Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Seabird Research Activities in Central California, 2015-2016, 10066-10071 [2015-03849]

Download as PDF asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 10066 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 37 / Wednesday, February 25, 2015 / Notices removal of 35 existing concrete piles and installation of a total of 61 steel piles ranging from 18 inches to 30 inches in diameter and 24 plastic piles of 18-inch diameter. The duration for pile removal is expected to be fewer than three days and the duration for pile driving is expected to be fewer than 10 days, for a total of 13 days of activity. The duration for removing each pile would be about 30 minutes, and the duration for driving each pile would be about 10 to 30 minutes for impact steel pile driving and about 10 to 20 minutes for plastic vibratory pile driving. These low-intensity, localized, and short-term noise exposures may cause brief startle reactions or short-term behavioral modification by the animals. These reactions and behavioral changes are expected to subside quickly when the exposures cease. Moreover, the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures are expected to reduce potential exposures and behavioral modifications even further. Additionally, no important feeding and/ or reproductive areas for marine mammals are known to be near the proposed action area. Therefore, the take resulting from the proposed Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Project is not reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the marine mammal species or stocks through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival. The Project also is not expected to have significant adverse effects on affected marine mammals’ habitat, as analyzed in detail in the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat’’ section in the Federal Register notice (79 FR 55479; September 17, 2014). The project activities would not modify existing marine mammal habitat. The activities may cause some fish to leave the area of disturbance, thus temporarily impacting marine mammals’ foraging opportunities in a limited portion of the foraging range, but because of the short duration of the activities and the relatively small area of the habitat that may be affected, the impacts to marine mammal habitat are not expected to cause significant or long-term negative consequences. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from WETA’s Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility Project will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:05 Feb 24, 2015 Jkt 235001 Small Number Based on analyses provided above, it is estimated that approximately 260 California sea lions and 260 Pacific harbor seals could be exposed to received noise levels that could cause Level B behavioral harassment from the proposed construction work at the WETA Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Alameda, CA. These numbers represent approximately 0.06% and 0.86% of the stocks and populations of these species that could be affected by Level B behavioral harassment, respectively (see Table 4 above), which are small percentages relative to the total populations of the affected species or stocks. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures, which are expected to reduce the number of marine mammals potentially affected by the proposed action, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no subsistence uses of marine mammals in the proposed project area, and thus no subsistence uses impacted by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. Endangered Species Act (ESA) No species listed under the ESA are expected to be affected by these activities. Therefore, NMFS has determined that a section 7 consultation under the ESA is not required. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) and analyzed the potential impacts to marine mammals that would result from WETA’s Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility project in Alameda, California. Therefore, A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was issued for this action. A copy of the EA and FONSI is available upon request. Authorization NMFS has issued an IHA to USCG for the potential harassment of small numbers of marine mammal species PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 incidental to its waterfront repair project at Station Monterey in California, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: February 19, 2015. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–03850 Filed 2–24–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD660 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Seabird Research Activities in Central California, 2015– 2016 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulations, we hereby give notification that the National Marine Fisheries Service has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), to take marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research activities in central California, January 2015 through January 2016. DATES: Effective January 31, 2015, through January 30, 2016. ADDRESSES: The public may obtain an electronic copy of the Point Blue’s application, supporting documentation, the authorization, and a list of the references cited in this document by visiting: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental/research.htm. In the case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). The Environmental Assessment and associated Finding of No Significant Impact, prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, are also available at the same site. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeannine Cody, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\25FEN1.SGM 25FEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 37 / Wednesday, February 25, 2015 / Notices asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES et seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce to authorize, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or population stock, by United States citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if: (1) We make certain findings; (2) the taking is limited to harassment; and (3) we provide a notice of a proposed authorization to the public for review. We shall grant an authorization for the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals if we find that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). Also, the authorization must set forth the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings. We have defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. Summary of Request We received an application on July 30, 2014, from Point Blue requesting the taking by harassment of small numbers of marine mammals incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research activities on Southeast Farallon ˜ Island, Ano Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in central California. We determined the application complete and adequate on December 7, 2014. Point Blue, along with partners Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, Point Reyes National Seashore with the National Park Service, and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary would conduct this research under cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:05 Feb 24, 2015 Jkt 235001 consultation with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The proposed research activities would occur for one year, January 31, 2015, through January 30, 2016, and would involve annual monitoring and censusing of seabird colonies; seabird nesting habitat observations; nesting burrows restoration; breeding elephant seals observations; and the periodic resupply of a field station. These proposed activities would occur in the vicinity of pinniped haul out sites and could likely result in the incidental take of marine mammals. We anticipate take, by Level B Harassment only, of individuals of either California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), or Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) to result from the specified activity. This is the organization’s sixth request for an Authorization. To date, we have issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (Authorization) to Point Blue (formerly known as PRBO Conservation Science) for the conduct of similar activities from 2007 to 2013 (72 FR 71121, December 14, 2007; 73 FR 77011, December 18, 2008; 75 FR 8677, February 19, 2010; 77 FR 73989, December 7, 2012, 78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013). Description of the Specified Activity Overview Point Blue proposes to monitor and census seabird colonies; observe seabird nesting habitat; restore nesting burrows; observe breeding elephant and harbor seals; and resupply a field station annually in central California (i.e., Southeast Farallon Island, West End ˜ Island, Ano Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in Sonoma County). The purpose of the seabird research is to continue a 30-year monitoring program of the region’s seabird populations. Point Blue’s long-term pinniped research program monitors pinniped colonies to understand elephant and harbor seal population dynamics