The northern Pacific humpback whale has been under federal protection for 43 years. Studies show its population has grown from about 1,500 whales to over 21,000.
Now the Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition (HFACT) wants the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take the whales off the Endangered Species List.
"What we're asking the government to do is simply recognize the fact that a recovery plan was put into place and that recovery plan was successful," HFACT president Philip Fernandez said.
The organization is made up of more than 600 fishermen, boaters, and others. The petition is the first urging humpbacks be taken off the list since they were added in 1970.
"If you're not sure, keep the protections in place. You don't want to have the success and then undo all of the years of effort by prematurely taking a species off the list," Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said.
Fernandez said humpbacks are also protected under the Marine Mammal Act and by the International Whaling Commission. He said that's sufficient.
"All we're doing is asking that these special protections can be left out at this point and let the other rules kick in which are already there," he said.
But Henkin said humpbacks still face many other threats
"Threats from commercial fishing. Threats from military exercises. Threats from accidental strikes by ships. All these things are harming the whales. You need to see scientifically whether or not they can survive without the protection of the act," he said.
HFACT believes the endangered list loses integrity when a species replenishes adequately but remains federally protected.
"The Endangered Species Act should be used only as the line of last resort," Fernandez said.
NOAA has until July to decide if the humpback whale petition merits further study.