Resources should be moved to species more in need of protection, says HFACT

Local fishing alliance blames feds for dragging their feet

 UPDATED 10:17 PM HST May 03, 2013
HONOLULU -

It's a stunning sight many in Hawaii have experienced: humpback whales breaching and playing out in the open ocean, near island shorelines, and even in Honolulu's harbors.

In recent years, populations of the endangered humpback whales in the North Pacific have climbed to about 21,000, way up from the 1960s, when numbers sank to one or two thousand.

"The endangered species list is really the protection of last resort," began Philip Hernandez, president of the Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition.

In April 2013, HFACT filed the first ever petition with the federal government to take Humpback whales off the endangered species list.

It's a move that has Hawaii's sun, ocean and whale-loving population concerned.

"It's one of the most beautiful things you can lay your eyes on. Seeing things like that are why I moved here from Texas," said surfer Cole Jones.

"How do we really know if they should be taken off? I don't really see a change in how we treat the environment," said environmental studies student Sarah Moore.

"I think we should save the whales, because if we lose the whales we lose the whales," said surfer Perry Fernandez.

But Hernandez said, from the group's perspective, taking the Humpback off the list is not a fishing, environmental or protection issue.

They see it as a budget management issue.

"There are other species that need extra protection. Shouldn't the money be going to the ones that really need it?" he said.

The National Fisheries Service filed a status review to determine if the humpback whale population had indeed recovered, but that was in August 2009.

"It's a very expensive status review, with a team of eminent whale scientists. So, we're working away on it. It's been up for some level of internal peer review. So, these things take time and with other competing priorities, it's taken longer than we originally hoped it would," said Angela Somma, Division chief for the Endangered Species Conservation Division, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Division.

"We've been waiting and waiting," said Hernandez.

The Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said humpbacks will still be protected under federal and state laws that, for one, prohibit anyone coming any closer than 100 yards.

The petition forces NOAA to respond to within 90 days, possible triggering an expedited review.

NOAA would then need to make a determination by April 2014.
 

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