Chippewa Band Ends Spearfishing
LAC DU FLAMBEAU, Wis. (AP) _ Two Chippewa Indian bands on Sunday stopped spearfishing for the spring season, ending a practice that drew fierce opposition despite treaty protection, officials said.
″It is a gesture of good will that neither the state officials nor the people of northern Wisconsin deserve, but that we are freely offering them anyway,″ said Michael Allen, chairman of the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa band.
The spearfishing season, which coincides with the spring spawning of walleye pikes, normally ends in the beginning of May anyway.
The Mole Lake band also announced it ended spearfishing, said state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Dave Kunelius. It was not immediately apparent why that group decided to stop.
Chippewa spearfishing began April 23. More than 200 opponents of the Indians’ treaty rights have been arrested, primarily at lakes used by the Lac du Flambeau band, when crowds crossed police lines set up at boat landings used by tribal fishermen.
This is the fifth year the six Chippewa bands have speared walleyes and other game fish from northern Wisconsin lakes off reservations since a federal court ruling in 1983. That decision held that the tribe retained rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather wild grain in 19th century treaties that ceded most of the northern third of Wisconsin to the United States.
This year’s protests were larger than in previous years.
Opposition grew after state and court rules allowed tribal fishermen to take up to 100 percent of what was considered a safe catch - or the number that could be taken without hurting the fish population - from the 254 lakes the tribe targeted for spearing.
The result will be a reduction in the daily bag limit of walleyes for sport fishermen using many of the lakes.
Allen called the season a victory for the Chippewa because it showed it would not be intimidated by treaty rights opponents who have shouted racial slurs and insults and hurled rocks at tribal members.
James Jannetta, an attorney for the Lac du Flambeau, said the tribal fishing season is year-round and that the decision to stop spring spearfishing did not mean the band was surrendering the fish it planned to take later this year.
The decision also does not affect the other Wisconsin Chippewa bands. The St. Croix band suspended its spearing indefinitely last week, as did the Lac Courte Oreilles, according to Department of Natural Resources officials. The Red Cliff and Bad River bands will continue to spearfish, Kunelius said.
Allen, who made the announcement Sunday at a news conference, said his band’s decision was not a victory for spearfishing opponents.
The decision was made by a majority vote of the tribal council, whose members he contacted by telephone, Allen said.
″We’re not giving in to anything,″ he said, pointing to the large gathering of treaty supporters who outnumbered protesters Saturday night at Butternut Lake.
Tribal officials will consult with spearers to decide if and when to resume spearing, Allen said.
The tribe could spear later in the year or use gill nets after June 1 on lakes of more than 1,000 acres, according to tribal ordinances and federal court rulings.
Spearfishing begins during spring spawning, ahead of the general fishing season, and is regulated by the Indians. It is far more efficient than traditional rod-and-reel fishing. As a result, the state had to limit rod-and- reel catches of walleye pike.
The six bands reported taking 15,725 walleyes as of Sunday morning, compared with about 25,900 last year during the spring season, officials said.
State officials estimate non-Indian anglers will bring in 672,000 walleyes for the entire year.
Gov. Tommy G. Thompson last week unsuccessfully sought a federal court order to stop the spearfishing before the opening Saturday of the state’s general fishing season.
When that attempt was rejected by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison, Indian spearfishing continued Saturday, overlapping with the sport fishing season for the first time.
Thompson earlier promised to provide full security for tribal members in exchange for their reducing their catch to ease the impact of spearfishing on sport fishing.