Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, 49053-49064 [2014-19623]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices The merchandise subject to the investigation may also enter under the following HTSUS item numbers: 7304.39.00.24, 7304.39.00.28, 7304.39.00.32, 7304.39.00.36, 7304.39.00.40, 7304.39.00.44, 7304.39.00.48, 7304.39.00.52, 7304.39.00.56, 7304.39.00.62, 7304.39.00.68, 7304.39.00.72, 7304.39.00.76, 7304.39.00.80, 7304.59.60.00, 7304.59.80.15, 7304.59.80.20, 7304.59.80.25, 7304.59.80.30, 7304.59.80.35, 7304.59.80.40, 7304.59.80.45, 7304.59.80.50, 7304.59.80.55, 7304.59.80.60, 7304.59.80.65, 7304.59.80.70, 7304.59.80.80, 7305.31.40.00, 7305.31.60.90, 7306.30.50.55, 7306.30.50.90, 7306.50.50.50, and 7306.50.50.70. The HTSUS subheadings above are provided for convenience and customs purposes only. The written description of the scope of the investigation is dispositive. Appendix II List of Topics Discussed in the Ministerial Error Memorandum 1. Summary 2. Background 3. Legal Authority 4. Analysis of Alleged Ministerial Error a. The Department Incorrectly Calculated the Profit Rate for JESCO’s Third Country Sales 5. Recommendation [FR Doc. 2014–19673 Filed 8–18–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Federal Consistency Appeal by Cangrejos Yacht Club, Puerto Rico Date: Monday, August 18, 2014. NOAA Office of General Counsel, Oceans and Coasts Section, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. ACTION: Notice of stay of record closure. AGENCY: This announcement provides notice that the decision record will be held open for an additional 30 days, until September 18, 2014, in the administrative appeal filed with the Department of Commerce by Cangrejos Yacht Club of Carolina, Puerto Rico. Date: The decision record for the Cangrejos Yacht Club administrative appeal will close on September 18, 2014. SUMMARY: Materials from the appeal record are available at the Internet site http://www.ogc.doc.gov/czma.htm and at the Office of General Counsel, Oceans and Coasts Section, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, 1305 EastWest Highway, Suite 6111, Silver Spring, MD 20910. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES ADDRESSES: VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:52 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Suzanne Bass, Attorney-Advisor, via email at suzanne.bass@noaa.gov, or at (301) 713–7387. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On January 2, 2014, Pedro J. Bonilla, representing Cangrejos Yacht Club (CYC), filed notice of an appeal with the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA), 16 U.S.C. 1451 et seq., and implementing regulations found at 15 CFR Part 930, Subpart H. The appeal is taken from an objection by the Puerto Rico Planning Board (PRPB) to CYC’s certification of consistency of a proposed dredging project in the Boca de Cangrejos Channel in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The certification indicates that the project is consistent with Puerto Rico’s Coastal Management Program. The project would affect the natural resources or land and water uses of Maryland’s coastal zone. Notice of the appeal was published on March 12, 2014. The CZMA requires that a notice be published in the Federal Register indicating the date on which the decision record has been closed. 16 U.S.C. 1465(b)(2). The decision record is to be closed within 160 days of the notice of the appeal; however, the Secretary of Commerce may stay the closure of the record, for a period not to exceed 60 days. 15 CFR 930.130(a). The Secretary must issue a decision no later than 60 days after closure of the decision record. 15 CFR 930.130(b). Additional information about the Cangrejos Yacht Club appeal and the CZMA appeals process is available from the NOAA General Counsel CZMA appeals Web site: http:// coastalmanagement.noaa.gov/ consistency/fcappealdecisions.html. (Federal Domestic Assistance Catalog No. 11.419 Coastal Zone Management Program Assistance.) Dated: August 14, 2014. Jeffrey S. Dillen, Acting Section Chief, Oceans and Coasts Section. [FR Doc. 2014–19616 Filed 8–18–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XC853 Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and AGENCY: PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 49053 Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of availability; response to comments. As required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS has incorporated public comments into revisions of the 2013 marine mammal stock assessment reports (SARs). ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of SARs are available on the Internet as regional compilations and individual reports at the following address: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. You also may send requests for copies of reports to: Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910– 3226, Attn: Stock Assessments. Copies of the Alaska Regional SARs may be requested from Robyn Angliss, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 7600 Sand Point Way, BIN 15700, Seattle, WA 98115. Copies of the Atlantic Regional SARs may be requested from Gordon Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Copies of the Pacific Regional SARs may be requested from Jim Carretta, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, 8604 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037–1508. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shannon Bettridge, Office of Protected Resources, 301–427–8402, Shannon.Bettridge@noaa.gov; Dee Allen, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 206–526–4048, Dee.Allen@noaa.gov; Gordon Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 508–495–2311, Gordon.Waring@noaa.gov; or Jim Carretta, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 858–546–7171, Jim.Carretta@ noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: Background Section 117 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) requires NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prepare SARs for each stock of marine mammals occurring in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States. These reports contain information regarding the distribution and abundance of the stock, population growth rates and trends, the stock’s Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level, estimates of annual human-caused M/SI from all sources, descriptions of the fisheries with which the stock interacts, and the status of the stock. Initial reports were completed in 1995. E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 49054 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES The MMPA requires NMFS and FWS to review the SARs at least annually for strategic stocks and stocks for which significant new information is available, and at least once every 3 years for nonstrategic stocks. NMFS and FWS are required to revise a SAR if the status of the stock has changed or can be more accurately determined. NMFS, in conjunction with the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific Scientific Review Groups (SRGs), reviewed the status of marine mammal stocks as required and revised reports in each of the three regions. As required by the MMPA, NMFS updated SARs for 2013, and the revised reports were made available for public review and comment for 90 days (78 FR 66681, November 6, 2013, 2012). NMFS received comments on the draft SARs and has revised the reports as necessary. This notice announces the availability of the final 2013 reports for the 122 stocks that are currently finalized. These reports are available on NMFS’ Web site (see ADDRESSES). Comments and Responses NMFS received letters containing comments on the draft 2013 SARs from the Marine Mammal Commission, the U.S. Navy (Pacific Fleet), the Makah Tribe, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, and six non-governmental organizations (The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Ocean Conservancy, Hawaii Longline Association, and Cascadia Research Collective). Some comments recommended initiation or repetition of large data collection efforts, such as abundance surveys, observer programs, or other efforts to estimate mortality. Some comments recommending additional data collection (e.g., additional abundance surveys or observer programs) have been addressed in previous years. Although NMFS agrees that additional information may improve the SARs and inform conservation decisions, resources for surveys and observer programs are fully utilized, and no new large surveys or other programs may be initiated until additional resources are available. Such comments on the 2013 SARs and responses to them may not be included in the summary below because the responses have not changed. Comments on actions not related to the SARs are not included below. Comments suggesting editorial or minor clarifying changes were incorporated in the reports, but they are not included in the summary of comments and responses below. VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 In some cases, NMFS’ responses state that comments would be considered or incorporated in future revisions of the SARs rather than being incorporated into the final 2013 SARs. These delays are due to the schedule of the review of the reports by the regional SRGs. NMFS provides preliminary copies of updated SARs to SRGs prior to release for public review and comment. If a comment on the draft SAR suggests a substantive change to the SAR, NMFS may discuss the comment and prospective change with the SRG at its next meeting. Comments on National Issues Comment 1: The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) recommends that NMFS complete its review of the Guidelines for Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks (GAMMS) III Workshop recommendations and public comments received on those recommendations, and issue new stock assessment guidelines before conducting the 2015 stock assessments. Response: NMFS is working to complete its review of the GAMMS III recommendations as well as the public comments received on those recommendations, and intends to issue updated stock assessment guidelines as expeditiously as possible. Comment 2: The Commission recommends that NMFS make every effort to ensure that data collected on atsea distribution and movements of pinnipeds are made available in a timely manner and to a broad audience. Response: NMFS appreciates this comment and recognizes the value in disseminating the results of studies of pinniped distribution and movements. While most pinniped science on at-sea distribution and movements is conducted by scientists external to the agency, NMFS will encourage researchers to publish results of pinniped research peer-reviewed journals or reports that are broadly available in a timely manner. Comment 3: The Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (Organizations) recommend that NMFS use the most recent data in the SARs to overcome the two-year lag. Response: The marine mammal SARs are based upon the best available scientific information, and NMFS strives to update the SARs with as timely data as possible. In order to develop annual mortality and serious injury (M/SI) estimates, we do our best to ensure all records are accurately accounted for in that year. In some cases, this is contingent on such things as bycatch analysis, data entry, and PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 assessment of available data to make determinations of severity of injury, confirmation of species based on morphological and/or molecular samples collected, etc. Additionally, the new serious injury determination policy now requires several phases of review, which can extend the process and time required to estimate bycatch. Reporting on incomplete annual M/SI estimates could result in underestimating actual levels. The MMPA requires us to report mean annual M/SI estimates, and we try to ensure that we are accounting for all available data before we summarize those data. With respect to abundance, in some cases we provide census rather than abundance estimates (such as North Atlantic right whales) and the accounting process to obtain the minimum number alive requires two years of sightings to get a stable count, after which the data are analyzed and entered into the SAR in the third year. All animals are not seen every year; waiting two years assures that greater than 90% of the animals still alive will be included in the count. Comment 4: The Organizations recommend that NMFS discuss concerns related to altered ocean conditions caused by global climate change and concerns regarding the impacts of sonar and other training exercises in the Habitat Impacts sections. Response: The MMPA requires for strategic stocks a consideration of other factors that may be causing a decline or impeding recovery of the stock, including effects on marine mammal habitat and prey. The GAMMS II recommend that such issues should therefore be summarized in the Status section for all strategic stocks. If substantial issues (such as global climate change or impacts of sonar, for example) regarding the habitat of the stock are considered to impede recovery of a stock, a separate section titled ‘‘Habitat Issues’’ is used; if data exist that indicate a problem, they are summarized and included in the SAR. Comment 5: The Organizations recommend that NMFS adhere to the GAMMS in cases where abundance data are aging and reduce the minimum abundance estimates annually until new abundance data are available. For example, the outdated Nmins for pygmy sperm whale and dwarf sperm whale should be reduced incrementally over time as per GAMMS. Response: The proposed revisions to the GAMMS (i.e. GAMMS III)—which recommend incrementally increasing the uncertainty around the abundance estimate, thereby reducing the minimum abundance estimate (Nmin) E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES and associated PBR- have not yet been finalized or fully implemented by NMFS. NMFS is adhering to the guidance provided in GAMMS II until new guidance is finalized. Comments on Pacific Regional Reports Comment 6: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS update the gray whale SAR to include the most current information on the now 27 gray whale observations in the Western and Eastern North Pacific. The comment cites Urban et al. (2013) as an updated information source. Response: Reference to the Urban et al. 2013 paper and information on movements between the Western and Eastern North Pacific will be included in the draft 2014 SAR. Comment 7: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS replace the word ‘‘residency’’ with ‘‘fidelity’’ in the sentence that describes gray whales in the Pacific Northwest which reads: ‘‘whales that frequently return to the area, display a high degree of intraseasonal ‘residency’ and account for a majority of sightings between 1 June and 30 November.’’ Additionally, the Makah Tribe recommends changing the phrase ‘‘Pacific Coast Feeding Group gray whales’’ to ‘‘gray whales observed in the Pacific Coast Feeding Group range and season’’ in the Fisheries Information and Other Mortality sections, as the referenced whales include whales that were identified as Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG) whales solely because they were observed in one year in the geographic range and season for PCFG, while the formal definition for PCFG includes whales seen in at least two years in the range and season for PCFG. Response: The word ‘‘fidelity’’ replaces the word ‘‘residency’’ and the phrase PCFG gray whales’’ was changed to ‘‘gray whales observed in the PCFG range and season’’ in the final 2013 SAR as suggested. Comment 8: The Makah Tribe recommends that the gray whale SAR should discuss whether the PCFG satisfies the statutory definition of a stock, and in particular whether the animals within the group interbreed when mature. Response: The final 2013 SAR elaborates on ‘interbreed when mature,’ citing the gray whale stock identification workshop report of Weller et al. (2013). New text states: ‘‘Further, given the lack of significant differences found in nuclear DNA markers between PCFG whales and other Eastern North Pacific (ENP) whales, the task force found no evidence to suggest that PCFG whales breed exclusively or primarily with each other, but interbreed with VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 ENP whales, including potentially other PCFG whales.’’ Comment 9: The Makah Tribe suggests that the recovery factor default value of 0.5 for PCFG gray whales is too low and recommends that NMFS instead use a recovery factor of 0.75 in the PCFG gray whale potential biological removal (PBR) calculation. Response: The Pacific Scientific Review Group (SRG) was asked to review the use of the default recovery factor of 0.5 at their April 2014 meeting. They raised a concern about using a recovery factor of 0.75 as it had not been adequately reviewed. They recommended the SAR could contain a range of recovery factors, from 0.5 to 1.0. We concluded that using a range would not meet the statutory intent of calculating a PBR. Given a lack of specific guidance from the SRG on the recovery factor for PCFG, NMFS will continue to use the default of 0.5 for these animals. We will revisit the issue of the appropriate recovery factor in the 2014 SAR. Comment 10: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS prorate the serious injury for the gray whale observed entangled on 21 July 2009, because it was re-sighted on 3 August 2009 as well as in 2010 and 2011 still trailing gear. Response: This whale was seen again in 2013 and had shed all gear and was apparently in good health. This record has been updated with a non-serious injury designation in the final 2013 serious injury determination report. Comment 11: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS remove the PCFG range assigned to the gray whale that was necropsied on 6 June 2011; because it was found south of the PCFG range, the whale may have been struck and killed before the PCFG season, and there is no photo-identification. Response: NMFS has reclassified this whale as an ENP whale, based on its being south of the time/area range currently used for PCFG gray whales. Comment 12: The Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) recommends that for the three newly recognized insular stocks of pantropical spotted dolphins in Hawaiian waters, NMFS should provide a range of likely abundance estimates and PBR values using density values for this species. The Organizations also recommend that NMFS consider using density estimates (e.g. false killer whales (FKW) around American Samoa and spotted dolphins around Palmyra) to produce a range of PBR and abundance estimates for pantropical spotted dolphins insular stocks. Further, the Commission recommends that NMFS make full use PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 49055 of information on abundance, density and/or stock ranges, and new analytic methods such as spatially explicit markrecapture and line-transect models or Bayesian inference from similar cases, to provide bounds on possible abundance estimates and PBR levels for newly split stocks, whenever possible, as was done for pantropical spotted dolphins in waters surrounding Palmyra and for FKW around American Samoa in 2010. Response: The suggested inclusion of density information from other regions to provide a range of likely abundance and PBR values needs to be evaluated more carefully within the context of small, range-restricted insular populations. NMFS will evaluate such an approach for the future, as well as alternative approaches for assessing abundance based on a range of available data for each of the new insular stocks. Comment 13: The CRC recommends that NMFS incorporate alternative sources of information on fisheries interactions with melon-headed whales as there is no observer coverage in any nearshore fisheries and Aschettino (2010) documents signs of fishery interactions (bullet wounds and linear scars) in her photo-identification study. The CRC also recommends revising the ‘‘no known fishery mortality’’ language in the PBR section, again citing Aschettino (2010) as containing information inconsistent with that statement. And, the CRC notes that the melon-headed whale Kohala resident stock abundance estimate based upon Aschettino (2010) likely overestimates abundance by including both individuals that have died since 2002 and those that were born after 2002 but before 2009. The CRC further recommends that NMFS note that melon-headed whales are sensitive to impacts from anthropogenic sound, citing Southall et al. (2013), Southall et al. (2006) and Brownell et al. (2009) as information sources. Response: The reference to potential fisheries injuries as evidenced by bullet holes and linear scars, discussed in Aschettino (2010) was added to the final SAR. Lack of observer coverage in all nearshore fisheries was already noted within the SAR. The section on Other Mortality was expanded to include discussion of the Southall et al. (2013) report, and the likely overestimation of abundance of Kohala Resident whales was noted in the section on Kohala Resident stock population size. The section on Other Mortality was expanded to include discussion of the Southall et al. (2013) report. Comment 14: The CRC recommends that NMFS revise its language in the E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 49056 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices pantropical spotted dolphin SAR (Hawaiian Islands Stock Complex) about photo identification catalogs available through the Collective for developing mark-recapture estimates. The comment notes that the O’ahu and 4-island stocks photos are limited and old and that the Hawai’i Island stock photos are not incorporated into a photo-identification catalog. Response: The SAR contains language about the availability of photos and states that a photo identification catalog has not been developed. For the Oahu and 4-islands stocks, the text about the photo identification catalog was removed, while for the Hawaii Island stock, the text was clarified regarding the availability of a catalog. Comment 15: The CRC recommends that NMFS update the pantropical spotted dolphin Status of Stock section to reflect work by Burgess et al. (2011) that documented vessel noise associated with directed fishing effort as a habitat issue in Hawaiian waters. Response: NMFS will further evaluate the impacts of vessel noise on cetacean stocks in the region, but has not included the Burgess et al. (2011) reference in the SAR. The suggested study of Burgess et al. (coauthored by a SAR author) did not evaluate noise exposure levels or evaluate any responses from cetaceans. The main findings indicate that cetaceans are exposed to echosounder noise, but it is unknown if these sounds represent habitat threats. Comment 16: The CRC clarifies that the ika-shibi fishery is a tuna fishery that catches squid for bait, not a squid fishery (see Hawai’i rough-toothed dolphin and bottlenose dolphin Fishery Information sections) and also clarifies that gillnet fishing in Hawaiian waters occurs in nearshore areas, making it unlikely that Hawai’i rough-toothed dolphin, striped dolphin, or Fraser’s dolphin would interact with gillnets. The CRC recommends that NMFS revise the statement that total fishery-related M/SI can be considered to be insignificant and approaching zero in the Status of Stock section of the Hawai’i rough-toothed dolphin. Roughtoothed dolphins are known to take bait and catch from fishermen off of the island of Hawai’i in unobserved fisheries. Response: Text in the Status of Stock section has been revised to reflect that insufficient data exist to assess whether fishery-related M/SI is insignificant and approaching zero. Comment 17: The CRC recommends that NMFS rename the Hawai’i pelagic stock of Blainville’s beaked whale to Hawai’i stock until two stocks are VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 recognized. Further, Blainville’s beaked whales in Hawaiian waters should be separated into two stocks: Islandassociated and pelagic. Response: The stock’s name has been changed in the SAR. SAR text already includes discussion of possible insular and pelagic populations of this species and that splitting the stock may be warranted in the future. However, following recommendation of the SRG, NMFS is not splitting the stock at this time based upon lack of sufficient data. Comment 18: The CRC recommends that NMFS modify the Status of Stock section for Risso’s dolphin Hawai’i stock to reflect world-wide habitat issues. The current status reads: ‘‘no habitat issues are known to be of concern for this species.’’ Response: The SAR text reflects that no habitat issues are known for this stock of Risso’s dolphin in U.S. waters. Habitat issues in other parts of the world for this species are not discussed in the SAR. Comment 19: The CRC recommends that NMFS change the wording about the imprecision of the common bottlenose dolphin Hawai’i stock complex, O’ahu stock mark-recapture abundance estimate CV of 0.54, which is similar to the CV (0.59) for the pelagic stock. Response: Language pertaining to the lack of precision in the O’ahu estimate has been deleted. Comment 20: The CRC recommends that NMFS revise the fin whale, Hawaiian stock to reflect the potential for anthropogenic sounds to impact fin whale behavior as is done in the CA/ OR/WA stock report. Response: Such language has been added to the Status of Stock section of this report. Comment 21: The Navy recommends that NMFS make several edits to the Pacific SARs for blue whale (ENP stock), humpback whale (CA/OR/WA stock), fin whale (CA/OR/WA stock), blue whale (CNP stock), and sei whale (Hawaiian stock) to reflect the speculative effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammal behavior as supported by Goldbogen et al. (2013). Response: NMFS has revised the language in the respective SARs to reflect the full range of behavioral responses reported by Goldbogen et al. (2013) for blue whales. For other species, NMFS has changed language to reflect that behavioral responses of other baleen whale species to such sounds may vary. Comment 22: The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Council) recommends that NMFS use a higher recovery factor for the pelagic PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 stock of FKW as supported by Hilborn and Ishizaki (2013). The Hawai’i Longline Association (HLA) recommends that NMFS use a recovery factor greater than 0.5 for the PBR estimate for the pelagic stock of FKW, because all available data contradict any hypothesis that the abundance of FKW in the Hawai’i exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is decreasing. Response: NMFS is working to obtain additional data to examine abundance trends in pelagic FKW; however, this does not change the conclusions of the Draft 2013 SAR or the Final 2012 SAR (see 78 FR 19446, April 1, 2013, comment 45) that trend analyses are inappropriate with only two data points, particularly given changes in group size estimation and analysis methods in 2010 and that the proportion of the population in the study area, and its variance over time, are not known. The Hilborn and Ishizaki (2013) report lacks sufficiently robust methods in a number of aspects and its conclusions and recommendations are not incorporated into the SAR. Their conclusion that there is an 83% chance that the population is increasing is faulty, as the growth estimate is dependent on many unverified assumptions, conditions, and parameter inputs. More specifically: (1) The estimates of growth are strongly dependent on the inputs (priors) for the natural vital rate parameters, which are likely optimistic, because they are intended to represent optimal values and exponential growth (i.e., density dependence is ignored). If the population is depleted (low abundance relative to carrying capacity), then these vital rates may be appropriate, in which case, one might conclude that the population is growing from a depleted state toward some equilibrium with fishing mortality (i.e., population growth does not mean the population is at Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP) or otherwise healthy). The ‘‘tuned’’ birth rates are known to be far lower than that estimated for other populations of FKW, and the estimates of adult survival are likely too high. (2) The pelagic stock is treated as a closed population within the Hawai’i EEZ boundary, an assumption known to be false and which would have a significant impact on estimation of population abundance and trend. Given an open population, it is unreasonable to try to estimate a population trend from two estimates, even if the estimates were derived using identical procedures (which they were not); the higher estimate for the more recent survey could simply mean that a greater proportion of the population was within the survey area. Multiple survey E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices estimates are needed to appropriately infer trends within the survey area, and even then, the trend for entire population would not be known. (3) Precision of the realized rate for population growth rate (r) is overestimated because uncertainty is ignored for several important parameters, including the number of takes by the fishery (which may also be biased), the multiplier for juvenile survival (0.95 of adult survival), and oldest age of reproduction. A more valid distribution for current r (that more fully accounts for uncertainty in the population model structure, vital rates, and fishing mortality estimates) would likely suggest a more equivocal result for population growth. In summary, the current status of pelagic FKW is unknown. This population may be depleted given fishing pressures within and outside of the EEZ over several decades. We could expect a depleted population to be growing, though this would not represent a healthy state. Comment 23: The Council recommends that NMFS clarify that when citing Kobayashi and Kawamoto (1995), interaction rate refers to depredation events, not hookings and entanglements that result in mortality or injury. Additionally, the Council recommends that NMFS remove the Kobayashi and Kawamoto (1995) reference from the rough-toothed dolphin, Hawai’i stock SAR, as the paper only identifies bottlenose dolphins as the primary species causing depredation in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Response: The definition of ‘‘interaction’’ in this context has been clarified in the bottlenose dolphin SAR, and the reference removed from the rough-toothed dolphin SAR. Comment 24: The Council recommends that NMFS revise the Hawaiian Islands stock complex of pantropical spotted dolphins SAR to be consistent with the Proposed 2013 List of Fisheries (LOF), which acknowledges the lack of direct evidence of M/SI in the troll and charter vessel fisheries. Response: The LOF is based on information from the SARs. The Proposed 2013 LOF (78 FR April 22, 2013) states that ‘‘available information indicates that pantropical dolphins are incidentally injured in theses fisheries at low levels.’’ The draft 2013 SAR cites the sources of that available information: Courbis et al. (2009), Rizzuto (2007), and Shallenberger (1981), which document observations of troll fishermen ‘‘fishing’’ off dolphins to catch tuna and Rizzuto (1997) describes anecdotal reports of hookings. The draft VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 2013 SAR does not overstate the available evidence of interactions with the Hawaiian Islands stock complex of spotted dolphins. Comment 25: The Council recommends that NMFS update the number of American Samoa longline permit holders in the SAR Appendix. The draft SAR Appendix says the number is ‘‘unknown;’’ however, the comment cites that monthly updated values are available at: http:// www.fpir.noaa.gov/SFD/SFD_permits_ index.html. The Council also recommends that NMFS address the federal management (e.g. Hawai’i Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and Pacific Pelagic FEP) that is in place for Hawai’i’s nearshore fisheries that operate in federal waters. Further, the Council recommends that NMFS include information on the Hawai’i FEP annual catch limits in the Pacific SARs. Response: NMFS appreciates Council’s careful attention to the accurate and complete portrayal within the SAR Appendix of the management of Hawaii’s nearshore fisheries. The requested changes have been addressed and all State fisheries descriptions have been checked, and if necessary, updated with assistance from NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) Sustainable Fisheries and Protected Resources Division staff. Comment 26: The HLA recommends that NMFS revise the pelagic stock of FKW SAR to reflect the discrepancy that takes cannot be at an unsustainable level since there is no evidence of a declining trend in abundance. Response: This comment has been addressed previously (see 78 FR 19446, April 1, 2013, comments 45 and 51). The comment and included footnote continue to suggest that the pelagic stock of FKW is increasing or stable since 2002, and as such, deep-set fishery takes are not of concern, although serious injury and mortality have been above PBR for more than a decade. The commenter attributes this persistence of FKW despite high levels of fishery mortality to NMFS’ improper assessment of the severity of injuries resulting from fisheries interactions, improper assessment of population abundance and trend, or both. Assessment of injury severity under the NMFS’ Policy for Distinguishing Serious from Non-Serious Injuries of Marine Mammals has been discussed in previous comment responses, and is based on the best available science on whether a cetacean is likely to survive a particular type of injury. Further study of FKW would certainly better inform the assigned outcomes, but until better data become available, the standard PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 49057 established in the NMFS 2012 policy will stand. The referenced 2002 and 2010 survey abundance estimates are not comparable in their published form, as the methodology for accurately enumerating FKW groups changed between surveys, significantly increasing the average group size of FKW, and therefore, the resulting abundance estimate. Further, because the entire stock range of pelagic FKW is unknown, but certainly extends beyond the Hawaii EEZ, the available abundance estimates do not reflect true population size. A robust assessment of population trend would require assessment of environmental variables that influence FKW distribution and the proportion of the population represented within the survey area during each survey period. Finally, many years of unsustainable take does not necessarily lead to a population decline. PBR was designed to provide a benchmark, in the face of great uncertainty about marine mammal populations, below which humancaused mortalities would not reduce the population beyond its OSP. (OSP is defined as the abundance where there is ‘‘the greatest net annual increment in population numbers or biomass resulting from additions to the population due to reproduction and/or growth less losses due to natural mortality’’). The benchmark does not consider whether a population is declining, as this is very hard to prove, particularly for population abundance estimates with low precision. Comment 27: The HLA recommends that NMFS revise the population trend information in the insular FKW stock SAR and repeats its comment that the high abundance in 1989 claim lacks good scientific backing and that the population has been stable since 2000. Response: NMFS responded to a similar comment from the Council on the 2012 SARs (comment 52 in 78 FR 19446, April 1, 2013). NMFS has added language to the Final 2013 SAR clarifying the outcome of the Population Viability Analysis modelling effort— that some two-stage models did allow for a different growth rate around the year 2000—and that some of those models suggested a lower rate of decline in recent years. Comment 28: The HLA maintains that the deep-set fishery does not interact with the insular FKW stock and objects to NMFS’s allocation of a prorated portion of the ‘‘blackfish’’ deep-set fishery interaction to the insular stock. The best available science and information dictate that NMFS conclude in its final SAR that there are no E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 49058 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices interactions between the deep-set fishery and the insular stock of FKW. Response: NMFS has responded to these comments previously (see 78 FR 19446, April 1, 2013, Comment 52). The referenced 2011 take near the offshore boundary of the Main Hawaiian Island insular stock is still within the Main Hawaiian Island insular stock boundary and is appropriately treated within the established proration framework. The framework allocates a larger percentage of that take to the pelagic stock given its location. The majority of FKW interactions are not genetically sampled; and therefore, assignment to a specific stock is rarely possible. The GAMMS allows for proration of take based on density information (the current approach) or allocating take in an overlap zone to both stocks, which in this case would result in allocation to pelagic and Main Hawaiian Island insular FKW, as well as to Hawaii shortfinned pilot whales given the ‘‘blackfish’’ identification. Comment 29: The HLA disagrees with the conclusion in the insular FKW SAR that the annual M/SI from longline fisheries is ‘‘not approaching zero mortality and serious injury rate because it exceeds 10% of PBR.’’ Response: The MMPA mandates that commercial fisheries reduce incidental M/SI of marine mammals to insignificant levels approaching a zero M/SI rate (16 U.S.C. 1387(b)). NMFS has defined this ‘‘insignificance threshold’’ in regulation as 10% of PBR (50 CFR 229.2). Annual M/SI in longline fisheries exceed this level; and thus, the statement is warranted. Comment 30: The HLA recommends that NMFS re-evaluate how it assigns fisheries interactions to FKW in the absence of data. The HLA cites two examples and suggests that prorated interactions were unfairly counted against the fisheries: An interaction was categorized as a serious injury based on little to no data and a ‘‘blackfish’’ interaction was assigned to FKW. Response: Both proration approaches used—(1) for injury status when observer records are inadequate to determine whether an injury is serious or not, and (2) for allocation of blackfish, a category used to encompass interactions known to be short-finned pilot whales or FKW—are data based. The proportion of injuries categorized as serious versus non-serious is used to inform injury classification for those cases where injury severity is unclear. There is a clear record of the types of injuries that FKW typically suffer. Applicability of that information to inform those cases that are unclear due to the inability of the observer to VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 completely view the animal, or accurately describe the degree of entanglement or location of hooking, is appropriate and supported within GAMMS. Similarly, when a species group such as ‘‘blackfish’’ is used to assign interactions in cases where species identification can only be resolved to within two species (shortfinned pilot whales and FKW), it is appropriate to evaluate the interaction rates of each of those species to inform an appropriate proration scheme. Ignoring those interactions would create a bias in M/SI estimates, thereby underrepresenting total M/SI of each species. Both proration schemes are updated annually to reflect the most recent data on serious versus non-serious injury rates and the occurrence of pilot whale and FKW interactions. Comment 31: The HLA recommends that NMFS re-evaluate its stock delineations of FKW and asserts that NMFS rushed judgment when declaring the NWHI stock, which has overlapping range with the insular and pelagic stocks. Response: NMFS disagrees that the designation of new stocks is not scientifically justified. The separation of the NWHI stock and the Hawaii insular and pelagic stocks is sound and based on multiple lines of evidence, including genetic analyses indicating significant differentiation in both mtDNA and nucDNA, photo identification indicating separation from the tight social network of the Main Hawaiian Islands animals, and satellite telemetry data suggesting island and atoll association within the NWHI. The data on FKW stock structure, including the new NWHI stock, have been evaluated both for demographic independence, the benchmark for separation under the MMPA, and for evolutionary separation, the more stringent standard for separation under the ESA. Comment 32: The HLA recommends that NMFS explain its rationale in prorating a serious injury of Hawai’i stock of sperm whales and the circumstance surrounding an interaction with the deep-set fishery. The comment states that in the absence of conclusive information, the interaction must be designated as ‘‘nonserious.’’ Response: The details of this and all other interactions are provided in the cited Bradford and Forney (2013), and the justification and rationale for use of 75% proration is discussed within NMFS’ Policy for Distinguishing Serious from Non-Serious Injuries of Marine Mammals (NMFS 2012), which employed a data-based approach of assigning serious injury proration based PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 on the known outcomes of individual whales suffering those injuries. This results in a more informed determination than the ‘‘more likely than not’’ standard used for other serious injury determinations when information on the survival of individuals suffering those types of injuries is unknown. The cited references provide the necessary detail. While NMFS does not believe it is necessary or practical to detail the circumstances of every injury within the text of the SAR, some additional information on this particular injury was added to the 2013 SAR. Comment 33: The HLA recommends that NMFS remove the sentence: ‘‘Large whales have been observed entangled in longline gear in the Hawai’i EEZ in the past (Forney 2010)’’ from the blue whale (CNP stock), fin whale (Hawai’i stock), sei whale (Hawai’i stock), and minke whale (Hawai’i stock) SARs. The cited report does not document a single interaction between the longline fisheries (dating back to 1994) and any of the listed stocks. Response: The statement was removed from each of the referenced SARs. Comment 34: The HLA recommends that NMFS remove the statement in the Hawaiian monk seal SAR that reads: ‘‘[l]ongline hooks have also been recovered from Hawaiian monk seals, but these were not observed during longline fishing operations.’’ The HLA states that no interactions have been documented since 1991 when waters within 50 miles of the NWHI were closed to longline fishing. The statement in the SAR refers to pre-1991 amendment information and inaccurately implies that longline fisheries may interact with monk seals. Response: This outdated text appears in the Description of U.S. Fisheries Appendix, not in the monk seal SAR. It has been removed. The existing SAR text reflects the current management plan implemented to protect monk seals. Comment 35: The Organizations recommend that NMFS remove the sentence from the harbor seals, OR/WA coast stock that reads: ‘‘[t]he stock is within its Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP) level,’’ noting that more recent data are needed before that claim can be made. The Organizations also recommend that NMFS update abundance estimates for this stock and expressed frustration that despite numerous recent abundance surveys no published data are yet available. Response: NMFS has updated the OSP language in this SAR (and in the WA state inner waters SARs) to reflect E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices that in the absence of recent abundance estimates, the status of this stock relative to OSP is unknown. NMFS will not reduce an outdated estimate of Nmin at this time, as the proposed guidelines for applying such reductions in the absence of new abundance estimates have not been finalized. In addition, because abundance estimates are outdated, there is no valid estimate of Nmin to reduce. The lack of recent abundance estimates is due to incomplete surveys within the range of these stocks, owing to both weather and funding challenges. Comment 36: The Organizations noted that, as with the OR/WA coast stock of harbor seals, there is no recent published research available to update abundance and distribution information on the Washington inland waters stocks of harbor seals, despite ongoing research activities. Additionally, the fishermen self-reported deaths of harbor seals suggest that harbor seals are being killed in fishery interactions and NMFS should undertake an observer program. Response: See response to Comment 35 regarding research activities. Observer programs exist for tribal gillnet fisheries in the region that self-report takes. Additional observer programs for fisheries that interact with harbor seals are detailed in the fishery tables of the respective SARs. Comment 37: The Organizations recommend that NMFS include the threats posed by ciguatoxins and potent algal neurotoxins in the Hawaiian monk seal SAR. Response: NMFS responded to this comment in the 2012 draft SAR public comment process. Regarding ciguatoxin, the Bottein et al. (2011) paper represents an advance in detection of these compounds. However, whether and to what degree they may influence monk seal mortality is not known. Comment 38: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider a limited observer program in the gillnet fishery to monitor for harbor porpoise (various stocks) interactions. Response: Commercial gillnet fisheries in the range of these harbor porpoise stocks are largely limited to tribal fisheries that provide selfreporting of takes. NMFS agrees that additional observer programs are needed to better document gillnet bycatch, but funding for such observer programs is limited. Comment 39: The Organizations recommend that NMFS obtain an incidental take statement (ITS) for scientific research trawls for sardines and rockfish because from 2007 to 2011, there were 26 mortalities and 4 serious injuries of Pacific white-sided dolphins VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 in scientific research trawls. The ITS should address mitigation measures or gear modifications. Response: The NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) applied for a Letter of Authorization (LOA) under the MMPA in 2013 for takes that may occur incidental to its fisheries research surveys. In its application, SWFSC describes a suite of mitigation measures it has implemented with the aim of minimizing future takes. For threatened or endangered marine mammals, NMFS will conduct separate but parallel ESA section 7 consultations, which could result in authorized incidental take of threatened or endangered marine mammals, if warranted. Comment 40: The Organizations recommend that NMFS re-evaluate the population trend for the Southern Resident killer whale using the 1987– 2011 timeframe as in Velez-Espino (2012). Limiting the time frame results in a 0.91 per year declining trend. The Organizations also recommend that NMFS incorporate new evidence of winter habitat for Southern Resident killer whales from Hanson (2013). Response: NMFS responded to the population trend and prey availability comments in the draft 2012 SAR public comment process. Since the first complete census of this stock in 1974 when 71 animals were identified, the number of Southern Resident killer whales has fluctuated annually. There have been periods of increases and declines over this time, and there is no justification in choosing any particular starting year in determining if this stock is declining or growing. The commenters state that only the time period 1987–2011 should be evaluated for trends in abundance. In 1987, the population count was 84 animals, which increased to 99 animals by 1995. In 2012, the count had declined to 85 animals, one animal more than was counted in 1987. Regarding prey availability, the SAR currently contains language and references regarding potential effects of limited prey availability on this population of killer whales. New information on the winter habitat of this population will be included in the draft 2014 report. Comment 41: The Organizations recommend that NMFS add a vessel strike involving a sperm whale, CA/OR/ WA stock from a 2007 observer report. Response: NMFS did not revise the CA/OR/WA sperm whale SAR in 2013. However, the SAR will be revised in 2014 and will include updated information on vessel strikes. Comment 42: The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 49059 recommended that the PBR for monk seal be zero. Response: Appropriate treatment of PBR for Hawaiian monk seals has long been a controversial issue within the NMFS stock assessment community. Below is background and explanation of how NMFS arrived at ‘‘undetermined’’ PBR for monk seals. As the Commission noted, this issue was thoroughly discussed at the GAMMS III workshop. Some participants maintained that for consistency and compliance with the MMPA, the PBR equation should be calculated for all stocks, including the monk seal. They further made the point that PBR does not itself authorize take. Others maintained, consistent with the Commission’s position, that PBR should be set to zero. This was not recommended in the GAMMS III workshop report. A PBR of zero using the PBR formula would require that either the Recovery Factor or Rmax would be zero. Some thought that ‘‘setting Fr to zero would require a change to the MMPA, and that it would be difficult to defend setting Rmax to zero for any stock.’’ Following the GAMMS III workshop, NMFS decided to continue reporting monk seal PBR as undetermined, consistent with what had been done since the issue was previously considered at GAMMS II. Reporting a PBR calculated using the PBR formula would not be consistent with the intent of PBR in that there is clearly no surplus production of monk seals that could be removed while allowing the population to return to OSP. While GAMMS III allows for PBR in such cases to be qualified by additional text, it seems ineffective to present a value then explain that it is not valid. Setting PBR to zero would contradict the current GAMMS III guidance and could be construed that either Rmax or the Recovery Factor were zero, raising the complications noted above. NMFS appreciates the Commission’s concern that ‘‘with PBR undetermined there is no reference point against which the magnitude of human-caused mortality and serious injury can be evaluated, which makes it difficult to focus management and public attention on eliminating human-caused mortality and serious injury.’’ NMFS believes that in practice, the public and managers are more influenced by the monk seal’s ESA status (and associated Recovery Plan and Critical Habitat designation), National Environmental Policy Act compliance and public outreach efforts of NOAA, partner agencies and NGOs, than by the PBR. As such, NMFS believes that an ‘‘undetermined’’ PBR poses no real risk to monk seal recovery. E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 49060 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices Comment 43: The Commission noted that ‘‘This section (of the monk seal SAR) describes the decline in population size in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as if it was monotonic at 3.4% per year. However, examination of the data points in Figure 1 suggests that the rate of decline was much faster from 2004 to 2008, and much slower, perhaps even near zero, from 2008 to 2011. We suggest that the report contain some discussion and evaluation of the possibility that the rate of decline has changed over time.’’ Response: The monk seal trend is based on a regression fitted to the 10 most recent years’ estimates. This is a compromise between precision (having enough years to obtain an estimate with low error) and accuracy. As the Commission noted, the monk seal decline appeared to cease during 2008– 2011; however, it may have proven premature to include this in the text. Preliminary data from 2012–2013 indicate lower abundance estimates consistent with a continuing decline (demonstrating the potential pitfall of making strong inferences on just a few years’ data). On this same subject, NMFS has two main concerns about estimating monk seals trends. First, and this is noted in the SAR, the trend is based only on 6 NWHI sites, which excludes Necker, Nihoa and the MHI. NMFS is working to obtain reliable abundance estimates for these excluded sites, so that the analysis better reflects total stock trends. Second, in 2012–2013, budget shortfalls resulted in very short NWHI field seasons, so that the apparent drop in abundance in those years could be real or may simply reflect inadequate surveillance. Indications are that funding will allow for adequate surveillance in 2014. NMFS believes it is likely that the rate of decline has been reduced in the NWHI, but wishes to be more certain this is a sustained trend before reporting it in the SAR. Comment 44: The Commission noted that in the Human-caused Mortality and Serious Injury section of the monk seal SAR the statement ‘‘[t]his second decline . . . appear[s] to have been driven by . . . and by human disturbance from military or U.S. Coast Guard activities (Baker et al. 2012 . . .)’’ was revised by deleting ‘‘military or U.S. Coast Guard activities.’’ While Baker et al. (2012) do dismiss the potential impact of military activities, they cite Gilmartin et al. (2011) as supporting the potential impact of Coast Guard activities. Response: The monk seal SAR states that the decline apparently was driven both by variable oceanic productivity VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 and human disturbance. The reference to human disturbance is meant to identify this generic cause regardless of whether the people involved were civilians, federal employees or members of any uniformed service. Comment 45: The Commission suggested that some discussion of the risk to monk seals posed by Fukushima debris might be included in the SAR. Response: Despite public concerns after the Fukushima disaster, no tsunami debris has been documented to have harmed or contacted a monk seal. Comment 46: The Commission wanted to know why the trend figure in the Morro Bay harbor porpoise SAR was removed and noted it should be updated to include the 2012 survey estimate. The Commission asked why the finding that the population was increasing was deleted. An explanation, beyond simply noting the wide confidence limits on individual estimates, should be provided for why further analyses are required to establish if the population is increasing. Response: The trend figure was removed because the most recent abundance estimates used different methods and results cannot directly be compared to past estimates. Thus, the figure would be misleading. A more sophisticated Bayesian trend analysis is planned in the future, and results will be included in the next revision of this SAR. This response applies to other harbor porpoise reports where current trend analyses are lacking. Comment 47: The Commission noted that in the Current and Maximum Net Productivity Rates section of the harbor porpoise SARs, the statement that ‘‘[t]his maximum theoretical rate [9.4% per year from Barlow and Boveng (1991)] may not be achievable for any real population.’’ As it is not apparent how this conclusion was reached, the report should contain an explanation and justification for the statement. The Commission noted that this comment applies also to the other harbor porpoise stocks. Response: This statement has been included in the harbor porpoise SARs since 1995 and is based on conclusions from the Barlow and Boveng (1991) paper. The 9.4% theoretical rate uses a human survivorship curve, which represents a maximum survival in a protected environment and is expected to be the absolute limit to the likely survivorship of any wild population. NMFS has modified the text to clarify this statement. Comment 48: The Commission noted that the Ward (2012) reference used to justify the value of Rmax used in the Southern Resident killer whale SAR was PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 unpublished and not available to assess the suitability of the Rmax value used in the SAR. Response: An updated Ward (2013) reference is cited in the final 2013 SAR. Ward (2013) summarizes a distribution of growth rate estimates for Southern Resident killer whales (Figure 7), ranging from approximately 0.98 (a negative growth rate) to the value of 1.032 cited in the SAR. The value of Rmax used in the SAR represents the best estimate of maximum population growth rate over the period 1979–2010, which is less than the default value used for most cetaceans. Comment 49: The Commission recommended reducing the recovery factors for stocks of CA/OR/WA Cuvier’s beaked whales and Mesoplodont beaked whales, given the observed declines for these stocks. Response: NMFS used a default recovery factor of 0.5 for these two stocks, which have shown evidence of decline. The GAMMS allow for lowering default recovery factors when the precision of human-caused mortality levels (coefficient of variation or CV) is known. For example, recovery factors may be lowered from the 0.5 default to 0.4 for a stock of unknown status or a depleted stock when the human-caused mortality CV exceeds 0.8 (Wade and Angliss 1997). In the case of U.S. west coast stocks of Cuvier’s beaked whale and Mesoplodont beaked whales, there are no estimates of human-caused mortality. Changes to default recovery factors for reasons other than adjustments related to mortality CV should be reviewed by regional SRGs. NMFS agrees that the recovery factors could be adjusted downward, but there is no justification for choosing any particular recovery factor value less than the default for these beaked whale stocks at present. NMFS will consult with the Pacific SRG regarding the recovery factors for these stocks prior to the next revision of these reports. Comment 50: The Commission noted that ship strikes of unidentified large whales (such as Eastern North Pacific blue whales) were not prorated to species in the SARs, similar to what is done when unidentified blackfish are prorated in the FKW and short-finned pilot whale Pacific Islands reports. Response: Proration of unidentified blackfish in the Pacific Islands SARs is based on a distance-from-shore model developed from observer program data and in consultation with the Pacific SRG. In contrast, no systematic proration scheme has been developed for U.S. west coast serious injury records of unidentified whales. NMFS has added text to the appropriate large E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices whale SARs indicating that some of the unidentified large whale serious injury records may represent the species at hand. NMFS will also consult with the Pacific SRG on developing proration schemes for unidentified whale records in future stock assessments. Comment 51: The Commission suggested adding language to the OR/ WA coast harbor seal SAR that acknowledges negative biases in bycatch and mortality estimates resulting from the failure of observers to detect all events. Response: NMFS has added language to the SAR, acknowledging that bycatch mortality estimates likely represent minimum values, especially for fisheries where observer coverage is low and bycatch events are infrequent. For fisheries with adequate observer coverage (the definition of ‘‘adequate’’ will vary depending on the rate of bycatch and associated observer coverage), bycatch estimates should be unbiased if methods are sound and sample sizes are sufficient. Comment 52: The Commission noted that mortality levels in the harbor seal OR/WA coast stock Status of Stock section attributed to unknown hook and line fisheries was 0.4 seal per year, but the value reported in the Fisheries Information section was 0.6. Response: The two values represent different sources of mortality and injury. The 0.6 per year listed in Table 1 is from stranding data, excluding hook and line fishery interactions that may be from recreational fisheries, and is not included in commercial fishery cases listed in the Fisheries Information section and Table 1. The 0.4 mean annual mortality (from stranding data) caused by unknown hook and line fisheries is not listed in Table 1 or included in the calculation of mean annual commercial fishery mortality because it is not known if these deaths were caused by commercial or recreational fisheries. However, this mortality is included in the calculation of total mean annual human-caused mortality. Comment 53: In the OR/WA coast harbor seal SAR (and for other west coast harbor seal SARs), the Commission noted that text states ‘‘[t]he stock is within its Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP) level’’ and provides two supporting references. Given that recovering and maintaining populations at OSP is a primary goal of the MMPA, a summary of the findings of those references should be provided. Response: OSP for the Oregon/ Washington Coast stock of harbor seals is discussed in the Population Size section of the SAR, under the Current VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 Population Trend heading, and illustrated in Figure 2. The SAR text states: ‘‘The population remained relatively low during the 1960s, but since the termination of the harbor seal bounty program and with the protection provided by the passage of the MMPA in 1972, harbor seal counts for this stock have increased from 6,389 in 1977 to 16,165 in 1999 (Jeffries et al. 2003; ODFW, unpublished data). Based on the analyses of Jeffries et al. (2003) and Brown et al. (2005), both the Washington and Oregon portions of this stock have reached carrying capacity and are no longer increasing (Fig. 2).’’ However, the abundance surveys from which the OSP statements were based in the draft SAR are from abundance surveys that are outdated. Also, no formal OSP designation was ever made for these stocks by NMFS. NMFS has added text to the Status of Stock section as follows: ‘‘The stock was previously reported to be within its OSP range (Jeffries et al. 2003, Brown et al. 2005), but in the absence of recent abundance estimates, this stock’s status relative to OSP is unknown.’’ Comment 54: The Commission suggested adding/clarifying text in the California northern fur seal SAR related to correction factors, trends, recovery, maximum net productivity rates, carrying capacity and OSP. Response: NMFS appreciates this suggestion and has added clarifying text to the California northern fur seal SAR. Comments on Alaska Regional Reports Comment 55: The Organizations recommend that NMFS update the estimates of Alaska Native harvest. Many SARs (e.g. bearded seals and ringed seals) note that subsistence harvest data have not been collected since 2009, and the Organizations would like to see this remedied. Response: NMFS responded to this comment previously in 78 FR 19446, April 1, 2013, Comments 56, 63, and 74. NMFS continues to work with its Alaska Native Organization (ANO) comanagement partners on prioritizing harvest monitoring programs within the annual ANO co-management funding program. Comment 56: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider management of sub-stocks within the Western stock of Steller sea lions to better manage portions of the range that are still in decline. Response: Stocks serve as the unit for management of species of marine mammals managed by NMFS. NMFS will continue to monitor the trends in portions of this stock throughout the range in order to make appropriate PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 49061 management decisions for the conservation of the stock of western Steller sea lions. Comment 57: The Organizations recommend that NMFS start an observer program to monitor gillnet interactions with the Western stock of Steller sea lions. Additionally, the Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishery has data from 1999 that are stated in a footnote to be ‘‘preliminary,’’ however they are 15 years old. Response: NMFS is not operating the Alaska Marine Mammal Observer Program in 2014 due to a lack of available resources, and its future is uncertain. The footnote regarding ‘‘preliminary’’ Cook Inlet data from 1999 is erroneous and appears to be an inadvertent carryover from 2001 when the data were first inserted into the table. The data are not preliminary and are the best available. NMFS has modified the SAR accordingly. Comment 58: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise the Eastern stock of Steller sea lion SAR to account for immigration from the Western stock. Response: NMFS is updating the draft 2014 SAR to better address movements and colonization of western Steller sea lions into the northern portion of the range of the eastern distinct population segment (DPS). The observations of marked sea lion movements corroborate extensive genetics research findings suggesting a strong separation between the two currently recognized stocks. Permanent movements between the western and eastern Steller sea lion stocks represent a very small percentage of the total count of sea lions in either stock and would have a negligible impact on non-pup trend estimates for either stock. Comment 59: The Organizations recommend that NMFS better account for the decline in the California portion of the eastern stock of Steller sea lions’ range. Response: NMFS has noted a decline in the numbers of Steller sea lions in California, the southern portion of the Steller sea lion’s range. However, the eastern stock is increasing throughout the northern portion of its range (Southeast Alaska and British Columbia) and is stable or increasing slowly in the central portion (Oregon through central California). These trends are summarized in the Habitat Concerns section of the SAR, and it is suggested that environmental changes, particularly warmer temperatures, may not be favorable for Steller sea lions in the southern portion of the Steller sea lion’s range. There has been no known increase in human-caused or natural E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 49062 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices mortality of Steller sea lions in the southern portion of their range. Comment 60: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise the SAR for the Eastern stock of Steller sea lions to include up-to-date management information (e.g. status review and delisting notice). Response: The final rule to delist the eastern Distinct Population Segment of Steller sea lion under the Endangered Species Act was released 04 November 2013, subsequent to SRG review and release of the SARs for public comment. This rule became effective 04 December 2013. NMFS will revise the draft 2014 eastern Steller sea lion SAR to reflect this decision and update the information provided in the SARs. Comment 61: The Organizations recommend that NMFS lower the recovery factor in the PBR estimate for most of the harbor seal stocks. Response: Some of the estimates that are cited in the SAR do not include information from the most recent survey as those data have not yet been fully analyzed. NMFS is in the process of analyzing an extensive data set from recent surveys of harbor seals throughout their range in Alaska, including the significant extensions of statistical theory and methods. As soon this analysis can be completed, the abundance, trends, and appropriate recovery factors will be updated in the SAR. Comment 62: The Organizations recommend that NMFS remove the citation Bengtson et al. (2010) from the ringed seal SAR because the data used in the abundance estimate in that paper are 15 years old. It is not appropriate to generate ‘‘new’’ estimates of abundance based on this paper. Response: There is no citation of ‘‘Bengtson et al. (2010)’’ in the ringed seal SAR. The section on population size acknowledges that current, comprehensive, and reliable abundance estimates or trends for the Alaska stock are not available. All appropriate sections have been modified to indicate that the estimates are unavailable given the age of the survey data. Comment 63: The Organizations recommend that NMFS highlight acoustic threats to Cook Inlet beluga whales in the Habitat Impacts section. The Organizations applaud NMFS for being cautionary and for not making a PBR estimate for this stock. Response: NMFS updated the Habitat Concerns section of the Cook Inlet beluga SAR with a statement regarding the consideration of acoustics threats in the NMFS Recovery Plan for Cook Inlet Beluga Whales. This section will be updated, as appropriate, once the VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 Recovery Plan is available. Furthermore, NMFS, in collaboration with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is currently completing a study to characterize the background noise, including anthropogenic sources, in Cook Inlet and its potential displacement effect on Cook Inlet belugas. A final report of this study will be available in summer of 2014, and the SAR will be updated as appropriate. Comment 64: The Organizations recommend that NMFS observe gillnet interactions with harbor porpoises in other portions of their range outside Southeast Alaska. Response: NMFS is not operating the Alaska Marine Mammal Observer Program in 2014 due to a lack of available resources, and its future is uncertain. NMFS acknowledges that the observations of the 1990–1991 Prince William Sound, 1991 Aleutian Islands, 2002 and 2005 Kodiak and 1999–2000 Cook Inlet salmon set and drift gillnet fisheries are dated and reflect between 0.16 and 6 percent observer coverage. The mean annual mortality rate incidental to all U.S. commercial fisheries is 71.4. Incidental take of the Bering Sea stock of harbor porpoise could occur in the Aleutian Islands set and drift gillnet fisheries. The set gillnet fishery has not been observed. The drift gillnet fishery was observed in 1991. In 1992, two interactions were reported in logbooks in the Alaska Peninsula/ Aleutian Island salmon set gillnet fishery, resulting in an estimated annual mortality of 0.5. Allen et al. (2014) report one harbor porpoise from the Gulf of Alaska stock taken in either the Cook Inlet set or drift gillnet fishery in 2008 and one mother and one calf from the Bering Sea stock taken in the Norton Sound Salmon set gillnet subsistence fishery in 2007. Comment 65: The Organizations recommend that NMFS add clarity to the statements in the harbor porpoise, Southeast Alaska stock SAR. The statement: ‘‘[t]he estimated minimum mean annual mortality of harbor porpoises in Southeast Alaska based on incidental catch reported to the stranding network is 0.6 for the 5-year period from 2007–2012.’’ And the statement: ‘‘[t]he average minimum annual human-caused mortality and serious injury of Southeast Alaska harbor porpoises based on unconfirmed incidental catch and other humancaused activity reported to the stranding network is 0.2 for the 5-year period from 2007–2011.’’ The discrepancy between these two statements requires further explanation as to why there are 2 separate estimates. PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Response: NMFS has clarified the language to reflect that one estimate is the summary of confirmed incidental take reports from stranding records and thus summarized in the Fisheries Information section of the SAR, whereas the other estimate is a summary of unconfirmed (but likely) incidental take reports that are certainly human-caused M/SI, and therefore reported in the Other Mortality section of the SAR. Comment 66: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider how to apportion the mortality to the Southeast Alaska/Northern British Columbia, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska management units of the CNP stock of humpback whales. Response: NMFS estimates the annual human-caused M/SI of marine mammal stocks by source as required under the MMPA. The Southeast Alaska/Northern British Columbia, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska humpback whales are feeding aggregations and not considered management units at this time. The central North Pacific stock is the management unit for this stock of humpback whales. The status and population structure of humpback whales in the North Pacific and elsewhere is currently under review by NMFS as part of a global status review of the species. If this result in any changes to existing management units, M/SI data for stocks will be apportioned to align with any new units. Comment 67: The Organizations recommend that NMFS make a precautionary abundance estimate for fin whales based on known minimums within the range and/or prioritize additional effort to ascertaining abundance. Response: The stock assessment report for fin whales reports the best information available on fin whales. Given that this estimate derives from data gathered from only part of the likely range of this stock, it is likely to represent a very conservative minimum. Comment 68: The Organizations recommend that NMFS classify the Iliamna Lake seal as a separate stock of harbor seals. Response: The analysis of genetic and other information that supports the discreteness of harbor seals in Iliamna Lake was completed in late autumn, 2013, which was too late for incorporation into the current SAR. NMFS will determine whether those seals should be designated as a stock under the MMPA through the appropriate process, including consultation under its co-management agreement with the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission. E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Comment 69: To improve stock assessment efforts in Alaska, the Commission recommends that NMFS provide an explanation as to why the 2014 priority activities recommended in the recovery plan for the critically endangered eastern population of the North Pacific right whale were not considered an agency priority for funding, and indicate when the agency expects to allocate the roughly $2.5M in funding required to implement the first two years of the recovery plan activities. Response: NMFS is currently seeking modest funding for small projects from outside sources (including the Commission) to analyze acoustic data to examine the occurrence of right whales in the Bering Sea. However, because of the remote nature of right whale habitats in the North Pacific, conducting surveys or any other field work requires considerably more resources than are available. Comments on Atlantic Regional Reports Comment 70: The Ocean Conservancy recommends that NMFS fund a restoration project to use high-definition video to assess marine mammal, sea turtle, and pelagic bird abundance in the Gulf of Mexico. Response: NMFS is one of the Federal and state partners that are involved in recommending restoration projects as part of the follow-up to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently NMFS does not use high-definition video as one of its standard tools for assessing marine mammals and sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The role of high-definition video in future NMFS assessments in the Gulf of Mexico is being evaluated, and it could be considered as part of restoration if it is appropriate. Comment 71: Organizations recommend updating some of the citations regarding sightings of large whales. They also recommend that NMFS add Gulf of Mexico sightings of North Atlantic right whales from the New England Aquarium’s report card to the SAR, and add Jordan Basin as a major habitat for North Atlantic right whales. Response: Following advice from the reviewer, NMFS has added a reference to Cole et al. (2013), as well as inserting mention of sightings in the Gulf of Mexico and the 2013 calving in Cape Cod Bay. Comment 72: The Organizations recommend that NMFS re-calculate the PBR estimate for North Atlantic right whales using a 2.8% growth rate instead of the 4% default Rmax. Response: Rmax is not the same as the observed population growth. In VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 theoretical demographic models, Rmax is the maximum that a population could grow (birth and survival are largely unconstrained by carrying capacity pressures). Although we have no definitive data to suggest that North Atlantic right whales have in their evolutionary history ever achieved the 4% default value, we do know that the extant population suffers considerable mortality (largely from anthropogenic sources) that has nothing to do with forage limitations or social conflicts. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the observed growth rate of 2.8% is Rmax. Comment 73: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise Table 2 in the North Atlantic right whale SAR. The old format was clearer and information has been omitted. The 01 February 2011 mortality was left off the new table. A gear type was not assigned to the 31 March 2007 entanglement mortality despite it being documented at U.S. origin. Response: It was our intention that the SAR table would be a summary of the detailed information presented in the Serious Injury and Mortality reports. However, at the request of the reviewer, NMFS has reinstated the comments column. The 01 February 2011 event was not omitted. It is the animal originally sighted alive and entangled on 25 December 2010 (Eg #3911). In the 2007–2011 reports, we classified this animal as a Serious Injury due to entanglement because the cause of death was technically exsanguination due to shark predation. So, it was included in the Cole and Henry Serious Injury report (and counts as 1 against PBR; Cole, T. V. N., and A. G. Henry 2013). We acknowledge that this is confusing and it will be corrected to and reported as a morality with proximate cause of death = entanglement and ultimate cause of death = shark predation in the 2008–2012 mortality report. The Serious Injury and Mortality reports detail how an event is attributed to a country even without recovered gear. The 31 March 2007 event was determined to be a U.S. event based on the fact that it was a 2–3 month old calf and most likely encountered the entanglement between Florida and North Carolina. Comment 74: The Organizations recommend that NMFS add that there are a notable number of entanglements of minke whales in gillnets to the Fisheries Interaction section of the SAR. Response: Text has been added in the Other Fisheries section to mention the prevalence of gillnet entanglements. Comment 75: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise the 2008 sperm whale, Gulf of Mexico oceanic PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 49063 stock longline interaction to include an extrapolated serious injury to the calf that was with the mother that was entangled. Response: Section 117 of the MMPA directed that strategic stocks be reviewed every year, and updated if there is any significant new information. There is no significant new information in this case. Based on the limited information on the 2008 sperm whale entanglement case, even if the serious injury determination changed for this animal and its calf, the conclusion about the status of this stock does not change. For this reason, NMFS will defer the update and will likely be revising this SAR for 2015 drafts to include any published conclusions about the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on sperm whales. Comment 76: The Organizations recommend that NMFS develop distinct text for the dwarf sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales as they are separate SARs. Response: Dwarf and pygmy sperm whales can be difficult to differentiate at sea and in much of the limited literature on at-sea distributions, they are treated as a group. Based on stranding locations of the two species, the distributions of the two species are very similar. The text in the SARs reflects this lack of distinct knowledge of each species. For future SARs, NMFS will review the recent literature on dwarf and pygmy sperm whales to determine whether text specific to each species is now appropriate. Recent work by Staudinger et al. (2013) reported that feeding ecologies are similar for both species, and both species occupy equivalent trophic niches in the U.S. mid-Atlantic. Comment 77: The Organizations recommend that NMFS not lump the undifferentiated complex of beaked whales (Ziphius and Mosoplodon spp.) in the Atlantic Ocean. The stocks have been separated with individual SARs, yet most assessments remain lumped. They also strongly urge NMFS to insert text similar to that in the Pacific SARs acknowledging challenges to stocks of beaked whales and other acoustically sensitive species from the expected increase in impacts from intense sound sources. Response: Beaked whale species are hard to differentiate at sea so separate abundance estimates and bycatch estimates for each species are not feasible. As a result, for bycatch of undifferentiated beaked whales we have been applying the risk-averse strategy recommended by Atlantic SRG assuming that any beaked whale stock which occurred in the U.S. Atlantic EEZ might have been subject to the observed E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 49064 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 160 / Tuesday, August 19, 2014 / Notices fishery-related mortality and serious injury. We have added the following text from the Pacific SAR to the Status of Stock section: ‘‘. . . questions have been raised regarding potential effects of human-made sounds on deep-diving cetacean species, such as [species] beaked whales (Richardson et al. 1995).’’ Comment 78: The Organizations recommend that NMFS not combine mortality reports for long-finned and short-finned pilot whales. Response: Mortality reports for cetaceans including long-finned and short-finned pilot whales from the pelagic longline fishery were not combined. The draft 2014 SARs will address breakdowns for additional fisheries. Comment 79: The Organizations recommend that NMFS expand the bycatch estimates for 2011 for pilot whales. Response: Trawl estimates were delayed due to issues with stock separation. In the 2014 draft SARs the estimates will be provided and the species differentiated. Comment 80: The Organizations recommend that NMFS clarify when data from beyond the most recent fiveyear period (e.g. 2011 for the 2013 SARs) will be used, as the harbor porpoise SAR includes information about a 2013 Take Reduction Team meeting, which seems superfluous. They also recommend NMFS work with Canadian authorities to better define gillnet impacts in Canada. Response: NMFS has contacted Canadian officials and received information on sink gillnet effort in the Bay of Fundy. While this fishery is less active in the area than in the past, and there is no observed reporting of harbor porpoise bycatch, NMFS believes it is still more conservative to use the outdated estimates of interactions than to assume no interactions are happening. Text describing the TRT meeting has been removed. Comment 81: The Organizations recommend that NMFS include information about the harbor seal Unusual Mortality Event from 2011 that some of the animals tested positive for a virus (Influenza A H3N8). The Organizations applaud NMFS for using 2012 survey information in the harbor seal SAR. Response: Text has been added to indicate that some of the seals tested positive for influenza. Comment 82: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider adding that a Unusual Mortality Event was declared in 2013 for common bottlenose dolphins on the Atlantic coast. VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:30 Aug 18, 2014 Jkt 232001 Response: The 2013 draft SARs cover the time period 2007–2011, and they were drafted during 2012. NMFS believes it is appropriate to use consistent time periods for reporting in each of the SARs. The cut-off point for including information under Annual Human-Caused Mortality and Serious Injury for the 2013 SAR was the end of 2011. Other information that is available and pertinent at the time of drafting will be included. Comment 83: The Organizations recommend that NMFS remove the ‘‘pre- and post-Take Reduction Plan (TRP)’’ table of mortality from the Atlantic common bottlenose dolphin SARs since it only goes through 2006. Response: The table includes information through 2008, so it is appropriate to include the ‘‘pre- and post-TRP’’ table in the 2013 SAR. The most recent five-year period included in the 2013 SAR is 2007–2011. Comment 84: The Organizations recommend that NMFS update the Gulf of Mexico bottlenose dolphin stocks with the significant new information from Deepwater Horizon research and Unusual Mortality Event strandings. Response: Information that is available and pertinent at the time of drafting will be included. The 2013 draft SARs cover the time period 2007– 2011. Comment 85: The Commission recommends that NMFS include in the North Atlantic right whale stock assessment report: (1) An evaluation of the current population size relative to the carrying capacity of the environment, (2) a discussion of the possible reasons for the low population growth rate relative to that estimated for southern right whale populations, and (3) the reasons why the recent estimate of net population growth rate was rejected in favor of the default rate. Response: With existing data, and given our limited understanding of the structure and dynamics of the current ecosystem, it is not possible to reliably estimate carrying capacity for right whales. Given the early and largely undocumented history of whaling on this species in the North Atlantic (including off the coast of North America), it is impossible to derive a reliable (i.e. precise), baseline for preexploitation population size, and anyway use of such a number as a proxy for carrying capacity relies upon various assumptions, the validity of which is debatable. Likewise, genetic-based estimates of pristine population size are not currently available, and even if they were these usually represent a harmonic mean over evolutionary time which has little or no relevance to the situation PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 9990 and to management today; this is particularly true in light of the extensive perturbations introduced into the marine environment by human overfishing, which may well have rendered the current ecosystem (and thus carrying capacity) radically different from one in a pristine state. Use of the default rate for the maximum productivity rate (Rmax) in calculation of PBR for the North Atlantic right whale stock is in accordance with GAMMS guidelines. We attempted to use the maximum observed growth rate in a previous stock assessment, arguing that the population is low and therefore not likely under ‘‘abundance pressure.’’ We argued that this was the highest rate ever documented for this species, and it represents the capacity to rebound from additional human caused mortality (very risk averse). However, the Atlantic SRG noted that this variance was without precedence, and that we should revert back to the default value. In total, it matters little because the calculated PBR is <1 for both the maximum observed (depressed) and default values of Rmax. Comment 86: The Commission recommends that NMFS make every effort to identify pilot whale serious injury and mortality data that can be apportioned to one or the other species, and, in the stock-assessment reports, attribute serious injury and mortality data to one of the two species, but only to an ‘‘unidentified pilot whale’’ category if the former cannot be achieved. Response: In the 2013 SARs pilot whale mortality for the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery, the fishery with the highest observed interaction rate with pilot whales was apportioned to species. All of the pilot whales involved with longline interactions were determined to be short-finned pilot whales, and therefore, the estimate for longline bycatch was only attributed to shortfinned pilot whales. The draft 2014 SARs will apportion to species pilot whale interactions with the other fisheries with observed pilot whale takes. Dated: August 13, 2014. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2014–19623 Filed 8–18–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\19AUN1.SGM 19AUN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 160 (Tuesday, August 19, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 49053-49064]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-19623]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC853


Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports

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

ACTION: Notice of availability; response to comments.

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SUMMARY: As required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS 
has incorporated public comments into revisions of the 2013 marine 
mammal stock assessment reports (SARs).

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of SARs are available on the Internet as 
regional compilations and individual reports at the following address: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. You also may send requests for 
copies of reports to: Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226, Attn: 
Stock Assessments.

Copies of the Alaska Regional SARs may be requested from Robyn Angliss, 
Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 7600 Sand Point Way, BIN 15700, 
Seattle, WA 98115.
Copies of the Atlantic Regional SARs may be requested from Gordon 
Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods 
Hole, MA 02543.
Copies of the Pacific Regional SARs may be requested from Jim Carretta, 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, 8604 La Jolla Shores Drive, 
La Jolla, CA 92037-1508.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shannon Bettridge, Office of Protected 
Resources, 301-427-8402, Shannon.Bettridge@noaa.gov; Dee Allen, Alaska 
Fisheries Science Center, 206-526-4048, Dee.Allen@noaa.gov; Gordon 
Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 508-495-2311, 
Gordon.Waring@noaa.gov; or Jim Carretta, Southwest Fisheries Science 
Center, 858-546-7171, Jim.Carretta@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 117 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) requires NMFS and 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prepare SARs for each stock 
of marine mammals occurring in waters under the jurisdiction of the 
United States. These reports contain information regarding the 
distribution and abundance of the stock, population growth rates and 
trends, the stock's Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level, estimates 
of annual human-caused M/SI from all sources, descriptions of the 
fisheries with which the stock interacts, and the status of the stock. 
Initial reports were completed in 1995.

