Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Queen Conch as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act, 51763-51767 [2012-21090]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 166 / Monday, August 27, 2012 / Notices 51763 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Northern California steelhead (O. mykiss), and threatened California Coastal Chinook Salmon (O. tshawytscha). RIN 0648–XC173 Permit 14513 [Docket No. 1206013478–2342–02; 0648– XB140] Endangered and Threatened Species; Take of Anadromous Fish A notice of the receipt of an application for a scientific research permit (14513) was published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2010 (75 FR 76400–76401). After publication of the notice of receipt, Dr. Carlson expanded her research program to include study sites in the Eel River watershed. Since the Eel River watershed and associated take of salmon and steelhead were not included in the previous application that already went through the public comment period, NMFS published another notice of receipt in the Federal Register on June 7, 2012 (77 FR 33717–33718). Permit 14513 is for research to be conducted in the Lagunitas Creek watershed in Marin County, the Pescadero Creek watershed in San Mateo County, and the Eel River watershed in Humboldt and Mendocino counties, California. The main purpose of the research is to conduct research on, and monitor salmon populations in these watersheds. Permit 14513 authorizes capturing (backpack electrofisher, traps, seine, dip net, hook and line), observing (snorkel surveys), anesthetizing, handling (identify, measure, weigh), marking (Passive Integrated Transponder tags, fin clips), sample (scales, gastric lavage, otolith), and release of Central California Coast (CCC) coho salmon, Southern Oregon/ Northern California Coast (SONCC) coho salmon, Central California Coast (CCC) steelhead, Northern California (NC)steelhead, and California Coastal (CC) Chinook Salmon, henceforth referred to as ESA-listed salmonids. Permit 14513 authorizes non-lethal take and low levels of unintentional lethal take of ESA-listed salmonids, as well as adult carcasses of these species. Permit 14513 does not authorize any lethal take of ESA-listed salmonids except for a limited number of moribund CCC steelhead that may occur in Pescadero Creek. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Issuance of a scientific research permit. AGENCY: Notice is hereby given that NMFS has issued Permit 14513 to Dr. Stephanie Carlson of University of California, Berkeley. ADDRESSES: The approved application for the permit is available on the Applications and Permits for Protected Species (APPS), https:// apps.nmfs.noaa.gov Web site by searching the permit number within the Search Database page. The application, issued permit and supporting documents are also available upon written request or by appointment: Protected Resources Division, NMFS, 777 Sonoma Avenue, Room 325, Santa Rosa, California 95404 (ph: (707) 575– 6097, fax: (707) 578–3435). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeffrey Jahn at 707–575–6097, or email: Jeffrey.Jahn@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: Authority pmangrum on DSK3VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES The issuance of permits and permit modifications, as required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531–1543) (ESA), is based on a finding that such permits/modifications: (1) Are applied for in good faith; (2) would not operate to the disadvantage of the listed species which are the subject of the permits; and (3) are consistent with the purposes and policies set forth in section 2 of the ESA. Authority to take listed species is subject to conditions set forth in the permits. Permits and modifications are issued in accordance with and are subject to the ESA and NMFS regulations (50 CFR parts 222–226) governing listed fish and wildlife permits. Species Covered in This Notice This notice is relevant to federally endangered Central California Coast coho salmon (Oncorhyncus kisutch), threatened Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon (O. kisutch), threatened Central California Coast steelhead (O. mykiss), threatened VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:04 Aug 24, 2012 Jkt 226001 Dated: August 22, 2012. Dwayne Meadows, Acting Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2012–21091 Filed 8–24–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Queen Conch as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce. ACTION: Ninety-day petition finding, request for information, and initiation of status review. AGENCY: We, NMFS, announce a 90day finding on a petition to list the queen conch (Strombus gigas) as threatened or endangered and designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We find that the petition and information in our files present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We will conduct a status review of the species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding this species (see below). SUMMARY: Information and comments on the subject action must be received by October 26, 2012. ADDRESSES: You may submit information, identified by the code 0648–XB140, addressed to: Calusa Horn, Natural Resource Specialist, by any of the following methods: • Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic information via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http:// www.regulations.gov. • Facsimile (fax): 727–824–5309. • Mail: NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. • Hand delivery: You may hand deliver written information to our office during normal business hours at the street address given above. Instructions: All information received is a part of the public record and may be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. All personally identifiable information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected DATES: E:\FR\FM\27AUN1.SGM 27AUN1 51764 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 166 / Monday, August 27, 2012 / Notices information. We will accept anonymous submissions. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, Corel WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Calusa Horn, NMFS, Southeast Region, (727) 824–5312; or Marta Nammack, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, (301) 427–8469. On February 27, 2012, we received a petition from the WildEarth Guardians to list queen conch (Strombus gigas) as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The petitioner also requested that we designate critical habitat. The petition states that the species is declining and threatened with extinction due to habitat degradation, specifically, water pollution and destruction of seagrass nursery habitat, overutilization resulting from commercial harvest, inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, and other natural and manmade factors such as, biological vulnerability, human population growth, and synergistic effects. Copies of this petition are available from us (see ADDRESSES, above) or at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/ListingPetitions.htm. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: pmangrum on DSK3VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES ESA Statutory and Regulatory Provisions and Evaluation Framework Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 days of receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered, the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly publish such finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). When we find that substantial scientific or commercial information in a petition indicates the petitioned action may be warranted (a ‘‘positive 90-day finding’’), we are required to promptly commence a review of the status of the species concerned during which we will conduct a comprehensive review of the best available scientific and commercial information. In such cases, we are to conclude the review with a finding as to whether, in fact, the petitioned action is warranted within 12 months of receipt of the petition. Because the finding at the 12-month stage is based on a more thorough review of the available information, as compared to the narrow scope of review at the 90-day stage, a ‘‘may be warranted’’ finding does not VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:04 Aug 24, 2012 Jkt 226001 prejudge the outcome of the status review. Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a ‘‘species,’’ which is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate species, any distinct population segment (DPS) that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint NOAA–U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) policy clarifies the agencies’ interpretation of the phrase ‘‘distinct population segment’’ for the purposes of listing, delisting, and reclassifying a species under the ESA (‘‘DPS Policy’’; 61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A species, subspecies, or DPS is ‘‘endangered’’ if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and ‘‘threatened’’ if it is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range (ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20), respectively; 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and (20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our implementing regulations, we determine whether species are threatened or endangered because of any one or a combination of the following five section 4(a)(1) factors: the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and any other natural or manmade factors affecting the species’ existence (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 424.11(c)). ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by NMFS and USFWS (50 CFR 424.14(b)) define ‘‘substantial information’’ in the context of reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. In evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition, the Secretary must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates the administrative measure recommended and gives the scientific and any common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on available information, past and present numbers and distribution of the species involved and any threats faced by the species; (3) provides information regarding the status of the species over all or a significant portion of its range; and (4) is accompanied by the appropriate supporting documentation in the form of bibliographic references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or letters from PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)). Court decisions clarify the appropriate scope and limitations of the Services’ review of petitions at the 90day finding stage, in making a determination whether a petitioned action ‘‘may be’’ warranted. As a general matter, these decisions hold that a petition need not establish a ‘‘strong likelihood’’ or a ‘‘high probability’’ that a species is either threatened or endangered to support a positive 90-day finding. We evaluate the petitioner’s request based upon the information in the petition including its references, and the information readily available in our files. We do not conduct additional research, and we do not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us in evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioner’s sources and characterizations of the information presented, if they appear to be based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific information in our files that indicates the petition’s information is incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the petitioner’s assertions. In other words, conclusive information indicating the species may meet the ESA’s requirements for listing is not required to make a positive 90day finding. We will not conclude that a lack of specific information alone negates a positive 90-day finding, if a reasonable person would conclude that the unknown information itself suggests an extinction risk of concern for the species at issue. To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the subject species may be either threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate whether the information presented in the petition, along with the information readily available in our files, indicates that the petitioned entity constitutes a ‘‘species’’ eligible for listing under the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the species at issue faces extinction risk that is cause for concern; this may be indicated in information expressly discussing the species’ status and trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to the species. We E:\FR\FM\27AUN1.SGM 27AUN1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 166 / Monday, August 27, 2012 / Notices pmangrum on DSK3VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES evaluate any information on specific demographic factors pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species at issue (e.g., population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial structure, age structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical range, habitat integrity or fragmentation), and the potential contribution of identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the species. We then evaluate the potential links between these demographic risks and the causative impacts and threats identified in section 4(a)(1). Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute substantial information that listing may be warranted. We look for information indicating that not only is the particular species exposed to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a negative fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that negative response. Queen Conch Species Description The queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a large gastropod mollusk belonging to the Strombidae family. The queen conch occurs throughout the Caribbean islands and into the Gulf of Mexico, south Florida, the Bahamas, and Bermuda, and the northern coasts of Central and South America (Davis, 2005). The known distribution of the queen conch includes 36 countries and dependent territories (CITES, 2003). The queen conch is the largest of the molluscan gastropods with adults averaging 7–9 inches (shell length) in size, but can grow to a maximum size of 12 inches (Davis, 2005; NMFS, 2011). Queen conch have an external, spiral-shaped shell with a glossy pink or orange interior (Davis, 2005; NOAA, 2011). Queen conch are aged by shell length, which is measured from the tip of spire to the anterior edge of the shell. At approximately 3 years of age, the shell will begin to form a flared lip, which is used to indicate the animal’s maturity (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005). Reproductive maturity is related to the development of the flared lip (SEDAR, 2007). The conch shell and flared lip continue to grow as the animal ages (NMFS, 2011). Queen conch are believed to live up to 30 years (McCarthy, 2007). Shell morphology is highly plastic and habitat VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:04 Aug 24, 2012 Jkt 226001 appears to exert a strong influence on juvenile and adult morphology and growth (Martin-Mora et al., 1995; McCarthy, 2007). Queen conch graze on a variety of species of algae and seagrass detritus. Their preferred habitat types are seagrass meadows, coral rubble, algal plains, and sandy substrates (McCarthy, 2007; SADAR, 2007), but they are also encountered on rocky habitats and on coral reefs (Theile, 2001). Queen conch occur at depths ranging from a few centimeters to greater than 100 meters; however, densities decrease significantly below 30 meters due to light limitations that are not conducive for the growth of their food sources (i.e., algae and seagrass) (Theile, 2001; SEDAR, 2007). Adults are typically found at depths ranging from 10 to 30 meters (McCarthy, 2007). Queen conch reach reproductive maturity, though highly variable, between 3 and 4 years of age or after the shell has developed the flared lip (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005; McCarthy, 2007). It is widely believed that adult queen conch migrate to shallow waters to form large spawning aggregations. However, Stoner et al., (1992) and Glazer and Kidney (2004; as cited in CITES, 2008) suggest that queen conch migrate relatively little when habitats provide for a variety of their functions (e.g., forage, cover, reproduction). Queen conch spawn from March through October, with most activity occurring during the warmest water periods (i.e., July through September). Fertilization is internal and females lay an average of nine egg masses per season; each mass contains approximately 400,000 eggs (Davis, 2005). Larvae hatch after a 3 to 5 day egg incubation period. Larvae are pelagic, drifting on surface currents for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on phytoplankton concentrations, temperature, and proximity to appropriate nursery habitat. Ocean currents and water circulation can carry larvae over significant distances and likely play an important role in recruitment and repopulation of depleted areas (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005). It is generally believed that larvae select specific habitat types, preferring to settle in clean shallow coastal waters containing seagrass meadows and sandy substrate (CFMC, 1996; Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005), although juvenile queen