Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys on the South Farallon Islands, California, 70921-70928 [2013-28474]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices determination has been made that the activity proposed is categorically excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. Concurrent with the publication of this notice in the Federal Register, NMFS is forwarding copies of the application to the Marine Mammal Commission and its Committee of Scientific Advisors. Dated: November 22, 2013. P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2013–28437 Filed 11–26–13; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XC986 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys on the South Farallon Islands, California National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received an application from the National Ocean Service’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring work and searching for black abalone, components of the Sanctuary Ecosystem Assessment Surveys. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to GFNMS to incidentally take, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals during the specified activity. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than December 27, 2013. ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Michael Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 mailbox address for providing email comments is ITP.Nachman@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the internet at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Candace Nachman, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking, other means of effecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘. . . an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 70921 species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the authorization. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: ‘‘Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].’’ Summary of Request On September 12, 2013, NMFS received an application from GFNMS for the taking of marine mammals incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring work and searching for black abalone. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on November 14, 2013. GFNMS proposes to continue rocky intertidal monitoring work and the search for black abalone in areas previously unexplored for black abalone from January 25 through February 1, 2014. All work will be done only during daylight minus low tides. This is a longterm study that began in 1992. This IHA, if issued, though, would be effective from January 20 through February 8, 2014, to allow for a bit of flexibility in the sampling schedule. Twelve sites are proposed for sampling. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Presence of survey personnel near pinniped haulout sites and approach of survey personnel towards hauled out pinnipeds. Take, by Level B harassment only, of individuals of five species of marine mammals is anticipated to result from the specified activity. NMFS previously issued an IHA to GFNMS for this activity on November 8, 2012. The IHA was effective from November 8, 2012, through November 7, 2013. However, GFNMS did not conduct any abalone sampling during E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 70922 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES this time period. Therefore, no take occurred. Description of the Specified Activity and Specified Geographic Region Since the listing of black abalone as ‘‘endangered’’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), NMFS has requested that GFNMS explore as much of the shoreline as possible, as well as document and map the location of quality habitat for black abalone and the location of known animals. This listing prompted the need to expand the search for black abalone into other areas on the South Farallon Islands (beyond those that have been studied since 1992) to gain a better understanding of the abundance and health of the black abalone population in this remote and isolated location. The monitoring is planned to remain ongoing, and efforts to assess the status and health of the black abalone population on the South Farallon Islands may take several years, and perhaps decades, because black abalone tend to be very cryptic and difficult to find, especially when they are sparse and infrequent in occurrence. In order for the assessment of black abalone to be more comprehensive, GFNMS needs to expand shore searches in areas beyond the proximity of their quantitative quadrat sampling areas and also into new areas on Southeast Farallon and Maintop (West End) Islands. Rocky intertidal monitoring on the Farallon Islands is now a component of the GFNMS Sanctuary Ecosystem Assessment Surveys (SEAS) long-term monitoring program and is a necessity to the management and protection of the sanctuary. All GFNMS SEAS monitoring projects are designed to provide documentation on the density and biodiversity of sanctuary natural resources for condition analyses, particularly for a baseline in the event of a major natural or human-induced perturbation. This program has and continues to acquire information on seasonal and annual changes of intertidal species abundances in 1–3 visits per year. The monitoring data, decades from now, can also be used to assess trends and changes from global climate change and ocean acidification, based on range extensions, changes in biodiversity, and changes in density of calcium carbonate-containing organisms. Routine shore activity will continue to involve the use of only nondestructive sampling methods to monitor rocky intertidal algal and invertebrate species abundances (see Figure 2 in GFNMS’ application). At VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 each sampling site, there are three to four permanent 30 x 50 cm (12 x 20 in) quadrat sites that occur in the low, middle, and upper elevation tidal zones (marked by white epoxy pads in the quadrat corners). Three to four random quadrats (unmarked) are also sampled at each site every survey, if time permits. Fifty randomly selected points within each permanent and random quadrat are sampled, using methods described by Foster et al. (1991) and Dethier et al. (1993). All algal and sessile macroinvertebrate species under each sampling point (loci) are recorded. A photograph is also taken of each labeled quadrat. When completed, a shore walk in the immediate proximity is done by the sampling team to search for select large invertebrates. The length of the shoreline searched in the shore walks is typically about 30 m (98 ft), but plans are to expand this search effort over larger areas for abalone and in more areas. The sampling, photographic documentation, and shore walks for the period of this IHA have been scheduled to occur from January 25 through February 1, 2014. Each survey will last for approximately 4 to 8 days. All work will be done only during daylight minus, low tides. Each location (as listed in Tables 2 and 3 in GFNMS’ application) will be visited/sampled by five to six biologists, for a duration of 3–5 hours, one to two times each minus tide cycle. Inaccessible shore areas will be surveyed by boat up to once each year, dependent on boat availability and weather conditions. This effort includes the Middle and North Farallon Islands. In this effort, the boat navigates to within 15–100 m (49–328 ft) of the shore, and intertidal species that can be seen through binoculars are recorded (presence/absence). Point Blue (formerly named PRBO Conservation Science) continues its year round pinniped and seabird research and monitoring efforts on the South Farallon Islands, which began in 1968, under MMPA scientific research permits and IHAs. GFNMS biologists will gain access to the sites via boats operated by Point Blue, with disturbance and incidental take authorized via IHAs issued to Point Blue. For this reason, GFNMS has not requested authorization for take from disturbance by boat, as incidental take from that activity is authorized in a separate IHA. Specified Geographic Location and Activity Timeframe The Farallon Islands consists of a chain of seven islands located approximately 48 km (30 mi) west of San Francisco, near the edge of the PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 continental shelf and in the geographic center of the GFNMS (see Figure 1 in GFNMS’ application). The land of the islands above the mean high tide mark is designated as the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge (managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS]), while the shore and subtidal below are in GFNMS. The nearshore and offshore waters are foraging areas for pinniped species discussed in this document. The two largest islands of the seven islands are the Southeast Farallon and Maintop (aka West End) Islands. These and several smaller rocks are collectively referred to as the South Farallon Islands and are the subject of this IHA request. The two largest islands are separated by only a 9 m (30 ft) wide surge channel. Together, these islands are approximately 49 hectares (120 acres) in size with an intertidal perimeter around both islands of 7.7 km (4.8 mi). The areas proposed for sampling are: Blow Hole Peninsula; Mussel Flat; Dead Sea Lion Flat; Low Arch; Raven’s Cliff; Drunk Uncle Islet; East Landing; North Landing; Fisherman’s Bay; Weather Service Peninsula; Indian Head; and Shell Beach (see Figure 2 in GFNMS’ application). Each sample site will be visited one to two times each minus tide cycle for 3–5 hours each visit. The shorelines on these islands, including areas above the mean high tide elevation, have become more heavily used over time as haulout sites for pinnipeds to rest, give birth, and molt. The intertidal zones where GFNMS conducts intertidal monitoring area also areas where pinnipeds can be found hauled out on the shore. Accessing portions of the intertidal habitat may cause incidental Level B (behavioral) harassment of pinnipeds through some unavoidable approaches if pinnipeds are hauled out directly in the study plots or while biologists walk from one location to another. No motorized equipment is involved in conducting these surveys. The species for which Level B harassment is requested are: California sea lions (Zalophus californianus californianus); harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii); northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris); Stellar sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus); and northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus). Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Many of the shores of the two South Farallon Islands provide resting, molting, and breeding habitat for pinniped species: Northern elephant seals; harbor seals; California sea lions; northern fur seals; and Steller sea lions. E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES California sea lion is the species anticipated to be encountered most frequently during the specified activity. The other four species are only anticipated to be encountered at some of the sites. Tables 2 and 3 in GFNMS’ application outline the average and maximum expected occurrences of each species at each sampling location, respectively. Numbers in these tables are based on weekly surveys conducted by PRBO (now Point Blue) in February 2010 and 2011. Figures contained in Appendix I of GFNMS’ application depict the overlap between pinniped haulouts and abalone sampling sites. None of the species noted here are listed as threatened and endangered under the ESA. On November 4, 2013, NMFS published a final rule delisting the eastern distinct population segment (DPS) of Steller sea lions (78 FR 66139). We have determined that this DPS has recovered and no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the ESA. The Steller sea lions on the South Farallon Islands are part of the eastern DPS. We refer the public to Carretta et al. (2013) and Allen and Angliss (2013) for general information on these species which are presented below this section. The publications are available on the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/sars/pdf/po2012.pdf and http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/ ak2012.pdf. Additional information on the status, distribution, seasonal distribution, and life history can also be found in GFNMS’ application. Northern Elephant Seal Northern elephant seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The estimated population of the California breeding stock is approximately 124,000 animals with a minimum estimate of 74,913 (Carretta et. al., 2013). Northern elephant seals range in the eastern and central North Pacific Ocean, from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. Northern elephant seals spend much of the year, generally about nine months, in the ocean. They are usually underwater, diving to depths of about 330–800 m (1,000–2,500 ft) for 20- to 30-minute intervals with only short breaks at the surface. They are rarely seen out at sea for this reason. While on land, they prefer sandy beaches. Northern elephant seals breed and give birth in California (U.S.) and Baja California (Mexico), primarily on offshore islands (Stewart et al., 1994), from December to March (Stewart and Huber, 1993). Males feed near the VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 eastern Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska, and females feed further south, south of 45° N (Stewart and Huber, 1993; Le Boeuf et al., 1993). Adults return to land between March and August to molt, with males returning later than females. Adults return to their feeding areas again between their spring/summer molting and their winter breeding seasons. The population on the Farallon Islands has declined by 3.4 percent per year since 1983, and in recent years numbers have fluctuated between 100 and 200 pups (PRBO, unpubl. data). At Southeast Farallon, the population consists of approximately 500 animals (GFNMS, 2012). California Sea Lion California sea lions are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The California sea lion is now a full species, separated from the Galapagos sea lion (Z. wollebaeki) and the extinct Japanese sea lion (Z. japonicus) (Brunner, 2003; Wolf et al., 2007; Schramm et al., 2009). The estimated population of the U.S. stock of California sea lion is approximately 296,750 animals, and the current maximum population growth rate is 12 percent (Carretta et al., 2013). On the Farallon Islands, California sea lions haul out in many intertidal areas year round, fluctuating from several hundred to several thousand animals. California sea lion breeding areas are on islands located in southern California, in western Baja California, Mexico, and the Gulf of California. During the breeding season, most California sea lions inhabit southern California and Mexico. Rookery sites in southern California are limited to the San Miguel Islands and the southerly Channel Islands of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente (Carretta et. al., 2013). Males establish breeding territories during May through July on both land and in the water. Females come ashore in mid-May and June where they give birth to a single pup approximately 4–5 days after arrival and will nurse pups for about a week before going on their first feeding trip. Females will alternate feeding trips with nursing bouts until the pup is weaned between 4 and 10 months of age (NMML, 2010). In central California, a small number of pups are born on Ano Nuevo Island, Southeast Farallon Island, and occasionally at a few other locations; otherwise, the central California population is composed of nonbreeders. Breeding animals on the Farallon Islands are concentrated in PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 70923 areas where researchers generally do not visit (PRBO, unpub. data). Pacific Harbor Seal Pacific harbor seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The estimated population of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals is approximately 30,196 animals (Carretta et. al., 2013). The animals inhabit near-shore coastal and estuarine areas from Baja California, Mexico, to the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Pacific harbor seals are divided into two subspecies: P. v. stejnegeri in the western North Pacific, near Japan, and P. v. richardii in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The latter subspecies, recognized as three separate stocks, inhabits the west coast of the continental U.S., including: The outer coastal waters of Oregon and Washington states; Washington state inland waters; and Alaska coastal and inland waters. In California, over 500 harbor seal haulout sites are widely distributed along the mainland and offshore islands, and include rocky shores, beaches and intertidal sandbars (Lowry et al., 2005). On the Farallon Islands, approximately 40 to 120 Pacific harbor seals haul out in the intertidal areas (PRBO, unpub. data). Harbor seals mate at sea, and females give birth during the spring and summer, although, the pupping season varies with latitude. Pups are nursed for an average of 24 days and are ready to swim minutes after being born. Harbor seal pupping takes place at many locations, and rookery size varies from a few pups to many hundreds of pups. Pupping generally occurs between March and June, and molting occurs between May and July (NCCOS, 2007). Steller Sea Lion Steller sea lions consist of two distinct population segments: The western and eastern DPSs divided at 144° West longitude (Cape Suckling, Alaska). The eastern DPS of the Steller sea lion was removed from the endangered species list in November 2013, and the western distinct population segment is endangered under the ESA. The eastern DPS is the one anticipated to occur in the proposed project area. The eastern segment includes sea lions living in southeast Alaska, British Columbia, California, and Oregon. Steller sea lions range along the North Pacific Rim from northern Japan to California (Loughlin et al., 1984), with centers of abundance and distribution in E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 70924 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands, respectively. The species is not known to migrate, but individuals disperse widely outside of the breeding season (late May through early July), thus potentially intermixing with animals from other areas. In 2013, the estimated population of the eastern DPS ranged from 58,334 to 72,223 animals, and the maximum population growth rate is 12 percent (Allen and Angliss, 2013). The eastern DPS of Steller sea lions breeds on rookeries located in southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. There are no rookeries located in Washington State. Steller sea lions give birth in May through July, and breeding commences a couple of weeks after birth. Pups are weaned during the winter and spring of the following year. Despite the wide-ranging movements of juveniles and adult males in particular, exchange between rookeries by breeding adult females and males (other than between adjoining rookeries) appears low, although males have a higher tendency to disperse than females (NMFS, 1995; Trujillo et al., 2004; Hoffman et al., 2006). A northward shift in the overall breeding distribution has occurred, with a contraction of the range in southern California and new rookeries established in southeastern Alaska (Pitcher et al., 2007). The current population of eastern Steller sea lions in the proposed research area is estimated to number between 50 and 750 animals. Overall, counts of non-pups at trend sites in California and Oregon have been relatively stable or increasing slowly since the 1980s (Angliss and Allen, 2011). PRBO estimates that between 50 and 150 Steller sea lions live on the Farallon Islands. On Southeast Farallon Island, the abundance of females declined an average of 3.6 percent per year from 1974 to 1997 (Sydeman and Allen, 1999). Pup counts on the Farallon Islands have generally varied from five to 15 (Hastings and Sydeman, 2002; PRBO unpub. data). Northern Fur Seal Northern fur seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. Two stocks of northern fur seals are recognized in U.S. Pacific waters: Eastern Pacific stock and San Miguel Island stock. Adult females and juveniles migrate to the central California area (and Oregon and Washington) from rookeries on San Miguel Island in the Southern California Bight (Carretta et al., 2006) and from the VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea (NCCOS, 2007). The most recent population estimate of the San Miguel Island stock is 9,968 animals (Carretta et al., 2013) and is 611,617 animals for the Eastern Pacific stock (Allen and Angliss, 2013). The northern fur seal population on the Farallon Islands has fluctuated greatly over the past two centuries. Current PRBO weekly counts on Maintop Island show a peak of 296 adult and juvenile northern fur seals and 180 pups in 2011 (PRBO, unpub. data). Although it is difficult to differentiate, animals on the Farallon Islands during the time of the proposed rocky intertidal monitoring are likely from the San Miguel Island stock. Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, usually range in coastal waters within 2 km (1.2 mi) of shore. PRBO has not encountered California sea otters on Southeast Farallon Island during the course of seabird or pinniped research activities over the past five years. This species is managed by the USFWS and is not considered further in this notice. Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals The appearance of researchers may have the potential to cause Level B harassment of any pinnipeds hauled out on Southeast Farallon and Maintop (West End) Islands. Although marine mammals are never deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, approach may be unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out in the immediate vicinity of the permanent abalone study plots. Disturbance may result in reactions ranging from an animal simply becoming alert to the presence of researchers (e.g., turning the head, assuming a more upright posture) to flushing from the haul-out site into the water. NMFS does not consider the lesser reactions to constitute behavioral harassment, or Level B harassment takes, but rather assumes that pinnipeds that move greater than 1 m (3.3 ft) or change the speed or direction of their movement in response to the presence of researchers are behaviorally harassed, and thus subject to Level B taking. Animals that respond to the presence of researchers by becoming alert, but do not move or change the nature of locomotion as described, are not considered to have been subject to behavioral harassment. PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Numerous studies have shown that human activity can flush harbor seals off haulout sites (Allen et al., 1984; Calambokidis et al., 1991; Suryan and Harvey, 1999; Mortenson et al., 2000). The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) has been shown to avoid beaches that have been disturbed often by humans (Kenyon, 1972). And in one case, human disturbance appeared to cause Steller sea lions to desert a breeding area at Northeast Point on St. Paul Island, Alaska (Kenyon, 1962). Typically, even those reactions constituting Level B harassment would result at most in temporary, short-term disturbance. Researchers will visit approximately 12 sites over about an 8 day period. Each site visit typically lasts 3–5 hours. Therefore, disturbance of pinnipeds resulting from the presence of researchers lasts only for short periods of time. Because such disturbance is sporadic, rather than chronic, and of low intensity, individual marine mammals are unlikely to incur any detrimental impacts to vital rates or ability to forage and, thus, loss of fitness. Correspondingly, even local populations, much less the overall stocks of animals, are extremely unlikely to accrue any significantly detrimental impacts. There are three ways in which disturbance, as described previously, could result in more than Level B harassment of marine mammals. All three are most likely to be consequences of stampeding, a potentially dangerous occurrence in which large numbers of animals succumb to mass panic and rush away from a stimulus, an occurrence that is not expected on Southeast Farallon and Maintop Islands. The three situations are (1) falling when entering the water at high-relief locations; (2) extended separation of mothers and pups; and (3) crushing of elephant seal pups by large males during a stampede. Because hauled-out animals may move towards the water when disturbed, there is the risk of injury if animals stampede towards shorelines with precipitous relief (e.g., cliffs). However, while cliffs do exist on the islands, shoreline habitats near the abalone study sites are of steeply sloping rocks with unimpeded and nonobstructive access to the water. If disturbed, hauled-out animals in these situations may move toward the water without risk of encountering barriers or hazards that would otherwise prevent them from leaving the area. In these circumstances, the risk of injury, serious injury, or death to hauled-out animals is very low. Thus, abalone research activity poses no risk that disturbed E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices animals may fall and be injured or killed as a result of disturbance at highrelief locations. The risk of marine mammal injury, serious injury, or mortality associated with abalone research increases somewhat if disturbances occur during breeding season. These situations present increased potential for mothers and dependent pups to become separated and, if separated pairs do not quickly reunite, the risk of mortality to pups (through starvation) may increase. Separately, adult male elephant seals may trample elephant seal pups if disturbed, which could potentially result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of the pups. The risk of either of these situations is greater in the event of a stampede. The proposed site visits in late January/early February fall outside of the pupping and breeding seasons for California sea lions, harbor seals, northern fur seals, and Steller sea lions. The most sensitive months for northern elephant seals are generally December through March. However, though elephant seal pups are occasionally present when researchers visit abalone survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two species. Further, pups are typically found on sand beaches, while study sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes the possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of elephant seal pups. No research would occur where separation of mother and her nursing pup or crushing of pups can become a concern. In summary, NMFS does not anticipate that the proposed activities would result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of pinnipeds because (1) the timing of research visits would preclude separation of mothers and pups for four of the pinniped species, as activities occur outside of the pupping/breeding season and (2) elephant seals are generally not susceptible to disturbance as a result of researchers’ presence. In addition, researchers will exercise appropriate caution approaching sites, especially when pups are present and will redirect activities when pups are present. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat The only habitat modification associated with the proposed activity is VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 the quadrat locations being marked with marine epoxy. The plot corners are marked with a 3 × 3 cm (1.2 × 1.2 in) patch of marine epoxy glued to the benchrock for relocating the quadrat sites. Markers have been in place since 1993, and pinniped populations have increased throughout the islands during this time. Maintenance is sometimes required, which consists of replenishing worn markers with fresh epoxy or replacing markers that have become dislodged. No gas power tools are used, so there is no potential for noise or accidental fuel spills disturbing animals and impacting habitats. Thus, the proposed activity is not expected to have any habitat-related effects, including to marine mammal prey species, that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). GFNMS proposes to implement several mitigation measures to reduce potential take by Level B (behavioral disturbance) harassment. Measures include: (1) Coordinating sampling efforts with other permitted activities (i.e., Point Blue and USFWS); (2) conducting slow movements and staying close to the ground to prevent or minimize stampeding; (3) avoiding loud noises (i.e., using hushed voices); (4) vacating the area as soon as sampling of the site is completed; (5) monitoring the offshore area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters; (6) using binoculars to detect pinnipeds before close approach to avoid being seen by animals; and (7) rescheduling work at sites where pups are present, unless other means to accomplishing the work can be done without causing disturbance to mothers and dependent pups. The methodologies and actions noted in this section will be utilized and included as mitigation measures in any issued IHA to ensure that impacts to marine mammals are mitigated to the lowest level practicable. The primary PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 70925 method of mitigating the risk of disturbance to pinnipeds, which will be in use at all times, is the selection of judicious routes of approach to abalone study sites, avoiding close contact with pinnipeds hauled out on shore, and the use of extreme caution upon approach. In no case will marine mammals be deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, and in all cases every possible measure will be taken to select a pathway of approach to study sites that minimizes the number of marine mammals potentially harassed. In general, researchers will stay inshore of pinnipeds whenever possible to allow maximum escape to the ocean. Each visit to a given study site will last for approximately 3–5 hours, after which the site is vacated and can be reoccupied by any marine mammals that may have been disturbed by the presence of abalone researchers. By arriving before low tide, worker presence will tend to encourage pinnipeds to move to other areas for the day before they haul out and settle onto rocks at low tide. The following measures are proposed for implementation to avoid disturbances to elephant seal pups. Disturbances to females with dependent pups can be mitigated to the greatest extent practicable by avoiding visits to those intertidal sites with pinnipeds that are actively nursing, with the exception of northern elephant seals. The time of year when GFNMS plans to sample avoids disturbance to young, dependent pups, with the exception of northern elephant seals. Thus, late January/early February, at minimum, is preferable for the proposed intertidal survey work in order to minimize the risk of harassment. Harassment of nursing northern elephant seal pups may occur but only to a limited extent. Disruption of nursing to northern elephant seal pups will occur only as biologists pass by the area. No flushing on nursing northern elephant seal pups will occur, and no disturbance to newborn northern elephant seals (pups less than one week old) will occur. Moreover, elephant seals have a much higher tolerance of nearby human activity than sea lions or harbor seals. In the event of finding pinnipeds breeding and nursing, the intertidal monitoring activities will be re-directed to sites where these activities and behaviors are not occurring. This mitigation measure will reduce the possibility of takes by harassment and further reduce the remote possibility of serious injury or mortality of dependent pups. GFNMS will suspend sampling and monitoring operations immediately if an injured marine mammal is found in the E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 70926 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES vicinity of the project area and the abalone site sampling activities could aggravate its condition. NMFS has carefully evaluated GFNMS’ proposed mitigation measures and considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; • The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and • The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Based on our evaluation of the applicant’s proposed measures, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an ITA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must, where applicable, set forth ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking’’. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. Currently many aspects of pinniped research are being conducted by Point Blue scientists on the Farallon Islands, which includes elephant seal pup tagging and behavior observations with special notice to tagged animals. Additional observations are always desired, such as observations of pinniped carcasses bearing tags, as well as any rare or unusual marine mammal occurrences. GFNMS’ observations and reporting will add to the observational database and on-going marine mammal assessments on the Farallon Islands. GFNMS can add to the knowledge of pinnipeds on the South Farallon Islands by noting observations of: (1) Unusual VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tagbearing carcasses of pinnipeds, allowing transmittal of the information to appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of marine mammals for agency follow-up. Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to GFNMS’ abalone research surveys will include observations made by the applicant. Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles), numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance behaviors during the abalone surveys. Observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds on the South Farallon Islands will be reported to NMFS and Point Blue so that any potential follow-up observations can be conducted by the appropriate personnel. In addition, observations of tag-bearing pinniped carcasses as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammals will be reported to NMFS and Point Blue. If at any time injury, serious injury, or mortality of the species for which take is authorized should occur, or if take of any kind of any other marine mammal occurs, and such action may be a result of the proposed abalone research, GFNMS will suspend research activities and contact NMFS immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure that another injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the applicant remains in compliance with the MMPA. A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2014 field season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new IHA will be requested. The report will include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the IHA. A final report must be submitted to the Director of the NMFS Office of Protected Resources and to the NMFS Southwest Office Regional Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be considered to be the final report. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment, involving temporary changes in behavior. The proposed mitigation and monitoring measures are expected to minimize the possibility of injurious or lethal takes such that take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is considered remote. Animals hauled out close to the actual survey sites may be disturbed by the presence of biologists and may alter their behavior or attempt to move away from the researchers. No motorized equipment is involved in conducting the proposed abalone monitoring surveys. As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been harassed if it moved greater than 1 m (3.3 ft) in response to the researcher’s presence or if the animal was already moving and changed direction and/or speed, or if the animal flushed into the water. Animals that became alert without such movements were not considered harassed. The distribution of pinnipeds hauled out on beaches is not consistent throughout the year. The number of marine mammals disturbed will vary by month and location. PRBO (now Point Blue) obtains weekly counts of pinnipeds on the South Farallon Islands, dating back to the early 1970s. GFNMS used data collected by PRBO in February 2010 and 2011 to estimate the number of pinnipeds that may potentially be taken by Level B (behavioral) harassment. Table 3 in GFNMS’ IHA application and Table 1 here present the maximum numbers of California sea lions, harbor seals, northern elephant seals, northern fur seals, and Steller sea lions that may be present at the various sampling sites during the proposed activity timeframe under this proposed IHA. Based on this information, NMFS proposes to authorize the take, by Level B harassment only, of 5,270 California sea lions, 141 harbor seals, 79 northern elephant seals, 64 northern fur seals, and 99 Steller sea lions. These numbers are considered to be maximum take estimates; therefore, actual take may be slightly less if animals decide to haul out at a different location for the day or animals are out foraging at the time of the survey activities. E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘. . . an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ In making a negligible impact determination, NMFS considers a variety of factors, including but not limited to: (1) The number of anticipated mortalities; (2) the number VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Jkt 232001 and nature of anticipated injuries; (3) the number, nature, intensity, and duration of Level B harassment; and (4) the context in which the take occurs. No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of GFNMS’ rocky intertidal monitoring work and searching for black abalone, and none are proposed to be authorized. The behavioral harassments that could occur would be of limited duration, as researchers will only conduct sampling over a period of 8 days. Additionally, each site is sampled for approximately 3–5 hours before moving to the next sampling site. Therefore, disturbance PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4725 will be limited to a short duration, allowing pinnipeds to reoccupy the sites within a short amount of time. Some of the pinniped species use the islands to conduct pupping and/or breeding. However, with the exception of northern elephant seals, GFNMS will conduct its abalone site sampling outside of the pupping/breeding seasons. GFNMS has proposed measures to minimize impacts to northern elephant seals nursing or tending to dependent pups. Such measures will avoid mother/pup separation or trampling of pups. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1 EN27NO13.023</GPH> Negligible Impact and Small Numbers Analysis and Preliminary Determination 70927 70928 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 27, 2013 / Notices BILLING CODE 3510–22–C None of the five marine mammal species anticipated to occur in the proposed activity area are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Table 2 in this document presents the abundance of each species or stock, the proposed take estimates, and the percentage of the affected populations or stocks that may be taken by harassment. Based on these estimates, GFNMS would take less than 1% of each species or stock, with the exception of the California sea lion, which would result in an estimated take of 1.8% of the stock. Because these are maximum estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals may select other haulout sites the day the researchers are present. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the rocky intertidal monitoring program will result in the incidental take of small numbers of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, and that the total taking from the rocky intertidal monitoring program will have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks. TABLE 2—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN FOR THE POTENTIALLY AFFECTED SPECIES DURING THE PROPOSED ROCKY INTERTIDAL MONITORING PROGRAM Species Abundance * Harbor Seal .................................................................................................................................. California Sea Lion ...................................................................................................................... Northern Elephant Seal ............................................................................................................... Steller Sea Lion ........................................................................................................................... Northern Fur Seal ........................................................................................................................ Total proposed level B take Percentage of stock or population 141 5,270 79 99 64 0.5 1.8 0.06 0.1–0.2 0.6 30,196 296,750 124,000 58,334–72,223 9,968 * Abundance estimates are taken from the 2012 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (Carretta et al., 2013). Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None of the marine mammals for which incidental take is proposed are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Therefore, NMFS has determined that issuance of the proposed IHA to GFNMS under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA will have no effect on species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. emcdonald on DSK67QTVN1PROD with NOTICES Jkt 232001 Proposed Authorization Title, Associated Form and OMB Number: Certification of NonContributory TriCare Supplemental Insurance Plan; OMB Control Number 0720–0044. Type of Request: Extension. Number of Respondents: 1,500. Responses per Respondent: 1. Annual Responses: 1,500. Average Burden Per Response: 10 minutes. Annual Burden Hours: 250 hours. Needs and Uses: Section 707 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 added section 1097c to Title 10. Section 1097c prohibits employers from offering financial or other incentives to certain TRICARE-eligible employees to not enroll in an employer-offered group health plan. In other words, employers may no longer offer TRICARE supplemental insurance plans as part of an employee benefit package. Employers may, however, offer TRICARE supplemental insurance plans as part of an employee benefit package provided that the plan is not paid for in whole or in part by the employer and is not endorsed by the employer. When such TRICARE supplemental plans are offered, the employer must properly As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to authorize the take of marine mammals incidental to GFNMS’ rocky intertidal and black abalone monitoring research activities, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: November 22, 2013. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P In 2012, we prepared an EA analyzing the potential effects to the human environment from conducting rocky intertidal surveys along the California and Oregon coasts and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an IHA for GFNMS’ rocky intertidal surveys in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). GFNMS’ proposed activities and impacts for 2014 are within the scope of 17:02 Nov 26, 2013 Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35). DATES: Consideration will be given to all comments received by December 27, 2013. [FR Doc. 2013–28474 Filed 11–26–13; 8:45 am] National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) VerDate Mar<15>2010 our 2012 EA and FONSI. We have reviewed the 2012 EA and determined that there are no new direct, indirect, or cumulative impacts to the human and natural environment associated with the IHA requiring evaluation in a supplemental EA and we, therefore, intend to reaffirm the 2012 FONSI. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Office of the Secretary [Docket ID: DoD–2013–HA–0195] Submission for OMB Review; Comment Request ACTION: Notice. The Department of Defense has submitted to OMB for clearance, the following proposal for collection of information under the provisions of the SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Fred Licari, 571–372–0493. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: E:\FR\FM\27NON1.SGM 27NON1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 229 (Wednesday, November 27, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 70921-70928]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-28474]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC986


