The Tribal Negotiation Romance
During the Tribal Decree negotiations, I have attended three court hearings in Kalamazoo Federal Court. Our Association is part of the Coalition to Protect Michigan Resources, a coalition of Michigan resource groups dedicated to protecting the state’s fishery.
The Coalition has a great team of people representing us in court, but we are not a full party to the court proceedings. We are supposed to be represented by and be supportive of the State of Michigan team. The State is usually represented by an appointee from the Attorney General’s office, Chief of the Fishery Division, and guided by the MDNR Director.
I have watched and appreciate the Tribal negotiating teams in one important way. They work hard to represent their people. They are very cordial to us, except for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribal team. The Sault Tribe are pushing for right to take up to 100% of the fishery. But they still represent their members well and their members are cordial to us in the Coalition.
On the other hand, the current State Negotiation team, who are supposed to represent us, tells a very different story. Attorney General appointee Kelly Drake, hired hand Christopher Dobbins, and Tribal Coordination Unit member Dave Caroffino have abandoned the fishery. They enter the court room, snub the Coalition team, and won’t even make eye contact. For the past 20+ years, we have always backed the State negotiating team, even when we had differences. We have tried to show our support as one team until we were kicked out of the negotiations this time around.
After watching this State team at work, however, I have to admit, they support the Tribes quite well. The sad part is, they aren’t working for the fishery or us and we are paying them.
Every statement out of the State representatives is very negative to the point of telling the Judge the “Amici is not a party to this case.” “Your Honor, I don’t have time to “Baby Sit” these people.” Baby sit?
And yes, they did kick us out of the negotiations. That means the State team has kicked every sport fishing group and sports fisherman and woman out of negotiations over the future of a shared fishery resource. Our membership should be aware that the Coalition didn’t receive any updated information on potential proposals to the Decree since June of 2022. And even when the State said they were giving us a draft Decree to review, it turns out that the version we received was three (3) versions old, and the State then refused to give us what was actually being discussed. We only learned that when Tribal Attorney Bill Rastetter called out the State for giving us an out of date version.
I am a charter fishing Captain. I am a member of the Michigan Charter Boat Association. As a member, I stepped up to be the President of the MBCA to guide the Association through the Tribal Decree negotiations. I live right in the heart of the Treaty ceded waters. I wanted to make sure the State team would remember the history and the biology of the past agreements. I have to say, I never dreamed that the State would desert the fishery in the negotiations or that this proposed agreement for the next 24 years would be so damaging. The disappointment, the incompetence and the total arrogance of the State negotiating team is something I never thought I would see.
I truly feel that I have let the sport fishing groups, and the fishermen and women down. I tried!
We tried! All the lost sleep and volunteered hours down the drain due to the State’s approach and behavior. I have to ask, was it worth it?
The answer is: absolutely yes, it will have been worth it if when all is said and done, the Judge decides to include some or many of the several corrections to the proposed decree the coalition has been striving to bring to the courts attention. And if so the states fishery will be better for all it users for the duration of the new consent decree. Here’s hoping it will be so.