conch have also been observed in a variety of habitat types (i.e., algae covered hard bottom, algae flats, deep banks, coral rubbles, and seagrass meadows) (Stoner, 2003; Davis, 2005). During their first year, larvae begin to metamorphose into PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 51765 the queen conch form (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005). Analysis of the Petition We have determined, based on the information provided in the petition and readily available in our files, that the petition presented substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. The petition contains a detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, species taxonomic description, geographic distribution, preferred habitat characteristics, population status and trends, and threats contributing to the species’ decline, and it is accompanied by appropriate supporting documentation. Below is a synopsis of our analysis of the information provided in the petition and readily available in our files. The petition states that the primary threat to the queen conch is overexploitation by fisheries. The queen conch is commercially harvested in 25 countries throughout the Caribbean region (Acosta, 2006). Queen conch meat is mainly consumed as food, but is also used as bait. Queen conch shells are generally considered a by-product of the fisheries and are discarded at sea, though some are sold as jewelry or curios (NMFS, 2011a). The United States is the largest importer of queen conch from the Caribbean, importing approximately 78 percent of the queen conch meat in international trade (Davis, 2005), equaling approximately 2,000 to 2,500 tons of queen conch meat annually (Theile, 2002; CITES, 2005). The petition asserts that queen conch annual landings have increased substantially in order to meet growing international demand. The petition references queen conch landings from several of the largest exporting countries in the Caribbean region, stating that Jamaica, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic each declare approximately 1,000 tons of queen conch meat landed annually; followed by the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos which land approximately 680 and 780 tons, respectively (Theile, 2002; as cited by the petition). For perspective, 4,500 tons of conch meat is equivalent to approximately 31 million individuals (CITES, 2005). The petition also claims that queen conch landings are ‘‘grossly underestimated’’ because landings data are limited and do not account for high levels of illegal and unreported harvest. Several citations caution that queen conch landings are likely greater than reported, referencing large scale foreign poaching and illegal trade (i.e., at sea transfer) by neighbouring territories and E:\FR\FM\27AUN1.SGM 27AUN1 pmangrum on DSK3VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 51766 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 166 / Monday, August 27, 2012 / Notices under-reported queen conch landings (Theile, 2001; CITES, 2005; Aiken et al., 2006; FAO, 2007). The petitioner asserts that queen conch is being harvested at unsustainable levels, resulting in population declines, stock collapses, as well as recruitment and reproductive failure. In the 1980s, increased international demand and subsequent commercial exploitation resulted in several stocks being reduced to levels where the populations can no longer recover (Paris et al., 2008). The queen conch trade is suspected to be unsustainable in many Caribbean countries, and illegal harvest, including fishing of the species in foreign waters and subsequent illegal international trade, is believed to be a common and widespread problem throughout the Caribbean region (Theile, 2001; JesusNavarrete, 2003; CITES 2003, 2005; Aiken et al., 2006). The petition outlines specific population declines, stock collapses, and total or temporary closures of queen conch fisheries as a result of overharvest in Bermuda, Cuba, Colombia, Florida, Mexico, the Netherlands Antilles, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Venezuela (CFMC, 1996; Theile, 2001; CITES, 2003). In some Caribbean countries, local queen conch consumption is more significant than the queen conch meat exports (CITES 2005; Erhardt and Valle-Esuivel, 2008). The CITES significant trade review suggested that population declines throughout the Caribbean are primarily the result of overfishing for domestic and international markets, lack of enforcement of regulations, and large scale poaching by foreigners (CITES, 2003, 2005). The review also found that intensive fishing pressure has led to continued population declines resulting in ‘‘densities so low that recruitment failure is a risk to local fisheries in parts of Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands’’ (CITES, 2003, 2005). The petitioner also claims that the overfishing of queen conch populations has led to population densities so low that a mate finding Allee effect is preventing recruitment and prohibiting the species’ ability to recover from overexploitation. The Allee effect occurs when population growth is limited by the reduced likelihood of finding a mate due to low population densities. In addition, the decrease in abundance of reproductively mature adults (spawning stock) can lead to reduced survival or production of eggs causing depensation issues. Animals, like the queen conch, that require close proximity for fertilization of eggs are particularly VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:04 Aug 24, 2012 Jkt 226001 vulnerable to depensation problems (Stoner et al. 2012). Stoner and RayCulp (2000) documented a mate-finding Allee effect in queen conch populations in the Bahamas, observing that mating behavior and egg-laying never occurred when densities were below 56 and 48 adults per hectare. Consistent with earlier studies, Stoner et al. (2012) reported that no mating was observed at densities less than 47 queen conch per hectare. Ehrhardt and Valle-Esquivel (2008, citing TRAFFIC, 2003) stated that the mean densities in several important queen conch fisheries in the Caribbean region were below levels at which depensation has been shown to occur in queen conch populations. The information presented by the petitioner and information in our files indicates that queen conch populations in many Caribbean countries are declining or have declined as a result of overexploitation. In addition, some Caribbean countries have overexploited queen conch populations to such low levels that depensation is impacting recruitment and recovery. Taken in combination, this information suggests that overexploitation may pose an extinction risk of concern to the queen conch. The petitioner also claims that water pollution in the form of heavy metals is a significant threat to queen conch populations. The petition discussed the threat of water pollution under ‘‘the present and threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range’’ listing factor. However, the available information suggests that water pollution is having a physiological impact on queen conch reproduction, which is an effect to the animal. Therefore, we believe that this threat is more appropriately addressed under the ‘‘other natural and manmade factors’’ listing factor. The petition cites several peerreviewed publications and research studies that show queen conch in south Florida are incapable of reproduction due to pollutants in their environment. In the Florida Keys, studies have confirmed a complete cessation of queen conch spawning in nearshore areas, whereas offshore queen conch have normal reproductive development (Glazer and Quinteri, 1998; McCarthy et al. 2002; Delgado et al. 2004, 2007; Glazer et al. 2008; Spade et al. 2010). Spade et al. (2010) suggest that the reproductive failure of queen conch in nearshore environments in the Florida Keys is possibly a result of exposure to high levels of zinc and copper in their environments. Gastropod studies have linked heavy metal exposure, in particular exposure to zinc and copper, PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 to reduced reproductive output which is usually measured in terms of egg laying (Glazer et al. 2008; Spade et al. 2010). In the Florida Keys, the gonads of nearshore female conch were documented by Delgado et al. (2004) to be in worse condition than those of males; Spade et al. (2010) also documented a premature regression of male testis and a reduction in testis development in nearshore male queen conch. Translocation studies conducted in the Florida Keys also found that nearshore queen conch failed to develop adequate gonad tissue, but gonads developed within 3 months once the animals were relocated to offshore environments; conversely, gonad function ceased when