Incidental Takes of Marine Mammals During Specified Activities; Black Abalone Research Surveys at San Nicolas Island, Ventura County, CA, 71136-71142 [E6-20950]

Download as PDF 71136 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/ memoranda/fy2005/m05-03.pdf) establishes minimum peer review standards for influential scientific information that Federal agencies intend to disseminate. The Peer Review Bulletin also directs Federal agencies to adopt or adapt the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) policy for evaluating conflicts of interest when selecting peer reviewers who are not Federal government employees (federal employees are subject to Federal ethics requirements). For peer review purposes, the term ‘‘conflicts of interest’’ means any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it could: (1) Significantly impair the individual’s objectivity; or (2) create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization. NOAA has adapted the NAS policy and developed two confidential conflict disclosure forms which the agency will use to examine prospective reviewers’ potential financial conflicts and other interests that could impair objectivity or create an unfair advantage. One form is for peer reviewers of studies related to government regulation and the other form is for all other influential scientific information subject to the Peer Review Bulletin. The forms include questions about employment as well as investment and property interests and research funding. Both forms also require the submission of curriculum vitae. NOAA is seeking to collect this information from potential peer reviewers who are not government employees when conducting a peer review pursuant to the PRB. The number of peer reviews conducted pursuant to the PRB each year will vary, but for illustrative purposes, NOAA currently has thirty-nine peer review plans posted on the Department of Commerce Peer Review Agenda, indicating that for a six-month period in FY 2006, thirty-nine agency reports had recently been completed, were presently undergoing, or were planning to begin peer review. The information collected in the conflict of interest disclosure is essential to NOAA’s compliance with the OMB PRB, and helps to ensure that government studies are reviewed by independent, impartial peer reviewers. II. Method of Collection Forms may be downloaded from the Internet and are fillable and signable electronically or manually. They may be submitted, along with the Curriculum Vitae, via e-mail or regular mail. VerDate Aug<31>2005 19:05 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 III. Data OMB Number: None. Form Number: None. Type of Review: Regular submission. Affected Public: Individuals or households. Estimated Number of Respondents: 300. Estimated Time per Response: 30 minutes. Estimated Total Annual Burden Hours: 150. Estimated Total Annual Cost to Public: $0. IV. Request for Comments Comments are invited on: (a) Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information shall have practical utility; (b) the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden (including hours and cost) of the proposed collection of information; (c) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (d) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, including through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology. Comments submitted in response to this notice will be summarized and/or included in the request for OMB approval of this information collection; they also will become a matter of public record. Dated: December 5, 2006. Gwellnar Banks, Management Analyst, Office of the Chief Information Officer. [FR Doc. E6–20882 Filed 12–7–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–12–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [I.D. 101706E] Incidental Takes of Marine Mammals During Specified Activities; Black Abalone Research Surveys at San Nicolas Island, Ventura County, CA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulations, notification is PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 hereby given that NMFS has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Dr. Glenn VanBlaricom (Dr. VanBlaricom) for the take of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, incidental to the assessment of black abalone populations at San Nicolas Island (SNI), CA. DATES: Effective from December 1, 2006, through November 30, 2007. ADDRESSES: A copy of the IHA and the application are available by writing to Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation, and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910–3225, or by telephoning the contact listed here. A copy of the application containing a list of references used in this document may be obtained by writing to this address, by telephoning the contact listed here (FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) or online at: https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jolie Harrison, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 713–2289, ext. 166. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. Authorization shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses, and that the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ’’...an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45– day time limit for NMFS review of an application followed by a 30–day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny issuance of the authorization. recent designation of California populations of black abalones as a species of concern in the context of listing pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Research is done under the auspices of the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the University of Washington, and the U.S. Navy (owner of SNI), with additional logistical support from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Since the abalone are not handled or removed in the course of the research, neither a state nor federal permit is needed. Additional information on the research is contained in the application and is available upon request (see ADDRESSES). Project Description Nine permanent abalone research study areas are located in rocky intertidal habitats on SNI in Ventura County, CA. The applicant has made 106 separate field trips to SNI from Summary of Request September 1979 through March 2006, participating in abalone survey work on On August 10, 2006, NMFS received 564 different days at nine permanent a letter from Dr. VanBlaricom, of the study sites. Under the 2005/2006 Washington Cooperative Fish and authorization, Dr. VanBlaricom made Wildlife Research Unit, requesting five different visits and conducted work renewal of an IHA that was first issued for 30 total days in the one year period. to him on September 23, 2003 (68 FR Quantitative abalone surveys on SNI 57427, October 3, 2003), and was last began in 1981, at which point reissued on November 30, 2005 (70 FR permanent research sites were chosen 73732, December 13, 2005). The based on the presence of dense patches proposed 2006/2007 IHA was of abalone in order to monitor changes published, and comments solicited, on over time in dense abalone aggregations. October 23, 2006 (71 FR 62087). This Research is conducted by counting final IHA will authorize the take, by black abalone in plots of 1 m2 (3.3 ft2) harassment, of small numbers of along permanent transect lines in rocky California sea lions (Zalophus intertidal habitats at each of the nine californianus), Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), and northern elephant study sites on the island. Permanent transect lines are demarcated by seals (Mirounga angustirostris) stainless steel eyebolts embedded in the incidental to research surveys rock substrata and secured with marine performed for the purpose of assessing epoxy compound. Lines are placed trends in black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) populations at SNI, Ventura temporarily between bolts during surveys and are removed once surveys County, California. The research are completed. Survey work is done by consists of 2 researchers, on foot, two field biologists working on foot counting abalone at nine permanent (sites are accessed by hiking to water sites (1 m2 each) on SNI twice a year, from vehicle parked inland) and with one brief additional visit to each monitoring of black abalone populations site for maintenance. at SNI can be done only during periods Population trend data for black of extreme low tides. The exact date of abalone populations have become a visit to any given site is difficult to important in a conservation context predict because variation in surf height because of: (a) the reintroduction of sea and sea conditions can influence the otters to SNI in 1987, raising the safety of field biologists as well as the possibility of conflict between otter quality of data collected. In most years conservation and abalone populations survey work is done during the months (abalones are often significant prey for sea otters); (b) the appearance of a novel of January, February, March, July, November, and December because of exotic disease, abalone withering optimal availability of low tides. All syndrome, at SNI in 1992, resulting in work is done during daylight hours due dramatically increased rates of abalone to of safety considerations. mortality at the Island; and, (c) the VerDate Aug<31>2005 19:05 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 71137 During the year, each of the nine permanent study sites at SNI will be visited three times. Abalone surveys, which take no more than 4 hours at each site, are conducted during two of the three visits to each of the nine sites. The third, and final, visit is a maintenance visit, which takes less than half of an hour at each site and is used to take measurements and make necessary repairs to plots and is conducted in a month when smaller numbers of pinnipeds are present. The affected marine mammal populations at SNI, especially California sea lions and northern elephant seals, have grown substantially since the beginning of abalone research in 1979 and have occupied an expanded distribution on the island due to population growth. Sites previously accessible with no risk of marine mammal harassment are now being utilized by marine mammals at levels such that approach without the possibility of harassment is difficult. An IHA is warranted for this study because of the nine study sites used for the abalone surveys, only two sites can be occupied without the possibility of disturbing at least one species of