Endangered Fish and Wildlife; National Environmental Policy Act; Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Conduct Public Scoping, 36121-36124 [05-12352]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 119 / Wednesday, June 22, 2005 / Notices Dated: June 16, 2005. P. Michael Payne, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 05–12342 Filed 6–21–05; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE Background National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [I.D. 060804F] Endangered Fish and Wildlife; National Environmental Policy Act; Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Conduct Public Scoping National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of intent; request for written comments. AGENCY: SUMMARY: NMFS intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze the potential impacts of implementing the operational measures in NOAA’s Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy (Strategy). This notice describes the proposed action and possible alternatives intended to reduce the likelihood and threat of right whale deaths as a result of collisions with vessels. DATES: Written or electronic comments must be received no later than 5 p.m., eastern standard time, on July 22, 2005. At this time there are no scheduled scoping meetings. ADDRESSES: Written comments, or requests to be added to the mailing list for this project, should be submitted to: P. Michael Payne, Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division, Attn: Right Whale Ship Strike EIS, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Comments may also be submitted via fax to (301) 427–2522, Attn: Right Whale Ship Strike EIS, or by e-mail to: Shipstrike.comments@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line the following identifier: I.D. 060804F. Additional information including the Environmental Assessment (EA) and the economic analysis report used in the preparation of the EA are available on the NMFS website at http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Greg Silber, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver VerDate jul<14>2003 21:12 Jun 21, 2005 Jkt 205001 Spring, MD 20910; telephone (301) 713– 2322, e-mail greg.silber@noaa.gov; or Barb Zoodsma, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; telephone (904) 321–2806, e-mail barb.zoodsma@noaa.gov. The abundance of North Atlantic right whales is believed to be fewer than 300 individuals despite protection for half a century. The North Atlantic right whale is also considered one of the most endangered large whale populations in the world. Recent modeling exercises suggest that the loss of even an individual animal has measurable effects that may contribute to the extinction of the species (Caswell et al., 1999). The models also suggests that preventing the mortality of one adult female a year significantly alters the projected outcome. The two most significant humancaused threats and sources of mortality to right whales are entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Jensen and Silber, 2003). Collisions with ships (referred to as ship strikes) account for more confirmed right whale mortalities than any other human-related activity. Ship strikes are responsible for over 50 percent of known human-related right whale mortalities and are considered one of the principal causes for the lack of recovery in this population. Right whales are located in, or adjacent to, several major shipping corridors on the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canadian coasts. NMFS has implemented conservation measures to reduce the likelihood of mortalities as a result of ship strikes. These activities include the use of aerial surveys to notify mariners of right whale sighting locations, interagency collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) which issues periodic notices to mariners regarding ship strikes, joint operation with the USCG of Mandatory Ship Reporting (MSR) systems to provide information to mariners entering right whale habitat, support of regional Right Whale Recovery Plan Implementation Teams, support of shipping industry liaisons, and consultations with other Federal agencies regarding the effects of their activities on right whales (under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act). However, right whales continue to sustain mortalities as a result of collisions with vessels despite the efforts of these programs. PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 36121 NMFS recognizes that this complex problem requires the implementation of additional proactive measures to reduce or eliminate the threat of ship strikes to right whales. The goal of the Strategy is to reduce, to the extent practicable, the distributional overlap between ships and right whales. The Strategy allows for regional implementation and accommodates differences in oceanography, commercial ship traffic patterns, navigational concerns, and right whale use. Implementation of the Strategy will require proposed and final rulemaking to be taken. Purpose of this Action NEPA requires Federal agencies to conduct an environmental analysis of their proposed actions to determine if the actions may significantly affect the human environment. NMFS is considering a variety of measures, including regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives. NMFS may implement the operational measures of the Strategy through its rulemaking authority pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Under MMPA section 112(a) (16 U.S.C. 1382(a)), NMFS has authority, in consultation with other Federal agencies to the extent other agencies may be affected, to ‘‘prescribe such regulations as are necessary and appropriate to carry out the purposes of [the MMPA].’’ In addition, NMFS has authority under the Endangered Species Act to promote conservation, implement recovery measures, and enhance enforcement to protect right whales. NMFS is seeking public input on the scope of the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, including the range of reasonable alternatives, associated impacts of any alternatives, and suitable mitigation measures. On June 1, 2004, NMFS published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) (69 FR 30857) and announced its intent to prepare a draft EA to address the potential impacts of implementing the Strategy. The EA considered the context and intensity of the factors identified in NOAA’s NEPA guidelines and regulations, along with short- and long-term, and cumulative effects of a No Action Alternative and the proposed action (see ADDRESSES). The analysis concluded that the effects of the proposed action on the human environment are likely to be highly controversial. This finding was based on the controversial nature of the Strategy on the human environment and the possible cumulative effects of the proposed action on certain sectors within the maritime industry. The major controversy concerns the potential E:\FR\FM\22JNN1.SGM 22JNN1 36122 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 119 / Wednesday, June 22, 2005 / Notices economic impacts on the commercial shipping industry. Further, the EA concluded that individual impacts of the proposed action may be insignificant but