[[Page 49054]]

    The MMPA requires NMFS and FWS to review the SARs at least annually 
for strategic stocks and stocks for which significant new information 
is available, and at least once every 3 years for non-strategic stocks. 
NMFS and FWS are required to revise a SAR if the status of the stock 
has changed or can be more accurately determined. NMFS, in conjunction 
with the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific Scientific Review Groups (SRGs), 
reviewed the status of marine mammal stocks as required and revised 
reports in each of the three regions.
    As required by the MMPA, NMFS updated SARs for 2013, and the 
revised reports were made available for public review and comment for 
90 days (78 FR 66681, November 6, 2013, 2012). NMFS received comments 
on the draft SARs and has revised the reports as necessary. This notice 
announces the availability of the final 2013 reports for the 122 stocks 
that are currently finalized. These reports are available on NMFS' Web 
site (see ADDRESSES).

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received letters containing comments on the draft 2013 SARs 
from the Marine Mammal Commission, the U.S. Navy (Pacific Fleet), the 
Makah Tribe, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, 
and six non-governmental organizations (The Humane Society of the 
United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Whale and Dolphin 
Conservation, Ocean Conservancy, Hawaii Longline Association, and 
Cascadia Research Collective).
    Some comments recommended initiation or repetition of large data 
collection efforts, such as abundance surveys, observer programs, or 
other efforts to estimate mortality. Some comments recommending 
additional data collection (e.g., additional abundance surveys or 
observer programs) have been addressed in previous years. Although NMFS 
agrees that additional information may improve the SARs and inform 
conservation decisions, resources for surveys and observer programs are 
fully utilized, and no new large surveys or other programs may be 
initiated until additional resources are available. Such comments on 
the 2013 SARs and responses to them may not be included in the summary 
below because the responses have not changed. Comments on actions not 
related to the SARs are not included below. Comments suggesting 
editorial or minor clarifying changes were incorporated in the reports, 
but they are not included in the summary of comments and responses 
below.
    In some cases, NMFS' responses state that comments would be 
considered or incorporated in future revisions of the SARs rather than 
being incorporated into the final 2013 SARs. These delays are due to 
the schedule of the review of the reports by the regional SRGs. NMFS 
provides preliminary copies of updated SARs to SRGs prior to release 
for public review and comment. If a comment on the draft SAR suggests a 
substantive change to the SAR, NMFS may discuss the comment and 
prospective change with the SRG at its next meeting.

Comments on National Issues

    Comment 1: The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) recommends 
that NMFS complete its review of the Guidelines for Assessing Marine 
Mammal Stocks (GAMMS) III Workshop recommendations and public comments 
received on those recommendations, and issue new stock assessment 
guidelines before conducting the 2015 stock assessments.
    Response: NMFS is working to complete its review of the GAMMS III 
recommendations as well as the public comments received on those 
recommendations, and intends to issue updated stock assessment 
guidelines as expeditiously as possible.
    Comment 2: The Commission recommends that NMFS make every effort to 
ensure that data collected on at-sea distribution and movements of 
pinnipeds are made available in a timely manner and to a broad 
audience.
    Response: NMFS appreciates this comment and recognizes the value in 
disseminating the results of studies of pinniped distribution and 
movements. While most pinniped science on at-sea distribution and 
movements is conducted by scientists external to the agency, NMFS will 
encourage researchers to publish results of pinniped research peer-
reviewed journals or reports that are broadly available in a timely 
manner.
    Comment 3: The Humane Society of the United States, the Center for 
Biological Diversity, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation 
(Organizations) recommend that NMFS use the most recent data in the 
SARs to overcome the two-year lag.
    Response: The marine mammal SARs are based upon the best available 
scientific information, and NMFS strives to update the SARs with as 
timely data as possible. In order to develop annual mortality and 
serious injury (M/SI) estimates, we do our best to ensure all records 
are accurately accounted for in that year. In some cases, this is 
contingent on such things as bycatch analysis, data entry, and 
assessment of available data to make determinations of severity of 
injury, confirmation of species based on morphological and/or molecular 
samples collected, etc. Additionally, the new serious injury 
determination policy now requires several phases of review, which can 
extend the process and time required to estimate bycatch. Reporting on 
incomplete annual M/SI estimates could result in underestimating actual 
levels. The MMPA requires us to report mean annual M/SI estimates, and 
we try to ensure that we are accounting for all available data before 
we summarize those data. With respect to abundance, in some cases we 
provide census rather than abundance estimates (such as North Atlantic 
right whales) and the accounting process to obtain the minimum number 
alive requires two years of sightings to get a stable count, after 
which the data are analyzed and entered into the SAR in the third year. 
All animals are not seen every year; waiting two years assures that 
greater than 90% of the animals still alive will be included in the 
count.
    Comment 4: The Organizations recommend that NMFS discuss concerns 
related to altered ocean conditions caused by global climate change and 
concerns regarding the impacts of sonar and other training exercises in 
the Habitat Impacts sections.
    Response: The MMPA requires for strategic stocks a consideration of 
other factors that may be causing a decline or impeding recovery of the 
stock, including effects on marine mammal habitat and prey. The GAMMS 
II recommend that such issues should therefore be summarized in the 
Status section for all strategic stocks. If substantial issues (such as 
global climate change or impacts of sonar, for example) regarding the 
habitat of the stock are considered to impede recovery of a stock, a 
separate section titled ``Habitat Issues'' is used; if data exist that 
indicate a problem, they are summarized and included in the SAR.
    Comment 5: The Organizations recommend that NMFS adhere to the 
GAMMS in cases where abundance data are aging and reduce the minimum 
abundance estimates annually until new abundance data are available. 
For example, the outdated Nmins for pygmy sperm whale and 
dwarf sperm whale should be reduced incrementally over time as per 
GAMMS.
    Response: The proposed revisions to the GAMMS (i.e. GAMMS III)--
which recommend incrementally increasing the uncertainty around the 
abundance estimate, thereby reducing the minimum abundance estimate 
(Nmin)

[[Page 49055]]

and associated PBR- have not yet been finalized or fully implemented by 
NMFS. NMFS is adhering to the guidance provided in GAMMS II until new 
guidance is finalized.

Comments on Pacific Regional Reports

    Comment 6: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS update the gray 
whale SAR to include the most current information on the now 27 gray 
whale observations in the Western and Eastern North Pacific. The 
comment cites Urban et al. (2013) as an updated information source.
    Response: Reference to the Urban et al. 2013 paper and information 
on movements between the Western and Eastern North Pacific will be 
included in the draft 2014 SAR.
    Comment 7: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS replace the word 
``residency'' with ``fidelity'' in the sentence that describes gray 
whales in the Pacific Northwest which reads: ``whales that frequently 
return to the area, display a high degree of intra-seasonal `residency' 
and account for a majority of sightings between 1 June and 30 
November.'' Additionally, the Makah Tribe recommends changing the 
phrase ``Pacific Coast Feeding Group gray whales'' to ``gray whales 
observed in the Pacific Coast Feeding Group range and season'' in the 
Fisheries Information and Other Mortality sections, as the referenced 
whales include whales that were identified as Pacific Coast Feeding 
Group (PCFG) whales solely because they were observed in one year in 
the geographic range and season for PCFG, while the formal definition 
for PCFG includes whales seen in at least two years in the range and 
season for PCFG.
    Response: The word ``fidelity'' replaces the word ``residency'' and 
the phrase PCFG gray whales'' was changed to ``gray whales observed in 
the PCFG range and season'' in the final 2013 SAR as suggested.
    Comment 8: The Makah Tribe recommends that the gray whale SAR 
should discuss whether the PCFG satisfies the statutory definition of a 
stock, and in particular whether the animals within the group 
interbreed when mature.
    Response: The final 2013 SAR elaborates on `interbreed when 
mature,' citing the gray whale stock identification workshop report of 
Weller et al. (2013). New text states: ``Further, given the lack of 
significant differences found in nuclear DNA markers between PCFG 
whales and other Eastern North Pacific (ENP) whales, the task force 
found no evidence to suggest that PCFG whales breed exclusively or 
primarily with each other, but interbreed with ENP whales, including 
potentially other PCFG whales.''
    Comment 9: The Makah Tribe suggests that the recovery factor 
default value of 0.5 for PCFG gray whales is too low and recommends 
that NMFS instead use a recovery factor of 0.75 in the PCFG gray whale 
potential biological removal (PBR) calculation.
    Response: The Pacific Scientific Review Group (SRG) was asked to 
review the use of the default recovery factor of 0.5 at their April 
2014 meeting. They raised a concern about using a recovery factor of 
0.75 as it had not been adequately reviewed. They recommended the SAR 
could contain a range of recovery factors, from 0.5 to 1.0. We 
concluded that using a range would not meet the statutory intent of 
calculating a PBR. Given a lack of specific guidance from the SRG on 
the recovery factor for PCFG, NMFS will continue to use the default of 
0.5 for these animals. We will revisit the issue of the appropriate 
recovery factor in the 2014 SAR.
    Comment 10: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS prorate the 
serious injury for the gray whale observed entangled on 21 July 2009, 
because it was re-sighted on 3 August 2009 as well as in 2010 and 2011 
still trailing gear.
    Response: This whale was seen again in 2013 and had shed all gear 
and was apparently in good health. This record has been updated with a 
non-serious injury designation in the final 2013 serious injury 
determination report.
    Comment 11: The Makah Tribe recommends that NMFS remove the PCFG 
range assigned to the gray whale that was necropsied on 6 June 2011; 
because it was found south of the PCFG range, the whale may have been 
struck and killed before the PCFG season, and there is no photo-
identification.
    Response: NMFS has reclassified this whale as an ENP whale, based 
on its being south of the time/area range currently used for PCFG gray 
whales.
    Comment 12: The Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) recommends that 
for the three newly recognized insular stocks of pantropical spotted 
dolphins in Hawaiian waters, NMFS should provide a range of likely 
abundance estimates and PBR values using density values for this 
species. The Organizations also recommend that NMFS consider using 
density estimates (e.g. false killer whales (FKW) around American Samoa 
and spotted dolphins around Palmyra) to produce a range of PBR and 
abundance estimates for pantropical spotted dolphins insular stocks. 
Further, the Commission recommends that NMFS make full use of 
information on abundance, density and/or stock ranges, and new analytic 
methods such as spatially explicit mark-recapture and line-transect 
models or Bayesian inference from similar cases, to provide bounds on 
possible abundance estimates and PBR levels for newly split stocks, 
whenever possible, as was done for pantropical spotted dolphins in 
waters surrounding Palmyra and for FKW around American Samoa in 2010.
    Response: The suggested inclusion of density information from other 
regions to provide a range of likely abundance and PBR values needs to 
be evaluated more carefully within the context of small, range-
restricted insular populations. NMFS will evaluate such an approach for 
the future, as well as alternative approaches for assessing abundance 
based on a range of available data for each of the new insular stocks.
    Comment 13: The CRC recommends that NMFS incorporate alternative 
sources of information on fisheries interactions with melon-headed 
whales as there is no observer coverage in any nearshore fisheries and 
Aschettino (2010) documents signs of fishery interactions (bullet 
wounds and linear scars) in her photo-identification study. The CRC 
also recommends revising the ``no known fishery mortality'' language in 
the PBR section, again citing Aschettino (2010) as containing 
information inconsistent with that statement. And, the CRC notes that 
the melon-headed whale Kohala resident stock abundance estimate based 
upon Aschettino (2010) likely overestimates abundance by including both 
individuals that have died since 2002 and those that were born after 
2002 but before 2009. The CRC further recommends that NMFS note that 
melon-headed whales are sensitive to impacts from anthropogenic sound, 
citing Southall et al. (2013), Southall et al. (2006) and Brownell et 
al. (2009) as information sources.
    Response: The reference to potential fisheries injuries as 
evidenced by bullet holes and linear scars, discussed in Aschettino 
(2010) was added to the final SAR. Lack of observer coverage in all 
nearshore fisheries was already noted within the SAR. The section on 
Other Mortality was expanded to include discussion of the Southall et 
al. (2013) report, and the likely overestimation of abundance of Kohala 
Resident whales was noted in the section on Kohala Resident stock 
population size. The section on Other Mortality was expanded to include 
discussion of the Southall et al. (2013) report.
    Comment 14: The CRC recommends that NMFS revise its language in the

[[Page 49056]]

pantropical spotted dolphin SAR (Hawaiian Islands Stock Complex) about 
photo identification catalogs available through the Collective for 
developing mark-recapture estimates. The comment notes that the O'ahu 
and 4-island stocks photos are limited and old and that the Hawai'i 
Island stock photos are not incorporated into a photo-identification 
catalog.
    Response: The SAR contains language about the availability of 
photos and states that a photo identification catalog has not been 
developed. For the Oahu and 4-islands stocks, the text about the photo 
identification catalog was removed, while for the Hawaii Island stock, 
the text was clarified regarding the availability of a catalog.
    Comment 15: The CRC recommends that NMFS update the pantropical 
spotted dolphin Status of Stock section to reflect work by Burgess et 
al. (2011) that documented vessel noise associated with directed 
fishing effort as a habitat issue in Hawaiian waters.
    Response: NMFS will further evaluate the impacts of vessel noise on 
cetacean stocks in the region, but has not included the Burgess et al. 
(2011) reference in the SAR. The suggested study of Burgess et al. 
(coauthored by a SAR author) did not evaluate noise exposure levels or 
evaluate any responses from cetaceans. The main findings indicate that 
cetaceans are exposed to echosounder noise, but it is unknown if these 
sounds represent habitat threats.
    Comment 16: The CRC clarifies that the ika-shibi fishery is a tuna 
fishery that catches squid for bait, not a squid fishery (see Hawai'i 
rough-toothed dolphin and bottlenose dolphin Fishery Information 
sections) and also clarifies that gillnet fishing in Hawaiian waters 
occurs in nearshore areas, making it unlikely that Hawai'i rough-
toothed dolphin, striped dolphin, or Fraser's dolphin would interact 
with gillnets. The CRC recommends that NMFS revise the statement that 
total fishery-related M/SI can be considered to be insignificant and 
approaching zero in the Status of Stock section of the Hawai'i rough-
toothed dolphin. Rough-toothed dolphins are known to take bait and 
catch from fishermen off of the island of Hawai'i in unobserved 
fisheries.
    Response: Text in the Status of Stock section has been revised to 
reflect that insufficient data exist to assess whether fishery-related 
M/SI is insignificant and approaching zero.
    Comment 17: The CRC recommends that NMFS rename the Hawai'i pelagic 
stock of Blainville's beaked whale to Hawai'i stock until two stocks 
are recognized. Further, Blainville's beaked whales in Hawaiian waters 
should be separated into two stocks: Island-associated and pelagic.
    Response: The stock's name has been changed in the SAR. SAR text 
already includes discussion of possible insular and pelagic populations 
of this species and that splitting the stock may be warranted in the 
future. However, following recommendation of the SRG, NMFS is not 
splitting the stock at this time based upon lack of sufficient data.
    Comment 18: The CRC recommends that NMFS modify the Status of Stock 
section for Risso's dolphin Hawai'i stock to reflect world-wide habitat 
issues. The current status reads: ``no habitat issues are known to be 
of concern for this species.''
    Response: The SAR text reflects that no habitat issues are known 
for this stock of Risso's dolphin in U.S. waters. Habitat issues in 
other parts of the world for this species are not discussed in the SAR.
    Comment 19: The CRC recommends that NMFS change the wording about 
the imprecision of the common bottlenose dolphin Hawai'i stock complex, 
O'ahu stock mark-recapture abundance estimate CV of 0.54, which is 
similar to the CV (0.59) for the pelagic stock.
    Response: Language pertaining to the lack of precision in the O'ahu 
estimate has been deleted.
    Comment 20: The CRC recommends that NMFS revise the fin whale, 
Hawaiian stock to reflect the potential for anthropogenic sounds to 
impact fin whale behavior as is done in the CA/OR/WA stock report.
    Response: Such language has been added to the Status of Stock 
section of this report.
    Comment 21: The Navy recommends that NMFS make several edits to the 
Pacific SARs for blue whale (ENP stock), humpback whale (CA/OR/WA 
stock), fin whale (CA/OR/WA stock), blue whale (CNP stock), and sei 
whale (Hawaiian stock) to reflect the speculative effects of 
anthropogenic sound on marine mammal behavior as supported by Goldbogen 
et al. (2013).
    Response: NMFS has revised the language in the respective SARs to 
reflect the full range of behavioral responses reported by Goldbogen et 
al. (2013) for blue whales. For other species, NMFS has changed 
language to reflect that behavioral responses of other baleen whale 
species to such sounds may vary.
    Comment 22: The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council 
(Council) recommends that NMFS use a higher recovery factor for the 
pelagic stock of FKW as supported by Hilborn and Ishizaki (2013). The 
Hawai'i Longline Association (HLA) recommends that NMFS use a recovery 
factor greater than 0.5 for the PBR estimate for the pelagic stock of 
FKW, because all available data contradict any hypothesis that the 
abundance of FKW in the Hawai'i exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is 
decreasing.
    Response: NMFS is working to obtain additional data to examine 
abundance trends in pelagic FKW; however, this does not change the 
conclusions of the Draft 2013 SAR or the Final 2012 SAR (see 78 FR 
19446, April 1, 2013, comment 45) that trend analyses are inappropriate 
with only two data points, particularly given changes in group size 
estimation and analysis methods in 2010 and that the proportion of the 
population in the study area, and its variance over time, are not 
known. The Hilborn and Ishizaki (2013) report lacks sufficiently robust 
methods in a number of aspects and its conclusions and recommendations 
are not incorporated into the SAR. Their conclusion that there is an 
83% chance that the population is increasing is faulty, as the growth 
estimate is dependent on many unverified assumptions, conditions, and 
parameter inputs. More specifically:
    (1) The estimates of growth are strongly dependent on the inputs 
(priors) for the natural vital rate parameters, which are likely 
optimistic, because they are intended to represent optimal values and 
exponential growth (i.e., density dependence is ignored). If the 
population is depleted (low abundance relative to carrying capacity), 
then these vital rates may be appropriate, in which case, one might 
conclude that the population is growing from a depleted state toward 
some equilibrium with fishing mortality (i.e., population growth does 
not mean the population is at Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP) or 
otherwise healthy). The ``tuned'' birth rates are known to be far lower 
than that estimated for other populations of FKW, and the estimates of 
adult survival are likely too high.
    (2) The pelagic stock is treated as a closed population within the 
Hawai'i EEZ boundary, an assumption known to be false and which would 
have a significant impact on estimation of population abundance and 
trend. Given an open population, it is unreasonable to try to estimate 
a population trend from two estimates, even if the estimates were 
derived using identical procedures (which they were not); the higher 
estimate for the more recent survey could simply mean that a greater 
proportion of the population was within the survey area. Multiple 
survey