and to contribute to the conservation of both species. Dates and Duration The Authorization would be effective from January 31, 2015 through January 30, 2016. Following is a brief summary of the dates and duration of the activities. Seabird Research on Southeast Farallon Island: Daily observations of seabird colonies would occur at a PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 10067 maximum frequency of three 15-minute visits. Daily observations of breeding common murre (Uria aalge) colonies would occur at a maximum frequency of a single five-hour visit. These activities usually involve one or two observers conducting daily censuses of seabirds or conducting mark/recapture studies of breeding seabirds on the island. Field Station Resupply on Southeast Farallon Island: Resupply of the field station would occur once every two weeks at a maximum frequency of 26 visits annually. Resupply activities involve personnel approaching either the North Landing or East Landing by motorboat to offload supplies. Pinniped Research in Central California: Surveys of breeding northern elephant seals on Southeast Farallon ˜ and Ano Nuevo Islands, the coastline of Point Reyes Peninsula, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River, would occur in early December and late February, annually. At least three researchers would visit the sites at a maximum frequency of five times per year. Seabird Research and Field Supply on ˜ Ano Nuevo Island: Researchers would monitor seabird burrow nesting habitat quality, conduct habitat restoration, and resupply the field station from April through August at a maximum frequency of 20 visits annually. Occasionally, researchers would also conduct intermittent visits to the island throughout the year. These activities involve two to three researchers accessing the island by motorboat. Seabird Research on Point Reyes National Seashore: The National Park Service in collaboration with Point Blue monitors seabird breeding and roosting colonies; conducts habitat restoration; removes non-native plants; monitors intertidal areas; and maintains coastal dune habitat. Seabird monitoring usually involves one or two observers conducting the survey by small boats along the shoreline. Researchers would visit the site at a maximum frequency of 20 times per year. Specified Geographic Region Point Blue will conduct their research activities within the vicinity of pinniped haul out sites in the following locations: South Farallones Islands: The South Farallon Islands consist of Southeast Farallon Island located at 37°41′54.32″ N; 123° 0′8.33″ W and West End Island. The South Farallon Islands have a land area of approximately 120 acres (0.49 square kilometers (km)) and are part of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. The islands are located near the edge of the continental shelf 28 miles (mi) (45.1 km) west of San Francisco, CA, and lie E:\FR\FM\25FEN1.SGM 25FEN1 10068 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 37 / Wednesday, February 25, 2015 / Notices within the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. ˜ ˜ Ano Nuevo Island: Ano Nuevo Island located at 37° 6′29.25″ N; 122°20′12.20″ W is one-quarter mile (402 meters (m)) ˜ offshore of Ano Nuevo Point in San Mateo County, CA. The island lies within the Monterey Bay National ˜ Marine Sanctuary and the Ano Nuevo State Marine Conservation Area. Point Reyes National Seashore: Point Reyes National Seashore is approximately 40 miles (64.3 km) north of San Francisco Bay and also lies within the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. San Francisco Bay: The main part of San Francisco Bay measures approximately 3 to 12 miles (5 to 20 km) wide east-to-west and between 48 miles (77 km) and 60 miles (97 km) north-tosouth. Russian River: The Russian River coastline stretches for approximately 55 miles just south of San Francisco. Starting at Lake Mendocino, the Russian River flows south through valleys in Mendocino and Sonoma County, and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, California. Detailed Description of Activities We outlined the purpose of Point Blue’s activities in a previous notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). The proposed activities have not changed between the proposed authorization notice and this final notice announcing the issuance of the Authorization. For a more detailed description of the authorized action, we refer the reader to the notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Comments and Responses We published a notice of receipt of Point Blue’s application and proposed Authorization in the Federal Register on December 23, 2014 (79 FR 76975). During the 30-day comment period, we received one comment from the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) which recommended that we issue the requested Authorization, provided that Point Blue carries out the required monitoring and mitigation measures as described in the notice of the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014) and the application. We have included all measures proposed in the notice of the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014) in the Authorization. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:05 Feb 24, 2015 Jkt 235001 Description of the Marine Mammals in the Area of the Proposed Specified Activity The marine mammals most likely to be harassed incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research at the proposed research areas are primarily California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, and to a lesser extent the eastern distinct population segment (DPS) of the Steller sea lion, which NMFS has removed from the list of threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), effective November 2013. The ESA does not categorize California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals as threatened or endangered and the MMPA categorizes these species as not depleted. On the other hand, despite the delisting of Steller sea lions as endangered under the ESA, NMFS still categorizes the species as a strategic stock and depleted species under the MMPA. The agency will consider designating the eastern stock of Steller sea lions as non-strategic and not depleted under the MMPA following review by the Alaska Scientific Review Group in 2014. We refer the public to Carretta et al., (2014) for general information on these species which we presented in the notice of the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). The publication is available at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/ po2012.pdf. Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, usually range in coastal waters within 1.24 miles (2 km) of the shoreline. Point Blue has not encountered California sea otters during the course of their seabird or pinniped research activities over the past five years. This species is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and we do not consider it further in this notice of issuance of an Authorization. Potential Effects on Marine Mammals Acoustic and visual stimuli generated by: (1) Noise generated by motorboat approaches and departures; (2) noise generated during restoration activities and loading operations while resupplying the field station; and (3) human presence during seabird and pinniped research activities, have the potential to cause California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, northern elephant PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 seals, and Steller sea lions hauled out in areas within Southeast Farallon Island, ˜ West End Island, Ano Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River to flush into the surrounding water or to cause a short-term behavioral disturbance for marine mammals. We expect that acoustic and visual stimuli resulting from the proposed motorboat operations and human presence has the potential to harass marine mammals. We also expect that these disturbances would be temporary and result, at worst, in a temporary modification in behavior and/or lowlevel physiological effects (Level B harassment) of certain species of marine mammals. We included a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with Point Blue’s specified activities (i.e., visual and acoustic disturbance) have the potential to impact marine mammals in a previous notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). Vessel Strike: The potential for striking marine mammals is a concern with vessel traffic. However, it is highly unlikely that the use of small, slowmoving boats to access the research areas would result in injury, serious injury, or mortality to any marine mammal. Typically, the reasons for vessel strikes are fast transit speeds, lack of maneuverability, or not seeing the animal because the boat is so large. Point Blue’s researchers will access areas at slow transit speeds in easily maneuverable boats negating any chance of an accidental strike. Rookeries: No research activities would occur on pinniped rookeries and breeding animals are concentrated in areas where researchers would not visit. Therefore, we do not expect mother and pup separation or crushing of pups during flushing. The potential effects to marine mammals described in the notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014) did not take into consideration the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures described later in this document (see the ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ and ‘‘Proposed Monitoring and Reporting’’ sections). Anticipated Effects on Habitat We considered these impacts in detail in the notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). Briefly, we do not anticipate that the proposed research activities would result in any significant or longterm effects on the habitats used by the marine mammals in the proposed area, E:\FR\FM\25FEN1.SGM 25FEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 37 / Wednesday, February 25, 2015 / Notices including the food sources they use (i.e., fish and invertebrates). While we anticipate that the specified activity could potentially result in marine mammals avoiding certain areas due to temporary ensonification and human presence, this impact to habitat is temporary and reversible. We do not consider behavioral modification to cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, we must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses. Point Blue has based the mitigation measures which they will implement during the proposed research, on the following: (1) Protocols used during previous Point Blue seabird research activities as required by our previous authorizations for these activities; and (2) recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995). To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual stimuli associated with the activities Point Blue and/or its designees has proposed to implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals: ˜ (1) Postpone beach landings on Ano Nuevo Island until pinnipeds that may be present on the beach have slowly entered the water. (2) Select a pathway of approach to research sites that minimizes the number of marine mammals harassed. (3) Avoid visits to sites used by pinnipeds for pupping. (4) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer whales (Orcinas orca) are present. If Point Blue and/or its designees see predators in the area, they must not disturb the animals until the area is free of predators. (5) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual presence of pinnipeds. (6) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on Southeast Farallon Island in an observation blind, shielded from the view of hauled out pinnipeds. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:05 Feb 24, 2015 Jkt 235001 (7) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest ˜ boxes on Ano Nuevo Island if pinnipeds are within view. (8) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of Southeast Farallon Island (to reduce potential take) and ˜ coordinate research goals for Ano Nuevo Island to minimize the number of trips to the island. (9) Coordinate monitoring schedules ˜ on Ano Nuevo Island, so that areas near any pinnipeds would be accessed only once per visit. (10) Have the lead biologist serve as an observer to evaluate incidental take. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated the applicant’s proposed mitigation measures and have considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that we have prescribed the means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. NMFS’ evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, we expect that the successful implementation of the measure would minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; (2) The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and (3) The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed below: 1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). 2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to activities expected to PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 10069 result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only). 5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/ disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time. 6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation—an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation. Based on our evaluation of Point Blue’s proposed measures, we have determined that the mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Proposed Monitoring In order to issue an incidental take authorization for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act states that we must set forth ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.’’ The Act’s implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for an incidental take authorization must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and our expectations of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals present in the action area. Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following general goals: 1. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, both within the mitigation zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data to contribute to the analyses mentioned later; 2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are likely to be exposed to levels of potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g., sound or visual stimuli) that we associate with specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment, TTS, or PTS; 3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond to stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse effects on E:\FR\FM\25FEN1.SGM 25FEN1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 10070 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 37 / Wednesday, February 25, 2015 / Notices individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may impact the population, species, or stock (specifically through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the following methods: • Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); • Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); • Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli; 4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; and 5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain mitigation and monitoring measures. As part of its 2015–2016 application, Point Blue proposes to sponsor marine mammal monitoring during the present project, in order to implement the mitigation measures that require realtime monitoring, and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the incidental harassment authorization. The Point Blue researchers will monitor the area for pinnipeds during all research activities. Monitoring activities will consist of conducting and recording observations on pinnipeds within the vicinity of the proposed research areas. The monitoring notes would provide dates, location, species, the researcher’s activity, behavioral state, numbers of animals that were alert or moved greater than one meter, and numbers of pinnipeds that flushed into the water. Point Blue has complied with the monitoring requirements under the previous authorizations for the 2007 through 2014 seasons. The results from previous Point Blue’s monitoring reports support our findings that the proposed mitigation measures, which we also required under the 2007–2014 Authorizations provide the means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock. Point Blue will submit a monitoring report on the January 31, 2014 through January 30, 2015 research period by April 2015. Upon receipt and review, we will post this annual report on our Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. Proposed Reporting Point Blue must submit a draft final report to NMFS’ Office of Protected VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:05 Feb 24, 2015 Jkt 235001 Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2016 field season. The report will include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the Authorization. Point Blue will submit a final report to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft final report. If Point Blue does not receive any comments from NMFS on the draft report, NMFS and Point Blue will consider the draft final report to be the final report. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the Marine Mammal Protection Act defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. NMFS proposes to authorize take by Level B harassment only for the proposed seabird research activities on ˜ Southeast Farallon Island, Ano Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Acoustic (i.e., increased sound) and visual stimuli generated during these proposed activities may have the potential to cause marine mammals in the harbor area to experience temporary, short-term changes in behavior. Based on Point Blue’s previous research experiences, with the same activities conducted in the proposed research area, and on marine mammal research activities in these areas, we estimate that approximately 9,871 California sea lions, 343 harbor seals, 196 northern elephant seals, and 106 Steller sea lions could be affected by Level B behavioral harassment over the course of the effective period of the proposed Authorization. The authorized take differs from Point Blue’s original request for California sea lions (10,092), northern elephant seals (261), harbor seals (526) and Steller sea lions (185). NMFS bases these new estimates on historical data from previous monitoring reports and anecdotal data for the same activities conducted in the proposed research area. In brief, for each species, we created a statistical model to derive an estimate of the average annual increase PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 of reported take based on a best fit regression analysis (i.e., linear or polynomial regression) of reported take from 2007 to 2013. Next, we added the predicted annual increase in take to a baseline of take reported for 2013–2014 season to project the estimated take for each species for the 2015–2016 Authorization. We carried through the same predicted annual increase in take for future Authorizations (2014–2017) to obtain a mean projected take for each species. Last, we analyzed the reported take for each activity by calculating the upper bound of the 99 percent confidence interval of the mean reported take (2007–2013) and mean projected take (2014–2017) for each species. Our use of the upper confidence interval represents the best available information that supports our precautionary deliberation of how much take could occur annually. There is no evidence that Point Blue’s planned activities could result in injury, serious injury or mortality within the action area. Moreover, the required mitigation and monitoring measures will minimize further any potential risk for injury, serious injury, or mortality. Thus, we do not authorize any injury, serious injury or mortality. We expect all potential takes to fall under the category of Level B harassment only. Encouraging and Coordinating Research Point Blue will continue to coordinate monitoring of pinnipeds during the research activities occurring on ˜ Southeast Farallon Island, Ano Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Blue conducts bone fide research on marine mammals, the results of which may contribute to the basic knowledge of marine mammal biology or ecology, or are likely to identify, evaluate, or resolve conservation problems. Negligible impact is ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ The lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population level effects) forms the basis of a negligible impact finding. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through behavioral harassment, NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, feeding, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A E:\FR\FM\25FEN1.SGM 25FEN1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 37 / Wednesday, February 25, 2015 / Notices harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the species. In making a negligible impact determination, we consider: (1) The number of anticipated injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities; (2) The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of Level B harassment; (3) The context in which the takes occur (e.g., impacts to areas of significance, impacts to local populations, and cumulative impacts when taking into account successive/ contemporaneous actions when added to baseline data); (4) The status of stock or species of marine mammals (i.e., depleted, not depleted, decreasing, increasing, stable, impact relative to the size of the population); (5) Impacts on habitat affecting rates of recruitment/survival; and (6) The effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation measures. For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the following factors, NMFS does not expect Point Blue’s specified activities to cause longterm behavioral disturbance, abandonment of the haulout area, injury, serious injury, or mortality: (1) The effects of the pinniped and seabird research activities would be limited to short-term startle responses and localized behavioral changes due to the short and sporadic duration of the research activities. Minor and brief responses, such as short-duration startle or alert reactions, are not likely to constitute disruption of behavioral patterns, such as migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering. (2) The availability of alternate areas for pinnipeds to avoid the resultant acoustic and visual disturbances from the research operations. Results from previous monitoring reports also show that the pinnipeds returned to the various sites and did not permanently abandon haul-out sites after Point Blue conducted their pinniped and research activities. (3) There is no potential for largescale movements leading to injury, serious injury, or mortality because the researchers must delay ingress into the landing areas until after the pinnipeds present have slowly entered the water. (4) The limited access of Point Blue’s researchers to Southeast Farallon Island, ˜ Ano Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National Seashore during the pupping season. We do not anticipate that any injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities would occur as a result of Point Blue’s proposed activities, and we do not authorize injury, serious injury or VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:05 Feb 24, 2015 Jkt 235001 mortality. These species may exhibit behavioral modifications, including temporarily vacating the area during the proposed seabird and pinniped research activities to avoid the resultant acoustic and visual disturbances. Further, these proposed activities would not take place in areas of significance for marine mammal feeding, resting, breeding, or calving and would not adversely impact marine mammal habitat. Due to the nature, degree, and context of the behavioral harassment anticipated, the activities are not expected to impact annual rates of recruitment or survival. NMFS does not expect pinnipeds to permanently abandon any area that is surveyed by researchers, as is evidenced by continued presence of pinnipeds at the sites during annual monitoring counts. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from Point Blue’s seabird research activities will not adversely affect annual rates of recruitment or survival and therefore will have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks. Small Numbers As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that four species of marine mammals could be potentially affected by Level B harassment over the course of the proposed Authorization. Because these are maximum estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals may select other haulout sites the day the researchers are present. For each species, these numbers are small numbers (each, less than or equal to two percent) relative to the population size. These incidental harassment numbers represent approximately 3.33 percent of the U.S. stock of California sea lion, 1.74 percent of the California stock of Pacific harbor seal, 0.16 percent of the California breeding stock of northern elephant seal, and 0.17 percent of the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lion. Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA also requires us to determine that the taking will not have an unmitigable adverse effect on the availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use. There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Thus, NMFS PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 9990 10071 has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. Endangered Species Act On October 23, 2013 NMFS announced the removal of the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lions from the list of threatened species under the ESA. No marine mammal species listed under the ESA are anticipated to occur in the action area. Therefore, NMFS has determined that a section 7 consultation under the ESA is not required. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) In 2014, we prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the potential effects to the human environment from NMFS’ issuance of a proposed Authorization to Point Blue for their seabird research activities. In January 2014, NMFS issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an Authorization for Point Blue’s research activities in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). Point Blue’s proposed activities and impacts for 2015–2016 are within the scope of the 2014 EA and FONSI. NMFS has reviewed the 2014 EA and determined that there are no new direct, indirect, or cumulative impacts to the human and natural environment associated with the Authorization requiring evaluation in a supplemental EA and NMFS, therefore, reaffirms the 2014 FONSI. Authorization As a result of these determinations, we have issued an Authorization to Point Blue for the take of marine mammals incidental to proposed seabird and pinniped research activities, provided they incorporate the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. Dated: February 3, 2015. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–03849 Filed 2–24–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\25FEN1.SGM 25FEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 37 (Wednesday, February 25, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 10066-10071]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-03849]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD660


