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Judge Signs Consent Decree in Indian Fishing Dispute

April 11, 1985

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) _ A federal judge’s signature on a consent decree is aimed at quieting a 15- year legal battle over Indian fishing rights, but it isn’t ending rumblings of discontent.

U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen on Wednesday signed an agreement worked out last month by representatives of nine groups during a meeting in Sault Ste. Marie.

The agreement among the federal and state governments, three Indian groups and four sports fishing groups takes effect immediately.

However, Enslen gave the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians until April 22 to file motions objecting to the accord.

″I do not anticipate any problems,″ saidBruce Green, lawyer for the Bay Mills community, who told the judge that the tribe’s constitution required a meeting on the matter by all tribe members older than 18.

But dissatisfaction with the agreement was voiced by members of the Indian Fishermen’s Association, a group of fishermen from the Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie tribes and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, some members of which were in court Wednesday.

″We feel our rights are not being represented,″ said Vic Matson, president of the group. ″We had no input on these negotiations whatsoever.″

He called the pact a ″political fiasco,″ criticizing provisions closing some near-to-shore fisheries normally used by small-boat operators.

One of the group’s members, Lawrence Seymour of Escanaba, said the agreement will put him out of business because it closed Big and Little Bay De Noc.

The pact also sets aside sanctuaries for game and commercial fish, guarantees state and federal money to Indian tribes for marketing their catches and regulates equipment available for Indian commercial fishing.

In 1979, now-retired U.S. District Judge Noel Fox of Grand Rapids ruled that a treaty signed with the three tribes in 1836, a year before Michigan statehood, gave the Indians fishing rights, using traditional means, including gill nets, to portions of Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior.

Use of gill nets has caused most of the problems on the lakes. Sports fishermen said that in addition to indiscriminately killing game fish, the nets, which are like tennis nets on lakebeds, can become tangled in fishing tackle and unmarked nets can be navigation hazards.

The agreement calls for the phasing out of gill nets by 1989 on all three lakes. Indians also may not fish in areas set aside for rehabilitation projects.

It also sets up a committee made up of representatives of the tribes, the state Department of Natural Resources and the federal Department of the Interior, as a way of handling possible disputes and changes in the agreement.

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