offshore queen conch were relocated into nearshore environments (McCarthy et al. 2002; Glazer et al. 2008; Spade et al. 2010). A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Environmental Protection Agency report (Glazer et al. 2008) on the anthropogenic effects to queen conch reproduction in south Florida showed high concentrations of zinc in the digestive gland and gonad tissue of nearshore queen conch. The report stated that the digestive glands of reproductively healthy offshore queen conch had 70ng/mg of zinc, whereas the non-reproductive nearshore queen conch had 1000ng/mg of zinc in their digestive glands. In gastropods the digestive gland is adjacent to the gonad and is believed to be a site of metal accumulation and detoxification (Spade et al. 2010). Delgado et al. (2007) suggest that exposure to chemicals (i.e., naled and permathrin) commonly used in mosquito control pesticides in south Florida may have several sub-lethal and chronic effects on critical early life stages of queen conch. The majority of queen conch embryos exposed to these chemicals during this study were deformed in a manner that would limit their ability to survive in the wild. Exposure to these chemicals likely increases the risk of predation upon queen conch larvae. Delgado et al. (2007) found that exposed larvae were slow growing which would require larvae to remain adrift in the water column for an extended period of time before they reached competency (i.e., recruitment size), increasing their chance of being predated upon. In addition, settlement stage larvae exposed to these chemicals received a false metamorphic cue which forced larvae to undergo metamorphosis prior to competence, decreasing their chances of survival (Delgado et al. 2007; Glazier et al. 2008). E:\FR\FM\27AUN1.SGM 27AUN1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 166 / Monday, August 27, 2012 / Notices The literature in the petition and information available in our files suggests that water pollution in south Florida is significantly impacting queen conch physiology and is affecting the population’s growth and impeding the recovery of the historically overfished populations. The information provided by the petitioner and in our files is limited to the south Florida populations. We do not have information regarding the occurrence of this threat in other areas of the species range. However, it is possible that Caribbean populations may be experiencing similar physiological effects resulting from water pollution. Based on the information available to us at this time, we believe water pollution may pose a significant risk to the species if it is occurring elsewhere. In addition to the information on overutilization and water pollution, the petitioner also provided information on the present and threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of seagrass nursery habitat, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, and other natural and manmade factors affecting the species existence. Because we have determined that the information provided on overutilization and other natural or manmade factors presents substantial information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted, we are not conducting a detailed analysis of this other information here. pmangrum on DSK3VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Petition Finding We have determined after reviewing the information contained in the petition, as well as information readily available in our files, that there is substantial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted, based on the threats of overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific or education purposes and other natural or manmade factors. Because we have found that substantial information was presented on the above factors, we will commence a status review of the species. During our status review, we will fully address all five of the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. At the conclusion of the status review, we will determine whether the petitioned action is warranted. Information Solicited As required by section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA and NMFS’ implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we are to commence a review of the status of the species and make a determination within 12 months of receiving the petition as to whether the petitioned action is warranted. We intend that any VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:04 Aug 24, 2012 Jkt 226001 final action resulting from this review be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we open a 60-day public comment period to solicit information from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other interested parties on the status of the queen conch throughout its range including: (1) Historical and current distribution and abundance of this species throughout its range; (2) historical and current population trends; (3) biological information (life history, genetics, population connectivity, etc.); (4) landings and trade data; (5) management, regulatory, and enforcement information; (6) any current or planned activities that may adversely impact the species; and (7) ongoing or planned efforts to protect and restore the species and their habitats. We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter’s name, address, and any association, institution, or business that the person represents. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA and NMFS’ implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.11(b)) require that a listing determination be based solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data, without consideration of possible economic or other impacts of the determination. During the 60-day public comment period we are seeking information related only to the status of the queen conch throughout its range. Peer Review On July 1, 1994, NMFS, jointly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, published a series of policies regarding listings under the ESA, including a policy for peer review of scientific data (59 FR 34270). The intent of the peer review policy is to ensure listings are based on the best scientific and commercial data available. The Office of Management and Budget issued its Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review on December 16, 2004. The Bulletin went into effect June 16, 2005, and generally requires that all ‘‘influential scientific information’’ and ‘‘highly influential scientific information’’ disseminated on or after that date be peer reviewed. Because the information used to evaluate this petition may be considered ‘‘influential scientific information,’’ we solicit the names of recognized experts in the field that could take part in the peer review process for this status review (see ADDRESSES). Independent peer reviewers will be selected from the PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 51767 academic and scientific community, tribal and other Native American groups, Federal and state agencies, the private sector, and public interest groups. References Cited A complete list of references is available upon request from the Southeast Regional Office, Protected Resource Division (see ADDRESSES). Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Dated: August 21, 2012. Alan D. Risenhoover, Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2012–21090 Filed 8–24–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [Docket No. 120705210–2210–01] RIN 0648–XC101 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List Five Species of Sturgeon as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce. ACTION: Ninety-day petition finding, request for information, and initiation of status review. AGENCY: We, NMFS, announce a 90day finding on a petition to list five species of sturgeon (Acipenser sturio, A. naccarii, A. mikadoi, A. sinensis, and Huso dauricus), or any distinct population segments of these species that the Secretary of Commerce determines may exist, as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We find that the petition and information in our files present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that these petitioned actions may be warranted. We will conduct a status review of these species to determine if the petitioned actions are warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding these species (see below). SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\27AUN1.SGM 27AUN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 166 (Monday, August 27, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 51763-51767]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-21090]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[Docket No. 1206013478-2342-02; 0648-XB140]