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Seabird Research Activities in Central California, 2015-2016

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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

SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) 
regulations, we hereby give notification that the National Marine 
Fisheries Service has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization 
(IHA) to Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), to take marine 
mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting seabird and 
pinniped research activities in central California, January 2015 
through January 2016.

DATES: Effective January 31, 2015, through January 30, 2016.

ADDRESSES: The public may obtain an electronic copy of the Point Blue's 
application, supporting documentation, the authorization, and a list of 
the references cited in this document by visiting: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. In the case of 
problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed here 
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    The Environmental Assessment and associated Finding of No 
Significant Impact, prepared pursuant to the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969, are also available at the same site.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361

[[Page 10067]]

et seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce to authorize, upon request, 
the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals of a species or population stock, by United States citizens who 
engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a 
specified geographical region if: (1) We make certain findings; (2) the 
taking is limited to harassment; and (3) we provide a notice of a 
proposed authorization to the public for review.
    We shall grant an authorization for the incidental taking of small 
numbers of marine mammals if we find that the taking will have a 
negligible impact on the species or stock(s), and will not have an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or 
stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). Also, the authorization 
must set forth the permissible methods of taking and requirements 
pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings. We have 
defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as ``an impact 
resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably 
expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the 
species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival.''
    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].

Summary of Request

    We received an application on July 30, 2014, from Point Blue 
requesting the taking by harassment of small numbers of marine mammals 
incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research activities on 
Southeast Farallon Island, A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, Point Reyes 
National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in central 
California. We determined the application complete and adequate on 
December 7, 2014.
    Point Blue, along with partners Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, Point 
Reyes National Seashore with the National Park Service, and the Gulf of 
the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary would conduct this research 
under cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 
consultation with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
    The proposed research activities would occur for one year, January 
31, 2015, through January 30, 2016, and would involve annual monitoring 
and censusing of seabird colonies; seabird nesting habitat 
observations; nesting burrows restoration; breeding elephant seals 
observations; and the periodic resupply of a field station.
    These proposed activities would occur in the vicinity of pinniped 
haul out sites and could likely result in the incidental take of marine 
mammals. We anticipate take, by Level B Harassment only, of individuals 
of either California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), Pacific harbor 
seals (Phoca vitulina), northern elephant seals (Mirounga 
angustirostris), or Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) to result 
from the specified activity.
    This is the organization's sixth request for an Authorization. To 
date, we have issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization 
(Authorization) to Point Blue (formerly known as PRBO Conservation 
Science) for the conduct of similar activities from 2007 to 2013 (72 FR 
71121, December 14, 2007; 73 FR 77011, December 18, 2008; 75 FR 8677, 
February 19, 2010; 77 FR 73989, December 7, 2012, 78 FR 66686, November 
6, 2013).

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    Point Blue proposes to monitor and census seabird colonies; observe 
seabird nesting habitat; restore nesting burrows; observe breeding 
elephant and harbor seals; and resupply a field station annually in 
central California (i.e., Southeast Farallon Island, West End Island, 
A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco 
Bay, and the Russian River in Sonoma County).
    The purpose of the seabird research is to continue a 30-year 
monitoring program of the region's seabird populations. Point Blue's 
long-term pinniped research program monitors pinniped colonies to 
understand elephant and harbor seal population dynamics and to 
contribute to the conservation of both species.

