocks in the lakes have collapsed and the tribes cannot harvest enough lake trout with trap net operations to be cost effective.
The courts have ruled that the state of Michigan cannot dictate fishing regulations to the tribes. That question was settled in 1979 before the first consent decree was reached in 1980.
According to the court documents, the parties and amici are due to respond to the Jan. 20 filings on Feb. 6, but Caroffino, said he thinks that date may be a clerical order as the judge had said something about allowing the parties 45 days to respond, which would make that date March 6.
The court has yet to decide whether the parties will be allowed to reply to those responses, Caroffino said.
If so, there will be an additional period of time to address those concerns. That means a resolution to the process is still a ways off, likely months away.
Caroffino, who has been in tribal fisheries affairs with the DNR since 2008, says the state’s position is that the proposed consent decree, as it currently stands, is “the best possible outcome for all parties.”
The court’s decision on the Sault tribe’s challenge is a linchpin in the entire process.
The tribes will continue operating under the consent decree of 2000, which expired at the end of 2020, until the parties reach a new consent decree.