the cumulative impacts on the shipping industry may be significant. As a result, the cumulative effects on the environment as a result of implementing this action, including the alternatives proposed by this action, are considered significant. Therefore, an EIS is the appropriate level of environmental analysis for the proposed action under NEPA, not an EA. This is consistent with NEPA regulations at section 1501.4(c). This notice announces NMFS’s intent to prepare an EIS expanded from the EA to analyze the potential impacts of implementing the operational measures in NOAA’s Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy. This notice describes the proposed action and several possible alternatives intended to reduce the likelihood and threat of mortalities caused by ship strikes. Scope of the Action The Draft EIS is expected to identify and evaluate all relevant impacts and issues associated with implementing the Strategy, in accordance with Council on Environmental Quality’s Regulations at 40 CFR parts 1500, 1508, and NOAA’s procedures for implementing NEPA found in NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216–6, Environmental Policy Act, dated May 20, 1999. NMFS is proposing to implement the operational measures in the Strategy within each of three broad regions: (a) the southeastern Atlantic coast of the U.S., (b) the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, and (c) the northeastern Atlantic coast of the U.S. The implementation of operational measures, and the specific times and areas (with boundaries) in which the measures would be in effect, are expected to vary within and between each region. However, each region would contain specific elements to reduce the threat of ship strikes to right whales. The operational measures proposed in the alternatives apply to non-sovereign vessels 65 ft (19.8 m) and greater in length. The operational measures do not apply to vessels operated by Federal agencies or the military. Any potential effects of Federal vessel activities, and mitigation, will be evaluated through the Endangered Species Act section 7 consultation process for all alternatives. A more detailed description of the operational measures proposed for each region are in the ANPR (June 1, 2004; 69 FR 30857). VerDate jul<14>2003 21:12 Jun 21, 2005 Jkt 205001 That notice describes the proposed action and possible alternatives intended to reduce the likelihood and threat of mortalities caused by ship strikes pursuant to requirements under NEPA. In particular, the Draft EIS is intended to identify potential impacts to human activities that occur as a result of the proposed action and its alternatives. The areas of interest for evaluation of environmental and socioeconomic effects will include the territorial sea and the Exclusive Economic Zone off the east coast of the U.S. and international waters in the North Atlantic Ocean. Public Involvement and the Scoping Process Public participation in the Strategy has been encouraged through several methods including soliciting public comments on the ANPR and holding public meetings, industry stakeholder meetings, and other focus group meetings. NMFS has been working with state and other Federal agencies, concerned citizens and citizens groups, environmental organizations, and the shipping industry to address the ongoing threat of ship strikes to right whales. NMFS’ intent is to encourage the public and interest groups to participate in the NEPA process, including interested citizens and environmental organizations, affected low-income or minority populations or affected local, state and Federal agencies, and any other agencies with jurisdiction or special expertise. NMFS published the ANPR for Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction in the Federal Register on June 1, 2004 (69 FR 30857) and provided a comment period to determine the issues of concern with respect to the practical considerations involved in implementing the Strategy and to determine whether NMFS was considering the appropriate range of alternatives. Comments were received from over 5,250 governmental entities, individuals, and organizations, and can be accessed at the NMFS website (see ADDRESSES). These comments were in the form of e-mail, letters, website submissions, correspondence from action campaigns (e-mail and U.S. postal mail), faxes, and a phone call. NMFS extended the comment period to November 15, 2004 (September 13, 2004; 69 FR 55135) to provide for an extended series of public meetings on the ANPR and this topic in general. Five public meetings on the ANPR were held in the following locations: Boston, MA, at the Tip O’Neill Federal Building (July 20, 2004); New York/New Jersey at the Newport Courtyard Marriot (July 21, PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 2004); Wilmington, NC, at the Hilton Riverside Wilmington (July 26, 2004); Jacksonville, FL, at the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel (July 27, 2004); and Silver Spring, MD, at NOAA Headquarters Science Center (August 3, 2004). Public comments were requested at these meetings and transcribed for the public record. Also, nine industry stakeholder meetings were held to explain the ANPR at the following locations: Boston, MA (September 30, 2004); Portland, ME (October 1, 2004); Norfolk, VA (October 4, 2004); Morehead City, NC (October 6, 2004); Jacksonville, FL (October 13, 2004); Savannah, GA (October 14, 2004); New London, CT (October 20, 2004); Newark, NJ (October 25, 2004); and Baltimore, MD/Washington, DC (October 27, 2004). A summary report of these meetings and a list of the attendees are posted on the internet at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ shipstrike. NMFS also held two focus group discussion meetings with participants from non-governmental organizations, academia, and Federal and state government agencies. The first meeting was held in Silver Spring, MD on September 26, 2004, and the second meeting was in New Bedford, MA on November 5, 2004. The comments on the ANPR focused primarily on several broad topics including: speed restrictions, vessel size and operations, speed and routing issues specific to regions, routing restrictions (Port Access Routes Study [PARS] and Areas To Be Avoided [ATBA]), safety of navigation, suggestions for alternative or expanded dates for operational measures, military and sovereign vessel exemptions, enforcement, and compliance. Alternatives NMFS will evaluate a range of alternatives in the Draft EIS for developing a final Strategy to reduce mortality to right whales due to ship strikes based on a suite of possible mitigative measures contained in each of the elements of the overall Strategy. The following alternatives are being considered based on comments received on the ANPR and during the public meetings: Alternative 1, a no-action alternative; Alternative 2, Use of Dynamic Management Areas (DMAs); Alternative 3, Speed Restrictions in Designated Areas; Alternative 4, Use of Designated or Mandatory Routes; Alternative 5, Combination of Alternatives 1, 2, 3 and 4; and Alternative 6, NOAA Ship Strike Strategy. For all speed restrictions being considered under an alternative, NMFS E:\FR\FM\22JNN1.SGM 22JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 119 / Wednesday, June 22, 2005 / Notices expects to consider 10, 12, and 14 knots in the analyses. Other variations or additional alternatives may be developed based on significant issues raised during this public scoping period. The probable environmental, biological, cultural, social and economic consequences of the alternatives and those activities that may cumulatively impact the environment are expected to be considered in the Draft EIS. Alternative 1 - No Action (Status Quo): Under this alternative NMFS would continue to implement existing measures and programs, largely nonregulatory, to reduce the likelihood of mortality from ship strikes. Research would continue and existing technologies would be used to determine whale locations and pass this information on to mariners. Ongoing activities under this alternative would include the use of aerial surveys to notify mariners of right whale sighting locations; the operation of Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems; support of Recovery Plan Implementation Teams; education and outreach programs for mariners; and ongoing research on technological solutions. The development, enhancement, and implementation of the draft Education and Outreach Strategy would continue in coordination with the Recovery Plan Implementation Teams. The alternative would also rely on Endangered Species Act section 7 consultations to address, and mitigate the potential effects of, the activities of vessels operated by government agencies. Additionally, efforts will continue to identify technologies that will mitigate or prevent ship strikes to right whales but that would impose minimal or no environmental impacts. Alternative 2 - Use of DMAs: A second alternative under consideration would incorporate the elements of Alternative 1 with additional measures to implement DMAs. The DMA component of this alternative would be implemented ONLY when right whale sightings occur. Under this alternative there would need to be a commitment to continuing aircraft surveillance coverage. If confirmed right whale sightings occur, a DMA would be specified and mariners would have the option of either routing around the DMA or to proceed within the DMA at restricted speeds. NMFS is considering various models for whale density required to trigger a DMA action; the current default is the same criteria used for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) Dynamic Area Management fishing restrictions. Consecutive DMAs would be imposed if trigger thresholds persist. VerDate jul<14>2003 21:12 Jun 21, 2005 Jkt 205001 If subsequent flights confirm the whales are no longer aggregated in this location, the DMA would be lifted. Alternative 3 - Speed Restrictions in Designated Areas: This alternative includes all elements of Alternative 1 and implements large-scale speed restrictions throughout the range of northern right whales. Restrictions would apply as follows: 1. Speed restrictions year round off the northeast U.S. coast. This area would include either (1) all waters bounded on the east by the U.S. coastline, the west by 68° W longitude, the north by the U.S./Canadian border and the south by 41°30′ N latitude, or (2) all waters in the area used by Seasonal Area Management (SAM) zones as designated in the ALWTRP; 2. Speed restrictions from October 1 through April 30 off the U.S. midAtlantic coast. This area would include all waters extended from U.S. coastline out 25 nm from Providence/New London (Block Island Sound) south to Savannah, Georgia. 3. Speed restrictions from December 1 through March 31 off the Southeast U.S. This area would include all waters within the MSR WHALESSOUTH reporting area and the presently designated right whale critical habitat. Alternative 4 - Use of Designated or Mandatory Routes: This alternative includes all the elements of Alternative 1 and relies on altering current vessel patterns to move vessels away from areas where whales are known to aggregate in order to reduce the likelihood of a mortality due to a ship strike. This alternative also creates an ATBA in the Great South Channel as described in NOAA’s ANPR, and considers recommendations of a PARS by the USCG. At present the PARS analysis is assessing possible lane changes in Cape Cod Bay and waters off the Southeast U.S. The alternative also will analyze the possibility of moving the Traffic Separation Scheme into/out of Boston to avoid high density aggregations of whales at the northern end of Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank. Alternative 5 - Combination of Alternatives: This alternative includes all elements of Alternatives 1 - 4. The cumulative effects of Alternative 5 would be the additive effects of each of the previous alternatives. Alternative 6 - NOAA Ship Strike Strategy: This alternative includes all the operational measures identified in the NOAA Ship Strike Strategy. The principal difference between Alternative 5 and 6 is that Alternative 6 does not include large-scale speed restrictions (as identified in Alternative 3) but instead PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 36123 relies on speed restrictions in much smaller Seasonally Managed Areas as identified in the NOAA Ship Strike Strategy. Comments Requested NMFS provides this notice to: advise the public and other agencies of the NOAA’s intentions, and obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues to include in the EIS. Comments and suggestions are invited from all interested parties to ensure that the full range of issues related to this proposed action and all significant issues are identified. NMFS requests that comments be as specific as possible. In particular, the agency requests information regarding: the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts resulting from the proposed action on the human environment. The human environment could include air quality, water quality, underwater noise levels, socioeconomic resources, and environmental justice. Comments concerning this environmental review process should be directed to NMFS (see ADDRESSES). See FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT for questions. All comments and material received, including names and addresses, will become part of the administrative record and may be released to the public. Authority The environmental review of the Ship Strike Strategy will be conducted under the authority and in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), National Environmental Policy Act Regulations (40 CFR 1500–1508), other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, and policies and procedures of the Services for compliance with those regulations. Literature Cited Caswell, H., M. Fujiwara, and S. Brault. 1999. Declining survival probability threatens the North Atlantic right whale. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 96:3308 3313. Jensen, A.S., and G.K. Silber. 2003. Large whale ship strike database. U.S. Dep. Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/OPR 25, 37 p. Knowlton, A.R., and S.D. Kraus. 