Endangered and Threatened Species; Revised Recovery Plan for Distinct Population Segments of Steller Sea Lion, 11872-11873 [E8-4235]

Download as PDF 11872 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 44 / Wednesday, March 5, 2008 / Notices DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XG01 Endangered and Threatened Species; Revised Recovery Plan for Distinct Population Segments of Steller Sea Lion National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commerce. ACTION: Notice of Availability, responses to comments. AGENCY: SUMMARY: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces the availability of the Final Revised Recovery Plan, dated March 2008, for the western and eastern distinct population segments (DPS) of Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus). NMFS also provides a link to the comprehensive and extensive responses to comments on the May 2007 Draft Revised Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan posted on our website. ADDRESSES: The Final Revised Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan and the Responses to Comments are available on the Internet at the following address: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/ protectedresources/stellers/ recovery.htm. Copies of the Plan may also be obtained from NMFS, Protected Resources Division, 222 W 7th St, Anchorage, Alaska 99513; or from the Alaska Regional Office, Protected Resources Division, 709 W. 9th St, Juneau, AK, 99802–1668. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lisa Rotterman at 907–271–5006, email lisa.rotterman@noaa.gov, or Kaja Brix at 907 586 7235, e-mail kaja.brix@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES Background Recovery plans are guidance documents that describe the actions considered necessary for the conservation and recovery of species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Development and implementation of a recovery plan helps to ensure that recovery efforts utilize limited resources effectively and efficiently. The ESA requires the development of recovery plans for listed species, unless such a plan would not promote the recovery of a particular species. The ESA requires that recovery plans incorporate the following: (1) objective, measurable criteria that, when VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:03 Mar 04, 2008 Jkt 214001 met, would result in a determination that the species is no longer threatened or endangered; (2) site-specific management actions necessary to achieve the plan’s goals; and (3) estimates of the time and costs required to implement recovery actions. NMFS’ goal is to restore endangered and threatened Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) populations to levels at which they are secure, selfsustaining components of their ecosystems and no longer require the protections of the ESA. The Steller sea lion was listed as a threatened species under the ESA on April 5, 1990 (55 FR 12645), due to substantial declines in the western portion of the range. Critical habitat was designated on August 27, 1993 (58 FR 45269), based on the locations of terrestrial rookeries and haulouts, the spatial extent of foraging trips, and availability of prey. In 1997, the Steller sea lion population was split into a western DPS and an eastern DPS, based on demographic and genetic dissimilarities (62 FR 30772). Due to a persistent population decline, the western DPS was reclassified as endangered at that time. The increasing eastern DPS remained classified as threatened. Through the 1990s, the western DPS continued to decline. Then, between 2000 and 2004, the western population showed a growth rate of approximately three percent per year the first recorded increase in the population since the 1970s. However, partial surveys in 2006 and 2007 suggest that the overall trend for the western population in Alaska is either stable or may be decreasing slightly. Based on recent counts, the approximate abundance of Steller sea lions in the western DPS in Alaska is currently approximately 45,000 animals. The estimated abundance of sea lions in Russia is approximately 16,000. Based on population-wide surveys in 2002, total abundance of the eastern DPS is currently estimated at between 46,000 and 58,000 animals and has been increasing at a rate of approximately three percent per year since the late 1970s. The first Steller sea lion recovery plan was completed in December 1992 and encompassed the entire range of the species. However, the recovery plan became obsolete after the split into two DPSs in 1997. By that time, nearly all of the recovery actions recommended in the original plan were completed. In 2001, NMFS assembled a new recovery team to update the plan. The team was comprised of members representing the fishing industry, Alaska Natives, fishery and marine mammal scientists, and environmental organizations. The PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 recovery team completed a draft revision in February 2006, then solicited peer review on the draft recovery plan in accordance with NMFS’1994 peer review policy. The team requested reviews from five scientists and managers with expertise in recovery planning, statistical analyses, fisheries, and marine mammals. In response to reviewers’ comments, the team clarified the recovery criteria, added delisting criteria for the western DPS, and further refined priorities and recovery actions. In March 2006, the Team submitted the revised plan to NOAA Fisheries with unanimous endorsement from the 17 Team members. In May 2006, NMFS released the Draft Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan for public review and comment (71 FR 29919). On July 20, 2006, NMFS extended the customary 60–day comment period until September 1, 2006 (71 FR 41206), to provide additional time for public review and comments. NMFS received comments from 18 individuals and organizations during the 100–day comment period. We reviewed these comments and incorporated recommendations into the Draft Revised Plan. Due to extensive public interest and the controversial nature of the recovery plan, NMFS released the Draft Revised Plan for another round of public reviews and comments (72 FR 28473, May 21, 2007). This subsequent release provided the public an opportunity to review changes made based on earlier public input and to provide further comments prior to release of a final Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan. NMFS received 8,058 letters of comment on the May 2007 draft of the revised plan. Comments were provided by a wide range of interested parties, including members of the fishing industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), members of academia, the public, and other interested parties. In response to two solicitations, from NMFS and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), peer review comments were received from the Center for Independent Experts and from scientific experts commissioned by the North Pacific Research Board, at the request of the NPFMC. NMFS reviewed the comments and recommendations submitted by peer reviewers and the public on the 2007 version of the draft revised plan and modified the plan as appropriate to produce this Final Revised Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan (Plan). NMFS’s response to comments on the May 2007 draft of the plan is available at http:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/ E:\FR\FM\05MRN1.SGM 05MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 44 / Wednesday, March 5, 2008 / Notices jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES protectedresources/stellers/ recovery.htm. Several important issues were highlighted by the comments received and were addressed in the Final Revised Plan. The comments almost exclusively addressed the western DPS. The principal changes made by NMFS in response to comments included expansion of the discussion and a change to the rating of the killer whale threat, and modification of the nutritional stress discussion. Other, more minor changes were also made. The Team had originally labeled the killer whale threat, along with fisheries and environmental variability, as ‘‘potentially high.’’ NMFS reclassified that threat to ‘‘medium’’ in the May 2007 draft plan based on new scientific evidence that had not been available when the Team developed their assessment. However, due to continuing controversy on the role that killer whales play in the recovery of Steller sea lions, the uncertainty associated with some of the data, and the need to take a precautionary approach, NMFS has reinstated the ‘‘potentially high’’ designation for the killer whale threat. Comments were received on the nutritional stress section of the May 2007 Plan. NMFS has more fully explained some of the theories and the data on the role of nutritional stress in the recovery of Steller sea lions in the Final Revised Plan. Overview The Final Revised Plan contains: (1) a comprehensive review of Steller sea lion ecology, (2) a review of previous conservation actions, (3) a threats assessment, (4) biological and recovery criteria for downlisting and delisting, (4) actions necessary for the recovery of the species, and (5) estimates of time and costs for recovery. The threats assessment concludes that the following threats to the western DPS are relatively minor: Alaska Native subsistence harvest, illegal shooting, entanglement in marine debris, disease, and disturbance from vessel traffic and scientific research. Although much has been learned about Steller sea lions and the North Pacific ecosystem, considerable uncertainty remains about the magnitude and likelihood of the following potential threats (relative impacts in parentheses): competition with fisheries (potentially high), environmental variability (potentially high), killer whale predation (potentially high), incidental take by fisheries (low), and toxic substances (medium). In contrast, no threats were identified for the eastern DPS. Although several factors that affect the western VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:03 Mar 04, 2008 Jkt 214001 DPS also affect the eastern DPS (e.g., environmental variability, killer whale predation, toxic substances, disturbance), these threats do not appear to be limiting recovery of the population at this time. The Final Revised Plan identifies an array of substantive actions that will foster recovery of the western DPS by addressing the broad range of threats. It highlights three actions (detailed below) that are especially important to the recovery program for the western DPS: 1. Maintain current or equivalent fishery conservation measures: After a long-term decline, the western DPS appears to be stabilizing. The first slowing of the decline began in the 1990s, which suggests that management measures implemented in the early 1990s may have been effective in reducing anthropogenic effects (e.g., shooting, harassment, and incidental take). The apparent population stability observed from 2000 to 2004 (surveys were conducted in 2006 and 2007 but were incomplete) appeared to be associated with comprehensive fishery management measures implemented since the late 1990s. Therefore, the current or equivalent suite of management actions (or, more specifically, the equivalent protection as afforded by the current management measures) should be maintained until substantive evidence demonstrates that these measures can be altered without inhibiting recovery. 2. Design and implement an adaptive management program to evaluate fishery conservation measures: A scientifically rigorous adaptive management program should be developed and implemented. A welldesigned adaptive management plan has the potential to assess the relative impact of commercial fisheries on Steller sea lions and distinguish the impacts of fisheries from other threats (including killer whale predation). This program will require a robust experimental design with replication at appropriate temporal and spatial scales. It will be a challenge to construct an adaptive management plan that is statistically sound, meets the requirements of the ESA and can be implemented in a practicable manner. 3. Continue population monitoring and research on the key threats potentially impeding sea lion recovery: Estimates of population abundance and trends, spatial distribution, health, and essential habitat characteristics are fundamental to Steller sea lion management and recovery. Current knowledge of the effects of primary threats on these parameters is insufficient to determine their relative PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11873 impacts on species recovery. Focused research is needed to assess the effects of threats on sea lion population dynamics and identify suitable mitigation measures. Criteria for reclassification of the eastern DPS and western DPS of Steller sea lion are included in the Final Revised Plan (see above). Time and costs for recovery actions for the western DPS are estimated at $93,840,000 for the first 5 fiscal years and $430,425,000 for full recovery. The recovery program for the eastern DPS will cost an estimated $150,000 for the first year and $1,050,000 total, including 10 years of post-delisting monitoring. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. Dated: February 28, 2008. Angela Somma, Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E8–4235 Filed 3–4–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF98 Endangered Species; File No. 1614 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Issuance of permit. AGENCY: SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Region, Protected Resources Division [Responsible Party: Mary Colligan], One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930, has been issued a permit to take dead shortnose sturgeon for purposes of scientific research. ADDRESSES: The permit and related documents are available for review upon written request or by appointment in the following offices: Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone (301) 713–2289; fax (301) 713–0376; and Northeast Region, NMFS, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930–2298; phone (978) 281–9300; fax (978) 281–9394. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brandy Belmas or Jennifer Skidmore, (301) 713–2289. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On September 26, 2007, notice was published in the Federal Register (72 E:\FR\FM\05MRN1.SGM 05MRN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 44 (Wednesday, March 5, 2008)]
[Notices]
[Pages 11872-11873]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-4235]