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys 
on the South Farallon Islands, California

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

ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request 
for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from the National Ocean 
Service's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Gulf of the Farallones 
National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) for an Incidental Harassment 
Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental 
to rocky intertidal monitoring work and searching for black abalone, 
components of the Sanctuary Ecosystem Assessment Surveys. Pursuant to 
the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on 
its proposal to issue an IHA to GFNMS to incidentally take, by Level B 
harassment only, marine mammals during the specified activity.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than December 
27, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Michael 
Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, 
Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email 
comments is ITP.Nachman@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email 
comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments 
sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-
megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information 
(e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be 
publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the 
references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the 
address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. Documents cited in this 
notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business 
hours, at the aforementioned address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Candace Nachman, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than 
commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain 
findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking 
is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is 
provided to the public for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking, other means of 
effecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its 
habitat, and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and 
reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ``negligible 
impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as ``. . . an impact resulting from the 
specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not 
reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.''
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process 
by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization 
to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. 
Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS review of 
an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment period on 
any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of marine 
mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must 
either issue or deny the authorization. Except with respect to certain 
activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: 
``Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential 
to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A 
harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral 
patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, 
breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].''

Summary of Request

    On September 12, 2013, NMFS received an application from GFNMS for 
the taking of marine mammals incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring 
work and searching for black abalone. NMFS determined that the 
application was adequate and complete on November 14, 2013.
    GFNMS proposes to continue rocky intertidal monitoring work and the 
search for black abalone in areas previously unexplored for black 
abalone from January 25 through February 1, 2014. All work will be done 
only during daylight minus low tides. This is a long-term study that 
began in 1992. This IHA, if issued, though, would be effective from 
January 20 through February 8, 2014, to allow for a bit of flexibility 
in the sampling schedule. Twelve sites are proposed for sampling. The 
following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to 
result in the take of marine mammals: Presence of survey personnel near 
pinniped haulout sites and approach of survey personnel towards hauled 
out pinnipeds. Take, by Level B harassment only, of individuals of five 
species of marine mammals is anticipated to result from the specified 
activity.
    NMFS previously issued an IHA to GFNMS for this activity on 
November 8, 2012. The IHA was effective from November 8, 2012, through 
November 7, 2013. However, GFNMS did not conduct any abalone sampling 
during

[[Page 70922]]

this time period. Therefore, no take occurred.

Description of the Specified Activity and Specified Geographic Region

    Since the listing of black abalone as ``endangered'' under the U.S. 
Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), NMFS has 
requested that GFNMS explore as much of the shoreline as possible, as 
well as document and map the location of quality habitat for black 
abalone and the location of known animals. This listing prompted the 
need to expand the search for black abalone into other areas on the 
South Farallon Islands (beyond those that have been studied since 1992) 
to gain a better understanding of the abundance and health of the black 
abalone population in this remote and isolated location. The monitoring 
is planned to remain ongoing, and efforts to assess the status and 
health of the black abalone population on the South Farallon Islands 
may take several years, and perhaps decades, because black abalone tend 
to be very cryptic and difficult to find, especially when they are 
sparse and infrequent in occurrence. In order for the assessment of 
black abalone to be more comprehensive, GFNMS needs to expand shore 
searches in areas beyond the proximity of their quantitative quadrat 
sampling areas and also into new areas on Southeast Farallon and 
Maintop (West End) Islands.
    Rocky intertidal monitoring on the Farallon Islands is now a 
component of the GFNMS Sanctuary Ecosystem Assessment Surveys (SEAS) 
long-term monitoring program and is a necessity to the management and 
protection of the sanctuary. All GFNMS SEAS monitoring projects are 
designed to provide documentation on the density and biodiversity of 
sanctuary natural resources for condition analyses, particularly for a 
baseline in the event of a major natural or human-induced perturbation. 
This program has and continues to acquire information on seasonal and 
annual changes of intertidal species abundances in 1-3 visits per year. 
The monitoring data, decades from now, can also be used to assess 
trends and changes from global climate change and ocean acidification, 
based on range extensions, changes in biodiversity, and changes in 
density of calcium carbonate-containing organisms.
    Routine shore activity will continue to involve the use of only 
non-destructive sampling methods to monitor rocky intertidal algal and 
invertebrate species abundances (see Figure 2 in GFNMS' application). 
At each sampling site, there are three to four permanent 30 x 50 cm (12 
x 20 in) quadrat sites that occur in the low, middle, and upper 
elevation tidal zones (marked by white epoxy pads in the quadrat 
corners). Three to four random quadrats (unmarked) are also sampled at 
each site every survey, if time permits. Fifty randomly selected points 
within each permanent and random quadrat are sampled, using methods 
described by Foster et al. (1991) and Dethier et al. (1993). All algal 
and sessile macroinvertebrate species under each sampling point (loci) 
are recorded. A photograph is also taken of each labeled quadrat. When 
completed, a shore walk in the immediate proximity is done by the 
sampling team to search for select large invertebrates. The length of 
the shoreline searched in the shore walks is typically about 30 m (98 
ft), but plans are to expand this search effort over larger areas for 
abalone and in more areas. The sampling, photographic documentation, 
and shore walks for the period of this IHA have been scheduled to occur 
from January 25 through February 1, 2014. Each survey will last for 
approximately 4 to 8 days. All work will be done only during daylight 
minus, low tides. Each location (as listed in Tables 2 and 3 in GFNMS' 
application) will be visited/sampled by five to six biologists, for a 
duration of 3-5 hours, one to two times each minus tide cycle.
    Inaccessible shore areas will be surveyed by boat up to once each 
year, dependent on boat availability and weather conditions. This 
effort includes the Middle and North Farallon Islands. In this effort, 
the boat navigates to within 15-100 m (49-328 ft) of the shore, and 
intertidal species that can be seen through binoculars are recorded 
(presence/absence). Point Blue (formerly named PRBO Conservation 
Science) continues its year round pinniped and seabird research and 
monitoring efforts on the South Farallon Islands, which began in 1968, 
under MMPA scientific research permits and IHAs. GFNMS biologists will 
gain access to the sites via boats operated by Point Blue, with 
disturbance and incidental take authorized via IHAs issued to Point 
Blue. For this reason, GFNMS has not requested authorization for take 
from disturbance by boat, as incidental take from that activity is 
authorized in a separate IHA.

Specified Geographic Location and Activity Timeframe

    The Farallon Islands consists of a chain of seven islands located 
approximately 48 km (30 mi) west of San Francisco, near the edge of the 
continental shelf and in the geographic center of the GFNMS (see Figure 
1 in GFNMS' application). The land of the islands above the mean high 
tide mark is designated as the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge 
(managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS]), while the 
shore and subtidal below are in GFNMS. The nearshore and offshore 
waters are foraging areas for pinniped species discussed in this 
document.
    The two largest islands of the seven islands are the Southeast 
Farallon and Maintop (aka West End) Islands. These and several smaller 
rocks are collectively referred to as the South Farallon Islands and 
are the subject of this IHA request. The two largest islands are 
separated by only a 9 m (30 ft) wide surge channel. Together, these 
islands are approximately 49 hectares (120 acres) in size with an 
intertidal perimeter around both islands of 7.7 km (4.8 mi).
    The areas proposed for sampling are: Blow Hole Peninsula; Mussel 
Flat; Dead Sea Lion Flat; Low Arch; Raven's Cliff; Drunk Uncle Islet; 
East Landing; North Landing; Fisherman's Bay; Weather Service 
Peninsula; Indian Head; and Shell Beach (see Figure 2 in GFNMS' 
application). Each sample site will be visited one to two times each 
minus tide cycle for 3-5 hours each visit.
    The shorelines on these islands, including areas above the mean 
high tide elevation, have become more heavily used over time as haulout 
sites for pinnipeds to rest, give birth, and molt. The intertidal zones 
where GFNMS conducts intertidal monitoring area also areas where 
pinnipeds can be found hauled out on the shore. Accessing portions of 
the intertidal habitat may cause incidental Level B (behavioral) 
harassment of pinnipeds through some unavoidable approaches if 
pinnipeds are hauled out directly in the study plots or while 
biologists walk from one location to another. No motorized equipment is 
involved in conducting these surveys. The species for which Level B 
harassment is requested are: California sea lions (Zalophus 
californianus californianus); harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii); 
northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris); Stellar sea lions 
(Eumetopias jubatus); and northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus).

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Many of the shores of the two South Farallon Islands provide 
resting, molting, and breeding habitat for pinniped species: Northern 
elephant seals; harbor seals; California sea lions; northern fur seals; 
and Steller sea lions.

[[Page 70923]]

California sea lion is the species anticipated to be encountered most 
frequently during the specified activity. The other four species are 
only anticipated to be encountered at some of the sites. Tables 2 and 3 
in GFNMS' application outline the average and maximum expected 
occurrences of each species at each sampling location, respectively. 
Numbers in these tables are based on weekly surveys conducted by PRBO 
(now Point Blue) in February 2010 and 2011. Figures contained in 
Appendix I of GFNMS' application depict the overlap between pinniped 
haulouts and abalone sampling sites. None of the species noted here are 
listed as threatened and endangered under the ESA. On November 4, 2013, 
NMFS published a final rule delisting the eastern distinct population 
segment (DPS) of Steller sea lions (78 FR 66139). We have determined 
that this DPS has recovered and no longer meets the definition of an 
endangered or threatened species under the ESA. The Steller sea lions 
on the South Farallon Islands are part of the eastern DPS.
    We refer the public to Carretta et al. (2013) and Allen and Angliss 
(2013) for general information on these species which are presented 
below this section. The publications are available on the internet at: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/po2012.pdf and http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/ak2012.pdf. Additional information on the 
status, distribution, seasonal distribution, and life history can also 
be found in GFNMS' application.