2001. Mortality and serious injury of northern right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Jour. Cetacean Res. and Manag. (Special Issue) 2:193 208. Russell, B.A. 2001. E:\FR\FM\22JNN1.SGM 22JNN1 36124 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 119 / Wednesday, June 22, 2005 / Notices Dated: June 16, 2005. P. Michael Payne Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 05–12352 Filed 6–21–05; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [I.D. 061405C] Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act Provisions; Application for Exempted Fishing Permit Related to Horseshoe Crabs National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; request for comments. AGENCY: SUMMARY: NMFS announces that the Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, is considering issuing an Exempted Fishing Permit to Limuli Laboratories of Cape May Court House, NJ, to conduct the fifth year of an exempted fishing operation otherwise restricted by regulations prohibiting the harvest of horseshoe crabs in the Carl N. Schuster Jr. Horseshoe Crab Reserve (Reserve) located 3 nautical miles (nm) seaward from the mouth of the Delaware Bay. If granted, the EFP would allow the harvest of 10,000 horseshoe crabs for biomedical purposes and require, as a condition of the EFP, the collection of data related to the status of horseshoe crabs within the Reserve. This notice also invites comments on the issuance of the EFP to Limuli Laboratories. DATES: Written comments on this action must be received on or before July 7, 2005. Written comments should be sent to John H. Dunnigan, Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13362, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Mark the outside of the envelope ‘‘Comments on Horseshoe Crab EFP Proposal.’’ Comments may also be sent via fax to (301) 713–0596. Comments on this notice may also be submitted by e-mail to: Horseshoe-Crab.EFP@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line of the e-mail comment the following document identifier: Horseshoe Crab EFP Proposal. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Meyer, Fishery Management Biologist, (301) 713–2334. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: ADDRESSES: VerDate jul<14>2003 21:12 Jun 21, 2005 Jkt 205001 Background The regulations that govern exempted fishing, at 50 CFR 600.745(b) and 697.22, allow a Regional Administrator or the Director of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries to authorize for limited testing, public display, data collection, exploration, health and safety, environmental clean-up and/or hazardous removal purposes, the targeting or incidental harvest of managed species that would otherwise be prohibited. Accordingly, an EFP to authorize such activity may be issued, provided: there is adequate opportunity for the public to comment on the EFP application, the conservation goals and objectives of the fishery management plan are not compromised, and issuance of the EFP is beneficial to the management of the species. The Reserve was established on March 7, 2001 to protect the Atlantic coast stock of horseshoe crabs and to support the effectiveness of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (Commission) Interstate Fishery Management Plan (ISFMP) for horseshoe crabs. The final rule (February 5, 2001; 66 FR 8906) prohibited fishing for and possession of horseshoe crabs in the Reserve on a vessel with a trawl or dredge gear aboard while in the Reserve. While the rule did not allow for any biomedical harvest or the collection of fishery dependent data, NMFS stated in the comments and responses section that it would consider issuing EFPs for the biomedical harvest of horseshoe crabs in the Reserve. The biomedical industry collects horseshoe crabs, removes approximately 30 percent of their blood, and returns them alive to the water. Approximately 10 percent do not survive the bleeding process. The blood contains a reagent called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) that is used to test injectable drugs and medical devices for bacteria and bacterial by-products. Presently, there is no alternative to the LAL derived from horseshoe crabs. NMFS manages horseshoe crabs in the exclusive economic zone in close cooperation with the Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Management Board met on April 21, 2000, and again on December 16, 2003, and recommended to NMFS that biomedical companies with a history of collecting horseshoe crabs in the Reserve are given an exemption to continue their historic levels of collection not to exceed a combined harvest total of 10,000 crabs annually. In 2000, the Commission’s Horseshoe Crab PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Plan Review Team reported that biomedical harvest of up to 10,000 horseshoe crabs should be allowed to continue in the Reserve given that the resulting mortality should be only about 1,000 horseshoe crabs (10 percent mortality during bleeding process). Also in 2000, the Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Stock Assessment Committee Chairman recommended that, in order to protect the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population from over-harvest or excessive collection mortality, no more than a maximum of 20,000 horseshoe crabs should be collected for biomedical purposes from the Reserve. In addition to the direct mortality of horseshoe crabs that are bled, it can be expected that more than 20,000 horseshoe crabs will be trawled up and examined for LAL processing. This is because horseshoe crab trawl catches usually include varied sizes and sexes of horseshoe crabs and large female horseshoe crabs are the ones usually selected for LAL processing. The remaining horseshoe crabs are released at sea with some unknown amount of mortality. Although unknown, this mortality is expected to be negligible. Collection of horseshoe crabs for biomedical purposes from the Reserve is necessary because of the low numbers of horseshoe crabs found in other areas along the New Jersey Coast from July through early November and because of the critical role horseshoe crab blood plays in health care. In conjunction with the biomedical harvest, NMFS is considering requiring that scientific data be collected from the horseshoe crabs taken in the Reserve as a condition of receiving an EFP. Since the Reserve was first established, the only fishery data from the Reserve were under EFPs issued to Limuli Laboratories for the past four years, and under Scientific Research Activity Letter of Acknowledgment issued Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Science on September 4, 2001 (for collections from September 1– October 31, 200l), on September 24, 2002 (for collections from September 24–November 15, 2002), on August 14, 2003 (for collections from September 1– October 31, 2003), and on September 15, 2004 (for collections from September 15–October 31, 2004). Further data are needed to improve the understanding of the horseshoe crab population in the Delaware Bay area and to better manage the horseshoe crab resource under the cooperative state/Federal management program. The data collected through the EFP will be provided to NMFS, the E:\FR\FM\22JNN1.SGM 22JNN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 70, Number 119 (Wednesday, June 22, 2005)]
[Notices]
[Pages 36121-36124]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 05-12352]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. 060804F]