pinniped. Description of Habitat and Marine Mammals in the Activity Area San Nicolas is one of the eight Channel Islands, located in the Santa Barbara Channel off Southern California. Nine miles long (14.5 km) and about 3 1/2 miles (5.6 km) across at its widest point, it is the farthest island from the mainland, more than 60 miles (96.6 km) offshore and about 85 miles (136.8 km) southwest of Los Angeles, California. SNI is owned and operated by the U.S. Navy and is off-limits to civilians without specific permission. Many of the beaches in the Channel Islands provide resting, molting or breeding places for species of pinnipeds. On SNI, three pinniped species (northern elephant seal, Pacific harbor seal, and California sea lion) can be expected to occur on land in the vicinity of abalone research sites either regularly or in large numbers during certain times of the year. In addition, a single adult male Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) (federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act) was seen at one abalone research site on two occasions during the summer months in the mid–1980’s. However, none have been seen since those original sightings. Further information on the biology and distribution of these species and others in the region can be found in Dr. VanBlaricom’s application, which is E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1 71138 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices available upon request (see ADDRESSES), and the Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which are available online at https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ protlres/PR2/ StocklAssessmentlProgram/ individuallsars.html. sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES California Sea Lions The U.S. stock of California sea lions extends from the U.S./Mexico border north into Canada. Breeding areas of the sea lion are on islands located in southern California, western Baja California, and the Gulf of California and they primarily use the central California area to feed during the nonbreeding season. Population estimates for the U.S. stock of California sea lions, which are based on counts conducted in 2001 and extrapolations from the number of pups, range from a minimum of 138,881 to an average of 244,000 animals, with a current growth rate of 5.4 to 6.1 percent per year (Carretta et al., 2005). The California sea lion is not listed under the ESA and the U.S. stock is not considered depleted under the MMPA. California sea lions haul out at many sites on SNI and are by far the most common pinniped on the island. Over the course of a year, up to 100,000 sea lions may use SNI. Numbers of sea lions at SNI increased by about 21 percent per year between 1983 and 1995 (NMFS, 2003) and sea lions have recently started occupying areas that were not formerly used. Pupping occurs on the beaches of SNI from mid-June to mid-July. Females nurse their pups for about eight days and then begin an alternating pattern of foraging at sea vs. attending and nursing the pup on land, which lasts for about eight months, and sometimes up to a year. California sea lions also haul out at SNI during the molting period in September, and smaller numbers of females and juveniles haul out during most of the year. Pacific Harbor Seals Harbor seals are widely distributed in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. In California, approximately 400–500 harbor seal haul-out sites are distributed along the mainland and on offshore islands, including intertidal sandbars, rocky shores and beaches (Hanan, 1996). A complete count of all harbor seals in California is impossible because some are always away from the haul-out sites. A complete pup count (as is done for other pinnipeds in California) is also not possible because harbor seals are precocious, with pups entering the water almost immediately after birth. Based on the most recent harbor seal counts (2004 and 2005) and including a VerDate Aug<31>2005 19:05 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 correction factor for the above, the estimated population of harbor seals in California is 34,233 (Caretta et al., 2005), with an estimated minimum population of 31,600 for the California stock of harbor seals. Counts of harbor seals in California showed a rapid increase from 1972 to 1990, but since 1990 there has been no net population growth along the mainland or the Channel Islands. Though no formal determination of Optimal Sustainable Population (OSP) has been made, the decrease in the growth rate may indicate that the population has reached its carrying capacity. The harbor seal is not listed under the ESA and the California stock is not considered depleted under the MMPA. Harbor seals haul out at various sandy, cobble, and gravel beaches around SNI and pupping occurs on the beaches from late February to early April, with nursing of pups extending into May. Harbor seals may also haul out during molting period in late Spring, and smaller numbers haul out at other times of year. Harbor seal abundance increased at SNI from the 1960s until 1981, but since the average counts have not changed significantly. From 1982 to 1994, numbers of harbor seals have fluctuated between 139 and 700 harbor seals based on both peak ground counts and annual photographic survey photos. The most recent aerial count on SNI was of 457 harbor seals in 1994. Northern Elephant Seals Northern elephant seals breed and give birth in California (U.S.) and Baja California primarily on offshore islands, from December to March (Stewart et al., 1994). The California breeding stock, which includes the animals on SNI, is now demographically separated from the Baja California population. Based on trends in pup counts, northern elephant seal colonies appeared to be increasing in California through 2001. The population size of northern elephant seals in California is estimated to be 101,000 animals, with a minimum population estimate of 60,547 (Carretta et al., 2005). A continuous average growth rate (though it has declined a bit in recent years) of 8.3 percent has seen numbers of this species increase from 100 in 1900 to the current population size (Caretta et al., 2005). The northern elephant seal is not listed under the ESA and the California stock is not considered depleted under the MMPA. Increasing numbers of elephant seals haul out at various sites around SNI. Based on a pup count in 1995 that found 6,575 pups, scientists estimated that over 23,000 elephant seals may use PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 SNI in a year (NMFS, 2003). From 1988 to 1995 the pup counts on SNI increased at an average rate of 15.4 percent per year, however, the growth rate of the population as a whole seems to have declined in recent years (NMFS, 2003). Pupping occurs on the beaches of SNI from January to early February, with nursing of pups extending into March. Northern elephant seals also haul out during the molting periods in the spring and summer, and smaller numbers haul out at other times of the year. Comments and Responses On October 23, 2006, NMFS published in the Federal Register a notice of a proposed IHA for Dr. VanBlaricom’s request to take marine mammals incidental to conducting black abalone research on SNI, and requested comments regarding this proposed IHA (See 71 FR 62087). During the 30–day public comment period, NMFS received one comment from the Marine Mammal Commission recommending NMFS issue the IHA as proposed. Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammals Variable numbers of sea lions, harbor seals, and elephant seals typically haul out near seven of the nine study sites used for abalone research, with breeding activity occurring at four of these seven sites. Pinnipeds likely to be affected by abalone research activity are those that are hauled out on land at or near study sites. Incidental harassment may result if hauled animals move away from the abalone researchers. For the purpose of estimating numbers of pinnipeds taken by these activities, NMFS conservatively estimates that pinnipeds that move or change the direction of their movement in response to the presence of researchers are taken by Level B Harassment. Animals that raise their head and look at the researcher are not considered to have been taken. Although marine mammals will not be deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, approach may be unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out directly upon the permanent abalone study plots. In almost all cases, shoreline habitats near the abalone study sites are gently sloping sandy beaches or horizontal sandstone platforms with unimpeded and nonhazardous access to the water. If disturbed, hauled animals may move toward the water without risk of encountering significant hazards. In these circumstances, the risk of serious injury or death to hauled animals is very low. E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1 71139 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices The risk of marine mammal injury or mortality associated with abalone research increases somewhat if disturbances occur during breeding season, as it is possible that mothers and dependent pups could become separated. If separated pairs don’t reunite fairly quickly, risks of mortality to pups (through starvation) may increase. Also, adult northern elephant seals may trample elephant seal pups if disturbed, which could potentially result in the of injury or death of pups. However, the IHA will include time of year restrictions intended to limit the presence of researchers to months that California sea lion and harbor seal dependent pups are not present at the survey sites. Additionally, though elephant seal pups are occasionally present at abalone surveys, risk of pup mortalities are very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two species (an estimated 30 total elephant seals have been disturbed in the last three years out of 1594 present around the study site). Last, researchers use great care approaching sites and pups are on the sand while the permanent study sites are on rocks, which leaves the two always separated by at least 50 m (164 ft). Because of the circumstances and the IHA requirements discussed above, NMFS believes it highly unlikely that the authorized activities would result in the injury or mortality of pinnipeds (and none have been recorded in the 27 years that the researcher has been conducting this research). The results of Dr. VanBlaricom’s monitoring under the previous IHA are summarized in Table 1, which shows the