Northern Elephant Seal

    Northern elephant seals are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The 
estimated population of the California breeding stock is approximately 
124,000 animals with a minimum estimate of 74,913 (Carretta et. al., 
2013).
    Northern elephant seals range in the eastern and central North 
Pacific Ocean, from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. 
Northern elephant seals spend much of the year, generally about nine 
months, in the ocean. They are usually underwater, diving to depths of 
about 330-800 m (1,000-2,500 ft) for 20- to 30-minute intervals with 
only short breaks at the surface. They are rarely seen out at sea for 
this reason. While on land, they prefer sandy beaches.
    Northern elephant seals breed and give birth in California (U.S.) 
and Baja California (Mexico), primarily on offshore islands (Stewart et 
al., 1994), from December to March (Stewart and Huber, 1993). Males 
feed near the eastern Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska, and 
females feed further south, south of 45[deg] N (Stewart and Huber, 
1993; Le Boeuf et al., 1993). Adults return to land between March and 
August to molt, with males returning later than females. Adults return 
to their feeding areas again between their spring/summer molting and 
their winter breeding seasons.
    The population on the Farallon Islands has declined by 3.4 percent 
per year since 1983, and in recent years numbers have fluctuated 
between 100 and 200 pups (PRBO, unpubl. data). At Southeast Farallon, 
the population consists of approximately 500 animals (GFNMS, 2012).

California Sea Lion

    California sea lions are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The 
California sea lion is now a full species, separated from the Galapagos 
sea lion (Z. wollebaeki) and the extinct Japanese sea lion (Z. 
japonicus) (Brunner, 2003; Wolf et al., 2007; Schramm et al., 2009). 
The estimated population of the U.S. stock of California sea lion is 
approximately 296,750 animals, and the current maximum population 
growth rate is 12 percent (Carretta et al., 2013). On the Farallon 
Islands, California sea lions haul out in many intertidal areas year 
round, fluctuating from several hundred to several thousand animals.
    California sea lion breeding areas are on islands located in 
southern California, in western Baja California, Mexico, and the Gulf 
of California. During the breeding season, most California sea lions 
inhabit southern California and Mexico. Rookery sites in southern 
California are limited to the San Miguel Islands and the southerly 
Channel Islands of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente 
(Carretta et. al., 2013). Males establish breeding territories during 
May through July on both land and in the water. Females come ashore in 
mid-May and June where they give birth to a single pup approximately 4-
5 days after arrival and will nurse pups for about a week before going 
on their first feeding trip. Females will alternate feeding trips with 
nursing bouts until the pup is weaned between 4 and 10 months of age 
(NMML, 2010). In central California, a small number of pups are born on 
Ano Nuevo Island, Southeast Farallon Island, and occasionally at a few 
other locations; otherwise, the central California population is 
composed of non-breeders. Breeding animals on the Farallon Islands are 
concentrated in areas where researchers generally do not visit (PRBO, 
unpub. data).

Pacific Harbor Seal

    Pacific harbor seals are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The 
estimated population of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals is 
approximately 30,196 animals (Carretta et. al., 2013).
    The animals inhabit near-shore coastal and estuarine areas from 
Baja California, Mexico, to the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Pacific 
harbor seals are divided into two subspecies: P. v. stejnegeri in the 
western North Pacific, near Japan, and P. v. richardii in the northeast 
Pacific Ocean. The latter subspecies, recognized as three separate 
stocks, inhabits the west coast of the continental U.S., including: The 
outer coastal waters of Oregon and Washington states; Washington state 
inland waters; and Alaska coastal and inland waters.
    In California, over 500 harbor seal haulout sites are widely 
distributed along the mainland and offshore islands, and include rocky 
shores, beaches and intertidal sandbars (Lowry et al., 2005). On the 
Farallon Islands, approximately 40 to 120 Pacific harbor seals haul out 
in the intertidal areas (PRBO, unpub. data). Harbor seals mate at sea, 
and females give birth during the spring and summer, although, the 
pupping season varies with latitude. Pups are nursed for an average of 
24 days and are ready to swim minutes after being born. Harbor seal 
pupping takes place at many locations, and rookery size varies from a 
few pups to many hundreds of pups. Pupping generally occurs between 
March and June, and molting occurs between May and July (NCCOS, 2007).

Steller Sea Lion

    Steller sea lions consist of two distinct population segments: The 
western and eastern DPSs divided at 144[deg] West longitude (Cape 
Suckling, Alaska). The eastern DPS of the Steller sea lion was removed 
from the endangered species list in November 2013, and the western 
distinct population segment is endangered under the ESA. The eastern 
DPS is the one anticipated to occur in the proposed project area. The 
eastern segment includes sea lions living in southeast Alaska, British 
Columbia, California, and Oregon.
    Steller sea lions range along the North Pacific Rim from northern 
Japan to California (Loughlin et al., 1984), with centers of abundance 
and distribution in

[[Page 70924]]

the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands, respectively. The species is 
not known to migrate, but individuals disperse widely outside of the 
breeding season (late May through early July), thus potentially 
intermixing with animals from other areas.
    In 2013, the estimated population of the eastern DPS ranged from 
58,334 to 72,223 animals, and the maximum population growth rate is 12 
percent (Allen and Angliss, 2013).
    The eastern DPS of Steller sea lions breeds on rookeries located in 
southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. There are 
no rookeries located in Washington State. Steller sea lions give birth 
in May through July, and breeding commences a couple of weeks after 
birth. Pups are weaned during the winter and spring of the following 
year.
    Despite the wide-ranging movements of juveniles and adult males in 
particular, exchange between rookeries by breeding adult females and 
males (other than between adjoining rookeries) appears low, although 
males have a higher tendency to disperse than females (NMFS, 1995; 
Trujillo et al., 2004; Hoffman et al., 2006). A northward shift in the 
overall breeding distribution has occurred, with a contraction of the 
range in southern California and new rookeries established in 
southeastern Alaska (Pitcher et al., 2007).
    The current population of eastern Steller sea lions in the proposed 
research area is estimated to number between 50 and 750 animals. 
Overall, counts of non-pups at trend sites in California and Oregon 
have been relatively stable or increasing slowly since the 1980s 
(Angliss and Allen, 2011). PRBO estimates that between 50 and 150 
Steller sea lions live on the Farallon Islands. On Southeast Farallon 
Island, the abundance of females declined an average of 3.6 percent per 
year from 1974 to 1997 (Sydeman and Allen, 1999). Pup counts on the 
Farallon Islands have generally varied from five to 15 (Hastings and 
Sydeman, 2002; PRBO unpub. data).

Northern Fur Seal

    Northern fur seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under 
the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. Two 
stocks of northern fur seals are recognized in U.S. Pacific waters: 
Eastern Pacific stock and San Miguel Island stock. Adult females and 
juveniles migrate to the central California area (and Oregon and 
Washington) from rookeries on San Miguel Island in the Southern 
California Bight (Carretta et al., 2006) and from the Pribilof Islands 
in the Bering Sea (NCCOS, 2007).
    The most recent population estimate of the San Miguel Island stock 
is 9,968 animals (Carretta et al., 2013) and is 611,617 animals for the 
Eastern Pacific stock (Allen and Angliss, 2013). The northern fur seal 
population on the Farallon Islands has fluctuated greatly over the past 
two centuries. Current PRBO weekly counts on Maintop Island show a peak 
of 296 adult and juvenile northern fur seals and 180 pups in 2011 
(PRBO, unpub. data). Although it is difficult to differentiate, animals 
on the Farallon Islands during the time of the proposed rocky 
intertidal monitoring are likely from the San Miguel Island stock.

Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area

    California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as 
threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, 
usually range in coastal waters within 2 km (1.2 mi) of shore. PRBO has 
not encountered California sea otters on Southeast Farallon Island 
during the course of seabird or pinniped research activities over the 
past five years. This species is managed by the USFWS and is not 
considered further in this notice.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    The appearance of researchers may have the potential to cause Level 
B harassment of any pinnipeds hauled out on Southeast Farallon and 
Maintop (West End) Islands. Although marine mammals are never 
deliberately approached by abalone survey personnel, approach may be 
unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out in the immediate vicinity of 
the permanent abalone study plots. Disturbance may result in reactions 
ranging from an animal simply becoming alert to the presence of 
researchers (e.g., turning the head, assuming a more upright posture) 
to flushing from the haul-out site into the water. NMFS does not 
consider the lesser reactions to constitute behavioral harassment, or 
Level B harassment takes, but rather assumes that pinnipeds that move 
greater than 1 m (3.3 ft) or change the speed or direction of their 
movement in response to the presence of researchers are behaviorally 
harassed, and thus subject to Level B taking. Animals that respond to 
the presence of researchers by becoming alert, but do not move or 
change the nature of locomotion as described, are not considered to 
have been subject to behavioral harassment.
    Numerous studies have shown that human activity can flush harbor 
seals off haulout sites (Allen et al., 1984; Calambokidis et al., 1991; 
Suryan and Harvey, 1999; Mortenson et al., 2000). The Hawaiian monk 
seal (Monachus schauinslandi) has been shown to avoid beaches that have 
been disturbed often by humans (Kenyon, 1972). And in one case, human 
disturbance appeared to cause Steller sea lions to desert a breeding 
area at Northeast Point on St. Paul Island, Alaska (Kenyon, 1962).
    Typically, even those reactions constituting Level B harassment 
would result at most in temporary, short-term disturbance. Researchers 
will visit approximately 12 sites over about an 8 day period. Each site 
visit typically lasts 3-5 hours. Therefore, disturbance of pinnipeds 
resulting from the presence of researchers lasts only for short periods 
of time. Because such disturbance is sporadic, rather than chronic, and 
of low intensity, individual marine mammals are unlikely to incur any 
detrimental impacts to vital rates or ability to forage and, thus, loss 
of fitness. Correspondingly, even local populations, much less the 
overall stocks of animals, are extremely unlikely to accrue any 
significantly detrimental impacts.
    There are three ways in which disturbance, as described previously, 
could result in more than Level B harassment of marine mammals. All 
three are most likely to be consequences of stampeding, a potentially 
dangerous occurrence in which large numbers of animals succumb to mass 
panic and rush away from a stimulus, an occurrence that is not expected 
on Southeast Farallon and Maintop Islands. The three situations are (1) 
falling when entering the water at high-relief locations; (2) extended 
separation of mothers and pups; and (3) crushing of elephant seal pups 
by large males during a stampede.
    Because hauled-out animals may move towards the water when 
disturbed, there is the risk of injury if animals stampede towards 
shorelines with precipitous relief (e.g., cliffs). However, while 
cliffs do exist on the islands, shoreline habitats near the abalone 
study sites are of steeply sloping rocks with unimpeded and non-
obstructive access to the water. If disturbed, hauled-out animals in 
these situations may move toward the water without risk of encountering 
barriers or hazards that would otherwise prevent them from leaving the 
area. In these circumstances, the risk of injury, serious injury, or 
death to hauled-out animals is very low. Thus, abalone research 
activity poses no risk that disturbed

[[Page 70925]]

animals may fall and be injured or killed as a result of disturbance at 
high-relief locations.
    The risk of marine mammal injury, serious injury, or mortality 
associated with abalone research increases somewhat if disturbances 
occur during breeding season. These situations present increased 
potential for mothers and dependent pups to become separated and, if 
separated pairs do not quickly reunite, the risk of mortality to pups 
(through starvation) may increase. Separately, adult male elephant 
seals may trample elephant seal pups if disturbed, which could 
potentially result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of the 
pups. The risk of either of these situations is greater in the event of 
a stampede.
    The proposed site visits in late January/early February fall 
outside of the pupping and breeding seasons for California sea lions, 
harbor seals, northern fur seals, and Steller sea lions. The most 
sensitive months for northern elephant seals are generally December 
through March. However, though elephant seal pups are occasionally 
present when researchers visit abalone survey sites, risk of pup 
mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to 
researcher presence than the other two species. Further, pups are 
typically found on sand beaches, while study sites are located in the 
rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is typically a buffer between 
researchers and pups. Finally, the caution used by researchers in 
approaching sites generally precludes the possibility of behavior, such 
as stampeding, that could result in extended separation of mothers and 
dependent pups or trampling of elephant seal pups. No research would 
occur where separation of mother and her nursing pup or crushing of 
pups can become a concern.
    In summary, NMFS does not anticipate that the proposed activities 
would result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of pinnipeds 
because (1) the timing of research visits would preclude separation of 
mothers and pups for four of the pinniped species, as activities occur 
outside of the pupping/breeding season and (2) elephant seals are 
generally not susceptible to disturbance as a result of researchers' 
presence. In addition, researchers will exercise appropriate caution 
approaching sites, especially when pups are present and will redirect 
activities when pups are present.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    The only habitat modification associated with the proposed activity 
is the quadrat locations being marked with marine epoxy. The plot 
corners are marked with a 3 x 3 cm (1.2 x 1.2 in) patch of marine epoxy 
glued to the benchrock for relocating the quadrat sites. Markers have 
been in place since 1993, and pinniped populations have increased 
throughout the islands during this time. Maintenance is sometimes 
required, which consists of replenishing worn markers with fresh epoxy 
or replacing markers that have become dislodged. No gas power tools are 
used, so there is no potential for noise or accidental fuel spills 
disturbing animals and impacting habitats. Thus, the proposed activity 
is not expected to have any habitat-related effects, including to 
marine mammal prey species, that could cause significant or long-term 
consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under 
Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, set 
forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and 
other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species 
or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the 
availability of such species or stock for taking for certain 
subsistence uses (where relevant).
    GFNMS proposes to implement several mitigation measures to reduce 
potential take by Level B (behavioral disturbance) harassment. Measures 
include: (1) Coordinating sampling efforts with other permitted 
activities (i.e., Point Blue and USFWS); (2) conducting slow movements 
and staying close to the ground to prevent or minimize stampeding; (3) 
avoiding loud noises (i.e., using hushed voices); (4) vacating the area 
as soon as sampling of the site is completed; (5) monitoring the 
offshore area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) 
and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in 
nearshore waters; (6) using binoculars to detect pinnipeds before close 
approach to avoid being seen by animals; and (7) rescheduling work at 
sites where pups are present, unless other means to accomplishing the 
work can be done without causing disturbance to mothers and dependent 
pups.
    The methodologies and actions noted in this section will be 
utilized and included as mitigation measures in any issued IHA to 
ensure that impacts to marine mammals are mitigated to the lowest level 
practicable. The primary method of mitigating the risk of disturbance 
to pinnipeds, which will be in use at all times, is the selection of 
judicious routes of approach to abalone study sites, avoiding close 
contact with pinnipeds hauled out on shore, and the use of extreme 
caution upon approach. In no case will marine mammals be deliberately 
approached by abalone survey personnel, and in all cases every possible 
measure will be taken to select a pathway of approach to study sites 
that minimizes the number of marine mammals potentially harassed. In 
general, researchers will stay inshore of pinnipeds whenever possible 
to allow maximum escape to the ocean. Each visit to a given study site 
will last for approximately 3-5 hours, after which the site is vacated 
and can be re-occupied by any marine mammals that may have been 
disturbed by the presence of abalone researchers. By arriving before 
low tide, worker presence will tend to encourage pinnipeds to move to 
other areas for the day before they haul out and settle onto rocks at 
low tide.
    The following measures are proposed for implementation to avoid 
disturbances to elephant seal pups. Disturbances to females with 
dependent pups can be mitigated to the greatest extent practicable by 
avoiding visits to those intertidal sites with pinnipeds that are 
actively nursing, with the exception of northern elephant seals. The 
time of year when GFNMS plans to sample avoids disturbance to young, 
dependent pups, with the exception of northern elephant seals. Thus, 
late January/early February, at minimum, is preferable for the proposed 
intertidal survey work in order to minimize the risk of harassment. 
Harassment of nursing northern elephant seal pups may occur but only to 
a limited extent. Disruption of nursing to northern elephant seal pups 
will occur only as biologists pass by the area. No flushing on nursing 
northern elephant seal pups will occur, and no disturbance to newborn 
northern elephant seals (pups less than one week old) will occur. 
Moreover, elephant seals have a much higher tolerance of nearby human 
activity than sea lions or harbor seals. In the event of finding 
pinnipeds breeding and nursing, the intertidal monitoring activities 
will be re-directed to sites where these activities and behaviors are 
not occurring. This mitigation measure will reduce the possibility of 
takes by harassment and further reduce the remote possibility of 
serious injury or mortality of dependent pups.
    GFNMS will suspend sampling and monitoring operations immediately 
if an injured marine mammal is found in the