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition 
To List the Queen Conch as Threatened or Endangered Under the 
Endangered Species Act

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

ACTION: Ninety-day petition finding, request for information, and 
initiation of status review.

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SUMMARY: We, NMFS, announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list the 
queen conch (Strombus gigas) as threatened or endangered and designate 
critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We find that 
the petition and information in our files present substantial 
scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned 
action may be warranted. We will conduct a status review of the species 
to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the 
status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and 
commercial information regarding this species (see below).

DATES: Information and comments on the subject action must be received 
by October 26, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information, identified by the code 0648-
XB140, addressed to: Calusa Horn, Natural Resource Specialist, by any 
of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic information 
via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov.
     Facsimile (fax): 727-824-5309.
     Mail: NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue 
South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.
     Hand delivery: You may hand deliver written information to 
our office during normal business hours at the street address given 
above.
    Instructions: All information received is a part of the public 
record and may be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. 
All personally identifiable information (for example, name, address, 
etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected

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information. We will accept anonymous submissions. Attachments to 
electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, Corel 
WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Calusa Horn, NMFS, Southeast Region, 
(727) 824-5312; or Marta Nammack, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, 
(301) 427-8469.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On February 27, 2012, we received a petition 
from the WildEarth Guardians to list queen conch (Strombus gigas) as 
threatened or endangered under the ESA. The petitioner also requested 
that we designate critical habitat. The petition states that the 
species is declining and threatened with extinction due to habitat 
degradation, specifically, water pollution and destruction of seagrass 
nursery habitat, overutilization resulting from commercial harvest, 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, and other natural and 
manmade factors such as, biological vulnerability, human population 
growth, and synergistic effects. Copies of this petition are available 
from us (see ADDRESSES, above) or at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ListingPetitions.htm.

ESA Statutory and Regulatory Provisions and Evaluation Framework

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 days 
of receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered, 
the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that petition 
presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating 
that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly publish 
such finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). When we 
find that substantial scientific or commercial information in a 
petition indicates the petitioned action may be warranted (a ``positive 
90-day finding''), we are required to promptly commence a review of the 
status of the species concerned during which we will conduct a 
comprehensive review of the best available scientific and commercial 
information. In such cases, we are to conclude the review with a 
finding as to whether, in fact, the petitioned action is warranted 
within 12 months of receipt of the petition. Because the finding at the 
12-month stage is based on a more thorough review of the available 
information, as compared to the narrow scope of review at the 90-day 
stage, a ``may be warranted'' finding does not prejudge the outcome of 
the status review.
    Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a ``species,'' 
which is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate 
species, any distinct population segment (DPS) that interbreeds when 
mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint NOAA-U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (USFWS) policy clarifies the agencies' interpretation of the 
phrase ``distinct population segment'' for the purposes of listing, 
delisting, and reclassifying a species under the ESA (``DPS Policy''; 
61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A species, subspecies, or DPS is 
``endangered'' if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range, and ``threatened'' if it is likely to 
become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range (ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20), 
respectively; 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and (20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our 
implementing regulations, we determine whether species are threatened 
or endangered because of any one or a combination of the following five 
section 4(a)(1) factors: the present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease 
or predation; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and any 
other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' existence (16 
U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 424.11(c)).
    ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by NMFS and USFWS (50 
CFR 424.14(b)) define ``substantial information'' in the context of 
reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. In 
evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition, 
the Secretary must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates 
the administrative measure recommended and gives the scientific and any 
common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative 
justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on 
available information, past and present numbers and distribution of the 
species involved and any threats faced by the species; (3) provides 
information regarding the status of the species over all or a 
significant portion of its range; and (4) is accompanied by the 
appropriate supporting documentation in the form of bibliographic 
references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or 
letters from authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)).
    Court decisions clarify the appropriate scope and limitations of 
the Services' review of petitions at the 90-day finding stage, in 
making a determination whether a petitioned action ``may be'' 
warranted. As a general matter, these decisions hold that a petition 
need not establish a ``strong likelihood'' or a ``high probability'' 
that a species is either threatened or endangered to support a positive 
90-day finding.
    We evaluate the petitioner's request based upon the information in 
the petition including its references, and the information readily 
available in our files. We do not conduct additional research, and we 
do not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us 
in evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioner's sources and 
characterizations of the information presented, if they appear to be 
based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific 
information in our files that indicates the petition's information is 
incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the 
requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one 
interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information 
will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is 
reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the 
petitioner's assertions. In other words, conclusive information 
indicating the species may meet the ESA's requirements for listing is 
not required to make a positive 90-day finding. We will not conclude 
that a lack of specific information alone negates a positive 90-day 
finding, if a reasonable person would conclude that the unknown 
information itself suggests an extinction risk of concern for the 
species at issue.
    To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we 
evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating the subject species may be either 
threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate 
whether the information presented in the petition, along with the 
information readily available in our files, indicates that the 
petitioned entity constitutes a ``species'' eligible for listing under 
the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the 
species at issue faces extinction risk that is cause for concern; this 
may be indicated in information expressly discussing the species' 
status and trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to 
the species. We

