The federal government has ordered Maine to tighten its water quality standards for rivers and lakes on tribal lands to ensure fish taken there are safe to eat in large quantities.
Tribal leaders hailed the move as a historic assertion of federal oversight of Maine’s relationship with federally recognized tribes here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled Monday that clean water standards proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection are inadequate to protect sustenance fishermen – those who fish as a primary means of feeding their families – on the reservations from certain toxins, because they eat much greater volumes of fish than the average Mainer. The EPA ruling does not suggest that eating fish from the state’s waters is unsafe for most Mainers.
After closely consulting with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, EPA also ruled that Maine must protect sustenance fishing on Indian lands because it is a “critical element of tribal cultural survival.” This in turn is a “clear purpose” of the Maine Indian claims settlement acts, the historic 1980 laws whereby the state and tribes negotiated a compromise to avoid a legal battle over the tribes’ claim to more than half of Maine’s territory.