United States v. Oregon

United States v. Oregon (302 F. Supp. 899) is the on-going Federal court proceeding first brought in 1968 to enforce the reserved fishing rights of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. In his 1969 decision, Judge Robert C. Belloni of the Federal District Court for the District of Oregon ruled that state regulatory power over Indian fishing is limited because treaties between the United States and the tribes in 1855 reserved the tribes' exclusive rights to fish in waters running through their reservations and at “all usual and accustomed places, in common with the citizens of the United States [or citizens of the territory].” Sohappy v. Smith, 302 F. Supp. 899 (D. Oregon 1969). The court further held that the state is limited in its power to regulate treaty Indian fisheries. Among other things, the court held that the state may only regulate when reasonable and necessary for conservation, provided: reasonable regulation of non-Indian activities is insufficient to meet the conservation purpose, the regulations are the least restrictive possible, the regulations do not discriminate against Indians, and voluntary tribal measures are not adequate.

In 1974, Judge George Boldt considered identical treaty language in United States v. Washington. Judge Boldt held that the "in common with the citizens of the United States [or citizens of the territory]" language reserved 50 percent of all the harvestable fish destined for the tribes' traditional fishing places. Later that same year, Judge Belloni reached the same holding, the Columbia River treaty tribes’ were entitled to 50 percent of the harvestable runs destined to reach the tribes’ usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations.

Fisheries in the Columbia River have subsequently been managed subject to provisions of United States v. Oregon under the continuing jurisdiction of the federal court. The Columbia River Fish Management Plan provided a framework for management from 1988 through 1998, although certain provisions were modified during that time to address concerns related to the increasing number of ESA-listed species. After 1998, fisheries were managed through a series of short term agreements among the parties,1 the duration of which ranged from several months to five years. The 2008-2017 United States v. Oregon Management Agreement provides the current framework for managing fisheries and hatchery programs in much of the Columbia River Basin.

1 The "parties" to U.S. v. Oregon include: the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho; the United States; the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

Environmental Impact Statement to Analyze Impacts of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) joining as a signatory to a new U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement for the Years 2018-2027