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evaluate any information on specific demographic factors pertinent to 
evaluating extinction risk for the species at issue (e.g., population 
abundance and trends, productivity, spatial structure, age structure, 
sex ratio, diversity, current and historical range, habitat integrity 
or fragmentation), and the potential contribution of identified 
demographic risks to extinction risk for the species. We then evaluate 
the potential links between these demographic risks and the causative 
impacts and threats identified in section 4(a)(1).
    Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to 
the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these 
factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species 
to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad 
statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification 
of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute 
substantial information that listing may be warranted. We look for 
information indicating that not only is the particular species exposed 
to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a negative 
fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that negative 
response.

Queen Conch Species Description

    The queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a large gastropod mollusk 
belonging to the Strombidae family. The queen conch occurs throughout 
the Caribbean islands and into the Gulf of Mexico, south Florida, the 
Bahamas, and Bermuda, and the northern coasts of Central and South 
America (Davis, 2005). The known distribution of the queen conch 
includes 36 countries and dependent territories (CITES, 2003). The 
queen conch is the largest of the molluscan gastropods with adults 
averaging 7-9 inches (shell length) in size, but can grow to a maximum 
size of 12 inches (Davis, 2005; NMFS, 2011). Queen conch have an 
external, spiral-shaped shell with a glossy pink or orange interior 
(Davis, 2005; NOAA, 2011). Queen conch are aged by shell length, which 
is measured from the tip of spire to the anterior edge of the shell. At 
approximately 3 years of age, the shell will begin to form a flared 
lip, which is used to indicate the animal's maturity (Theile, 2001; 
Davis, 2005). Reproductive maturity is related to the development of 
the flared lip (SEDAR, 2007). The conch shell and flared lip continue 
to grow as the animal ages (NMFS, 2011).
    Queen conch are believed to live up to 30 years (McCarthy, 2007). 
Shell morphology is highly plastic and habitat appears to exert a 
strong influence on juvenile and adult morphology and growth (Martin-
Mora et al., 1995; McCarthy, 2007). Queen conch graze on a variety of 
species of algae and seagrass detritus. Their preferred habitat types 
are seagrass meadows, coral rubble, algal plains, and sandy substrates 
(McCarthy, 2007; SADAR, 2007), but they are also encountered on rocky 
habitats and on coral reefs (Theile, 2001). Queen conch occur at depths 
ranging from a few centimeters to greater than 100 meters; however, 
densities decrease significantly below 30 meters due to light 
limitations that are not conducive for the growth of their food sources 
(i.e., algae and seagrass) (Theile, 2001; SEDAR, 2007). Adults are 
typically found at depths ranging from 10 to 30 meters (McCarthy, 
2007).
    Queen conch reach reproductive maturity, though highly variable, 
between 3 and 4 years of age or after the shell has developed the 
flared lip (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005; McCarthy, 2007). It is widely 
believed that adult queen conch migrate to shallow waters to form large 
spawning aggregations. However, Stoner et al., (1992) and Glazer and 
Kidney (2004; as cited in CITES, 2008) suggest that queen conch migrate 
relatively little when habitats provide for a variety of their 
functions (e.g., forage, cover, reproduction). Queen conch spawn from 
March through October, with most activity occurring during the warmest 
water periods (i.e., July through September). Fertilization is internal 
and females lay an average of nine egg masses per season; each mass 
contains approximately 400,000 eggs (Davis, 2005). Larvae hatch after a 
3 to 5 day egg incubation period. Larvae are pelagic, drifting on 
surface currents for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on phytoplankton 
concentrations, temperature, and proximity to appropriate nursery 
habitat. Ocean currents and water circulation can carry larvae over 
significant distances and likely play an important role in recruitment 
and repopulation of depleted areas (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005). It is 
generally believed that larvae select specific habitat types, 
preferring to settle in clean shallow coastal waters containing 
seagrass meadows and sandy substrate (CFMC, 1996; Theile, 2001; Davis, 
2005), although juvenile queen conch have also been observed in a 
variety of habitat types (i.e., algae covered hard bottom, algae flats, 
deep banks, coral rubbles, and seagrass meadows) (Stoner, 2003; Davis, 
2005). During their first year, larvae begin to metamorphose into the 
queen conch form (Theile, 2001; Davis, 2005).