numbers of each species present at Dr. VanBlaricom’s survey sites as well as the numbers disturbed during his visits in the last year. As part of the required monitoring, Dr. VanBlaricom records the numbers of disturbed animals that flush into the water, the number that move more than 1 m, but do not enter the water, and the number that become alert and move, but not move more than 1 m (see the application for these numbers). Animals that raised their head and looked at the researcher without moving were not California Sea Lions considered disturbed (or harrassed pursuant to the MMPA). For the purposes of estimating take in the IHA, NMFS conservatively estimates take as the total of all three categories of disturbed behavior recorded. As indicated in Table 1, approximately 25 percent of the total animals harassed by this activity responded by flushing into the water (221 sea lions, 46 harbor seals, and 0 elephant seals) and the rest responded to a lesser degree by moving some distance on land when the researchers approached. Though the researchers have not stayed to find how soon pinnipeds return after flushing (leaving as soon as possible minimizes the effects), increasing numbers at some of the sites and pinniped presence at sites where they were not present before suggest that the research is not having any long-term detrimental effects on the population of any of these three species. Older, weaned sea lion pups were seen and disturbed at sites 6, 7, and 8, however, none were flushed into the water or injured in any way. Pacific Harbor Seals Northern Elephant Seals Month Date Site # Present at site Disturbed Present at site Disturbed Present at site Disturbed 2006 January 2 1 54 1 0 0 0 0 2006 January 12 1 50 3 0 0 1 0 2006 February 25 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 2006 February 26 1 32 28 0 0 0 0 2005 December 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2005 December 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 15 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 29 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 February 24 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2005 December 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 16 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 30 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 31 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 February 28 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2005 sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Year December 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 25 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 January 30 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 March 1 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 VerDate Aug<31>2005 19:05 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1 71140 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices California Sea Lions Pacific Harbor Seals Northern Elephant Seals Year Month Date Site # Present at site Disturbed Present at site Disturbed Present at site Disturbed 2006 January 26 5 27 5 27 25 88 4 2006 January 14 6 86 69 13 13 216 7 2006 January 26 6 97 90 17 12 203 2 2006 January 27 7 610 386 0 0 60 0 2005 December 30 8 226 195 0 0 3 0 2006 January 13 8 241 227 0 0 5 0 2006 January 28 8 140 40 0 0 14 0 2005 December 29 9 0 0 0 0 14 1 2005 December 31 9 0 0 0 0 19 0 1564 1045 57 50 623 14 Totals # that flushed into water 221 (21%) 46 (92%) 0 # moved >1m, but not into water 680 (65%) 3 (6%) 11 (79%) # came alert, but did not move >1 m 144 (14%) 1 (2%) 3 (21%) sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Table 1. Results from 2006 monitoring. Number of ‘‘disturbed’’ animals indicates total of the three categories of recorded reactions, which include: animals that flushed into the water; animals that moved more than 1 m, but did not enter the water; and, animals that moved or changed direction, but did not move more than 1 m. Mitigation Several mitigation measures to reduce the potential for harassment from population assessment research surveys will be implemented as part of the SNI abalone research activities. Primarily, mitigation of the risk of disturbance to pinnipeds requires that researchers are judicious in the route of approach to abalone study sites, avoiding close contact with pinnipeds hauled out on shore. In no case will marine mammals be deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, and in all cases every possible measure will be taken to select a pathway of approach to study sites that minimizes the number of marine mammals harassed. Each visit to a given study site will last for a maximum of 4 hours, after which the site is vacated and can be re-occupied by any hauled marine mammals that may have been disturbed by the presence of abalone researchers. The potential risk of injury or mortality will be avoided with measures required under the authorization. Disturbances to females with dependent pups (in the cases of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals) will be mitigated to the greatest extent practicable by avoiding visits to the four black abalone study sites with resident pinnipeds during periods of breeding and lactation from mid-February through the end of October. During this period, abalone research would be VerDate Aug<31>2005 19:05 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 confined to the other five sites where pinniped breeding and post-partum nursing does not occur. Limiting visits to the four breeding and lactation sites (5, 6, 7, and 8) to periods when these activities do not occur (November, December, January, and the first half of February) will reduce the possibility of incidental harassment and the potential for serious injury or mortality of dependent California sea lion pups and Pacific harbor seal pups to near zero. Northern elephant seal pups are present at four sites during winter months. Risks of injury or mortality of elephant seal pups by mother/pup separation or trampling are limited to the period from January through March when pups are born, nursed, and weaned, ending about 30 days postweaning when pups depart land for foraging areas at sea. However, elephant seals have a much higher tolerance of nearby human activity than sea lions or harbor seals. Also, elephant seal pupping typically occurs on the sandy beaches at SNI, approximately 50 m (164 ft) or more away from the abalone study sites. Possible take of northern elephant seal pups will be minimized by using a very careful approach to the study sites and avoiding the proximity of hauled seals and any seal pups during collection of abalone population data. One individual Guadalupe fur seal was seen at study site 8 on two separate PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 occasions during the summer months in the mid–1980’s. Since the original sightings, no individuals of this species have been seen during abalone research. However, to ensure that Gaudelupe fur seals are not affected by these activities and that authorization is not needed pursuant to the MMPA or the ESA, researchers will only visit site 8 from November through January and work will be immediately suspended and researchers vacated if an individual is seen. Guadalupe fur seals are distinctive in appearance and behavior, and can be readily identified at a distance without any disturbance. Sea otters, which are federally listed as threatened under the ESA and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are not expected ashore during the time periods when the research activities would be conducted. However, if sea otters are sighted ashore during the abalone research, Dr. VanBlaricom would follow similar procedures in place for fur seals to avoid impacts, suspending research activities in any areas California sea otters are occupying. Monitoring Currently, all biological research activities at SNI are subject to approval and regulation by the Environmental Planning and Management Department (EPMD), U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy owns SNI and closely regulates all civilian E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1 71141 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices research activities and contact NMFS immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure that another injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the applicant remains in compliance with the MMPA. access to and activity on the island, including biological research. Therefore, monitoring activities will be closely coordinated with Navy marine mammal biologists located on SNI. In addition, status and trends of pinniped aggregations at SNI are monitored by the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Also, longterm studies of pinniped population dynamics, migratory and foraging behavior, and foraging ecology at SNI are conducted by staff at Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI). Monitoring requirements in relation to Dr. VanBlaricom’s abalone research surveys will include observations made by the applicant and his associates. Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups), numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbed behaviors during the abalone surveys. Observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds on SNI will be reported to EPMD, NMFS, and HSWRI so that any potential follow-up observations can be conducted by the appropriate personnel. In addition, observations of tag-bearing pinniped carcasses as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammals will be reported to EPMD and NMFS. If at any time injury or death of any marine mammal occurs that may be a result of the authorized abalone research, Dr. VanBlaricom will suspend Reporting A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS within 60 days after the conclusion of the year-long field season. The report will include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the IHA. A final report must be submitted to the Regional Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be considered to be the final report. Dr. VanBlaricom has already submitted the final report required by the current IHA and it may be viewed on the NMFS website (see ADDRESSES). Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to be Harassed NMFS has determined that small numbers, relative to population estimates, of California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and northern elephant seals may be taken by harassment as a result of this activity (1.3, 0.2, and .04 percent of the minimum population, respectively). The distribution of pinnipeds hauled out on beaches is not even between sites California Sea Lions or at different times of the year. The number of marine mammals disturbed will vary by month and location, and, compared to animals hauled out on the beach farther away from survey activity, only those animals hauled out closest to the actual survey transect plots contained within each research site are likely to be disturbed by the presence of researchers and alter their behavior or attempt to move out of the way. Table 2 depicts the total numbers of animals encountered and disturbed by Level B Harasssment in Dr. VanBlaricom’s 2004, 2005, and 2006 abalone survey field seasons. As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been harassed if it moved any distance in response to the researcher’s presence or if the animal was already moving and changed direction. Animals that raised their head and looked at the researcher without moving were not considered disturbed. Based on past observations and assuming a maximum level of incidental harassment of marine mammals at each site during periods of visitation, NMFS estimates that the maximum total possible numbers of individuals that will be incidentally harassed during the effective dates of the IHA would be 1770 California sea lions, 75 Pacific harbor seals, and 25 northern elephant seals. Three visits to each site are anticipated during the year-long validity of the IHA. Pacific Harbor Seals Northern Elephant Seal Year Present around Site Est. Harassed Present around Site Est. Harassed Present around Site Est. Harassed 2004 2239 1472 108 99 562 7 2005 1383 983 99 88 409 9 2006 1564 1045 57 50 623 14 Table 2. Estimated number of each species harassed over the last three years of abalone research. Minimum population estimates for California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and Northern elephant seals are 138881, 31600, and 60547,respectively. Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammal Habitat Therefore, consultation under section 7 of the ESA was not required. NMFS anticipates that the action will result in no impacts to marine mammal habitat beyond rendering the areas immediately around each of the nine study sites less desirable as haulout sites for a total of 8.5 hours per year. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES ESA For the reasons already described in this Federal Register Notice, NMFS has determined that the described abalone research and the accompanying IHA will have no effect on species or critical habitat protected under the ESA (specifically, the Guadelope fur seal). VerDate Aug<31>2005 20:14 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the Issuance of an IHA to Take Marine Mammals, by Harassment, During Black Abalone Research at SNI, California, which analyzed the issuance of multiple IHAs over several years for these activities, and subsequently issued a Finding of No Significant Impact on November 21, 2005. A copy of the EA and FONSI are available upon request (see ADDRESSES). PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Conclusions Based on Dr. VanBlaricom’s application and monitoring reports for previous field seasons, as well as the analysis contained herein, NMFS has determined that the impact of the described abalone research at SNI will result, at most, in a temporary modification in behavior by small numbers of California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and northern elephant seals, in the form of head alerts, movement away from the researchers and/or flushing from the beach. In addition, no take by injury or death is anticipated, and take by harassment will be at the lowest level practicable due to E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1 71142 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 236 / Friday, December 8, 2006 / Notices incorporation of the mitigation measures mentioned previously in this document. NMFS has further determined the anticipated takes will have a negligible impact on the affected species. Authorization NMFS has issued an IHA to Dr. Glenn R. VanBlaricom for the harassment of California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and northern elephant seals incidental to black abalone population trend research, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: December 1, 2006. James H. Lecky, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E6–20950 Filed 12–7–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S COMMITTEE FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF TEXTILE AGREEMENTS Adjustment of an Import Limit for Certain Wool Textile Products Produced or Manufactured in Ukraine December 4, 2006. Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA). ACTION: Issuing a directive to the Commissioner, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection adjusting a limit. AGENCY: December 8, 2006. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ross Arnold, International Trade Specialist, Office of Textiles and Apparel, U.S. Department of Commerce, (202) 482– 4212. For information on the quota status of these limits, refer to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection website (https://www.cbp.gov), or call (202) 344-2650. For information on embargoes and quota re-openings, refer to the Office of Textiles and Apparel website at https://otexa.ita.doc.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: EFFECTIVE DATE: sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Authority: Section 204 of the Agricultural Act of 1956, as amended (7 U.S.C. 1854); Executive Order 11651 of March 3, 1972, as amended. The Bilateral Textile Agreement of July 22, 1998, as amended and extended by exchange of notes on November 19, 2004, December 31, 2004, and February 7, 2005, between the Governments of the United States and Ukraine (the ‘‘Bilateral Agreement’’) establishes limits for certain wool textile products, produced or manufactured in Ukraine and exported during the period VerDate Aug<31>2005 19:05 Dec 07, 2006 Jkt 211001 beginning on January 1, 2006 and extending through December 31, 2006. On December 2, 2005, the Chairman of CITA directed the Commissioner, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to reduce the 2006 Category 435 limit for carryforward to be applied to the 2005 limit. See Federal Register Notice, 70 FR 72992 (December 8, 2005). Because the carryforward was not fully used in 2005, consistent with paragraph 5.D. of the Bilateral Agreement, the current limit for Category 435 is being increased for the recrediting of unused 2005 carryforward. A description of the textile and apparel categories in terms of HTS numbers is available in the CORRELATION: Textile and Apparel Categories with the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (refer to the Office of Textiles and Apparel website at https://otexa.ita.doc.gov). Also see Federal Register notice 70 FR 72992, published on December 8, 2005. Philip J. Martello, Acting Chairman, Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements. Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements December 4, 2006. Commissioner, Commissioner, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Washington, DC 20229 Dear Commissioner: This directive amends, but does not cancel, the directive issued to you on December 2, 2005, by the Chairman, Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements. That directive concerns imports of certain wool textile products, produced or manufactured in Ukraine and exported during the twelvemonth period which began on January 1, 2006 and extends through December 31, 2006. Effective on December 8, 2006, you are directed to increase the current limit for Category 435 to 110,160 dozen 1, as provided for under the bilateral agreement between the Governments of the United States and Ukraine: The Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements has determined that this action falls within the foreign affairs exception to the rulemaking provisions of 5 U.S.C. 553(a)(1). Sincerely, Philip J. Martello, Acting Chairman, Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements. [FR Doc. E6–20942 Filed 12–7–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS 1 The limit has not been adjusted to account for any imports exported after December 31, 2005. PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Department of the Army Board of Visitors, United States Military Academy (USMA) Department of the Army, DoD. Notice of open meeting. AGENCY: ACTION: SUMMARY: In accordance with Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (Pub. L. 92–463), announcement is made of the following committee meeting: Name of Committee: Board of Visitors, United States Military Academy. Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007. Place of Meeting: Veterans Affairs Conference room, Room 418, Senate Russell Building, Washington, DC. Start Time of Meeting: Approximately 9 a.m. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lieutenant Colonel Shaun T. Wurzbach, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY 10996–5000, (845) 938–4200. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Proposed Agenda: Organizational Meeting of the Board of Visitors. Review of the Academic, Military and Physical Programs at the USMA. Elections for Board of Visitor Leadership positions will also be held. All proceedings are open. Brenda S. Bowen, Army Federal Register Liaison Officer. [FR Doc. 06–9596 Filed 12–07–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3710–08–M DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers Notice of Availability of Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Rio del Oro Specific Plan Project, in the City of Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County, CA Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DoD. ACTION: Notice of availability. AGENCY: SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), DoD. Sacramento District has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that analyzes the potential effects of implementing each of five alternative scenarios for a mixed-use development in the approximately 3,828-acre Rio del Oro Specific Plan area, in the City of Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County, CA. The EIS documents the existing E:\FR\FM\08DEN1.SGM 08DEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 71, Number 236 (Friday, December 8, 2006)]
[Notices]
[Pages 71136-71142]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E6-20950]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. 101706E]


