Department of Game of Washington v. Puyallup Tribe (1973)

Washington State Game Department’s regulation against net-fishing of steelhead trout discriminates against the Puyallup and must be changed to accommodate between between their net-fishing rights and the rights of sports fishermen.

Citation: 414 U.S. 44 (1973)
Date decided: Nov 18, 1973
Longer case name: DEPARTMENT OF GAME OF the State of WASHINGTON, Petitioner, v. The PUYALLUP TRIBE et al. PUYALLUP TRIBE, Petitioner, v. DEPARTMENT OF GAME OF the State of WASHINGTON.
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Washington
Topic(s):Conservation, Equal protection, and Native Americans
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Harry R. Sachse argued the cause for respondents in No. 72-481 and for petitioner in No. 72-746. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Griswold, Assistant Attorney General Johnson, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Edmund B. Clark, and Glen R. Goodsell.
Others involved:Charles A. Hobbs filed a brief for the National Congress of American Indians, Inc., et al. as amici curiae urging reversal in No. 72-746. Briefs of amici curiae in both cases were filed by James B. Hovis for the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakima Indian Nation, and by David H. Getches for Ramona C. Bennett et al.
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Case Importance

The treaty rights of Puyallup Indians for commercial net fishing are partially exempt from application of state fishery conservation measures, which had sought to restrict steelhead trout fishing to hook and line only.

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)

(Together with No. 72-746, Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Washington.)


Commercial net fishing by Puyallup Indians, for which the Indians have treaty protection, Puyallup Tribe v. Dept. of Game, 391 U.S. 392, 88 S.Ct. 1725, 20 L.Ed.2d 689, forecloses the bar against net fishing of steelhead trout imposed by Washington State Game Department’s regulation, which discriminates against the Puyallups, and as long as steelhead fishing is permitted, the regulation must achieve an accommodation between the Puyallups’ net-fishing rights and the rights of sports fishermen. Pp. 45—59.

80 Wash.2d 561, 497 P.2d 171, reversed and remanded.

From the opinion

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1963 the Department of Game and the Department of Fisheries of the State of Washington brought this action against the Puyallup Tribe and some of its members, claiming they were subject to the State’s laws that prohibited net fishing at their usual and accustomed places and seeking to enjoin them from violating the State’s fishing regulations. The Supreme Court of the State held that the tribe had protected fishing rights under the Treaty of Medicine Creek and that a member who was fishing at a usual and accustomed fishing place of the tribe may not be restrained or enjoined from doing so unless he is violating a state statute or regulation ‘which has been established to be reasonable and necessary for the conservation of the fishery.’ 70 Wash.2d 245, 262, 422 P.2d 754, 764.

On review of that decision we held that, as provided in the Treaty of Medicine Creek, the “right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations (which) is . . . secured to said Indians, in common with all citizens of the Territory” extends to off-reservation fishing but that ‘the manner of fishing, the size of the take, the restriction of commercial fishing, and the like may be regulated by the State in the interest of conservation, provided the regulation meets appropriate standards and does not discriminate against the Indians.’ 391 U.S. 392, 395, 398, 88 S.Ct. 1725, 1728. We found the state court decision had not clearly resolved the question whether barring the ‘use of set nets in fresh water streams or at their mouths’ by all, including Indians, and allowing fishing only by hook and line in these areas was a reasonable and necessary conservation measure. The case was remanded for determination of that question and also ‘the issue of equal protection implicit in the phrase ‘in common with” as used in the Treaty. Id., at 400, 403, 88 S.Ct., at 1730, 1931.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:46
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
Case internal status notes: There are other SCOTUS cases between these parties in other years, so don't get confused.