"What a five-year fight over a few dozen clams shows about the inconsistent rights of Indigenous tribes."
"It was April 30, 2017, and Michael and Andrew Simmons were walking down Copalis Beach, along Washington State’s southwest coast, when they were stopped by Cory Branscomb, an officer with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The Simmonses were carrying bulging blue bags, and Branscomb, acting on a tip, wanted to know about their haul.
In Washington, a recreational shellfish license limits someone to taking 15 razor clams per day. The Simmonses didn’t have licenses—and, between them, they had 89 razor clams. To Branscomb, it was a clear-cut case of illegal fishing.
But to Michael Simmons, a Cowlitz Indian Tribe member who owns property on the Quinault Indian Nation’s reservation just a few kilometers north, the WDFW officer was mistaken. According to an incident report filed by Branscomb, Michael argued that, because the Quinault nation has a treaty with the US federal government that gives members the right to take up to 50 razor clams per day, and because he was also a member of an Indigenous tribe with property in Quinault territory, that he, too, could take 50 clams a day. That explanation didn’t square with the state officer, and Branscomb cited the Simmonses for fishing without a license and taking more than twice the daily limit. Michael and Andrew were each fined US $500. Little could the Simmonses have known that the question of whether they had the right to collect clams, as their ancestors had for millennia before, would spark a legal battle over tribal fishing rights that continues today."