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Washington State Supreme Court Denies State Criminal Jurisdiction over Treaty Fishing Access Site

February 13, 2012 | Posted by Seffernick, Aubrey | Print this page

The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the State of Washington lacks criminal jurisdiction over a treaty fishing access site located along the Columbia River south of Goldendale, Washington.

In State v. Jim, the court was asked to consider whether the State properly had jurisdiction to cite an enrolled member of the Yakima Nation for unlawfully retaining undersized sturgeon. The member, Lester Ray Jim, had been fishing at Maryhill Fishing Access Site when he caught several undersized sturgeons in his net. Although Jim told Department of Fish and Wildlife  officers that he was planning on releasing the fish as soon as he got to shore, the officers cited Jim for failing to immediately release the fish.

Because the State’s jurisdiction over Indian Country is limited, the question of jurisdiction ultimately turned on whether the fishing site constituted an established reservation. Although the fishing site is not within the bounds of the Yakima Indian Reservation, the court nonetheless found that it did constitute an established reservation. The court arrived at the holding, in large part, due to the nature of and history surrounding the establishment of the site. The fishing site was established by Congress in 1988 with the intent that the site be treated consistently with the then existing in-lieu fishing sites and that it be held “for the permanent use and enjoyment of the Indian tribes.” Because the land was reserved for the exclusive use of specific tribes, the court determined that the fishing site constituted an Indian reservation, and consequentially the State lacked criminal jurisdiction over the site.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruling was covered in both The Columbian and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.