Endangered Fish and Wildlife; National Environmental Policy Act; 
Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy Notice of Intent to Prepare 
an Environmental Impact Statement and Conduct Public Scoping

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of intent; request for written comments.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: NMFS intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS) to analyze the potential impacts of implementing the operational 
measures in NOAA's Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy 
(Strategy). This notice describes the proposed action and possible 
alternatives intended to reduce the likelihood and threat of right 
whale deaths as a result of collisions with vessels.

DATES: Written or electronic comments must be received no later than 5 
p.m., eastern standard time, on July 22, 2005. At this time there are 
no scheduled scoping meetings.

ADDRESSES: Written comments, or requests to be added to the mailing 
list for this project, should be submitted to: P. Michael Payne, Chief, 
Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division, Attn: Right Whale 
Ship Strike EIS, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West 
Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Comments may also be submitted via 
fax to (301) 427-2522, Attn: Right Whale Ship Strike EIS, or by e-mail 
to: Shipstrike.comments@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line the 
following identifier: I.D. 060804F.
    Additional information including the Environmental Assessment (EA) 
and the economic analysis report used in the preparation of the EA are 
available on the NMFS website at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/
shipstrike/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Greg Silber, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; 
telephone (301) 713-2322, e-mail greg.silber@noaa.gov; or Barb Zoodsma, 
Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13\th\ Avenue South, St. 
Petersburg, FL 33701; telephone (904) 321-2806, e-mail 
barb.zoodsma@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The abundance of North Atlantic right whales is believed to be 
fewer than 300 individuals despite protection for half a century. The 
North Atlantic right whale is also considered one of the most 
endangered large whale populations in the world. Recent modeling 
exercises suggest that the loss of even an individual animal has 
measurable effects that may contribute to the extinction of the species 
(Caswell et al., 1999). The models also suggests that preventing the 
mortality of one adult female a year significantly alters the projected 
outcome.
    The two most significant human-caused threats and sources of 
mortality to right whales are entanglements in fishing gear and 
collisions with ships (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Jensen and Silber, 
2003). Collisions with ships (referred to as ship strikes) account for 
more confirmed right whale mortalities than any other human-related 
activity. Ship strikes are responsible for over 50 percent of known 
human-related right whale mortalities and are considered one of the 
principal causes for the lack of recovery in this population. Right 
whales are located in, or adjacent to, several major shipping corridors 
on the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canadian coasts.
    NMFS has implemented conservation measures to reduce the likelihood 
of mortalities as a result of ship strikes. These activities include 
the use of aerial surveys to notify mariners of right whale sighting 
locations, interagency collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) 
which issues periodic notices to mariners regarding ship strikes, joint 
operation with the USCG of Mandatory Ship Reporting (MSR) systems to 
provide information to mariners entering right whale habitat, support 
of regional Right Whale Recovery Plan Implementation Teams, support of 
shipping industry liaisons, and consultations with other Federal 
agencies regarding the effects of their activities on right whales 
(under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act). However, right whales 
continue to sustain mortalities as a result of collisions with vessels 
despite the efforts of these programs.
    NMFS recognizes that this complex problem requires the 
implementation of additional proactive measures to reduce or eliminate 
the threat of ship strikes to right whales. The goal of the Strategy is 
to reduce, to the extent practicable, the distributional overlap 
between ships and right whales. The Strategy allows for regional 
implementation and accommodates differences in oceanography, commercial 
ship traffic patterns, navigational concerns, and right whale use. 
Implementation of the Strategy will require proposed and final 
rulemaking to be taken.