Incidental Takes of Marine Mammals During Specified Activities; 
Black Abalone Research Surveys at San Nicolas Island, Ventura County, 
CA

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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

SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) 
regulations, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued an 
Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Dr. Glenn VanBlaricom (Dr. 
VanBlaricom) for the take of marine mammals, by Level B harassment 
only, incidental to the assessment of black abalone populations at San 
Nicolas Island (SNI), CA.

DATES: Effective from December 1, 2006, through November 30, 2007.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the IHA and the application are available by 
writing to Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation, and Education 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225, or by 
telephoning the contact listed here. A copy of the application 
containing a list of references used in this document may be obtained 
by writing to this address, by telephoning the contact listed here (FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) or online at: https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/
permits/incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, 
by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned 
address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jolie Harrison, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 713-2289, ext. 166.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional, taking of marine mammals by U.S. 
citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial 
fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are 
made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to 
harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the 
public for review.
    Authorization shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will 
have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or 
stock(s) for subsistence uses, and that the permissible methods of 
taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and 
reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ``negligible 
impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as ''...an impact resulting from the 
specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not 
reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.''
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process 
by

[[Page 71137]]

which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to 
incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Except 
with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines 
``harassment'' as:
    any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the 
potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the 
wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing 
disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, 
migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering 
[Level B harassment].
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS 
review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment 
period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of 
marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS 
must either issue or deny issuance of the authorization.

Summary of Request

    On August 10, 2006, NMFS received a letter from Dr. VanBlaricom, of 
the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, requesting 
renewal of an IHA that was first issued to him on September 23, 2003 
(68 FR 57427, October 3, 2003), and was last reissued on November 30, 
2005 (70 FR 73732, December 13, 2005). The proposed 2006/2007 IHA was 
published, and comments solicited, on October 23, 2006 (71 FR 62087). 
This final IHA will authorize the take, by harassment, of small numbers 
of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), Pacific harbor seals 
(Phoca vitulina), and northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) 
incidental to research surveys performed for the purpose of assessing 
trends in black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) populations at SNI, 
Ventura County, California. The research consists of 2 researchers, on 
foot, counting abalone at nine permanent sites (1 m2 each) on SNI twice 
a year, with one brief additional visit to each site for maintenance.
    Population trend data for black abalone populations have become 
important in a conservation context because of: (a) the reintroduction 
of sea otters to SNI in 1987, raising the possibility of conflict 
between otter conservation and abalone populations (abalones are often 
significant prey for sea otters); (b) the appearance of a novel exotic 
disease, abalone withering syndrome, at SNI in 1992, resulting in 
dramatically increased rates of abalone mortality at the Island; and, 
(c) the recent designation of California populations of black abalones 
as a species of concern in the context of listing pursuant to the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA). Research is done under the auspices of 
the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the 
University of Washington, and the U.S. Navy (owner of SNI), with 
additional logistical support from the University of California, Santa 
Cruz. Since the abalone are not handled or removed in the course of the 
research, neither a state nor federal permit is needed.
    Additional information on the research is contained in the 
application and is available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Project Description

    Nine permanent abalone research study areas are located in rocky 
intertidal habitats on SNI in Ventura County, CA. The applicant has 
made 106 separate field trips to SNI from September 1979 through March 
2006, participating in abalone survey work on 564 different days at 
nine permanent study sites. Under the 2005/2006 authorization, Dr. 
VanBlaricom made five different visits and conducted work for 30 total 
days in the one year period.
    Quantitative abalone surveys on SNI began in 1981, at which point 
permanent research sites were chosen based on the presence of dense 
patches of abalone in order to monitor changes over time in dense 
abalone aggregations. Research is conducted by counting black abalone 
in plots of 1 m2 (3.3 ft2) along permanent transect lines in rocky 
intertidal habitats at each of the nine study sites on the island. 
Permanent transect lines are demarcated by stainless steel eyebolts 
embedded in the rock substrata and secured with marine epoxy compound. 
Lines are placed temporarily between bolts during surveys and are 
removed once surveys are completed. Survey work is done by two field 
biologists working on foot (sites are accessed by hiking to water from 
vehicle parked inland) and monitoring of black abalone populations at 
SNI can be done only during periods of extreme low tides. The exact 
date of a visit to any given site is difficult to predict because 
variation in surf height and sea conditions can influence the safety of 
field biologists as well as the quality of data collected. In most 
years survey work is done during the months of January, February, 
March, July, November, and December because of optimal availability of 
low tides. All work is done during daylight hours due to of safety 
considerations.
    During the year, each of the nine permanent study sites at SNI will 
be visited three times. Abalone surveys, which take no more than 4 
hours at each site, are conducted during two of the three visits to 
each of the nine sites. The third, and final, visit is a maintenance 
visit, which takes less than half of an hour at each site and is used 
to take measurements and make necessary repairs to plots and is 
conducted in a month when smaller numbers of pinnipeds are present.
    The affected marine mammal populations at SNI, especially 
California sea lions and northern elephant seals, have grown 
substantially since the beginning of abalone research in 1979 and have 
occupied an expanded distribution on the island due to population 
growth. Sites previously accessible with no risk of marine mammal 
harassment are now being utilized by marine mammals at levels such that 
approach without the possibility of harassment is difficult. An IHA is 
warranted for this study because of the nine study sites used for the 
abalone surveys, only two sites can be occupied without the possibility 
of disturbing at least one species of pinniped.