Dates and Duration

    The Authorization would be effective from January 31, 2015 through 
January 30, 2016. Following is a brief summary of the dates and 
duration of the activities.
    Seabird Research on Southeast Farallon Island: Daily observations 
of seabird colonies would occur at a maximum frequency of three 15-
minute visits. Daily observations of breeding common murre (Uria aalge) 
colonies would occur at a maximum frequency of a single five-hour 
visit. These activities usually involve one or two observers conducting 
daily censuses of seabirds or conducting mark/recapture studies of 
breeding seabirds on the island.
    Field Station Resupply on Southeast Farallon Island: Resupply of 
the field station would occur once every two weeks at a maximum 
frequency of 26 visits annually. Resupply activities involve personnel 
approaching either the North Landing or East Landing by motorboat to 
offload supplies.
    Pinniped Research in Central California: Surveys of breeding 
northern elephant seals on Southeast Farallon and A[ntilde]o Nuevo 
Islands, the coastline of Point Reyes Peninsula, San Francisco Bay, and 
the Russian River, would occur in early December and late February, 
annually. At least three researchers would visit the sites at a maximum 
frequency of five times per year.
    Seabird Research and Field Supply on A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island: 
Researchers would monitor seabird burrow nesting habitat quality, 
conduct habitat restoration, and resupply the field station from April 
through August at a maximum frequency of 20 visits annually. 
Occasionally, researchers would also conduct intermittent visits to the 
island throughout the year. These activities involve two to three 
researchers accessing the island by motorboat.
    Seabird Research on Point Reyes National Seashore: The National 
Park Service in collaboration with Point Blue monitors seabird breeding 
and roosting colonies; conducts habitat restoration; removes non-native 
plants; monitors intertidal areas; and maintains coastal dune habitat. 
Seabird monitoring usually involves one or two observers conducting the 
survey by small boats along the shoreline. Researchers would visit the 
site at a maximum frequency of 20 times per year.

Specified Geographic Region

    Point Blue will conduct their research activities within the 
vicinity of pinniped haul out sites in the following locations:
    South Farallones Islands: The South Farallon Islands consist of 
Southeast Farallon Island located at 37[deg]41'54.32'' N; 123[deg] 
0'8.33'' W and West End Island. The South Farallon Islands have a land 
area of approximately 120 acres (0.49 square kilometers (km)) and are 
part of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. The islands are located 
near the edge of the continental shelf 28 miles (mi) (45.1 km) west of 
San Francisco, CA, and lie

[[Page 10068]]

within the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine 
Sanctuary.
    A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island: A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island located at 37[deg] 
6'29.25'' N; 122[deg]20'12.20'' W is one-quarter mile (402 meters (m)) 
offshore of A[ntilde]o Nuevo Point in San Mateo County, CA. The island 
lies within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the 
A[ntilde]o Nuevo State Marine Conservation Area.
    Point Reyes National Seashore: Point Reyes National Seashore is 
approximately 40 miles (64.3 km) north of San Francisco Bay and also 
lies within the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
    San Francisco Bay: The main part of San Francisco Bay measures 
approximately 3 to 12 miles (5 to 20 km) wide east-to-west and between 
48 miles (77 km) and 60 miles (97 km) north-to-south.
    Russian River: The Russian River coastline stretches for 
approximately 55 miles just south of San Francisco. Starting at Lake 
Mendocino, the Russian River flows south through valleys in Mendocino 
and Sonoma County, and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, 
California.

Detailed Description of Activities

    We outlined the purpose of Point Blue's activities in a previous 
notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). 
The proposed activities have not changed between the proposed 
authorization notice and this final notice announcing the issuance of 
the Authorization. For a more detailed description of the authorized 
action, we refer the reader to the notice for the proposed 
authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014).

Comments and Responses

    We published a notice of receipt of Point Blue's application and 
proposed Authorization in the Federal Register on December 23, 2014 (79 
FR 76975). During the 30-day comment period, we received one comment 
from the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) which recommended that 
we issue the requested Authorization, provided that Point Blue carries 
out the required monitoring and mitigation measures as described in the 
notice of the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014) 
and the application. We have included all measures proposed in the 
notice of the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014) 
in the Authorization.

Description of the Marine Mammals in the Area of the Proposed Specified 
Activity

    The marine mammals most likely to be harassed incidental to 
conducting seabird and pinniped research at the proposed research areas 
are primarily California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific 
harbor seals, and to a lesser extent the eastern distinct population 
segment (DPS) of the Steller sea lion, which NMFS has removed from the 
list of threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 
1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), effective November 2013. The ESA 
does not categorize California sea lions, northern elephant seals, 
Pacific harbor seals as threatened or endangered and the MMPA 
categorizes these species as not depleted. On the other hand, despite 
the delisting of Steller sea lions as endangered under the ESA, NMFS 
still categorizes the species as a strategic stock and depleted species 
under the MMPA. The agency will consider designating the eastern stock 
of Steller sea lions as non-strategic and not depleted under the MMPA 
following review by the Alaska Scientific Review Group in 2014.
    We refer the public to Carretta et al., (2014) for general 
information on these species which we presented in the notice of the 
proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). The 
publication is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/po2012.pdf.

Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area

    California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as 
threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, 
usually range in coastal waters within 1.24 miles (2 km) of the 
shoreline. Point Blue has not encountered California sea otters during 
the course of their seabird or pinniped research activities over the 
past five years. This species is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service and we do not consider it further in this notice of issuance of 
an Authorization.

