Court filing could end Great Lakes fishing as we know it


On August 8, the 2000 Great Lakes Consent Decree between five of Michigan's sovereign Native American Tribes and the State of Michigan expires. The Decree has set the rules for sport and commercial fishing in the northern Great Lakes for the last 20 years.

A number of circumstances have halted negotiations between the parties, and it is clear a new consent decree will not be reached by the August deadline.

On June 24, four of the five tribes, the State of Michigan, and the United States asked a federal district court to extend the current decree through the end of 2020.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians also filed a request with the federal court asking that the extension be granted only until November 8. The Sault Tribe asserted that after that date, however, it will be free to fish without geographical restrictions anywhere within the 1836 Treaty Waters even if later extensions to the consent decree are granted while negotiations continue.

Though not explicitly stated, it can reasonably be assumed the Sault Tribe seeks to use any gear they deem necessary, such as gill nets, in zones that have not allowed such gear since 1985.

The 1836 Treaty Waters stretch from the mouth of the Grand River to Alpena in lakes Michigan and Huron and from Sault Ste. Marie to nearly Marquette in Lake Superior. 

Anyone 35 years old or younger and who fishes in the treaty waters doesn’t know what it was like to fish these waters without a consent decree, said Steve Schultz, an attorney for a group representing recreational anglers that is involved in the negotiations.

“Gill nets or other commercial nets have not been allowed in certain areas for over 35 years. Allowing such gear now presents risks of overfishing to the point that a stock could collapse. It also presents potential conflicts between sportfishing gear and commercial fishing nets where nets may not have existed in an area for decades,” Schultz said.

“It is imperative that the parties come together, as they did in 1985 and 2000, and find a way to manage this shared fishery resource for healthy populations and access for everyone.”