The Port of Bellingham and the Lummi Nation recently reached an agreement regarding a long-standing issue around fishing rights and modifications made to Bellingham Bay and Drayton Harbor.
The disagreement dates back about 100 years when settlers began dredging and armoring tidelands around Bellingham Bay for commercial development. This damaged finfish and shellfish habitats and blocked the Lummi from using some of their traditional fishing grounds. These activities violated the Point Elliott Treaty that the Lummi Nation signed with the federal government in 1855.
While the modern Port of Bellingham did not exist when the treaty was breached, the Port now owns and operates areas where these violations occurred. Rather than taking the matter to court, the Port and Lummi Nation worked together to create a deal that was satisfactory to both parties.
The new agreement allows the Port to modernize its in-water facilities in exchange for providing moorage in Squalicum and Blaine Harbor for the Lummi fishing fleet. Representatives of the Lummi Nation feel that the new agreement reflects the intention of their past leaders, who emphasized sustainability and passing resources down to future generations. It also recognizes the Lummi as a fishing nation that has lived on the shores of Puget Sound before recorded history. Today the Lummi Nation has the largest native commercial fishing fleet in the country.
The modernization will bring benefits to the Port of Bellingham; Squalicum Harbor and Blaine Harbor are home to 2,000 commercial and recreational vessels, and marine trade jobs number 6,000 in the county. The updates to the Port should improve infrastructure and promote economic growth for the county. Both the Port and Lummi Nation are optimistic that the agreement could be the start of a new era of cooperation.