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Federal appeals court rules in Shinnecock fishing lawsuit

shinnecockbay.jpg
Christopher Paparo
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Fish Guy Photos
Shinnecock Bay on Long Island’s south shore has been named a global Hope Spot after successful restoration efforts over the past decade and its healthy and diverse natural conditions and wildlife.

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit filed by three Shinnecock Indian Nation fishermen that was dismissed in 2021. The suit alleges that the state Department of Environmental Conservation and its authorities unlawfully barred the fishermen from treaty-enshrined fishing rights. 

Two state environmental officers ticketed David Taobi Silva in 2017, while eel fishing in Heady Creek on Shinnecock Bay. Silva, Jonathan Smith and Gerrod Smith sought millions of dollars in punitive damages and injunctions to end what they call racial discriminatory practices by state and local law enforcement.

The federal appeals court ruled to send the previously dismissed case to the district court. But dismissed a portion of the fishermen’s case that alleged discrimination by the agency and its officials.

Judges said there was “no evidence in the record that would permit an inference of discriminatory intent.”

The appellate panel says the case can continue against the officials, not the state Department of Environmental Conservation itself.

A spokesperson for the agency told Newsday the agency will review the court’s decision and determine the next steps.

Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.