The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians deserves credit for taking action in an illegal fishing case that has been lingering for more than a year.
The tribe announced Tuesday it is taking legal action against three tribal members accused of violating tribal commercial fishing regulations.
Hopefully, this will send a message to others who would exploit the bay's natural resources.
The charges stem from the case of five tribal members and one Delta County resident accused of illegally selling walleye taken from the bay in waters ceded to Native American tribes in the Treaty of 1836. The case was investigated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment in 2009. Investigators were tipped off due to an unusually high amount of walleye being sold in the wholesale fish market.
It is estimated more than 94,000 pounds of game fish were taken from the bay during the winters of 2004-2009.
The state, tribe, and federal government have all been involved in the case. Disappointingly, earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney General's office announced it will not seek action in the case. Officials said only the five tribes which entered into a consent decree with the U.S. and the state in 2000 can enforce fishing rules against tribal members.
The tribe deserves credit for taking prompt action after this announcement and not letting even more time pass before action was taken.
Special Prosecutor Monica Lubiarz-Quigley said in a press release it took time for the tribe to pursue the case because of the complexities of jurisdiction within the tribe, federal government and the state. Officials said they now hope to bring the case to a swift resolution.
Tribal officials did make an interesting point, however. Because of jurisdictional issues, the tribe will not be able to pursue a fish wholesaler allegedly involved with the case. They have urged state or local prosecutors to pursue wholesalers in these cases as a way to break up illegal fish peddling rings.
This is sound advice that hopefully state and local officials take to heart.