[[Page 49057]]

estimates are needed to appropriately infer trends within the survey 
area, and even then, the trend for entire population would not be 
known.
    (3) Precision of the realized rate for population growth rate (r) 
is overestimated because uncertainty is ignored for several important 
parameters, including the number of takes by the fishery (which may 
also be biased), the multiplier for juvenile survival (0.95 of adult 
survival), and oldest age of reproduction. A more valid distribution 
for current r (that more fully accounts for uncertainty in the 
population model structure, vital rates, and fishing mortality 
estimates) would likely suggest a more equivocal result for population 
growth.
    In summary, the current status of pelagic FKW is unknown. This 
population may be depleted given fishing pressures within and outside 
of the EEZ over several decades. We could expect a depleted population 
to be growing, though this would not represent a healthy state.
    Comment 23: The Council recommends that NMFS clarify that when 
citing Kobayashi and Kawamoto (1995), interaction rate refers to 
depredation events, not hookings and entanglements that result in 
mortality or injury. Additionally, the Council recommends that NMFS 
remove the Kobayashi and Kawamoto (1995) reference from the rough-
toothed dolphin, Hawai'i stock SAR, as the paper only identifies 
bottlenose dolphins as the primary species causing depredation in the 
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).
    Response: The definition of ``interaction'' in this context has 
been clarified in the bottlenose dolphin SAR, and the reference removed 
from the rough-toothed dolphin SAR.
    Comment 24: The Council recommends that NMFS revise the Hawaiian 
Islands stock complex of pantropical spotted dolphins SAR to be 
consistent with the Proposed 2013 List of Fisheries (LOF), which 
acknowledges the lack of direct evidence of M/SI in the troll and 
charter vessel fisheries.
    Response: The LOF is based on information from the SARs. The 
Proposed 2013 LOF (78 FR April 22, 2013) states that ``available 
information indicates that pantropical dolphins are incidentally 
injured in theses fisheries at low levels.'' The draft 2013 SAR cites 
the sources of that available information: Courbis et al. (2009), 
Rizzuto (2007), and Shallenberger (1981), which document observations 
of troll fishermen ``fishing'' off dolphins to catch tuna and Rizzuto 
(1997) describes anecdotal reports of hookings. The draft 2013 SAR does 
not overstate the available evidence of interactions with the Hawaiian 
Islands stock complex of spotted dolphins.
    Comment 25: The Council recommends that NMFS update the number of 
American Samoa longline permit holders in the SAR Appendix. The draft 
SAR Appendix says the number is ``unknown;'' however, the comment cites 
that monthly updated values are available at: http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/SFD/SFD_permits_index.html. The Council also recommends that NMFS 
address the federal management (e.g. Hawai'i Archipelago Fishery 
Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and Pacific Pelagic FEP) that is in place for 
Hawai'i's nearshore fisheries that operate in federal waters. Further, 
the Council recommends that NMFS include information on the Hawai'i FEP 
annual catch limits in the Pacific SARs.
    Response: NMFS appreciates Council's careful attention to the 
accurate and complete portrayal within the SAR Appendix of the 
management of Hawaii's nearshore fisheries. The requested changes have 
been addressed and all State fisheries descriptions have been checked, 
and if necessary, updated with assistance from NMFS Pacific Islands 
Regional Office (PIRO) Sustainable Fisheries and Protected Resources 
Division staff.
    Comment 26: The HLA recommends that NMFS revise the pelagic stock 
of FKW SAR to reflect the discrepancy that takes cannot be at an 
unsustainable level since there is no evidence of a declining trend in 
abundance.
    Response: This comment has been addressed previously (see 78 FR 
19446, April 1, 2013, comments 45 and 51). The comment and included 
footnote continue to suggest that the pelagic stock of FKW is 
increasing or stable since 2002, and as such, deep-set fishery takes 
are not of concern, although serious injury and mortality have been 
above PBR for more than a decade. The commenter attributes this 
persistence of FKW despite high levels of fishery mortality to NMFS' 
improper assessment of the severity of injuries resulting from 
fisheries interactions, improper assessment of population abundance and 
trend, or both. Assessment of injury severity under the NMFS' Policy 
for Distinguishing Serious from Non-Serious Injuries of Marine Mammals 
has been discussed in previous comment responses, and is based on the 
best available science on whether a cetacean is likely to survive a 
particular type of injury. Further study of FKW would certainly better 
inform the assigned outcomes, but until better data become available, 
the standard established in the NMFS 2012 policy will stand.
    The referenced 2002 and 2010 survey abundance estimates are not 
comparable in their published form, as the methodology for accurately 
enumerating FKW groups changed between surveys, significantly 
increasing the average group size of FKW, and therefore, the resulting 
abundance estimate. Further, because the entire stock range of pelagic 
FKW is unknown, but certainly extends beyond the Hawaii EEZ, the 
available abundance estimates do not reflect true population size. A 
robust assessment of population trend would require assessment of 
environmental variables that influence FKW distribution and the 
proportion of the population represented within the survey area during 
each survey period. Finally, many years of unsustainable take does not 
necessarily lead to a population decline. PBR was designed to provide a 
benchmark, in the face of great uncertainty about marine mammal 
populations, below which human-caused mortalities would not reduce the 
population beyond its OSP. (OSP is defined as the abundance where there 
is ``the greatest net annual increment in population numbers or biomass 
resulting from additions to the population due to reproduction and/or 
growth less losses due to natural mortality''). The benchmark does not 
consider whether a population is declining, as this is very hard to 
prove, particularly for population abundance estimates with low 
precision.
    Comment 27: The HLA recommends that NMFS revise the population 
trend information in the insular FKW stock SAR and repeats its comment 
that the high abundance in 1989 claim lacks good scientific backing and 
that the population has been stable since 2000.
    Response: NMFS responded to a similar comment from the Council on 
the 2012 SARs (comment 52 in 78 FR 19446, April 1, 2013). NMFS has 
added language to the Final 2013 SAR clarifying the outcome of the 
Population Viability Analysis modelling effort--that some two-stage 
models did allow for a different growth rate around the year 2000--and 
that some of those models suggested a lower rate of decline in recent 
years.
    Comment 28: The HLA maintains that the deep-set fishery does not 
interact with the insular FKW stock and objects to NMFS's allocation of 
a prorated portion of the ``blackfish'' deep-set fishery interaction to 
the insular stock. The best available science and information dictate 
that NMFS conclude in its final SAR that there are no

[[Page 49058]]

interactions between the deep-set fishery and the insular stock of FKW.
    Response: NMFS has responded to these comments previously (see 78 
FR 19446, April 1, 2013, Comment 52). The referenced 2011 take near the 
offshore boundary of the Main Hawaiian Island insular stock is still 
within the Main Hawaiian Island insular stock boundary and is 
appropriately treated within the established proration framework. The 
framework allocates a larger percentage of that take to the pelagic 
stock given its location. The majority of FKW interactions are not 
genetically sampled; and therefore, assignment to a specific stock is 
rarely possible. The GAMMS allows for proration of take based on 
density information (the current approach) or allocating take in an 
overlap zone to both stocks, which in this case would result in 
allocation to pelagic and Main Hawaiian Island insular FKW, as well as 
to Hawaii short-finned pilot whales given the ``blackfish'' 
identification.
    Comment 29: The HLA disagrees with the conclusion in the insular 
FKW SAR that the annual M/SI from longline fisheries is ``not 
approaching zero mortality and serious injury rate because it exceeds 
10% of PBR.''
    Response: The MMPA mandates that commercial fisheries reduce 
incidental M/SI of marine mammals to insignificant levels approaching a 
zero M/SI rate (16 U.S.C. 1387(b)). NMFS has defined this 
``insignificance threshold'' in regulation as 10% of PBR (50 CFR 
229.2). Annual M/SI in longline fisheries exceed this level; and thus, 
the statement is warranted.
    Comment 30: The HLA recommends that NMFS re-evaluate how it assigns 
fisheries interactions to FKW in the absence of data. The HLA cites two 
examples and suggests that prorated interactions were unfairly counted 
against the fisheries: An interaction was categorized as a serious 
injury based on little to no data and a ``blackfish'' interaction was 
assigned to FKW.
    Response: Both proration approaches used--(1) for injury status 
when observer records are inadequate to determine whether an injury is 
serious or not, and (2) for allocation of blackfish, a category used to 
encompass interactions known to be short-finned pilot whales or FKW--
are data based. The proportion of injuries categorized as serious 
versus non-serious is used to inform injury classification for those 
cases where injury severity is unclear. There is a clear record of the 
types of injuries that FKW typically suffer. Applicability of that 
information to inform those cases that are unclear due to the inability 
of the observer to completely view the animal, or accurately describe 
the degree of entanglement or location of hooking, is appropriate and 
supported within GAMMS. Similarly, when a species group such as 
``blackfish'' is used to assign interactions in cases where species 
identification can only be resolved to within two species (short-finned 
pilot whales and FKW), it is appropriate to evaluate the interaction 
rates of each of those species to inform an appropriate proration 
scheme. Ignoring those interactions would create a bias in M/SI 
estimates, thereby under-representing total M/SI of each species. Both 
proration schemes are updated annually to reflect the most recent data 
on serious versus non-serious injury rates and the occurrence of pilot 
whale and FKW interactions.
    Comment 31: The HLA recommends that NMFS re-evaluate its stock 
delineations of FKW and asserts that NMFS rushed judgment when 
declaring the NWHI stock, which has overlapping range with the insular 
and pelagic stocks.
    Response: NMFS disagrees that the designation of new stocks is not 
scientifically justified. The separation of the NWHI stock and the 
Hawaii insular and pelagic stocks is sound and based on multiple lines 
of evidence, including genetic analyses indicating significant 
differentiation in both mtDNA and nucDNA, photo identification 
indicating separation from the tight social network of the Main 
Hawaiian Islands animals, and satellite telemetry data suggesting 
island and atoll association within the NWHI. The data on FKW stock 
structure, including the new NWHI stock, have been evaluated both for 
demographic independence, the benchmark for separation under the MMPA, 
and for evolutionary separation, the more stringent standard for 
separation under the ESA.
    Comment 32: The HLA recommends that NMFS explain its rationale in 
prorating a serious injury of Hawai'i stock of sperm whales and the 
circumstance surrounding an interaction with the deep-set fishery. The 
comment states that in the absence of conclusive information, the 
interaction must be designated as ``non-serious.''
    Response: The details of this and all other interactions are 
provided in the cited Bradford and Forney (2013), and the justification 
and rationale for use of 75% proration is discussed within NMFS' Policy 
for Distinguishing Serious from Non-Serious Injuries of Marine Mammals 
(NMFS 2012), which employed a data-based approach of assigning serious 
injury proration based on the known outcomes of individual whales 
suffering those injuries. This results in a more informed determination 
than the ``more likely than not'' standard used for other serious 
injury determinations when information on the survival of individuals 
suffering those types of injuries is unknown. The cited references 
provide the necessary detail. While NMFS does not believe it is 
necessary or practical to detail the circumstances of every injury 
within the text of the SAR, some additional information on this 
particular injury was added to the 2013 SAR.
    Comment 33: The HLA recommends that NMFS remove the sentence: 
``Large whales have been observed entangled in longline gear in the 
Hawai'i EEZ in the past (Forney 2010)'' from the blue whale (CNP 
stock), fin whale (Hawai'i stock), sei whale (Hawai'i stock), and minke 
whale (Hawai'i stock) SARs. The cited report does not document a single 
interaction between the longline fisheries (dating back to 1994) and 
any of the listed stocks.
    Response: The statement was removed from each of the referenced 
SARs.
    Comment 34: The HLA recommends that NMFS remove the statement in 
the Hawaiian monk seal SAR that reads: ``[l]ongline hooks have also 
been recovered from Hawaiian monk seals, but these were not observed 
during longline fishing operations.'' The HLA states that no 
interactions have been documented since 1991 when waters within 50 
miles of the NWHI were closed to longline fishing. The statement in the 
SAR refers to pre-1991 amendment information and inaccurately implies 
that longline fisheries may interact with monk seals.
    Response: This outdated text appears in the Description of U.S. 
Fisheries Appendix, not in the monk seal SAR. It has been removed. The 
existing SAR text reflects the current management plan implemented to 
protect monk seals.
    Comment 35: The Organizations recommend that NMFS remove the 
sentence from the harbor seals, OR/WA coast stock that reads: ``[t]he 
stock is within its Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP) level,'' 
noting that more recent data are needed before that claim can be made. 
The Organizations also recommend that NMFS update abundance estimates 
for this stock and expressed frustration that despite numerous recent 
abundance surveys no published data are yet available.
    Response: NMFS has updated the OSP language in this SAR (and in the 
WA state inner waters SARs) to reflect

[[Page 49059]]