[[Page 70926]]

vicinity of the project area and the abalone site sampling activities 
could aggravate its condition.
    NMFS has carefully evaluated GFNMS' proposed mitigation measures 
and considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring 
that NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable 
impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their 
habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of 
the following factors in relation to one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals;
     The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
     The practicability of the measure for applicant 
implementation.
    Based on our evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, NMFS 
has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures 
provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine 
mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention 
to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must, where applicable, set forth 
``requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such 
taking''. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) 
indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of 
accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result 
in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or 
impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be 
present in the proposed action area.
    Currently many aspects of pinniped research are being conducted by 
Point Blue scientists on the Farallon Islands, which includes elephant 
seal pup tagging and behavior observations with special notice to 
tagged animals. Additional observations are always desired, such as 
observations of pinniped carcasses bearing tags, as well as any rare or 
unusual marine mammal occurrences. GFNMS' observations and reporting 
will add to the observational database and on-going marine mammal 
assessments on the Farallon Islands.
    GFNMS can add to the knowledge of pinnipeds on the South Farallon 
Islands by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, or 
distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up research 
can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag-bearing 
carcasses of pinnipeds, allowing transmittal of the information to 
appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of 
marine mammals for agency follow-up.
    Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to GFNMS' abalone 
research surveys will include observations made by the applicant. 
Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups/
juveniles), numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the 
disturbance behaviors during the abalone surveys. Observations of 
unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds on the South 
Farallon Islands will be reported to NMFS and Point Blue so that any 
potential follow-up observations can be conducted by the appropriate 
personnel. In addition, observations of tag-bearing pinniped carcasses 
as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammals will be 
reported to NMFS and Point Blue.
    If at any time injury, serious injury, or mortality of the species 
for which take is authorized should occur, or if take of any kind of 
any other marine mammal occurs, and such action may be a result of the 
proposed abalone research, GFNMS will suspend research activities and 
contact NMFS immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure 
that another injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the 
applicant remains in compliance with the MMPA.
    A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected 
Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2014 field season 
or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new IHA 
will be requested. The report will include a summary of the information 
gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the IHA. 
A final report must be submitted to the Director of the NMFS Office of 
Protected Resources and to the NMFS Southwest Office Regional 
Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the 
draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft 
final report will be considered to be the final report.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].
    All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment, involving 
temporary changes in behavior. The proposed mitigation and monitoring 
measures are expected to minimize the possibility of injurious or 
lethal takes such that take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is 
considered remote. Animals hauled out close to the actual survey sites 
may be disturbed by the presence of biologists and may alter their 
behavior or attempt to move away from the researchers. No motorized 
equipment is involved in conducting the proposed abalone monitoring 
surveys.
    As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been 
harassed if it moved greater than 1 m (3.3 ft) in response to the 
researcher's presence or if the animal was already moving and changed 
direction and/or speed, or if the animal flushed into the water. 
Animals that became alert without such movements were not considered 
harassed. The distribution of pinnipeds hauled out on beaches is not 
consistent throughout the year. The number of marine mammals disturbed 
will vary by month and location. PRBO (now Point Blue) obtains weekly 
counts of pinnipeds on the South Farallon Islands, dating back to the 
early 1970s. GFNMS used data collected by PRBO in February 2010 and 
2011 to estimate the number of pinnipeds that may potentially be taken 
by Level B (behavioral) harassment. Table 3 in GFNMS' IHA application 
and Table 1 here present the maximum numbers of California sea lions, 
harbor seals, northern elephant seals, northern fur seals, and Steller 
sea lions that may be present at the various sampling sites during the 
proposed activity timeframe under this proposed IHA. Based on this 
information, NMFS proposes to authorize the take, by Level B harassment 
only, of 5,270 California sea lions, 141 harbor seals, 79 northern 
elephant seals, 64 northern fur seals, and 99 Steller sea lions. These 
numbers are considered to be maximum take estimates; therefore, actual 
take may be slightly less if animals decide to haul out at a different 
location for the day or animals are out foraging at the time of the 
survey activities.

[[Page 70927]]

Negligible Impact and Small Numbers Analysis and Preliminary 
Determination

    NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as ``. . . 
an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be 
reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.'' In making a negligible impact determination, 
NMFS considers a variety of factors, including but not limited to: (1) 
The number of anticipated mortalities; (2) the number and nature of 
anticipated injuries; (3) the number, nature, intensity, and duration 
of Level B harassment; and (4) the context in which the take occurs.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
GFNMS' rocky intertidal monitoring work and searching for black 
abalone, and none are proposed to be authorized. The behavioral 
harassments that could occur would be of limited duration, as 
researchers will only conduct sampling over a period of 8 days. 
Additionally, each site is sampled for approximately 3-5 hours before 
moving to the next sampling site. Therefore, disturbance will be 
limited to a short duration, allowing pinnipeds to reoccupy the sites 
within a short amount of time.
    Some of the pinniped species use the islands to conduct pupping 
and/or breeding. However, with the exception of northern elephant 
seals, GFNMS will conduct its abalone site sampling outside of the 
pupping/breeding seasons. GFNMS has proposed measures to minimize 
impacts to northern elephant seals nursing or tending to dependent 
pups. Such measures will avoid mother/pup separation or trampling of 
pups.
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[[Page 70928]]


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    None of the five marine mammal species anticipated to occur in the 
proposed activity area are listed as threatened or endangered under the 
ESA. Table 2 in this document presents the abundance of each species or 
stock, the proposed take estimates, and the percentage of the affected 
populations or stocks that may be taken by harassment. Based on these 
estimates, GFNMS would take less than 1% of each species or stock, with 
the exception of the California sea lion, which would result in an 
estimated take of 1.8% of the stock. Because these are maximum 
estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals 
may select other haulout sites the day the researchers are present.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the proposed mitigation and 
monitoring measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the rocky intertidal 
monitoring program will result in the incidental take of small numbers 
of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, and that the total 
taking from the rocky intertidal monitoring program will have a 
negligible impact on the affected species or stocks.

 Table 2--Population Abundance Estimates, Total Proposed Level B Take, and Percentage of Population That May Be
       Taken for the Potentially Affected Species During the Proposed Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Percentage of
                             Species                                Abundance *   Total proposed     stock or
                                                                                   level B take     population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor Seal.....................................................          30,196             141             0.5
California Sea Lion.............................................         296,750           5,270             1.8
Northern Elephant Seal..........................................         124,000              79            0.06
Steller Sea Lion................................................   58,334-72,223              99         0.1-0.2
Northern Fur Seal...............................................           9,968              64             0.6
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Abundance estimates are taken from the 2012 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (Carretta et al.,
  2013).

Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for 
Subsistence Uses

    There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated 
by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of 
affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for 
subsistence purposes.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    None of the marine mammals for which incidental take is proposed 
are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Therefore, NMFS 
has determined that issuance of the proposed IHA to GFNMS under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA will have no effect on species listed as 
threatened or endangered under the ESA.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    In 2012, we prepared an EA analyzing the potential effects to the 
human environment from conducting rocky intertidal surveys along the 
California and Oregon coasts and issued a Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an IHA for GFNMS' rocky intertidal 
surveys in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA Administrative 
Order 216-6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the 
National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). GFNMS' proposed 
activities and impacts for 2014 are within the scope of our 2012 EA and 
FONSI. We have reviewed the 2012 EA and determined that there are no 
new direct, indirect, or cumulative impacts to the human and natural 
environment associated with the IHA requiring evaluation in a 
supplemental EA and we, therefore, intend to reaffirm the 2012 FONSI.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
authorize the take of marine mammals incidental to GFNMS' rocky 
intertidal and black abalone monitoring research activities, provided 
the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements are incorporated.

    Dated: November 22, 2013.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-28474 Filed 11-26-13; 8:45 am]
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