Editorial: Shellfish settlement long overdue

"Twelve years ago, it was obvious that protracted litigation would be no solution to a bitter dispute over Indian treaty rights to shellfish harvesting in Puget Sound.

“Sooner or later, “ an editorial in this space noted, “even the most determined litigants in this case are bound to realize that clams don’t grow in courtrooms.”

That realization came later rather than sooner. On Friday, nearly 13 years after a federal court decision known as “Boldt II,” the often- rancorous dispute ended with a landmark legal settlement. Overdue, but most welcome just the same.

The fight was ignited by a 1994 decision by U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie, who ruled that treaty tribes were entitled to half the shellfish in Washington waters. The ruling echoed a 1974 ruling by U.S. District George Boldt of Tacoma, who declared tribes had the same right to wild salmon.

Rafeedie’s decision immediately set off a battle between tribes and private shellfish growers and tideland owners. Private tideland owners didn’t want Indians harvesting on their beaches. And, as a practical matter it is impossible to distinguish between wild and farmed shellfish in commercial shellfish beds.

Furthermore, Rafeedie set harvesting rules that made it difficult for tribes to exercise their new harvesting rights.

So nobody was happy, and no one was willing to give in and compromise."

Get the Story:
Editorial: Shellfish settlement late but welcome (The Tacoma News-Tribune 7/9)

Also See:
Tribes’ accord puts aside years of tension over shellfish harvests (The Olympian 7/7)

Related Stories:
Washington tribes to sign $33M shellfish deal (7/6)
Column: Everyone benefits from tribal shellfish deal (5/30)
Washington tribes finalize $33M shellfish deal (5/16)