Analysis of the Petition

    We have determined, based on the information provided in the 
petition and readily available in our files, that the petition 
presented substantial scientific or commercial information indicating 
that the petitioned action may be warranted. The petition contains a 
detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, species 
taxonomic description, geographic distribution, preferred habitat 
characteristics, population status and trends, and threats contributing 
to the species' decline, and it is accompanied by appropriate 
supporting documentation. Below is a synopsis of our analysis of the 
information provided in the petition and readily available in our 
files.
    The petition states that the primary threat to the queen conch is 
overexploitation by fisheries. The queen conch is commercially 
harvested in 25 countries throughout the Caribbean region (Acosta, 
2006). Queen conch meat is mainly consumed as food, but is also used as 
bait. Queen conch shells are generally considered a by-product of the 
fisheries and are discarded at sea, though some are sold as jewelry or 
curios (NMFS, 2011a). The United States is the largest importer of 
queen conch from the Caribbean, importing approximately 78 percent of 
the queen conch meat in international trade (Davis, 2005), equaling 
approximately 2,000 to 2,500 tons of queen conch meat annually (Theile, 
2002; CITES, 2005).
    The petition asserts that queen conch annual landings have 
increased substantially in order to meet growing international demand. 
The petition references queen conch landings from several of the 
largest exporting countries in the Caribbean region, stating that 
Jamaica, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic each declare 
approximately 1,000 tons of queen conch meat landed annually; followed 
by the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos which land approximately 680 and 
780 tons, respectively (Theile, 2002; as cited by the petition). For 
perspective, 4,500 tons of conch meat is equivalent to approximately 31 
million individuals (CITES, 2005). The petition also claims that queen 
conch landings are ``grossly underestimated'' because landings data are 
limited and do not account for high levels of illegal and unreported 
harvest. Several citations caution that queen conch landings are likely 
greater than reported, referencing large scale foreign poaching and 
illegal trade (i.e., at sea transfer) by neighbouring territories and

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under-reported queen conch landings (Theile, 2001; CITES, 2005; Aiken 
et al., 2006; FAO, 2007).
    The petitioner asserts that queen conch is being harvested at 
unsustainable levels, resulting in population declines, stock 
collapses, as well as recruitment and reproductive failure. In the 
1980s, increased international demand and subsequent commercial 
exploitation resulted in several stocks being reduced to levels where 
the populations can no longer recover (Paris et al., 2008). The queen 
conch trade is suspected to be unsustainable in many Caribbean 
countries, and illegal harvest, including fishing of the species in 
foreign waters and subsequent illegal international trade, is believed 
to be a common and widespread problem throughout the Caribbean region 
(Theile, 2001; Jesus-Navarrete, 2003; CITES 2003, 2005; Aiken et al., 
2006). The petition outlines specific population declines, stock 
collapses, and total or temporary closures of queen conch fisheries as 
a result of overharvest in Bermuda, Cuba, Colombia, Florida, Mexico, 
the Netherlands Antilles, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Venezuela (CFMC, 
1996; Theile, 2001; CITES, 2003). In some Caribbean countries, local 
queen conch consumption is more significant than the queen conch meat 
exports (CITES 2005; Erhardt and Valle-Esuivel, 2008). The CITES 
significant trade review suggested that population declines throughout 
the Caribbean are primarily the result of overfishing for domestic and 
international markets, lack of enforcement of regulations, and large 
scale poaching by foreigners (CITES, 2003, 2005). The review also found 
that intensive fishing pressure has led to continued population 
declines resulting in ``densities so low that recruitment failure is a 
risk to local fisheries in parts of Belize, Colombia, the Dominican 
Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin 
Islands'' (CITES, 2003, 2005).
    The petitioner also claims that the overfishing of queen conch 
populations has led to population densities so low that a mate finding 
Allee effect is preventing recruitment and prohibiting the species' 
ability to recover from overexploitation. The Allee effect occurs when 
population growth is limited by the reduced likelihood of finding a 
mate due to low population densities. In addition, the decrease in 
abundance of reproductively mature adults (spawning stock) can lead to 
reduced survival or production of eggs causing depensation issues. 
Animals, like the queen conch, that require close proximity for 
fertilization of eggs are particularly vulnerable to depensation 
problems (Stoner et al. 2012). Stoner and Ray-Culp (2000) documented a 
mate-finding Allee effect in queen conch populations in the Bahamas, 
observing that mating behavior and egg-laying never occurred when 
densities were below 56 and 48 adults per hectare. Consistent with 
earlier studies, Stoner et al. (2012) reported that no mating was 
observed at densities less than 47 queen conch per hectare. Ehrhardt 
and Valle-Esquivel (2008, citing TRAFFIC, 2003) stated that the mean 
densities in several important queen conch fisheries in the Caribbean 
region were below levels at which depensation has been shown to occur 
in queen conch populations.
    The information presented by the petitioner and information in our 
files indicates that queen conch populations in many Caribbean 
countries are declining or have declined as a result of 
overexploitation. In addition, some Caribbean countries have 
overexploited queen conch populations to such low levels that 
depensation is impacting recruitment and recovery. Taken in 
combination, this information suggests that overexploitation may pose 
an extinction risk of concern to the queen conch.
    The petitioner also claims that water pollution in the form of 
heavy metals is a significant threat to queen conch populations. The 
petition discussed the threat of water pollution under ``the present 
and threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or 
range'' listing factor. However, the available information suggests 
that water pollution is having a physiological impact on queen conch 
reproduction, which is an effect to the animal. Therefore, we believe 
that this threat is more appropriately addressed under the ``other 
natural and manmade factors'' listing factor.
    The petition cites several peer-reviewed publications and research 
studies that show queen conch in south Florida are incapable of 
reproduction due to pollutants in their environment. In the Florida 
Keys, studies have confirmed a complete cessation of queen conch 
spawning in nearshore areas, whereas offshore queen conch have normal 
reproductive development (Glazer and Quinteri, 1998; McCarthy et al. 
2002; Delgado et al. 2004, 2007; Glazer et al. 2008; Spade et al. 
2010). Spade et al. (2010) suggest that the reproductive failure of 
queen conch in nearshore environments in the Florida Keys is possibly a 
result of exposure to high levels of zinc and copper in their 
environments. Gastropod studies have linked heavy metal exposure, in 
particular exposure to zinc and copper, to reduced reproductive output 
which is usually measured in terms of egg laying (Glazer et al. 2008; 
Spade et al. 2010). In the Florida Keys, the gonads of nearshore female 
conch were documented by Delgado et al. (2004) to be in worse condition 
than those of males; Spade et al. (2010) also documented a premature 
regression of male testis and a reduction in testis development in 
nearshore male queen conch. Translocation studies conducted in the 
Florida Keys also found that nearshore queen conch failed to develop 
adequate gonad tissue, but gonads developed within 3 months once the 
animals were relocated to offshore environments; conversely, gonad 
function ceased when offshore queen conch were relocated into nearshore 
environments (McCarthy et al. 2002; Glazer et al. 2008; Spade et al. 
2010). A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and 
Environmental Protection Agency report (Glazer et al. 2008) on the 
anthropogenic effects to queen conch reproduction in south Florida 
showed high concentrations of zinc in the digestive gland and gonad 
tissue of nearshore queen conch. The report stated that the digestive 
glands of reproductively healthy offshore queen conch had 70ng/mg of 
zinc, whereas the non-reproductive nearshore queen conch had 1000ng/mg 
of zinc in their digestive glands. In gastropods the digestive gland is 
adjacent to the gonad and is believed to be a site of metal 
accumulation and detoxification (Spade et al. 2010).
    Delgado et al. (2007) suggest that exposure to chemicals (i.e., 
naled and permathrin) commonly used in mosquito control pesticides in 
south Florida may have several sub-lethal and chronic effects on 
critical early life stages of queen conch. The majority of queen conch 
embryos exposed to these chemicals during this study were deformed in a 
manner that would limit their ability to survive in the wild. Exposure 
to these chemicals likely increases the risk of predation upon queen 
conch larvae. Delgado et al. (2007) found that exposed larvae were slow 
growing which would require larvae to remain adrift in the water column 
for an extended period of time before they reached competency (i.e., 
recruitment size), increasing their chance of being predated upon. In 
addition, settlement stage larvae exposed to these chemicals received a 
false metamorphic cue which forced larvae to undergo metamorphosis 
prior to competence, decreasing their chances of survival (Delgado et 
al. 2007; Glazier et al. 2008).