that in the absence of recent abundance estimates, the status of this 
stock relative to OSP is unknown. NMFS will not reduce an outdated 
estimate of Nmin at this time, as the proposed guidelines 
for applying such reductions in the absence of new abundance estimates 
have not been finalized. In addition, because abundance estimates are 
outdated, there is no valid estimate of Nmin to reduce. The 
lack of recent abundance estimates is due to incomplete surveys within 
the range of these stocks, owing to both weather and funding 
challenges.
    Comment 36: The Organizations noted that, as with the OR/WA coast 
stock of harbor seals, there is no recent published research available 
to update abundance and distribution information on the Washington 
inland waters stocks of harbor seals, despite ongoing research 
activities. Additionally, the fishermen self-reported deaths of harbor 
seals suggest that harbor seals are being killed in fishery 
interactions and NMFS should undertake an observer program.
    Response: See response to Comment 35 regarding research activities. 
Observer programs exist for tribal gillnet fisheries in the region that 
self-report takes. Additional observer programs for fisheries that 
interact with harbor seals are detailed in the fishery tables of the 
respective SARs.
    Comment 37: The Organizations recommend that NMFS include the 
threats posed by ciguatoxins and potent algal neurotoxins in the 
Hawaiian monk seal SAR.
    Response: NMFS responded to this comment in the 2012 draft SAR 
public comment process. Regarding ciguatoxin, the Bottein et al. (2011) 
paper represents an advance in detection of these compounds. However, 
whether and to what degree they may influence monk seal mortality is 
not known.
    Comment 38: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider a 
limited observer program in the gillnet fishery to monitor for harbor 
porpoise (various stocks) interactions.
    Response: Commercial gillnet fisheries in the range of these harbor 
porpoise stocks are largely limited to tribal fisheries that provide 
self-reporting of takes. NMFS agrees that additional observer programs 
are needed to better document gillnet bycatch, but funding for such 
observer programs is limited.
    Comment 39: The Organizations recommend that NMFS obtain an 
incidental take statement (ITS) for scientific research trawls for 
sardines and rockfish because from 2007 to 2011, there were 26 
mortalities and 4 serious injuries of Pacific white-sided dolphins in 
scientific research trawls. The ITS should address mitigation measures 
or gear modifications.
    Response: The NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) 
applied for a Letter of Authorization (LOA) under the MMPA in 2013 for 
takes that may occur incidental to its fisheries research surveys. In 
its application, SWFSC describes a suite of mitigation measures it has 
implemented with the aim of minimizing future takes. For threatened or 
endangered marine mammals, NMFS will conduct separate but parallel ESA 
section 7 consultations, which could result in authorized incidental 
take of threatened or endangered marine mammals, if warranted.
    Comment 40: The Organizations recommend that NMFS re-evaluate the 
population trend for the Southern Resident killer whale using the 1987-
2011 timeframe as in Velez-Espino (2012). Limiting the time frame 
results in a 0.91 per year declining trend. The Organizations also 
recommend that NMFS incorporate new evidence of winter habitat for 
Southern Resident killer whales from Hanson (2013).
    Response: NMFS responded to the population trend and prey 
availability comments in the draft 2012 SAR public comment process. 
Since the first complete census of this stock in 1974 when 71 animals 
were identified, the number of Southern Resident killer whales has 
fluctuated annually. There have been periods of increases and declines 
over this time, and there is no justification in choosing any 
particular starting year in determining if this stock is declining or 
growing. The commenters state that only the time period 1987-2011 
should be evaluated for trends in abundance. In 1987, the population 
count was 84 animals, which increased to 99 animals by 1995. In 2012, 
the count had declined to 85 animals, one animal more than was counted 
in 1987. Regarding prey availability, the SAR currently contains 
language and references regarding potential effects of limited prey 
availability on this population of killer whales. New information on 
the winter habitat of this population will be included in the draft 
2014 report.
    Comment 41: The Organizations recommend that NMFS add a vessel 
strike involving a sperm whale, CA/OR/WA stock from a 2007 observer 
report.
    Response: NMFS did not revise the CA/OR/WA sperm whale SAR in 2013. 
However, the SAR will be revised in 2014 and will include updated 
information on vessel strikes.
    Comment 42: The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) recommended 
that the PBR for monk seal be zero.
    Response: Appropriate treatment of PBR for Hawaiian monk seals has 
long been a controversial issue within the NMFS stock assessment 
community. Below is background and explanation of how NMFS arrived at 
``undetermined'' PBR for monk seals. As the Commission noted, this 
issue was thoroughly discussed at the GAMMS III workshop. Some 
participants maintained that for consistency and compliance with the 
MMPA, the PBR equation should be calculated for all stocks, including 
the monk seal. They further made the point that PBR does not itself 
authorize take. Others maintained, consistent with the Commission's 
position, that PBR should be set to zero. This was not recommended in 
the GAMMS III workshop report. A PBR of zero using the PBR formula 
would require that either the Recovery Factor or Rmax would 
be zero. Some thought that ``setting Fr to zero would require a change 
to the MMPA, and that it would be difficult to defend setting 
Rmax to zero for any stock.''
    Following the GAMMS III workshop, NMFS decided to continue 
reporting monk seal PBR as undetermined, consistent with what had been 
done since the issue was previously considered at GAMMS II. Reporting a 
PBR calculated using the PBR formula would not be consistent with the 
intent of PBR in that there is clearly no surplus production of monk 
seals that could be removed while allowing the population to return to 
OSP. While GAMMS III allows for PBR in such cases to be qualified by 
additional text, it seems ineffective to present a value then explain 
that it is not valid. Setting PBR to zero would contradict the current 
GAMMS III guidance and could be construed that either Rmax 
or the Recovery Factor were zero, raising the complications noted 
above.
    NMFS appreciates the Commission's concern that ``with PBR 
undetermined there is no reference point against which the magnitude of 
human-caused mortality and serious injury can be evaluated, which makes 
it difficult to focus management and public attention on eliminating 
human-caused mortality and serious injury.'' NMFS believes that in 
practice, the public and managers are more influenced by the monk 
seal's ESA status (and associated Recovery Plan and Critical Habitat 
designation), National Environmental Policy Act compliance and public 
outreach efforts of NOAA, partner agencies and NGOs, than by the PBR. 
As such, NMFS believes that an ``undetermined'' PBR poses no real risk 
to monk seal recovery.

[[Page 49060]]

    Comment 43: The Commission noted that ``This section (of the monk 
seal SAR) describes the decline in population size in the Northwestern 
Hawaiian Islands as if it was monotonic at 3.4% per year. However, 
examination of the data points in Figure 1 suggests that the rate of 
decline was much faster from 2004 to 2008, and much slower, perhaps 
even near zero, from 2008 to 2011. We suggest that the report contain 
some discussion and evaluation of the possibility that the rate of 
decline has changed over time.''
    Response: The monk seal trend is based on a regression fitted to 
the 10 most recent years' estimates. This is a compromise between 
precision (having enough years to obtain an estimate with low error) 
and accuracy. As the Commission noted, the monk seal decline appeared 
to cease during 2008-2011; however, it may have proven premature to 
include this in the text. Preliminary data from 2012-2013 indicate 
lower abundance estimates consistent with a continuing decline 
(demonstrating the potential pitfall of making strong inferences on 
just a few years' data).
    On this same subject, NMFS has two main concerns about estimating 
monk seals trends. First, and this is noted in the SAR, the trend is 
based only on 6 NWHI sites, which excludes Necker, Nihoa and the MHI. 
NMFS is working to obtain reliable abundance estimates for these 
excluded sites, so that the analysis better reflects total stock 
trends. Second, in 2012-2013, budget shortfalls resulted in very short 
NWHI field seasons, so that the apparent drop in abundance in those 
years could be real or may simply reflect inadequate surveillance. 
Indications are that funding will allow for adequate surveillance in 
2014. NMFS believes it is likely that the rate of decline has been 
reduced in the NWHI, but wishes to be more certain this is a sustained 
trend before reporting it in the SAR.
    Comment 44: The Commission noted that in the Human-caused Mortality 
and Serious Injury section of the monk seal SAR the statement ``[t]his 
second decline . . . appear[s] to have been driven by . . . and by 
human disturbance from military or U.S. Coast Guard activities (Baker 
et al. 2012 . . .)'' was revised by deleting ``military or U.S. Coast 
Guard activities.'' While Baker et al. (2012) do dismiss the potential 
impact of military activities, they cite Gilmartin et al. (2011) as 
supporting the potential impact of Coast Guard activities.
    Response: The monk seal SAR states that the decline apparently was 
driven both by variable oceanic productivity and human disturbance. The 
reference to human disturbance is meant to identify this generic cause 
regardless of whether the people involved were civilians, federal 
employees or members of any uniformed service.
    Comment 45: The Commission suggested that some discussion of the 
risk to monk seals posed by Fukushima debris might be included in the 
SAR.
    Response: Despite public concerns after the Fukushima disaster, no 
tsunami debris has been documented to have harmed or contacted a monk 
seal.
    Comment 46: The Commission wanted to know why the trend figure in 
the Morro Bay harbor porpoise SAR was removed and noted it should be 
updated to include the 2012 survey estimate. The Commission asked why 
the finding that the population was increasing was deleted. An 
explanation, beyond simply noting the wide confidence limits on 
individual estimates, should be provided for why further analyses are 
required to establish if the population is increasing.
    Response: The trend figure was removed because the most recent 
abundance estimates used different methods and results cannot directly 
be compared to past estimates. Thus, the figure would be misleading. A 
more sophisticated Bayesian trend analysis is planned in the future, 
and results will be included in the next revision of this SAR. This 
response applies to other harbor porpoise reports where current trend 
analyses are lacking.
    Comment 47: The Commission noted that in the Current and Maximum 
Net Productivity Rates section of the harbor porpoise SARs, the 
statement that ``[t]his maximum theoretical rate [9.4% per year from 
Barlow and Boveng (1991)] may not be achievable for any real 
population.'' As it is not apparent how this conclusion was reached, 
the report should contain an explanation and justification for the 
statement. The Commission noted that this comment applies also to the 
other harbor porpoise stocks.
    Response: This statement has been included in the harbor porpoise 
SARs since 1995 and is based on conclusions from the Barlow and Boveng 
(1991) paper. The 9.4% theoretical rate uses a human survivorship 
curve, which represents a maximum survival in a protected environment 
and is expected to be the absolute limit to the likely survivorship of 
any wild population. NMFS has modified the text to clarify this 
statement.
    Comment 48: The Commission noted that the Ward (2012) reference 
used to justify the value of Rmax used in the Southern 
Resident killer whale SAR was unpublished and not available to assess 
the suitability of the Rmax value used in the SAR.
    Response: An updated Ward (2013) reference is cited in the final 
2013 SAR. Ward (2013) summarizes a distribution of growth rate 
estimates for Southern Resident killer whales (Figure 7), ranging from 
approximately 0.98 (a negative growth rate) to the value of 1.032 cited 
in the SAR. The value of Rmax used in the SAR represents the 
best estimate of maximum population growth rate over the period 1979-
2010, which is less than the default value used for most cetaceans.
    Comment 49: The Commission recommended reducing the recovery 
factors for stocks of CA/OR/WA Cuvier's beaked whales and Mesoplodont 
beaked whales, given the observed declines for these stocks.
    Response: NMFS used a default recovery factor of 0.5 for these two 
stocks, which have shown evidence of decline. The GAMMS allow for 
lowering default recovery factors when the precision of human-caused 
mortality levels (coefficient of variation or CV) is known. For 
example, recovery factors may be lowered from the 0.5 default to 0.4 
for a stock of unknown status or a depleted stock when the human-caused 
mortality CV exceeds 0.8 (Wade and Angliss 1997). In the case of U.S. 
west coast stocks of Cuvier's beaked whale and Mesoplodont beaked 
whales, there are no estimates of human-caused mortality. Changes to 
default recovery factors for reasons other than adjustments related to 
mortality CV should be reviewed by regional SRGs. NMFS agrees that the 
recovery factors could be adjusted downward, but there is no 
justification for choosing any particular recovery factor value less 
than the default for these beaked whale stocks at present. NMFS will 
consult with the Pacific SRG regarding the recovery factors for these 
stocks prior to the next revision of these reports.
    Comment 50: The Commission noted that ship strikes of unidentified 
large whales (such as Eastern North Pacific blue whales) were not 
prorated to species in the SARs, similar to what is done when 
unidentified blackfish are prorated in the FKW and short-finned pilot 
whale Pacific Islands reports.
    Response: Proration of unidentified blackfish in the Pacific 
Islands SARs is based on a distance-from-shore model developed from 
observer program data and in consultation with the Pacific SRG. In 
contrast, no systematic proration scheme has been developed for U.S. 
west coast serious injury records of unidentified whales. NMFS has 
added text to the appropriate large

[[Page 49061]]

whale SARs indicating that some of the unidentified large whale serious 
injury records may represent the species at hand. NMFS will also 
consult with the Pacific SRG on developing proration schemes for 
unidentified whale records in future stock assessments.
    Comment 51: The Commission suggested adding language to the OR/WA 
coast harbor seal SAR that acknowledges negative biases in bycatch and 
mortality estimates resulting from the failure of observers to detect 
all events.
    Response: NMFS has added language to the SAR, acknowledging that 
bycatch mortality estimates likely represent minimum values, especially 
for fisheries where observer coverage is low and bycatch events are 
infrequent. For fisheries with adequate observer coverage (the 
definition of ``adequate'' will vary depending on the rate of bycatch 
and associated observer coverage), bycatch estimates should be unbiased 
if methods are sound and sample sizes are sufficient.
    Comment 52: The Commission noted that mortality levels in the 
harbor seal OR/WA coast stock Status of Stock section attributed to 
unknown hook and line fisheries was 0.4 seal per year, but the value 
reported in the Fisheries Information section was 0.6.
    Response: The two values represent different sources of mortality 
and injury. The 0.6 per year listed in Table 1 is from stranding data, 
excluding hook and line fishery interactions that may be from 
recreational fisheries, and is not included in commercial fishery cases 
listed in the Fisheries Information section and Table 1. The 0.4 mean 
annual mortality (from stranding data) caused by unknown hook and line 
fisheries is not listed in Table 1 or included in the calculation of 
mean annual commercial fishery mortality because it is not known if 
these deaths were caused by commercial or recreational fisheries. 
However, this mortality is included in the calculation of total mean 
annual human-caused mortality.
    Comment 53: In the OR/WA coast harbor seal SAR (and for other west 
coast harbor seal SARs), the Commission noted that text states ``[t]he 
stock is within its Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP) level'' and 
provides two supporting references. Given that recovering and 
maintaining populations at OSP is a primary goal of the MMPA, a summary 
of the findings of those references should be provided.
    Response: OSP for the Oregon/Washington Coast stock of harbor seals 
is discussed in the Population Size section of the SAR, under the 
Current Population Trend heading, and illustrated in Figure 2. The SAR 
text states: ``The population remained relatively low during the 1960s, 
but since the termination of the harbor seal bounty program and with 
the protection provided by the passage of the MMPA in 1972, harbor seal 
counts for this stock have increased from 6,389 in 1977 to 16,165 in 
1999 (Jeffries et al. 2003; ODFW, unpublished data). Based on the 
analyses of Jeffries et al. (2003) and Brown et al. (2005), both the 
Washington and Oregon portions of this stock have reached carrying 
capacity and are no longer increasing (Fig. 2).'' However, the 
abundance surveys from which the OSP statements were based in the draft 
SAR are from abundance surveys that are outdated. Also, no formal OSP 
designation was ever made for these stocks by NMFS. NMFS has added text 
to the Status of Stock section as follows: ``The stock was previously 
reported to be within its OSP range (Jeffries et al. 2003, Brown et al. 
2005), but in the absence of recent abundance estimates, this stock's 
status relative to OSP is unknown.''
    Comment 54: The Commission suggested adding/clarifying text in the 
California northern fur seal SAR related to correction factors, trends, 
recovery, maximum net productivity rates, carrying capacity and OSP.
    Response: NMFS appreciates this suggestion and has added clarifying 
text to the California northern fur seal SAR.

Comments on Alaska Regional Reports

    Comment 55: The Organizations recommend that NMFS update the 
estimates of Alaska Native harvest. Many SARs (e.g. bearded seals and 
ringed seals) note that subsistence harvest data have not been 
collected since 2009, and the Organizations would like to see this 
remedied.
    Response: NMFS responded to this comment previously in 78 FR 19446, 
April 1, 2013, Comments 56, 63, and 74. NMFS continues to work with its 
Alaska Native Organization (ANO) co-management partners on prioritizing 
harvest monitoring programs within the annual ANO co-management funding 
program.
    Comment 56: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider 
management of sub-stocks within the Western stock of Steller sea lions 
to better manage portions of the range that are still in decline.
    Response: Stocks serve as the unit for management of species of 
marine mammals managed by NMFS. NMFS will continue to monitor the 
trends in portions of this stock throughout the range in order to make 
appropriate management decisions for the conservation of the stock of 
western Steller sea lions.
    Comment 57: The Organizations recommend that NMFS start an observer 
program to monitor gillnet interactions with the Western stock of 
Steller sea lions. Additionally, the Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishery 
has data from 1999 that are stated in a footnote to be ``preliminary,'' 
however they are 15 years old.
    Response: NMFS is not operating the Alaska Marine Mammal Observer 
Program in 2014 due to a lack of available resources, and its future is 
uncertain. The footnote regarding ``preliminary'' Cook Inlet data from 
1999 is erroneous and appears to be an inadvertent carryover from 2001 
when the data were first inserted into the table. The data are not 
preliminary and are the best available. NMFS has modified the SAR 
accordingly.
    Comment 58: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise the 
Eastern stock of Steller sea lion SAR to account for immigration from 
the Western stock.
    Response: NMFS is updating the draft 2014 SAR to better address 
movements and colonization of western Steller sea lions into the 
northern portion of the range of the eastern distinct population 
segment (DPS). The observations of marked sea lion movements 
corroborate extensive genetics research findings suggesting a strong 
separation between the two currently recognized stocks. Permanent 
movements between the western and eastern Steller sea lion stocks 
represent a very small percentage of the total count of sea lions in 
either stock and would have a negligible impact on non-pup trend 
estimates for either stock.
    Comment 59: The Organizations recommend that NMFS better account 
for the decline in the California portion of the eastern stock of 
Steller sea lions' range.
    Response: NMFS has noted a decline in the numbers of Steller sea 
lions in California, the southern portion of the Steller sea lion's 
range. However, the eastern stock is increasing throughout the northern 
portion of its range (Southeast Alaska and British Columbia) and is 
stable or increasing slowly in the central portion (Oregon through 
central California). These trends are summarized in the Habitat 
Concerns section of the SAR, and it is suggested that environmental 
changes, particularly warmer temperatures, may not be favorable for 
Steller sea lions in the southern portion of the Steller sea lion's 
range. There has been no known increase in human-caused or natural

