United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (2022)
In Metlakatla Indian Community v. Dunleavy, 48 F.4th 963 (9th Cir. 2022), the Ninth Circuit held that Alaskan fishing regulations limiting fishers from entering a fishery are inapplicable to the Metlakatla Indian Community, because these regulations would violate the community’s right to fish traditional off-reservation fishing grounds. (Id. at 976). In 1891, Congress established a reservation for the community; community members fished the surrounding waters for subsistence and commercial purposes, even establishing a cannery. (Id. at 968). In 2020, Alaska tried to apply its limited entry program, which restricts new participant access to saturated fisheries, to community members. (Id. at 970). Although community members sought a legal declaration that the original 1891 Act guaranteed their right to fish nearby waters, the lower court dismissed the case. (Id.). The community then appealed. (Id.). On appeal, the State of Alaska argued that the 1891 Act’s text is silent on fishing rights, and that no implied rights should be read into a statute. (Id. at 973–74). However, the Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, applying the Indian Canon of Construction, which dictates that statutes applying to “Indians” should be liberally construed in their favor. (Id. at 970–71). Applying this canon, the court then determined, in light of the community’s historical economic, cultural, and subsistence reliance on fishing, that the 1891 Act implied an off-reservation right to fish nearby waters. (Id. at 976). Therefore, the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that Alaskan fishing regulations limiting fishers from entering a fishery are inapplicable to the Metlakatla Indian Community, because these regulations would violate the community’s implied right to fish nearby waters. (Id. at 976).