Can you please provide some context on this issue?
On February 14, 2005, NOAA Fisheries received a request from the Makah Indian Tribe for a limited waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) moratorium on take of Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). The Tribe requested that NOAA Fisheries authorize a tribal hunt in the coastal portion of the Tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing area for ceremonial and subsistence purposes and authorize the making and sale of handicrafts created from the harvested whales. The MMPA imposes a general moratorium on the taking of marine mammals but authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to waive the moratorium and issue regulations governing the take of marine mammals if certain statutory criteria are met.
Today, NOAA Fisheries is publishing concurrent Federal Register notices announcing the proposed waiver and regulations, as well as the commencement of a hearing with an administrative law judge and the process by which interested parties can participate in that hearing. This comes after NOAA Fisheries released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Makah Tribe’s waiver request in 2015, which analyzed the Tribe’s hunt proposal and other alternatives. NOAA Fisheries received hundreds of public comments on the DEIS, which it took into consideration when issuing this proposed rule.
To see a timeline, past documents, and past comments, please visit: Makah Tribal Whale Hunt
Why would NOAA Fisheries consider allowing the Makah Tribe hunt gray whales?
The 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the Makah Tribe and the U.S. expressly provides the Tribe the right to hunt whales. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has specified the process the Tribe must follow to exercise that right, including seeking a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and obtaining the necessary permits from NOAA Fisheries. It would also be up to NOAA Fisheries to establish regulations for a hunt. Both NOAA Fisheries and the Tribe are following that process.
In 2005, the Tribe requested that NOAA Fisheries grant a limited waiver of the MMPA take moratorium to resume treaty-based hunting of ENP gray whales in the Tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing area for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. In the 2015 DEIS, we examined different options for conducting such a hunt, including how many whales could be killed, and during what time of the year. We have since considered the hundreds of public comments we received on the DEIS and continued our analysis of restrictions for any hunt. In addition, we have used the latest research on the population size and structure of the Eastern North Pacific stock of gray whales to assess the potential impacts of the proposed hunt on the stock, and – as required under the MMPA – concluded that the small number of animals that could be taken will not disadvantage the stock.
Does this decision grant the Makah Tribe’s request to hunt gray whales?
No, but it does move the Tribe closer to that goal. We are now proposing to waive the restrictions of the MMPA and proposing regulations for a tribal hunt. An administrative law judge will next evaluate our proposal in a trial-like hearing expected to occur in August 2019. The judge will recommend to NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, who oversees NOAA Fisheries, whether to go forward with the waiver and final regulations. The Assistant Administrator will make the final decision after receiving that recommendation.
How soon could the Makah Tribe hunt whales, if granted permission?
It is too soon to say if or when the Tribe might resume such hunts. As described in the flowchart below (Figure 1), there are many additional steps and processes in our review of the Tribe’s request.