[[Page 11872]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XG01


Endangered and Threatened Species; Revised Recovery Plan for 
Distinct Population Segments of Steller Sea Lion

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

ACTION:  Notice of Availability, responses to comments.

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

SUMMARY: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces the 
availability of the Final Revised Recovery Plan, dated March 2008, for 
the western and eastern distinct population segments (DPS) of Steller 
sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus). NMFS also provides a link to the 
comprehensive and extensive responses to comments on the May 2007 Draft 
Revised Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan posted on our website.

ADDRESSES: The Final Revised Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan and the 
Responses to Comments are available on the Internet at the following 
address: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/stellers/
recovery.htm. Copies of the Plan may also be obtained from NMFS, 
Protected Resources Division, 222 W 7\th\ St, Anchorage, Alaska 99513; 
or from the Alaska Regional Office, Protected Resources Division, 709 
W. 9\th\ St, Juneau, AK, 99802-1668.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lisa Rotterman at 907-271-5006, email 
lisa.rotterman@noaa.gov, or Kaja Brix at 907 586 7235, e-mail 
kaja.brix@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Recovery plans are guidance documents that describe the actions 
considered necessary for the conservation and recovery of species 
listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Development and implementation of a recovery plan 
helps to ensure that recovery efforts utilize limited resources 
effectively and efficiently. The ESA requires the development of 
recovery plans for listed species, unless such a plan would not promote 
the recovery of a particular species. The ESA requires that recovery 
plans incorporate the following: (1) objective, measurable criteria 
that, when met, would result in a determination that the species is no 
longer threatened or endangered; (2) site-specific management actions 
necessary to achieve the plan's goals; and (3) estimates of the time 
and costs required to implement recovery actions.
    NMFS' goal is to restore endangered and threatened Steller sea lion 
(Eumetopias jubatus) populations to levels at which they are secure, 
self-sustaining components of their ecosystems and no longer require 
the protections of the ESA. The Steller sea lion was listed as a 
threatened species under the ESA on April 5, 1990 (55 FR 12645), due to 
substantial declines in the western portion of the range. Critical 
habitat was designated on August 27, 1993 (58 FR 45269), based on the 
locations of terrestrial rookeries and haulouts, the spatial extent of 
foraging trips, and availability of prey. In 1997, the Steller sea lion 
population was split into a western DPS and an eastern DPS, based on 
demographic and genetic dissimilarities (62 FR 30772). Due to a 
persistent population decline, the western DPS was reclassified as 
endangered at that time. The increasing eastern DPS remained classified 
as threatened. Through the 1990s, the western DPS continued to decline. 
Then, between 2000 and 2004, the western population showed a growth 
rate of approximately three percent per year the first recorded 
increase in the population since the 1970s. However, partial surveys in 
2006 and 2007 suggest that the overall trend for the western population 
in Alaska is either stable or may be decreasing slightly. Based on 
recent counts, the approximate abundance of Steller sea lions in the 
western DPS in Alaska is currently approximately 45,000 animals. The 
estimated abundance of sea lions in Russia is approximately 16,000. 
Based on population-wide surveys in 2002, total abundance of the 
eastern DPS is currently estimated at between 46,000 and 58,000 animals 
and has been increasing at a rate of approximately three percent per 
year since the late 1970s.
    The first Steller sea lion recovery plan was completed in December 
1992 and encompassed the entire range of the species. However, the 