[[Page 51767]]

    The literature in the petition and information available in our 
files suggests that water pollution in south Florida is significantly 
impacting queen conch physiology and is affecting the population's 
growth and impeding the recovery of the historically overfished 
populations. The information provided by the petitioner and in our 
files is limited to the south Florida populations. We do not have 
information regarding the occurrence of this threat in other areas of 
the species range. However, it is possible that Caribbean populations 
may be experiencing similar physiological effects resulting from water 
pollution. Based on the information available to us at this time, we 
believe water pollution may pose a significant risk to the species if 
it is occurring elsewhere.
    In addition to the information on overutilization and water 
pollution, the petitioner also provided information on the present and 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of seagrass 
nursery habitat, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, and 
other natural and manmade factors affecting the species existence. 
Because we have determined that the information provided on 
overutilization and other natural or manmade factors presents 
substantial information indicating the petitioned action may be 
warranted, we are not conducting a detailed analysis of this other 
information here.

Petition Finding

    We have determined after reviewing the information contained in the 
petition, as well as information readily available in our files, that 
there is substantial information indicating that the petitioned action 
may be warranted, based on the threats of overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific or education purposes and other 
natural or manmade factors. Because we have found that substantial 
information was presented on the above factors, we will commence a 
status review of the species. During our status review, we will fully 
address all five of the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. 
At the conclusion of the status review, we will determine whether the 
petitioned action is warranted.

Information Solicited

    As required by section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA and NMFS' implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we are to commence a review of the 
status of the species and make a determination within 12 months of 
receiving the petition as to whether the petitioned action is 
warranted. We intend that any final action resulting from this review 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we open a 60-
day public comment period to solicit information from the public, 
government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other 
interested parties on the status of the queen conch throughout its 
range including: (1) Historical and current distribution and abundance 
of this species throughout its range; (2) historical and current 
population trends; (3) biological information (life history, genetics, 
population connectivity, etc.); (4) landings and trade data; (5) 
management, regulatory, and enforcement information; (6) any current or 
planned activities that may adversely impact the species; and (7) 
ongoing or planned efforts to protect and restore the species and their 
habitats. We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) 
Supporting documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or 
reprints of pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter's name, 
address, and any association, institution, or business that the person 
represents. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA and NMFS' implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.11(b)) require that a listing determination be 
based solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data, 
without consideration of possible economic or other impacts of the 
determination. During the 60-day public comment period we are seeking 
information related only to the status of the queen conch throughout 
its range.

Peer Review

    On July 1, 1994, NMFS, jointly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, published a series of policies regarding listings under the 
ESA, including a policy for peer review of scientific data (59 FR 
34270). The intent of the peer review policy is to ensure listings are 
based on the best scientific and commercial data available. The Office 
of Management and Budget issued its Final Information Quality Bulletin 
for Peer Review on December 16, 2004. The Bulletin went into effect 
June 16, 2005, and generally requires that all ``influential scientific 
information'' and ``highly influential scientific information'' 
disseminated on or after that date be peer reviewed. Because the 
information used to evaluate this petition may be considered 
``influential scientific information,'' we solicit the names of 
recognized experts in the field that could take part in the peer review 
process for this status review (see ADDRESSES). Independent peer 
reviewers will be selected from the academic and scientific community, 
tribal and other Native American groups, Federal and state agencies, 
the private sector, and public interest groups.

References Cited

    A complete list of references is available upon request from the 
Southeast Regional Office, Protected Resource Division (see ADDRESSES).

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: August 21, 2012.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, Performing the Functions and 
Duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-21090 Filed 8-24-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P