Potential Effects on Marine Mammals

    Acoustic and visual stimuli generated by: (1) Noise generated by 
motorboat approaches and departures; (2) noise generated during 
restoration activities and loading operations while resupplying the 
field station; and (3) human presence during seabird and pinniped 
research activities, have the potential to cause California sea lions, 
Pacific harbor seals, northern elephant seals, and Steller sea lions 
hauled out in areas within Southeast Farallon Island, West End Island, 
A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco 
Bay, and the Russian River to flush into the surrounding water or to 
cause a short-term behavioral disturbance for marine mammals.
    We expect that acoustic and visual stimuli resulting from the 
proposed motorboat operations and human presence has the potential to 
harass marine mammals. We also expect that these disturbances would be 
temporary and result, at worst, in a temporary modification in behavior 
and/or low-level physiological effects (Level B harassment) of certain 
species of marine mammals.
    We included a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of 
stressors associated with Point Blue's specified activities (i.e., 
visual and acoustic disturbance) have the potential to impact marine 
mammals in a previous notice for the proposed authorization (79 FR 
76975, December 23, 2014).
    Vessel Strike: The potential for striking marine mammals is a 
concern with vessel traffic. However, it is highly unlikely that the 
use of small, slow-moving boats to access the research areas would 
result in injury, serious injury, or mortality to any marine mammal. 
Typically, the reasons for vessel strikes are fast transit speeds, lack 
of maneuverability, or not seeing the animal because the boat is so 
large. Point Blue's researchers will access areas at slow transit 
speeds in easily maneuverable boats negating any chance of an 
accidental strike.
    Rookeries: No research activities would occur on pinniped rookeries 
and breeding animals are concentrated in areas where researchers would 
not visit. Therefore, we do not expect mother and pup separation or 
crushing of pups during flushing.
    The potential effects to marine mammals described in the notice for 
the proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014) did not 
take into consideration the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures 
described later in this document (see the ``Proposed Mitigation'' and 
``Proposed Monitoring and Reporting'' sections).

Anticipated Effects on Habitat

    We considered these impacts in detail in the notice for the 
proposed authorization (79 FR 76975, December 23, 2014). Briefly, we do 
not anticipate that the proposed research activities would result in 
any significant or long-term effects on the habitats used by the marine 
mammals in the proposed area,

[[Page 10069]]

including the food sources they use (i.e., fish and invertebrates). 
While we anticipate that the specified activity could potentially 
result in marine mammals avoiding certain areas due to temporary 
ensonification and human presence, this impact to habitat is temporary 
and reversible. We do not consider behavioral modification to cause 
significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or 
their populations.

Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, we must set forth the 
permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other 
means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species 
or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and the availability 
of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses.
    Point Blue has based the mitigation measures which they will 
implement during the proposed research, on the following: (1) Protocols 
used during previous Point Blue seabird research activities as required 
by our previous authorizations for these activities; and (2) 
recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995).
    To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual 
stimuli associated with the activities Point Blue and/or its designees 
has proposed to implement the following mitigation measures for marine 
mammals:
    (1) Postpone beach landings on A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island until 
pinnipeds that may be present on the beach have slowly entered the 
water.
    (2) Select a pathway of approach to research sites that minimizes 
the number of marine mammals harassed.
    (3) Avoid visits to sites used by pinnipeds for pupping.
    (4) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out 
pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer 
whales (Orcinas orca) are present. If Point Blue and/or its designees 
see predators in the area, they must not disturb the animals until the 
area is free of predators.
    (5) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual 
presence of pinnipeds.
    (6) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on Southeast 
Farallon Island in an observation blind, shielded from the view of 
hauled out pinnipeds.
    (7) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest boxes on A[ntilde]o Nuevo 
Island if pinnipeds are within view.
    (8) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of Southeast 
Farallon Island (to reduce potential take) and coordinate research 
goals for A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island to minimize the number of trips to 
the island.
    (9) Coordinate monitoring schedules on A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, so 
that areas near any pinnipeds would be accessed only once per visit.
    (10) Have the lead biologist serve as an observer to evaluate 
incidental take.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated the applicant's proposed mitigation 
measures and have considered a range of other measures in the context 
of ensuring that we have prescribed the means of effecting the least 
practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and 
stocks and their habitat. NMFS' evaluation of potential measures 
included consideration of the following factors in relation to one 
another:
    (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, we expect that 
the successful implementation of the measure would minimize adverse 
impacts to marine mammals;
    (2) The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
    (3) The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation.
    Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to 
accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on 
current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of 
the general goals listed below:
    1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals 
wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal).
    2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or 
number at biologically important time or location) exposed to 
activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal 
may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).
    3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed 
to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this 
goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).
    4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number 
or number at biologically important time or location) to activities 
expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may 
contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes 
only).
    5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal 
habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that 
block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, 
permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/disturbance 
of habitat during a biologically important time.
    6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation--an increase in 
the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more 
effective implementation of the mitigation.
    Based on our evaluation of Point Blue's proposed measures, we have 
determined that the mitigation measures provide the means of effecting 
the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and 
their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating 
grounds, and areas of similar significance.
Proposed Monitoring
    In order to issue an incidental take authorization for an activity, 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act states that we 
must set forth ``requirements pertaining to the monitoring and 
reporting of such taking.'' The Act's implementing regulations at 50 
CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for an incidental take 
authorization must include the suggested means of accomplishing the 
necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased 
knowledge of the species and our expectations of the level of taking or 
impacts on populations of marine mammals present in the action area.
    Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or 
more of the following general goals:
    1. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, both 
within the mitigation zone (thus allowing for more effective 
implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data 
to contribute to the analyses mentioned later;
    2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are 
likely to be exposed to levels of potential stressor(s) associated with 
the action (e.g., sound or visual stimuli) that we associate with 
specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment, TTS, or PTS;
    3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond 
to stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse 
effects on

[[Page 10070]]

individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may impact the 
population, species, or stock (specifically through effects on annual 
rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the following methods:
     Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli 
compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
     Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli 
compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
     Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or 
areas with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli;
    4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; and
    5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain 
mitigation and monitoring measures.
    As part of its 2015-2016 application, Point Blue proposes to 
sponsor marine mammal monitoring during the present project, in order 
to implement the mitigation measures that require real-time monitoring, 
and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the incidental harassment 
authorization. The Point Blue researchers will monitor the area for 
pinnipeds during all research activities. Monitoring activities will 
consist of conducting and recording observations on pinnipeds within 
the vicinity of the proposed research areas. The monitoring notes would 
provide dates, location, species, the researcher's activity, behavioral 
state, numbers of animals that were alert or moved greater than one 
meter, and numbers of pinnipeds that flushed into the water.
    Point Blue has complied with the monitoring requirements under the 
previous authorizations for the 2007 through 2014 seasons. The results 
from previous Point Blue's monitoring reports support our findings that 
the proposed mitigation measures, which we also required under the 
2007-2014 Authorizations provide the means of effecting the least 
practicable adverse impact on the species or stock.
    Point Blue will submit a monitoring report on the January 31, 2014 
through January 30, 2015 research period by April 2015. Upon receipt 
and review, we will post this annual report on our Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm.

