A federal judge has issued a favorable ruling for the Quileute and Quinault tribes in a dispute over the extent of their ancestral fishing grounds, ruling that the Quileute and Quinault's fishing grounds extend to where they historically harvested marine mammals. At issue in the case was the harvesting of Pacific Whiting in a particular fishery, which the Quileute and Quinault contend they are entitled to harvest.
In an 83-page order, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez concluded that the term "fish" in the Treaty of Olympia was meant to also include sea mammals like whales and seals. The judge relied on a dictionary definition of fish from the relevant period, which defined the word as “[a]n animal that lives in the water," as well as linguistic evidence that the tribal signatories to the treaty drew no distinctions between groups of aquatic species and would have understood the term “fish” to encompass aquatic animals on which they relied for their subsistence purposes.
"The negotiators could have used species-specific words, such as salmon, that were available in the common Chinook jargon negotiating medium and in all the parties’ native languages," Judge Martinez said. "As this court has previously explained, that the parties to the treaties chose instead to use the sweeping word 'fish' in lieu of more tailored language indicates an intended breadth of the subsistence provision that should not be circumscribed on the basis of post hoc understandings and linguistic drift."
"We are gratified that the court affirmed the maritime traditions of the Quileute tribe based upon the evidence from elders, historical documents and archeology," said Lauren King and John Tondini, trial counsel for Quileute. "This is a significant decision in affirming the respect that should be shown for the treaty rights of all native people."
"We make every effort to avoid intertribal conflicts such as this, and that was certainly the case here," Quinault President Fawn Sharp said in a statement. "We are very fortunate to have federal court to resort to in those rare instances when we need it ... Winning this case will not only help secure our long-held ocean fishing heritage for our fishermen, it will also help us continue to manage ocean fish stocks properly."