Purpose of this Action

    NEPA requires Federal agencies to conduct an environmental analysis 
of their proposed actions to determine if the actions may significantly 
affect the human environment. NMFS is considering a variety of 
measures, including regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives. NMFS may 
implement the operational measures of the Strategy through its 
rulemaking authority pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act 
(MMPA). Under MMPA section 112(a) (16 U.S.C. 1382(a)), NMFS has 
authority, in consultation with other Federal agencies to the extent 
other agencies may be affected, to ``prescribe such regulations as are 
necessary and appropriate to carry out the purposes of [the MMPA].'' In 
addition, NMFS has authority under the Endangered Species Act to 
promote conservation, implement recovery measures, and enhance 
enforcement to protect right whales. NMFS is seeking public input on 
the scope of the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 
analysis, including the range of reasonable alternatives, associated 
impacts of any alternatives, and suitable mitigation measures.
    On June 1, 2004, NMFS published an Advanced Notice of Proposed 
Rulemaking (ANPR) (69 FR 30857) and announced its intent to prepare a 
draft EA to address the potential impacts of implementing the Strategy. 
The EA considered the context and intensity of the factors identified 
in NOAA's NEPA guidelines and regulations, along with short- and long-
term, and cumulative effects of a No Action Alternative and the 
proposed action (see ADDRESSES). The analysis concluded that the 
effects of the proposed action on the human environment are likely to 
be highly controversial. This finding was based on the controversial 
nature of the Strategy on the human environment and the possible 
cumulative effects of the proposed action on certain sectors within the 
maritime industry. The major controversy concerns the potential

[[Page 36122]]

economic impacts on the commercial shipping industry. Further, the EA 
concluded that individual impacts of the proposed action may be 
insignificant but the cumulative impacts on the shipping industry may 
be significant. As a result, the cumulative effects on the environment 
as a result of implementing this action, including the alternatives 
proposed by this action, are considered significant. Therefore, an EIS 
is the appropriate level of environmental analysis for the proposed 
action under NEPA, not an EA. This is consistent with NEPA regulations 
at section 1501.4(c). This notice announces NMFS's intent to prepare an 
EIS expanded from the EA to analyze the potential impacts of 
implementing the operational measures in NOAA's Right Whale Ship Strike 
Reduction Strategy. This notice describes the proposed action and 
several possible alternatives intended to reduce the likelihood and 
threat of mortalities caused by ship strikes.

Scope of the Action

    The Draft EIS is expected to identify and evaluate all relevant 
impacts and issues associated with implementing the Strategy, in 
accordance with Council on Environmental Quality's Regulations at 40 
CFR parts 1500, 1508, and NOAA's procedures for implementing NEPA found 
in NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6, Environmental Policy Act, 
dated May 20, 1999.
    NMFS is proposing to implement the operational measures in the 
Strategy within each of three broad regions: (a) the southeastern 
Atlantic coast of the U.S., (b) the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, and 
(c) the northeastern Atlantic coast of the U.S.
    The implementation of operational measures, and the specific times 
and areas (with boundaries) in which the measures would be in effect, 
are expected to vary within and between each region. However, each 
region would contain specific elements to reduce the threat of ship 
strikes to right whales. The operational measures proposed in the 
alternatives apply to non-sovereign vessels 65 ft (19.8 m) and greater 
in length. The operational measures do not apply to vessels operated by 
Federal agencies or the military. Any potential effects of Federal 
vessel activities, and mitigation, will be evaluated through the 
Endangered Species Act section 7 consultation process for all 
alternatives. A more detailed description of the operational measures 
proposed for each region are in the ANPR (June 1, 2004; 69 FR 30857).
    That notice describes the proposed action and possible alternatives 
intended to reduce the likelihood and threat of mortalities caused by 
ship strikes pursuant to requirements under NEPA. In particular, the 
Draft EIS is intended to identify potential impacts to human activities 
that occur as a result of the proposed action and its alternatives.
    The areas of interest for evaluation of environmental and 
socioeconomic effects will include the territorial sea and the 
Exclusive Economic Zone off the east coast of the U.S. and 
international waters in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Public Involvement and the Scoping Process