recovery plan became obsolete after the split into two DPSs in 1997. By 
that time, nearly all of the recovery actions recommended in the 
original plan were completed. In 2001, NMFS assembled a new recovery 
team to update the plan. The team was comprised of members representing 
the fishing industry, Alaska Natives, fishery and marine mammal 
scientists, and environmental organizations. The recovery team 
completed a draft revision in February 2006, then solicited peer review 
on the draft recovery plan in accordance with NMFS'1994 peer review 
policy. The team requested reviews from five scientists and managers 
with expertise in recovery planning, statistical analyses, fisheries, 
and marine mammals. In response to reviewers' comments, the team 
clarified the recovery criteria, added delisting criteria for the 
western DPS, and further refined priorities and recovery actions. In 
March 2006, the Team submitted the revised plan to NOAA Fisheries with 
unanimous endorsement from the 17 Team members.
    In May 2006, NMFS released the Draft Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan 
for public review and comment (71 FR 29919). On July 20, 2006, NMFS 
extended the customary 60-day comment period until September 1, 2006 
(71 FR 41206), to provide additional time for public review and 
comments. NMFS received comments from 18 individuals and organizations 
during the 100-day comment period. We reviewed these comments and 
incorporated recommendations into the Draft Revised Plan.
    Due to extensive public interest and the controversial nature of 
the recovery plan, NMFS released the Draft Revised Plan for another 
round of public reviews and comments (72 FR 28473, May 21, 2007). This 
subsequent release provided the public an opportunity to review changes 
made based on earlier public input and to provide further comments 
prior to release of a final Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan.
    NMFS received 8,058 letters of comment on the May 2007 draft of the 
revised plan. Comments were provided by a wide range of interested 
parties, including members of the fishing industry, non-governmental 
organizations (NGOs), members of academia, the public, and other 
interested parties. In response to two solicitations, from NMFS and the 
North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), peer review comments 
were received from the Center for Independent Experts and from 
scientific experts commissioned by the North Pacific Research Board, at 
the request of the NPFMC. NMFS reviewed the comments and 
recommendations submitted by peer reviewers and the public on the 2007 
version of the draft revised plan and modified the plan as appropriate 
to produce this Final Revised Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan (Plan). 
NMFS's response to comments on the May 2007 draft of the plan is 
available at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/

[[Page 11873]]

protectedresources/stellers/recovery.htm.
    Several important issues were highlighted by the comments received 
and were addressed in the Final Revised Plan. The comments almost 
exclusively addressed the western DPS. The principal changes made by 
NMFS in response to comments included expansion of the discussion and a 
change to the rating of the killer whale threat, and modification of 
the nutritional stress discussion. Other, more minor changes were also 
made.
    The Team had originally labeled the killer whale threat, along with 
fisheries and environmental variability, as ``potentially high.'' NMFS 
reclassified that threat to ``medium'' in the May 2007 draft plan based 
on new scientific evidence that had not been available when the Team 
developed their assessment. However, due to continuing controversy on 
the role that killer whales play in the recovery of Steller sea lions, 
the uncertainty associated with some of the data, and the need to take 
a precautionary approach, NMFS has reinstated the ``potentially high'' 
designation for the killer whale threat.
    Comments were received on the nutritional stress section of the May 
2007 Plan. NMFS has more fully explained some of the theories and the 
data on the role of nutritional stress in the recovery of Steller sea 
lions in the Final Revised Plan.

