Confidential negotiations to divide fishing rights over much of the Great Lakes were recently exposed to the public in federal court in Kalamazoo.
Two groups representing anglers have filed a petition seeking a greater position in secret talks between the state, five Native American tribes and the federal government.
These seven governments are trying to update an agreement forged in 2000 called the Consent Decree, which balances their recreational and commercial fishing on nearly 19,000 square miles of water, including much of Lake Michigan.
In their filing, two sportfishing groups — Coalition to Protect Michigan Resources and Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sportfishermen — said they had been “cut out of the process” by state officials who are not interested in their input and have sometimes “undermined” their discussions with the other parties.
“The state is failing to protect the interests of our members who are conservationists, charter boat captains, boaters, paddlers and users of our Great Lakes,” said CPMR President Tony Radjenovich.
They went on to say that the Great Lakes fishery is threatened by “the state’s abandonment of sound biological principles” and the “roughly 50/50” split between recreational and commercial fishing established in the previous agreement.
“Never have we been so shunned, removed from conversations, patronized or ignored as we have been in these negotiations,” said CPMR Treasurer Amy Trotter.
Both groups have so far participated as amici curiae, or “friends of the court”, authorized only to listen and advise the parties.
If their request is granted, the groups will enter into negotiations as equal parties capable of directly advocating for sport fishing in the drafting of a new agreement.
Previous motions to “intervene” or be recognized as parties have been denied due to “cooperative relationships” between the state and the groups that “no longer exist,” the filing said.
The state’s interest in their contribution “has waned” over the past two years, particularly in the last two months of “the most intense negotiations”, the affiant says.
In a press release, Radjenovich said pressure was mounting to complete the executive order despite the unresolved issues.
The filing revealed that negotiators said they were “approaching consensus” on an “interim settlement” at a status conference in June.
The groups say they “are not permitted to be a…participant through the state” in the development of these regulations.
In a footnote, the filing indicates that support for this request could be offered “in great detail” if not for confidentiality agreements.
The waters governed by the Consent Order include Lakes Michigan and Huron, from Grand Haven to Alpena, and include most of eastern Lake Superior.
The United States purchased these waters from Native Americans in 1836, along with much of what would soon become the state of Michigan. But the natives have not given up their right to fish in these waters.
Since 1985, the balance between this right and the non-tribal fishery has been the goal of compromises reached in secret under the supervision of federal judges in Kalamazoo.
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