Description of Habitat and Marine Mammals in the Activity Area

    San Nicolas is one of the eight Channel Islands, located in the 
Santa Barbara Channel off Southern California. Nine miles long (14.5 
km) and about 3 1/2 miles (5.6 km) across at its widest point, it is 
the farthest island from the mainland, more than 60 miles (96.6 km) 
offshore and about 85 miles (136.8 km) southwest of Los Angeles, 
California. SNI is owned and operated by the U.S. Navy and is off-
limits to civilians without specific permission.
    Many of the beaches in the Channel Islands provide resting, molting 
or breeding places for species of pinnipeds. On SNI, three pinniped 
species (northern elephant seal, Pacific harbor seal, and California 
sea lion) can be expected to occur on land in the vicinity of abalone 
research sites either regularly or in large numbers during certain 
times of the year. In addition, a single adult male Guadalupe fur seal 
(Arctocephalus townsendi) (federally listed as threatened under the 
Endangered Species Act) was seen at one abalone research site on two 
occasions during the summer months in the mid-1980's. However, none 
have been seen since those original sightings. Further information on 
the biology and distribution of these species and others in the region 
can be found in Dr. VanBlaricom's application, which is

[[Page 71138]]

available upon request (see ADDRESSES), and the Marine Mammal Stock 
Assessment Reports, which are available online at https://
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR2/Stock_Assessment_Program/individual_
sars.html.

California Sea Lions

    The U.S. stock of California sea lions extends from the U.S./Mexico 
border north into Canada. Breeding areas of the sea lion are on islands 
located in southern California, western Baja California, and the Gulf 
of California and they primarily use the central California area to 
feed during the non-breeding season. Population estimates for the U.S. 
stock of California sea lions, which are based on counts conducted in 
2001 and extrapolations from the number of pups, range from a minimum 
of 138,881 to an average of 244,000 animals, with a current growth rate 
of 5.4 to 6.1 percent per year (Carretta et al., 2005). The California 
sea lion is not listed under the ESA and the U.S. stock is not 
considered depleted under the MMPA.
    California sea lions haul out at many sites on SNI and are by far 
the most common pinniped on the island. Over the course of a year, up 
to 100,000 sea lions may use SNI. Numbers of sea lions at SNI increased 
by about 21 percent per year between 1983 and 1995 (NMFS, 2003) and sea 
lions have recently started occupying areas that were not formerly 
used. Pupping occurs on the beaches of SNI from mid-June to mid-July. 
Females nurse their pups for about eight days and then begin an 
alternating pattern of foraging at sea vs. attending and nursing the 
pup on land, which lasts for about eight months, and sometimes up to a 
year. California sea lions also haul out at SNI during the molting 
period in September, and smaller numbers of females and juveniles haul 
out during most of the year.

Pacific Harbor Seals

    Harbor seals are widely distributed in the North Atlantic and North 
Pacific. In California, approximately 400-500 harbor seal haul-out 
sites are distributed along the mainland and on offshore islands, 
including intertidal sandbars, rocky shores and beaches (Hanan, 1996). 
A complete count of all harbor seals in California is impossible 
because some are always away from the haul-out sites. A complete pup 
count (as is done for other pinnipeds in California) is also not 
possible because harbor seals are precocious, with pups entering the 
water almost immediately after birth. Based on the most recent harbor 
seal counts (2004 and 2005) and including a correction factor for the 
above, the estimated population of harbor seals in California is 34,233 
(Caretta et al., 2005), with an estimated minimum population of 31,600 
for the California stock of harbor seals. Counts of harbor seals in 
California showed a rapid increase from 1972 to 1990, but since 1990 
there has been no net population growth along the mainland or the 
Channel Islands. Though no formal determination of Optimal Sustainable 
Population (OSP) has been made, the decrease in the growth rate may 
indicate that the population has reached its carrying capacity. The 
harbor seal is not listed under the ESA and the California stock is not 
considered depleted under the MMPA.
    Harbor seals haul out at various sandy, cobble, and gravel beaches 
around SNI and pupping occurs on the beaches from late February to 
early April, with nursing of pups extending into May. Harbor seals may 
also haul out during molting period in late Spring, and smaller numbers 
haul out at other times of year. Harbor seal abundance increased at SNI 
from the 1960s until 1981, but since the average counts have not 
changed significantly. From 1982 to 1994, numbers of harbor seals have 
fluctuated between 139 and 700 harbor seals based on both peak ground 
counts and annual photographic survey photos. The most recent aerial 
count on SNI was of 457 harbor seals in 1994.

Northern Elephant Seals

    Northern elephant seals breed and give birth in California (U.S.) 
and Baja California primarily on offshore islands, from December to 
March (Stewart et al., 1994). The California breeding stock, which 
includes the animals on SNI, is now demographically separated from the 
Baja California population. Based on trends in pup counts, northern 
elephant seal colonies appeared to be increasing in California through 
2001. The population size of northern elephant seals in California is 
estimated to be 101,000 animals, with a minimum population estimate of 
60,547 (Carretta et al., 2005). A continuous average growth rate 
(though it has declined a bit in recent years) of 8.3 percent has seen 
numbers of this species increase from 100 in 1900 to the current 
population size (Caretta et al., 2005). The northern elephant seal is 
not listed under the ESA and the California stock is not considered 
depleted under the MMPA.
    Increasing numbers of elephant seals haul out at various sites 
around SNI. Based on a pup count in 1995 that found 6,575 pups, 
scientists estimated that over 23,000 elephant seals may use SNI in a 
year (NMFS, 2003). From 1988 to 1995 the pup counts on SNI increased at 
an average rate of 15.4 percent per year, however, the growth rate of 
the population as a whole seems to have declined in recent years (NMFS, 
2003). Pupping occurs on the beaches of SNI from January to early 
February, with nursing of pups extending into March. Northern elephant 
seals also haul out during the molting periods in the spring and 
summer, and smaller numbers haul out at other times of the year.

Comments and Responses

    On October 23, 2006, NMFS published in the Federal Register a 
notice of a proposed IHA for Dr. VanBlaricom's request to take marine 
mammals incidental to conducting black abalone research on SNI, and 
requested comments regarding this proposed IHA (See 71 FR 62087). 
During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received one comment from 
the Marine Mammal Commission recommending NMFS issue the IHA as 
proposed.

Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammals

    Variable numbers of sea lions, harbor seals, and elephant seals 
typically haul out near seven of the nine study sites used for abalone 
research, with breeding activity occurring at four of these seven 
sites. Pinnipeds likely to be affected by abalone research activity are 
those that are hauled out on land at or near study sites.
    Incidental harassment may result if hauled animals move away from 
the abalone researchers. For the purpose of estimating numbers of 
pinnipeds taken by these activities, NMFS conservatively estimates that 
pinnipeds that move or change the direction of their movement in 
response to the presence of researchers are taken by Level B 
Harassment. Animals that raise their head and look at the researcher 
are not considered to have been taken. Although marine mammals will not 
be deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, approach may be 
unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out directly upon the permanent 
abalone study plots. In almost all cases, shoreline habitats near the 
abalone study sites are gently sloping sandy beaches or horizontal 
sandstone platforms with unimpeded and non-hazardous access to the 
water. If disturbed, hauled animals may move toward the water without 
risk of encountering significant hazards. In these circumstances, the 
risk of serious injury or death to hauled animals is very low.

[[Page 71139]]

    The risk of marine mammal injury or mortality associated with 
abalone research increases somewhat if disturbances occur during 
breeding season, as it is possible that mothers and dependent pups 
could become separated. If separated pairs don't reunite fairly 
quickly, risks of mortality to pups (through starvation) may increase. 
Also, adult northern elephant seals may trample elephant seal pups if 
disturbed, which could potentially result in the of injury or death of 
pups. However, the IHA will include time of year restrictions intended 
to limit the presence of researchers to months that California sea lion 
and harbor seal dependent pups are not present at the survey sites. 
Additionally, though elephant seal pups are occasionally present at 
abalone surveys, risk of pup mortalities are very low because elephant 
seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two 
species (an estimated 30 total elephant seals have been disturbed in 
the last three years out of 1594 present around the study site). Last, 
researchers use great care approaching sites and pups are on the sand 
while the permanent study sites are on rocks, which leaves the two 
always separated by at least 50 m (164 ft). Because of the 
circumstances and the IHA requirements discussed above, NMFS believes 
it highly unlikely that the authorized activities would result in the 
injury or mortality of pinnipeds (and none have been recorded in the 27 
years that the researcher has been conducting this research).
    The results of Dr. VanBlaricom's monitoring under the previous IHA 
are summarized in Table 1, which shows the numbers of each species 
present at Dr. VanBlaricom's survey sites as well as the numbers 
disturbed during his visits in the last year. As part of the required 
monitoring, Dr. VanBlaricom records the numbers of disturbed animals 
that flush into the water, the number that move more than 1 m, but do 
not enter the water, and the number that become alert and move, but not 
move more than 1 m (see the application for these numbers). Animals 
that raised their head and looked at the researcher without moving were 
not considered disturbed (or harrassed pursuant to the MMPA). For the 
purposes of estimating take in the IHA, NMFS conservatively estimates 
take as the total of all three categories of disturbed behavior 
recorded.
    As indicated in Table 1, approximately 25 percent of the total 
animals harassed by this activity responded by flushing into the water 
(221 sea lions, 46 harbor seals, and 0 elephant seals) and the rest 
responded to a lesser degree by moving some distance on land when the 
researchers approached. Though the researchers have not stayed to find 
how soon pinnipeds return after flushing (leaving as soon as possible 
minimizes the effects), increasing numbers at some of the sites and 
pinniped presence at sites where they were not present before suggest 
that the research is not having any long-term detrimental effects on 
the population of any of these three species.
    Older, weaned sea lion pups were seen and disturbed at sites 6, 7, 
and 8, however, none were flushed into the water or injured in any way.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            California Sea Lions       Pacific Harbor Seals     Northern Elephant Seals
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Site            site       Disturbed       site       Disturbed       site       Disturbed
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      2            1             54           1             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      12           1             50           3             0            0             1            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             February     25           1             1            1             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             February     26           1             32           28            0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     1            2             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     3            2             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      1            2             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      15           2             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      29           2             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             February     24           2             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     2            3             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      16           3             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      30           3             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      31           3             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             February     28           3             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     4            4             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      25           4             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      30           4             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             March        1            4             0            0             0            0             0            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 71140]]

 
2006                             January      26           5             27           5             27           25            88           4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      14           6             86           69            13           13            216          7
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      26           6             97           90            17           12            203          2
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      27           7             610          386           0            0             60           0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     30           8             226          195           0            0             3            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      13           8             241          227           0            0             5            0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                             January      28           8             140          40            0            0             14           0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     29           9             0            0             0            0             14           1
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                             December     31           9             0            0             0            0             19           0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Totals                                                                   1564         1045          57           50            623          14
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 that flushed into water                                        ...........  221 (21%)     ...........  46 (92%)      ...........  0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 moved >1m, but not into water                                  ...........  680 (65%)     ...........  3 (6%)        ...........  11 (79%)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 came alert, but did not move >1 m                              ...........  144 (14%)     ...........  1 (2%)        ...........  3 (21%)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Table 1. Results from 2006 monitoring. Number of ``disturbed'' animals indicates total of the three categories of recorded reactions, which include:
  animals that flushed into the water; animals that moved more than 1 m, but did not enter the water; and, animals that moved or changed direction, but
  did not move more than 1 m.

Mitigation

    Several mitigation measures to reduce the potential for harassment 
from population assessment research surveys will be implemented as part 
of the SNI abalone research activities. Primarily, mitigation of the 
risk of disturbance to pinnipeds requires that researchers are 
judicious in the route of approach to abalone study sites, avoiding 
close contact with pinnipeds hauled out on shore. In no case will 
marine mammals be deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, 
and in all cases every possible measure will be taken to select a 
pathway of approach to study sites that minimizes the number of marine 
mammals harassed. Each visit to a given study site will last for a 
maximum of 4 hours, after which the site is vacated and can be re-
occupied by any hauled marine mammals that may have been disturbed by 
the presence of abalone researchers.
    The potential risk of injury or mortality will be avoided with 
measures required under the authorization. Disturbances to females with 
dependent pups (in the cases of California sea lions and Pacific harbor 
seals) will be mitigated to the greatest extent practicable by avoiding 
visits to the four black abalone study sites with resident pinnipeds 
during periods of breeding and lactation from mid-February through the 
end of October. During this period, abalone research would be confined 
to the other five sites where pinniped breeding and post-partum nursing 
does not occur. Limiting visits to the four breeding and lactation 
sites (5, 6, 7, and 8) to periods when these activities do not occur 
(November, December, January, and the first half of February) will 
reduce the possibility of incidental harassment and the potential for 
serious injury or mortality of dependent California sea lion pups and 
Pacific harbor seal pups to near zero.
    Northern elephant seal pups are present at four sites during winter 
months. Risks of injury or mortality of elephant seal pups by mother/
pup separation or trampling are limited to the period from January 
through March when pups are born, nursed, and weaned, ending about 30 
days post-weaning when pups depart land for foraging areas at sea. 
However, elephant seals have a much higher tolerance of nearby human 
activity than sea lions or harbor seals. Also, elephant seal pupping 
typically occurs on the sandy beaches at SNI, approximately 50 m (164 
ft) or more away from the abalone study sites. Possible take of 
northern elephant seal pups will be minimized by using a very careful 
approach to the study sites and avoiding the proximity of hauled seals 
and any seal pups during collection of abalone population data.
    One individual Guadalupe fur seal was seen at study site 8 on two 
separate occasions during the summer months in the mid-1980's. Since 
the original sightings, no individuals of this species have been seen 
during abalone research. However, to ensure that Gaudelupe fur seals 
are not affected by these activities and that authorization is not 
needed pursuant to the MMPA or the ESA, researchers will only visit 
site 8 from November through January and work will be immediately 
suspended and researchers vacated if an individual is seen. Guadalupe 
fur seals are distinctive in appearance and behavior, and can be 
readily identified at a distance without any disturbance.
    Sea otters, which are federally listed as threatened under the ESA 
and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are not expected 
ashore during the time periods when the research activities would be 
conducted. However, if sea otters are sighted ashore during the abalone 
research, Dr. VanBlaricom would follow similar procedures in place for 
fur seals to avoid impacts, suspending research activities in any areas 
California sea otters are occupying.

