The Makah Nation is battling red tape and bureaucracy in an effort to
resume whaling off the Washington coast.
According to the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, the Makah have "the right of
taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and
stations." Makah whalers voluntarily stopped whaling in the 1920s after
commercial whaling ships decimated whale populations almost to the point of
Once gray whale populations rebounded to historic levels, the Makah Nation
began preparations to resume whaling that culminated in the successful
harvest of a 30-ton gray whale on May 17, 1999.
Court cases launched against the Makah by animal rights groups and
individuals have prevented subsequent hunts by claiming a full
environmental assessment must be done. The Makah are now navigating through
governmental processes to get that assessment completed, and reinvigorate
the culturally and nutritionally important hunt.
Under the National Marine Fisheries Service's Marine Mammal Protection Act,
there is a moratorium on the harvesting of any whale or marine mammal
species. The Makah are seeking a waiver, and will be attending numerous
environmental impact public hearings throughout Puget Sound in October to
argue their case.
The Makah want to harvest 20 whales over a five-year period, a number
already reserved for them through an International Whaling Commission
quota. No more than five whales would be harvested in a year, from the
estimated 22,000 population.
If the environmental assessment and waivers are completed in the timeframe
estimated, the Makah could launch their next hunt in spring 2006.