    Public participation in the Strategy has been encouraged through 
several methods including soliciting public comments on the ANPR and 
holding public meetings, industry stakeholder meetings, and other focus 
group meetings. NMFS has been working with state and other Federal 
agencies, concerned citizens and citizens groups, environmental 
organizations, and the shipping industry to address the ongoing threat 
of ship strikes to right whales. NMFS' intent is to encourage the 
public and interest groups to participate in the NEPA process, 
including interested citizens and environmental organizations, affected 
low-income or minority populations or affected local, state and Federal 
agencies, and any other agencies with jurisdiction or special 
expertise.
    NMFS published the ANPR for Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction in 
the Federal Register on June 1, 2004 (69 FR 30857) and provided a 
comment period to determine the issues of concern with respect to the 
practical considerations involved in implementing the Strategy and to 
determine whether NMFS was considering the appropriate range of 
alternatives. Comments were received from over 5,250 governmental 
entities, individuals, and organizations, and can be accessed at the 
NMFS website (see ADDRESSES). These comments were in the form of e-
mail, letters, website submissions, correspondence from action 
campaigns (e-mail and U.S. postal mail), faxes, and a phone call.
    NMFS extended the comment period to November 15, 2004 (September 
13, 2004; 69 FR 55135) to provide for an extended series of public 
meetings on the ANPR and this topic in general. Five public meetings on 
the ANPR were held in the following locations: Boston, MA, at the Tip 
O'Neill Federal Building (July 20, 2004); New York/New Jersey at the 
Newport Courtyard Marriot (July 21, 2004); Wilmington, NC, at the 
Hilton Riverside Wilmington (July 26, 2004); Jacksonville, FL, at the 
Radisson Riverwalk Hotel (July 27, 2004); and Silver Spring, MD, at 
NOAA Headquarters Science Center (August 3, 2004). Public comments were 
requested at these meetings and transcribed for the public record. 
Also, nine industry stakeholder meetings were held to explain the ANPR 
at the following locations: Boston, MA (September 30, 2004); Portland, 
ME (October 1, 2004); Norfolk, VA (October 4, 2004); Morehead City, NC 
(October 6, 2004); Jacksonville, FL (October 13, 2004); Savannah, GA 
(October 14, 2004); New London, CT (October 20, 2004); Newark, NJ 
(October 25, 2004); and Baltimore, MD/Washington, DC (October 27, 
2004). A summary report of these meetings and a list of the attendees 
are posted on the internet at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/shipstrike.
    NMFS also held two focus group discussion meetings with 
participants from non-governmental organizations, academia, and Federal 
and state government agencies. The first meeting was held in Silver 
Spring, MD on September 26, 2004, and the second meeting was in New 
Bedford, MA on November 5, 2004.
    The comments on the ANPR focused primarily on several broad topics 
including: speed restrictions, vessel size and operations, speed and 
routing issues specific to regions, routing restrictions (Port Access 
Routes Study [PARS] and Areas To Be Avoided [ATBA]), safety of 
navigation, suggestions for alternative or expanded dates for 
operational measures, military and sovereign vessel exemptions, 
enforcement, and compliance.

Alternatives

    NMFS will evaluate a range of alternatives in the Draft EIS for 
developing a final Strategy to reduce mortality to right whales due to 
ship strikes based on a suite of possible mitigative measures contained 
in each of the elements of the overall Strategy. The following 
alternatives are being considered based on comments received on the 
ANPR and during the public meetings: Alternative 1, a no-action 
alternative; Alternative 2, Use of Dynamic Management Areas (DMAs); 
Alternative 3, Speed Restrictions in Designated Areas; Alternative 4, 
Use of Designated or Mandatory Routes; Alternative 5, Combination of 
Alternatives 1, 2, 3 and 4; and Alternative 6, NOAA Ship Strike 
Strategy.
    For all speed restrictions being considered under an alternative, 
NMFS

[[Page 36123]]

