Regional fishing organizations filed a brief on Monday supporting the removal of culverts to help recover Western Washington salmon, a case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in less than two weeks.
The “friend of the court” arguments from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and others urge justices to uphold a 2016 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the state must make hundreds of stream barriers more passable to Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks.
“Salmon fishing has provided economic opportunity and a way of life for generations. Culverts owned by the State of Washington block access to vast areas of salmon habitat and spawning grounds, crippling these fisheries. Harm to Washington’s salmon fisheries directly harms fishing families and businesses throughout the Northwest and Alaska,” the group’s attorneys write.
Even as the state is bringing culverts up to snuff, the overall cost of the fixes and that some might not actually help fish led state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to appeal the Ninth’s ruling “on behalf of the taxpayers” to the highest court in the land.
But with fishing businesses and fisheries increasingly feeling the pinch as kings, silvers and steelies decline, NSIA et al are “skeptical” the state would hold to doing the repairs if the proverbial fish bonker of court action wasn’t hovering over its head.
The case is essentially a continuation of 1974’s massive Boldt Decision and could have as strong of ramifications, except not just on state and tribal fishermen alone this time.
It was originally brought by the Suquamish Tribe, who were joined by other tribes in Western Washington, and the basic argument, per the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, is that “tribal treaty rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.”
In recent weeks a number of parties have signed on in support of one side or the other.
Besides NSIA and others, former Washington Governor Dan Evans, a conservation-minded Republican, a number of area public officials, along with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Navajo Nation and others have filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the petitioners, or federal government.
Lining up with Washington are 11 other states, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, a number of home-building organizations and farm bureaus, and the American Forest & Paper Association and National Mining Association.
A decision is expected in June.