By Kipp Robertson
The public will weigh in on a request that has drawn much controversy.
The Makah Tribe's request to hunt gray whales is the focus of a Seattle public meeting, which will be held 6:30-9:30 p.m. on Monday in Seattle.
It's a topic that has drawn criticism since the tribe sought a waiver to the Endangered Species Act more than 10 years ago.
"There's a lot of interest in this," said NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Milstein. "Many have serious concerns and others feel strongly about the Tribe's treaty right to hunt whales."
The government issued a draft environmental statement March 6. Several options are being considered, which includes allowing the Tribe to kill up to five whale per year, or denying the request altogether, Milstein said.
"We want to hear more about what people have to say," he said.
The Makah tribe hunted whales for more than 1,500 years before halting whaling in the 1920's after commercial hunting dramatically reduced the eastern North Pacific gray whale population, according to NOAA.
The tribe was granted permission in 1997 to resume hunting after the whales were removed from the endangered species list, and successfully killed a single whale in 1999. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the permitted hunt and ruled in favor of several animal rights groups that sued the government. They argued the hunts violated the Marine Mammal Protection act, which prohibits the taking of marine mammals.
The tribe applied for a waiver of the MMPA and the government launched a new EIS in 2006, but the process soon stalled out based on new research.
A new environmental impact statement was crafted after new information emerged over sub-groups of the whales that need protection. But researched have determined the eastern north Pacific gray whale population is healthy, thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.
The Seattle meeting in the NOAA Western Regional Center, Building 9, is the first of two scheduled in April. NOAA will hold a three-hour meeting in Port Angeles on April 29 in the Vern Burton Memorial Community Center.