expects to consider 10, 12, and 14 knots in the analyses. Other 
variations or additional alternatives may be developed based on 
significant issues raised during this public scoping period. The 
probable environmental, biological, cultural, social and economic 
consequences of the alternatives and those activities that may 
cumulatively impact the environment are expected to be considered in 
the Draft EIS.
    Alternative 1 - No Action (Status Quo): Under this alternative NMFS 
would continue to implement existing measures and programs, largely 
non-regulatory, to reduce the likelihood of mortality from ship 
strikes. Research would continue and existing technologies would be 
used to determine whale locations and pass this information on to 
mariners. Ongoing activities under this alternative would include the 
use of aerial surveys to notify mariners of right whale sighting 
locations; the operation of Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems; support 
of Recovery Plan Implementation Teams; education and outreach programs 
for mariners; and ongoing research on technological solutions. The 
development, enhancement, and implementation of the draft Education and 
Outreach Strategy would continue in coordination with the Recovery Plan 
Implementation Teams. The alternative would also rely on Endangered 
Species Act section 7 consultations to address, and mitigate the 
potential effects of, the activities of vessels operated by government 
agencies. Additionally, efforts will continue to identify technologies 
that will mitigate or prevent ship strikes to right whales but that 
would impose minimal or no environmental impacts.
    Alternative 2 - Use of DMAs: A second alternative under 
consideration would incorporate the elements of Alternative 1 with 
additional measures to implement DMAs. The DMA component of this 
alternative would be implemented ONLY when right whale sightings occur.
    Under this alternative there would need to be a commitment to 
continuing aircraft surveillance coverage. If confirmed right whale 
sightings occur, a DMA would be specified and mariners would have the 
option of either routing around the DMA or to proceed within the DMA at 
restricted speeds. NMFS is considering various models for whale density 
required to trigger a DMA action; the current default is the same 
criteria used for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) 
Dynamic Area Management fishing restrictions. Consecutive DMAs would be 
imposed if trigger thresholds persist. If subsequent flights confirm 
the whales are no longer aggregated in this location, the DMA would be 
lifted.
    Alternative 3 - Speed Restrictions in Designated Areas: This 
alternative includes all elements of Alternative 1 and implements 
large-scale speed restrictions throughout the range of northern right 
whales. Restrictions would apply as follows:
    1. Speed restrictions year round off the northeast U.S. coast. This 
area would include either (1) all waters bounded on the east by the 
U.S. coastline, the west by 68[deg] W longitude, the north by the U.S./
Canadian border and the south by 41[deg]30' N latitude, or (2) all 
waters in the area used by Seasonal Area Management (SAM) zones as 
designated in the ALWTRP;
    2. Speed restrictions from October 1 through April 30 off the U.S. 
mid-Atlantic coast. This area would include all waters extended from 
U.S. coastline out 25 nm from Providence/New London (Block Island 
Sound) south to Savannah, Georgia.
    3. Speed restrictions from December 1 through March 31 off the 
Southeast U.S. This area would include all waters within the MSR 
WHALESSOUTH reporting area and the presently designated right whale 
critical habitat.
    Alternative 4 - Use of Designated or Mandatory Routes: This 
alternative includes all the elements of Alternative 1 and relies on 
altering current vessel patterns to move vessels away from areas where 
whales are known to aggregate in order to reduce the likelihood of a 
mortality due to a ship strike.
    This alternative also creates an ATBA in the Great South Channel as 
described in NOAA's ANPR, and considers recommendations of a PARS by 
the USCG. At present the PARS analysis is assessing possible lane 
changes in Cape Cod Bay and waters off the Southeast U.S. The 
alternative also will analyze the possibility of moving the Traffic 
Separation Scheme into/out of Boston to avoid high density aggregations 
of whales at the northern end of Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank.
    Alternative 5 - Combination of Alternatives: This alternative 
includes all elements of Alternatives 1 - 4. The cumulative effects of 
Alternative 5 would be the additive effects of each of the previous 
alternatives.
    Alternative 6 - NOAA Ship Strike Strategy: This alternative 
includes all the operational measures identified in the NOAA Ship 
Strike Strategy. The principal difference between Alternative 5 and 6 
is that Alternative 6 does not include large-scale speed restrictions 
(as identified in Alternative 3) but instead relies on speed 
restrictions in much smaller Seasonally Managed Areas as identified in 
the NOAA Ship Strike Strategy.

Comments Requested

    NMFS provides this notice to: advise the public and other agencies 
of the NOAA's intentions, and obtain suggestions and information on the 
scope of issues to include in the EIS. Comments and suggestions are 
invited from all interested parties to ensure that the full range of 
issues related to this proposed action and all significant issues are 
identified. NMFS requests that comments be as specific as possible. In 
particular, the agency requests information regarding: the potential 
direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts resulting from the proposed 
action on the human environment. The human environment could include 
air quality, water quality, underwater noise levels, socioeconomic 
resources, and environmental justice.
    Comments concerning this environmental review process should be 
directed to NMFS (see ADDRESSES). See FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT 
for questions. All comments and material received, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the administrative record and may be 
released to the public.

Authority

    The environmental review of the Ship Strike Strategy will be 
conducted under the authority and in accordance with the requirements 
of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq.), National Environmental Policy Act Regulations (40 CFR 
1500-1508), other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, and 
policies and procedures of the Services for compliance with those 
regulations.

Literature Cited

    Caswell, H., M. Fujiwara, and S. Brault. 1999. Declining survival 
probability threatens the North Atlantic right whale. Proc. Nat. Acad. 
Sci. 96:3308 3313.
    Jensen, A.S., and G.K. Silber. 2003. Large whale ship strike 
database. U.S. Dep. Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/OPR 25, 
37 p.
    Knowlton, A.R., and S.D. Kraus. 2001. Mortality and serious injury 
of northern right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) in the western North 
Atlantic Ocean. Jour. Cetacean Res. and Manag. (Special Issue) 2:193 
208. Russell, B.A. 2001.


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    Dated: June 16, 2005.
P. Michael Payne
Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division, Office of 
Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 05-12352 Filed 6-21-05; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S