Overview

    The Final Revised Plan contains: (1) a comprehensive review of 
Steller sea lion ecology, (2) a review of previous conservation 
actions, (3) a threats assessment, (4) biological and recovery criteria 
for downlisting and delisting, (4) actions necessary for the recovery 
of the species, and (5) estimates of time and costs for recovery.
    The threats assessment concludes that the following threats to the 
western DPS are relatively minor: Alaska Native subsistence harvest, 
illegal shooting, entanglement in marine debris, disease, and 
disturbance from vessel traffic and scientific research. Although much 
has been learned about Steller sea lions and the North Pacific 
ecosystem, considerable uncertainty remains about the magnitude and 
likelihood of the following potential threats (relative impacts in 
parentheses): competition with fisheries (potentially high), 
environmental variability (potentially high), killer whale predation 
(potentially high), incidental take by fisheries (low), and toxic 
substances (medium). In contrast, no threats were identified for the 
eastern DPS. Although several factors that affect the western DPS also 
affect the eastern DPS (e.g., environmental variability, killer whale 
predation, toxic substances, disturbance), these threats do not appear 
to be limiting recovery of the population at this time.
    The Final Revised Plan identifies an array of substantive actions 
that will foster recovery of the western DPS by addressing the broad 
range of threats. It highlights three actions (detailed below) that are 
especially important to the recovery program for the western DPS:
    1. Maintain current or equivalent fishery conservation measures: 
After a long-term decline, the western DPS appears to be stabilizing. 
The first slowing of the decline began in the 1990s, which suggests 
that management measures implemented in the early 1990s may have been 
effective in reducing anthropogenic effects (e.g., shooting, 
harassment, and incidental take). The apparent population stability 
observed from 2000 to 2004 (surveys were conducted in 2006 and 2007 but 
were incomplete) appeared to be associated with comprehensive fishery 
management measures implemented since the late 1990s. Therefore, the 
current or equivalent suite of management actions (or, more 
specifically, the equivalent protection as afforded by the current 
management measures) should be maintained until substantive evidence 
demonstrates that these measures can be altered without inhibiting 
recovery.
    2. Design and implement an adaptive management program to evaluate 
fishery conservation measures: A scientifically rigorous adaptive 
management program should be developed and implemented. A well-designed 
adaptive management plan has the potential to assess the relative 
impact of commercial fisheries on Steller sea lions and distinguish the 
impacts of fisheries from other threats (including killer whale 
predation). This program will require a robust experimental design with 
replication at appropriate temporal and spatial scales. It will be a 
challenge to construct an adaptive management plan that is 
statistically sound, meets the requirements of the ESA and can be 
implemented in a practicable manner.
    3. Continue population monitoring and research on the key threats 
potentially impeding sea lion recovery: Estimates of population 
abundance and trends, spatial distribution, health, and essential 
habitat characteristics are fundamental to Steller sea lion management 
and recovery. Current knowledge of the effects of primary threats on 
these parameters is insufficient to determine their relative impacts on 
species recovery. Focused research is needed to assess the effects of 
threats on sea lion population dynamics and identify suitable 
mitigation measures.
    Criteria for reclassification of the eastern DPS and western DPS of 
Steller sea lion are included in the Final Revised Plan (see above).
    Time and costs for recovery actions for the western DPS are 
estimated at $93,840,000 for the first 5 fiscal years and $430,425,000 
for full recovery. The recovery program for the eastern DPS will cost 
an estimated $150,000 for the first year and $1,050,000 total, 
including 10 years of post-delisting monitoring.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.

    Dated: February 28, 2008.
Angela Somma,
Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. E8-4235 Filed 3-4-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S