Monitoring

    Currently, all biological research activities at SNI are subject to 
approval and regulation by the Environmental Planning and Management 
Department (EPMD), U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy owns SNI and closely 
regulates all civilian

[[Page 71141]]

access to and activity on the island, including biological research. 
Therefore, monitoring activities will be closely coordinated with Navy 
marine mammal biologists located on SNI.
    In addition, status and trends of pinniped aggregations at SNI are 
monitored by the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Also, long-
term studies of pinniped population dynamics, migratory and foraging 
behavior, and foraging ecology at SNI are conducted by staff at Hubbs-
Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI).
    Monitoring requirements in relation to Dr. VanBlaricom's abalone 
research surveys will include observations made by the applicant and 
his associates. Information recorded will include species counts (with 
numbers of pups), numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of 
the disturbed behaviors during the abalone surveys. Observations of 
unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds on SNI will 
be reported to EPMD, NMFS, and HSWRI so that any potential follow-up 
observations can be conducted by the appropriate personnel. In 
addition, observations of tag-bearing pinniped carcasses as well as any 
rare or unusual species of marine mammals will be reported to EPMD and 
NMFS.
    If at any time injury or death of any marine mammal occurs that may 
be a result of the authorized abalone research, Dr. VanBlaricom will 
suspend research activities and contact NMFS immediately to determine 
how best to proceed to ensure that another injury or death does not 
occur and to ensure that the applicant remains in compliance with the 
MMPA.

Reporting

    A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS within 60 days after 
the conclusion of the year-long field season. The report will include a 
summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring 
requirements set forth in the IHA. A final report must be submitted to 
the Regional Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from 
NMFS on the draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, 
the draft final report will be considered to be the final report.
    Dr. VanBlaricom has already submitted the final report required by 
the current IHA and it may be viewed on the NMFS website (see 
ADDRESSES).

Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to be Harassed

    NMFS has determined that small numbers, relative to population 
estimates, of California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and northern 
elephant seals may be taken by harassment as a result of this activity 
(1.3, 0.2, and .04 percent of the minimum population, respectively).
    The distribution of pinnipeds hauled out on beaches is not even 
between sites or at different times of the year. The number of marine 
mammals disturbed will vary by month and location, and, compared to 
animals hauled out on the beach farther away from survey activity, only 
those animals hauled out closest to the actual survey transect plots 
contained within each research site are likely to be disturbed by the 
presence of researchers and alter their behavior or attempt to move out 
of the way.
    Table 2 depicts the total numbers of animals encountered and 
disturbed by Level B Harasssment in Dr. VanBlaricom's 2004, 2005, and 
2006 abalone survey field seasons. As discussed earlier, NMFS considers 
an animal to have been harassed if it moved any distance in response to 
the researcher's presence or if the animal was already moving and 
changed direction. Animals that raised their head and looked at the 
researcher without moving were not considered disturbed. Based on past 
observations and assuming a maximum level of incidental harassment of 
marine mammals at each site during periods of visitation, NMFS 
estimates that the maximum total possible numbers of individuals that 
will be incidentally harassed during the effective dates of the IHA 
would be 1770 California sea lions, 75 Pacific harbor seals, and 25 
northern elephant seals. Three visits to each site are anticipated 
during the year-long validity of the IHA.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     California Sea Lions       Pacific Harbor Seals     Northern Elephant Seal
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Present        Est.        Present        Est.       Present        Est.
              Year                 around Site    Harassed    around Site    Harassed   around Site    Harassed
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2004                              2239          1472          108          99           562          7
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              2005                1383          983           99           88           409          9
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                              1564          1045          57           50           623          14
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Table 2. Estimated number of each species harassed over the last three years of abalone research. Minimum
  population estimates for California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and Northern elephant seals are 138881,
  31600, and 60547,respectively.

Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammal Habitat

    NMFS anticipates that the action will result in no impacts to 
marine mammal habitat beyond rendering the areas immediately around 
each of the nine study sites less desirable as haulout sites for a 
total of 8.5 hours per year.

ESA

    For the reasons already described in this Federal Register Notice, 
NMFS has determined that the described abalone research and the 
accompanying IHA will have no effect on species or critical habitat 
protected under the ESA (specifically, the Guadelope fur seal). 
Therefore, consultation under section 7 of the ESA was not required.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the Issuance of 
an IHA to Take Marine Mammals, by Harassment, During Black Abalone 
Research at SNI, California, which analyzed the issuance of multiple 
IHAs over several years for these activities, and subsequently issued a 
Finding of No Significant Impact on November 21, 2005. A copy of the EA 
and FONSI are available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Conclusions

    Based on Dr. VanBlaricom's application and monitoring reports for 
previous field seasons, as well as the analysis contained herein, NMFS 
has determined that the impact of the described abalone research at SNI 
will result, at most, in a temporary modification in behavior by small 
numbers of California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and northern 
elephant seals, in the form of head alerts, movement away from the 
researchers and/or flushing from the beach. In addition, no take by 
injury or death is anticipated, and take by harassment will be at the 
lowest level practicable due to

[[Page 71142]]

incorporation of the mitigation measures mentioned previously in this 
document. NMFS has further determined the anticipated takes will have a 
negligible impact on the affected species.

Authorization

    NMFS has issued an IHA to Dr. Glenn R. VanBlaricom for the 
harassment of California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and northern 
elephant seals incidental to black abalone population trend research, 
provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements are incorporated.

    Dated: December 1, 2006.
James H. Lecky,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. E6-20950 Filed 12-7-06; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S