[[Page 49062]]

mortality of Steller sea lions in the southern portion of their range.
    Comment 60: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise the SAR 
for the Eastern stock of Steller sea lions to include up-to-date 
management information (e.g. status review and de-listing notice).
    Response: The final rule to delist the eastern Distinct Population 
Segment of Steller sea lion under the Endangered Species Act was 
released 04 November 2013, subsequent to SRG review and release of the 
SARs for public comment. This rule became effective 04 December 2013. 
NMFS will revise the draft 2014 eastern Steller sea lion SAR to reflect 
this decision and update the information provided in the SARs.
    Comment 61: The Organizations recommend that NMFS lower the 
recovery factor in the PBR estimate for most of the harbor seal stocks.
    Response: Some of the estimates that are cited in the SAR do not 
include information from the most recent survey as those data have not 
yet been fully analyzed. NMFS is in the process of analyzing an 
extensive data set from recent surveys of harbor seals throughout their 
range in Alaska, including the significant extensions of statistical 
theory and methods. As soon this analysis can be completed, the 
abundance, trends, and appropriate recovery factors will be updated in 
the SAR.
    Comment 62: The Organizations recommend that NMFS remove the 
citation Bengtson et al. (2010) from the ringed seal SAR because the 
data used in the abundance estimate in that paper are 15 years old. It 
is not appropriate to generate ``new'' estimates of abundance based on 
this paper.
    Response: There is no citation of ``Bengtson et al. (2010)'' in the 
ringed seal SAR. The section on population size acknowledges that 
current, comprehensive, and reliable abundance estimates or trends for 
the Alaska stock are not available. All appropriate sections have been 
modified to indicate that the estimates are unavailable given the age 
of the survey data.
    Comment 63: The Organizations recommend that NMFS highlight 
acoustic threats to Cook Inlet beluga whales in the Habitat Impacts 
section. The Organizations applaud NMFS for being cautionary and for 
not making a PBR estimate for this stock.
    Response: NMFS updated the Habitat Concerns section of the Cook 
Inlet beluga SAR with a statement regarding the consideration of 
acoustics threats in the NMFS Recovery Plan for Cook Inlet Beluga 
Whales. This section will be updated, as appropriate, once the Recovery 
Plan is available. Furthermore, NMFS, in collaboration with the Alaska 
Department of Fish and Game and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is 
currently completing a study to characterize the background noise, 
including anthropogenic sources, in Cook Inlet and its potential 
displacement effect on Cook Inlet belugas. A final report of this study 
will be available in summer of 2014, and the SAR will be updated as 
appropriate.
    Comment 64: The Organizations recommend that NMFS observe gillnet 
interactions with harbor porpoises in other portions of their range 
outside Southeast Alaska.
    Response: NMFS is not operating the Alaska Marine Mammal Observer 
Program in 2014 due to a lack of available resources, and its future is 
uncertain. NMFS acknowledges that the observations of the 1990-1991 
Prince William Sound, 1991 Aleutian Islands, 2002 and 2005 Kodiak and 
1999-2000 Cook Inlet salmon set and drift gillnet fisheries are dated 
and reflect between 0.16 and 6 percent observer coverage. The mean 
annual mortality rate incidental to all U.S. commercial fisheries is 
71.4. Incidental take of the Bering Sea stock of harbor porpoise could 
occur in the Aleutian Islands set and drift gillnet fisheries. The set 
gillnet fishery has not been observed. The drift gillnet fishery was 
observed in 1991. In 1992, two interactions were reported in logbooks 
in the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Island salmon set gillnet fishery, 
resulting in an estimated annual mortality of 0.5. Allen et al. (2014) 
report one harbor porpoise from the Gulf of Alaska stock taken in 
either the Cook Inlet set or drift gillnet fishery in 2008 and one 
mother and one calf from the Bering Sea stock taken in the Norton Sound 
Salmon set gillnet subsistence fishery in 2007.
    Comment 65: The Organizations recommend that NMFS add clarity to 
the statements in the harbor porpoise, Southeast Alaska stock SAR. The 
statement: ``[t]he estimated minimum mean annual mortality of harbor 
porpoises in Southeast Alaska based on incidental catch reported to the 
stranding network is 0.6 for the 5-year period from 2007-2012.'' And 
the statement: ``[t]he average minimum annual human-caused mortality 
and serious injury of Southeast Alaska harbor porpoises based on 
unconfirmed incidental catch and other human-caused activity reported 
to the stranding network is 0.2 for the 5-year period from 2007-2011.'' 
The discrepancy between these two statements requires further 
explanation as to why there are 2 separate estimates.
    Response: NMFS has clarified the language to reflect that one 
estimate is the summary of confirmed incidental take reports from 
stranding records and thus summarized in the Fisheries Information 
section of the SAR, whereas the other estimate is a summary of 
unconfirmed (but likely) incidental take reports that are certainly 
human-caused M/SI, and therefore reported in the Other Mortality 
section of the SAR.
    Comment 66: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider how to 
apportion the mortality to the Southeast Alaska/Northern British 
Columbia, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska management units of the 
CNP stock of humpback whales.
    Response: NMFS estimates the annual human-caused M/SI of marine 
mammal stocks by source as required under the MMPA. The Southeast 
Alaska/Northern British Columbia, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska 
humpback whales are feeding aggregations and not considered management 
units at this time. The central North Pacific stock is the management 
unit for this stock of humpback whales. The status and population 
structure of humpback whales in the North Pacific and elsewhere is 
currently under review by NMFS as part of a global status review of the 
species. If this result in any changes to existing management units, M/
SI data for stocks will be apportioned to align with any new units.
    Comment 67: The Organizations recommend that NMFS make a 
precautionary abundance estimate for fin whales based on known minimums 
within the range and/or prioritize additional effort to ascertaining 
abundance.
    Response: The stock assessment report for fin whales reports the 
best information available on fin whales. Given that this estimate 
derives from data gathered from only part of the likely range of this 
stock, it is likely to represent a very conservative minimum.
    Comment 68: The Organizations recommend that NMFS classify the 
Iliamna Lake seal as a separate stock of harbor seals.
    Response: The analysis of genetic and other information that 
supports the discreteness of harbor seals in Iliamna Lake was completed 
in late autumn, 2013, which was too late for incorporation into the 
current SAR. NMFS will determine whether those seals should be 
designated as a stock under the MMPA through the appropriate process, 
including consultation under its co-management agreement with the 
Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission.

[[Page 49063]]

    Comment 69: To improve stock assessment efforts in Alaska, the 
Commission recommends that NMFS provide an explanation as to why the 
2014 priority activities recommended in the recovery plan for the 
critically endangered eastern population of the North Pacific right 
whale were not considered an agency priority for funding, and indicate 
when the agency expects to allocate the roughly $2.5M in funding 
required to implement the first two years of the recovery plan 
activities.
    Response: NMFS is currently seeking modest funding for small 
projects from outside sources (including the Commission) to analyze 
acoustic data to examine the occurrence of right whales in the Bering 
Sea. However, because of the remote nature of right whale habitats in 
the North Pacific, conducting surveys or any other field work requires 
considerably more resources than are available.

Comments on Atlantic Regional Reports

    Comment 70: The Ocean Conservancy recommends that NMFS fund a 
restoration project to use high-definition video to assess marine 
mammal, sea turtle, and pelagic bird abundance in the Gulf of Mexico.
    Response: NMFS is one of the Federal and state partners that are 
involved in recommending restoration projects as part of the follow-up 
to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently NMFS does not 
use high-definition video as one of its standard tools for assessing 
marine mammals and sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The role of high-
definition video in future NMFS assessments in the Gulf of Mexico is 
being evaluated, and it could be considered as part of restoration if 
it is appropriate.
    Comment 71: Organizations recommend updating some of the citations 
regarding sightings of large whales. They also recommend that NMFS add 
Gulf of Mexico sightings of North Atlantic right whales from the New 
England Aquarium's report card to the SAR, and add Jordan Basin as a 
major habitat for North Atlantic right whales.
    Response: Following advice from the reviewer, NMFS has added a 
reference to Cole et al. (2013), as well as inserting mention of 
sightings in the Gulf of Mexico and the 2013 calving in Cape Cod Bay.
    Comment 72: The Organizations recommend that NMFS re-calculate the 
PBR estimate for North Atlantic right whales using a 2.8% growth rate 
instead of the 4% default Rmax.
    Response: Rmax is not the same as the observed 
population growth. In theoretical demographic models, Rmax 
is the maximum that a population could grow (birth and survival are 
largely unconstrained by carrying capacity pressures). Although we have 
no definitive data to suggest that North Atlantic right whales have in 
their evolutionary history ever achieved the 4% default value, we do 
know that the extant population suffers considerable mortality (largely 
from anthropogenic sources) that has nothing to do with forage 
limitations or social conflicts. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that 
the observed growth rate of 2.8% is Rmax.
    Comment 73: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise Table 2 in 
the North Atlantic right whale SAR. The old format was clearer and 
information has been omitted. The 01 February 2011 mortality was left 
off the new table. A gear type was not assigned to the 31 March 2007 
entanglement mortality despite it being documented at U.S. origin.
    Response: It was our intention that the SAR table would be a 
summary of the detailed information presented in the Serious Injury and 
Mortality reports. However, at the request of the reviewer, NMFS has 
reinstated the comments column. The 01 February 2011 event was not 
omitted. It is the animal originally sighted alive and entangled on 25 
December 2010 (Eg 3911). In the 2007-2011 reports, we 
classified this animal as a Serious Injury due to entanglement because 
the cause of death was technically exsanguination due to shark 
predation. So, it was included in the Cole and Henry Serious Injury 
report (and counts as 1 against PBR; Cole, T. V. N., and A. G. Henry 
2013). We acknowledge that this is confusing and it will be corrected 
to and reported as a morality with proximate cause of death = 
entanglement and ultimate cause of death = shark predation in the 2008-
2012 mortality report.
    The Serious Injury and Mortality reports detail how an event is 
attributed to a country even without recovered gear. The 31 March 2007 
event was determined to be a U.S. event based on the fact that it was a 
2-3 month old calf and most likely encountered the entanglement between 
Florida and North Carolina.
    Comment 74: The Organizations recommend that NMFS add that there 
are a notable number of entanglements of minke whales in gillnets to 
the Fisheries Interaction section of the SAR.
    Response: Text has been added in the Other Fisheries section to 
mention the prevalence of gillnet entanglements.
    Comment 75: The Organizations recommend that NMFS revise the 2008 
sperm whale, Gulf of Mexico oceanic stock longline interaction to 
include an extrapolated serious injury to the calf that was with the 
mother that was entangled.
    Response: Section 117 of the MMPA directed that strategic stocks be 
reviewed every year, and updated if there is any significant new 
information. There is no significant new information in this case. 
Based on the limited information on the 2008 sperm whale entanglement 
case, even if the serious injury determination changed for this animal 
and its calf, the conclusion about the status of this stock does not 
change. For this reason, NMFS will defer the update and will likely be 
revising this SAR for 2015 drafts to include any published conclusions 
about the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on sperm whales.
    Comment 76: The Organizations recommend that NMFS develop distinct 
text for the dwarf sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales as they are 
separate SARs.
    Response: Dwarf and pygmy sperm whales can be difficult to 
differentiate at sea and in much of the limited literature on at-sea 
distributions, they are treated as a group. Based on stranding 
locations of the two species, the distributions of the two species are 
very similar. The text in the SARs reflects this lack of distinct 
knowledge of each species. For future SARs, NMFS will review the recent 
literature on dwarf and pygmy sperm whales to determine whether text 
specific to each species is now appropriate. Recent work by Staudinger 
et al. (2013) reported that feeding ecologies are similar for both 
species, and both species occupy equivalent trophic niches in the U.S. 
mid-Atlantic.
    Comment 77: The Organizations recommend that NMFS not lump the 
undifferentiated complex of beaked whales (Ziphius and Mosoplodon spp.) 
in the Atlantic Ocean. The stocks have been separated with individual 
SARs, yet most assessments remain lumped. They also strongly urge NMFS 
to insert text similar to that in the Pacific SARs acknowledging 
challenges to stocks of beaked whales and other acoustically sensitive 
species from the expected increase in impacts from intense sound 
sources.
    Response: Beaked whale species are hard to differentiate at sea so 
separate abundance estimates and bycatch estimates for each species are 
not feasible. As a result, for bycatch of undifferentiated beaked 
whales we have been applying the risk-averse strategy recommended by 
Atlantic SRG assuming that any beaked whale stock which occurred in the 
U.S. Atlantic EEZ might have been subject to the observed

[[Page 49064]]

fishery-related mortality and serious injury. We have added the 
following text from the Pacific SAR to the Status of Stock section: ``. 
. . questions have been raised regarding potential effects of human-
made sounds on deep-diving cetacean species, such as [species] beaked 
whales (Richardson et al. 1995).''
    Comment 78: The Organizations recommend that NMFS not combine 
mortality reports for long-finned and short-finned pilot whales.
    Response: Mortality reports for cetaceans including long-finned and 
short-finned pilot whales from the pelagic longline fishery were not 
combined. The draft 2014 SARs will address breakdowns for additional 
fisheries.
    Comment 79: The Organizations recommend that NMFS expand the 
bycatch estimates for 2011 for pilot whales.
    Response: Trawl estimates were delayed due to issues with stock 
separation. In the 2014 draft SARs the estimates will be provided and 
the species differentiated.
    Comment 80: The Organizations recommend that NMFS clarify when data 
from beyond the most recent five-year period (e.g. 2011 for the 2013 
SARs) will be used, as the harbor porpoise SAR includes information 
about a 2013 Take Reduction Team meeting, which seems superfluous. They 
also recommend NMFS work with Canadian authorities to better define 
gillnet impacts in Canada.
    Response: NMFS has contacted Canadian officials and received 
information on sink gillnet effort in the Bay of Fundy. While this 
fishery is less active in the area than in the past, and there is no 
observed reporting of harbor porpoise bycatch, NMFS believes it is 
still more conservative to use the outdated estimates of interactions 
than to assume no interactions are happening. Text describing the TRT 
meeting has been removed.
    Comment 81: The Organizations recommend that NMFS include 
information about the harbor seal Unusual Mortality Event from 2011 
that some of the animals tested positive for a virus (Influenza A 
H3N8). The Organizations applaud NMFS for using 2012 survey information 
in the harbor seal SAR.
    Response: Text has been added to indicate that some of the seals 
tested positive for influenza.
    Comment 82: The Organizations recommend that NMFS consider adding 
that a Unusual Mortality Event was declared in 2013 for common 
bottlenose dolphins on the Atlantic coast.
    Response: The 2013 draft SARs cover the time period 2007-2011, and 
they were drafted during 2012. NMFS believes it is appropriate to use 
consistent time periods for reporting in each of the SARs. The cut-off 
point for including information under Annual Human-Caused Mortality and 
Serious Injury for the 2013 SAR was the end of 2011. Other information 
that is available and pertinent at the time of drafting will be 
included.
    Comment 83: The Organizations recommend that NMFS remove the ``pre- 
and post-Take Reduction Plan (TRP)'' table of mortality from the 
Atlantic common bottlenose dolphin SARs since it only goes through 
2006.
    Response: The table includes information through 2008, so it is 
appropriate to include the ``pre- and post-TRP'' table in the 2013 SAR. 
The most recent five-year period included in the 2013 SAR is 2007-2011.
    Comment 84: The Organizations recommend that NMFS update the Gulf 
of Mexico bottlenose dolphin stocks with the significant new 
information from Deepwater Horizon research and Unusual Mortality Event 
strandings.
    Response: Information that is available and pertinent at the time 
of drafting will be included. The 2013 draft SARs cover the time period 
2007-2011.
    Comment 85: The Commission recommends that NMFS include in the 
North Atlantic right whale stock assessment report: (1) An evaluation 
of the current population size relative to the carrying capacity of the 
environment, (2) a discussion of the possible reasons for the low 
population growth rate relative to that estimated for southern right 
whale populations, and (3) the reasons why the recent estimate of net 
population growth rate was rejected in favor of the default rate.
    Response: With existing data, and given our limited understanding 
of the structure and dynamics of the current ecosystem, it is not 
possible to reliably estimate carrying capacity for right whales. Given 
the early and largely undocumented history of whaling on this species 
in the North Atlantic (including off the coast of North America), it is 
impossible to derive a reliable (i.e. precise), baseline for pre-
exploitation population size, and anyway use of such a number as a 
proxy for carrying capacity relies upon various assumptions, the 
validity of which is debatable. Likewise, genetic-based estimates of 
pristine population size are not currently available, and even if they 
were these usually represent a harmonic mean over evolutionary time 
which has little or no relevance to the situation and to management 
today; this is particularly true in light of the extensive 
perturbations introduced into the marine environment by human 
overfishing, which may well have rendered the current ecosystem (and 
thus carrying capacity) radically different from one in a pristine 
state.
    Use of the default rate for the maximum productivity rate 
(Rmax) in calculation of PBR for the North Atlantic right 
whale stock is in accordance with GAMMS guidelines. We attempted to use 
the maximum observed growth rate in a previous stock assessment, 
arguing that the population is low and therefore not likely under 
``abundance pressure.'' We argued that this was the highest rate ever 
documented for this species, and it represents the capacity to rebound 
from additional human caused mortality (very risk averse). However, the 
Atlantic SRG noted that this variance was without precedence, and that 
we should revert back to the default value. In total, it matters little 
because the calculated PBR is <1 for both the maximum observed 
(depressed) and default values of Rmax.
    Comment 86: The Commission recommends that NMFS make every effort 
to identify pilot whale serious injury and mortality data that can be 
apportioned to one or the other species, and, in the stock-assessment 
reports, attribute serious injury and mortality data to one of the two 
species, but only to an ``unidentified pilot whale'' category if the 
former cannot be achieved.
    Response: In the 2013 SARs pilot whale mortality for the Atlantic 
pelagic longline fishery, the fishery with the highest observed 
interaction rate with pilot whales was apportioned to species. All of 
the pilot whales involved with longline interactions were determined to 
be short-finned pilot whales, and therefore, the estimate for longline 
bycatch was only attributed to short-finned pilot whales. The draft 
2014 SARs will apportion to species pilot whale interactions with the 
other fisheries with observed pilot whale takes.

    Dated: August 13, 2014.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-19623 Filed 8-18-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P