Judge Drops Shinnecock Fishermen’s Federal Lawsuit

Feb 24, 2021

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by three Shinnecock Indian Nation fishermen who have fought to protect their indigenous fishing rights in eastern Long Island.

David Taobi Silva, Jonathan Smith and Gerrod Smith were seeking $102 million in punitive damages, as well as temporary and permanent injunctions to end what they call racial discriminatory practices by state and local law enforcement.

“[The men had] not put forward sufficient evidence to establish that the state proceeding is motivated by a desire to harass or is conducted in bad faith," U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Feurestein said in her ruling.

The men said the tribe has fished these waters since before English colonization of their land, and that there is no need to have a fishing license from the state.

In 2018, two state Department of Environmental Conservation officers investigated a tip they received that said Silva had cast a net into water to catch a glass eel, a rare small eel that is illegal to harvest in New York. Silva was charged with illegally harvesting the eels in April 2018.

"[The ruling] affirms that DEC’s environmental conservation police officers conducted themselves in a professional and non-discriminatory manner consistent with the laws and regulations of New York State,” the agency said in a statement.

Silva, not happy with the outcome, told Newsday that the question on whether the tribe could fish without a state permit had not been answered.

A second tribal suit is underway brought by the Unkechaug Indian Nation challenges the state's authority of the tribe's fishing rights in eastern Long Island.