HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Hawaii's humpback whale and green sea turtle populations have bounced back, a Big Island lawmaker has called on the federal government to take them off of the endangered species list.
There are now more than 21,000 whales in Hawaiian waters compared to about 1,600 during the early 1980s. State Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Hilo, said they're so plentiful that they pose a threat to the fishing industry.
"I'm with Alaska and Alaska is for de listing whales," Solomon said during a talk story session in Hilo last week. "They have reached a point where they are not an endangered species."
Solomon said she's received more than 100 complaints from local commercial fisherman, who face stiff fines when they strike these giant sea mammals. She added that any damage to their vessels isn't covered by insurance because the fisherman are automatically at fault.
"Right now, the way the (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is set up, you hit a whale, you're to blame. The whale is blameless. Okay, I have a problem with that," she said.
Solomon also thinks the feds should take green sea turtles off the endangered list for the same reason.
"I know it plucks on heartstrings," she said.
"But it's costing taxpayers money, money that can be used in other areas."
David Henkin, attorney for Earthjustice, says Hawaii's turtle population hasn't full recovered. And the jury's still out whether the whale population has stabilized.
He also believes both species should be protected because they've become a major visitor attraction.
"The fact that the humpback whales (and green sea turtles) are increasing in Hawaii is really something we should be happy about that we are reversing the tide of extinction," he said.
NOAA is in the process of reviewing whether any of these species should be de listed.
In a follow up interview on Monday, Solomon said de-listing might not be necessary if the federal government can craft protections for the fishing industry.