Comment on proposed waiver for Makah whaling deadline looms

SEATTLE — Written public comment is due by Oct. 19 on an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the Makah Tribe be given a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and allowed to hunt a limited number of gray whales.

Administrative Law Judge George J. Jordan on Sept. 23, recommended to the U.S. Department of Commerce that the Makah be allowed subsidence hunting, but also urged that the number of whales that could be taken be cut to perhaps as low as five whales over the decade-long waiver period.

National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA Fisheries, had proposed issuing a waiver and regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the Makah Tribe to take a limited number of Eastern North Pacific gray whales for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.

Jordan’s 156-page recommendation was the result of a six-day hearing in 2019 and a public comment period in 2020.

Public comment and further environmental analysis will inform the department’s final decision, though no timeline for that has been set.

Other opportunities for public comment will be offered through the process.

A decision to issue the waiver and proposed regulations would be followed by a formal rule-making process that would include a trial-type hearing and a final decision to grant or deny the request.

If the waiver is approved, it would go through a federal Marine Mammal Protection Act permit process which, if approved, would need to be authorized under the Whaling Convention Act, and the National Marine Fisheries Service would enter into a cooperative agreement with the tribe.

To submit written comments electronically on the rule named NOAA-NMFS-2019-0037, go to www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-003 and click the “Comment Now” icon.

Written comment also can be mailed to the Attention of Grace Ferrara, NMFS West Coast Region, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. Include the identifier “NOAA-NMFS-2019-0037” in the comments.

Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record.

For more information, contact Jaclyn Taylor, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; [email protected]

The recommended decision is posted on the NMFS website at https://www. fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ formal-rulemaking- proposed-mmpa-waiver-and-hunt-regulations-governing-gray-whale-hunts-makah.

The Makah made the request on Feb. 14, 2005.

Their last legal hunt was in 1999.

In September 2007, five Makah men illegally shot and harpooned a gray whale that died of its injuries and sank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Cascadia Research scientists determined it was a resident whale identified as CRC-175.

The Makah Tribal Council said the hunt did not have its permission.

Neah Bay residents Andy Noel and Wayne Johnson were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the illegal hunt, Johnson to five months and Noel to 90 days.

Frankie Gonzales, Theron Parker and William Secor pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count each of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act and were placed on two years’ probation.

Among those opposing another Makah whale hunt are the Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales, which is based in Joyce, The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Animal Welfare Institute.

The Makah, who now number about 1,500 members, have hunted whales for more than 2,700 years. The tribe’s 1855 treaty with the U.S. reserved the “right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds.”

The Makah continued subsidence whaling until the 1920s, when they voluntarily gave it up because commercial whaling had devastated gray whale populations. The whale population rebounded in the eastern Pacific Ocean by 1994 — it’s now estimated at 27,000 — and they were removed from the endangered species list.

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