Proposed Reporting

    Point Blue must submit a draft final report to NMFS' Office of 
Protected Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2016 
field season. The report will include a summary of the information 
gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the 
Authorization.
    Point Blue will submit a final report to the Chief, Permits and 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, within 30 days 
after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft final report. If Point 
Blue does not receive any comments from NMFS on the draft report, NMFS 
and Point Blue will consider the draft final report to be the final 
report.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
Marine Mammal Protection Act defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of 
pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; 
or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal 
stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, 
including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, 
feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].
    NMFS proposes to authorize take by Level B harassment only for the 
proposed seabird research activities on Southeast Farallon Island, 
A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Acoustic 
(i.e., increased sound) and visual stimuli generated during these 
proposed activities may have the potential to cause marine mammals in 
the harbor area to experience temporary, short-term changes in 
behavior.
    Based on Point Blue's previous research experiences, with the same 
activities conducted in the proposed research area, and on marine 
mammal research activities in these areas, we estimate that 
approximately 9,871 California sea lions, 343 harbor seals, 196 
northern elephant seals, and 106 Steller sea lions could be affected by 
Level B behavioral harassment over the course of the effective period 
of the proposed Authorization.
    The authorized take differs from Point Blue's original request for 
California sea lions (10,092), northern elephant seals (261), harbor 
seals (526) and Steller sea lions (185). NMFS bases these new estimates 
on historical data from previous monitoring reports and anecdotal data 
for the same activities conducted in the proposed research area. In 
brief, for each species, we created a statistical model to derive an 
estimate of the average annual increase of reported take based on a 
best fit regression analysis (i.e., linear or polynomial regression) of 
reported take from 2007 to 2013. Next, we added the predicted annual 
increase in take to a baseline of take reported for 2013-2014 season to 
project the estimated take for each species for the 2015-2016 
Authorization. We carried through the same predicted annual increase in 
take for future Authorizations (2014-2017) to obtain a mean projected 
take for each species. Last, we analyzed the reported take for each 
activity by calculating the upper bound of the 99 percent confidence 
interval of the mean reported take (2007-2013) and mean projected take 
(2014-2017) for each species. Our use of the upper confidence interval 
represents the best available information that supports our 
precautionary deliberation of how much take could occur annually.
    There is no evidence that Point Blue's planned activities could 
result in injury, serious injury or mortality within the action area. 
Moreover, the required mitigation and monitoring measures will minimize 
further any potential risk for injury, serious injury, or mortality. 
Thus, we do not authorize any injury, serious injury or mortality. We 
expect all potential takes to fall under the category of Level B 
harassment only.

Encouraging and Coordinating Research

    Point Blue will continue to coordinate monitoring of pinnipeds 
during the research activities occurring on Southeast Farallon Island, 
A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Blue 
conducts bone fide research on marine mammals, the results of which may 
contribute to the basic knowledge of marine mammal biology or ecology, 
or are likely to identify, evaluate, or resolve conservation problems.
    Negligible impact is ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably 
likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on 
annual rates of recruitment or survival.'' The lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population 
level effects) forms the basis of a negligible impact finding.
    In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine 
mammals that might be ``taken'' through behavioral harassment, NMFS 
must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses 
(their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses 
(critical reproductive time or location, feeding, migration, etc.), as 
well as the number and nature of estimated Level A

[[Page 10071]]

harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on 
habitat, and the status of the species.
    In making a negligible impact determination, we consider:
    (1) The number of anticipated injuries, serious injuries, or 
mortalities;
    (2) The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of Level B 
harassment;
    (3) The context in which the takes occur (e.g., impacts to areas of 
significance, impacts to local populations, and cumulative impacts when 
taking into account successive/contemporaneous actions when added to 
baseline data);
    (4) The status of stock or species of marine mammals (i.e., 
depleted, not depleted, decreasing, increasing, stable, impact relative 
to the size of the population);
    (5) Impacts on habitat affecting rates of recruitment/survival; and
    (6) The effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation measures.
    For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the 
following factors, NMFS does not expect Point Blue's specified 
activities to cause long-term behavioral disturbance, abandonment of 
the haulout area, injury, serious injury, or mortality:
    (1) The effects of the pinniped and seabird research activities 
would be limited to short-term startle responses and localized 
behavioral changes due to the short and sporadic duration of the 
research activities. Minor and brief responses, such as short-duration 
startle or alert reactions, are not likely to constitute disruption of 
behavioral patterns, such as migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering.
    (2) The availability of alternate areas for pinnipeds to avoid the 
resultant acoustic and visual disturbances from the research 
operations. Results from previous monitoring reports also show that the 
pinnipeds returned to the various sites and did not permanently abandon 
haul-out sites after Point Blue conducted their pinniped and research 
activities.
    (3) There is no potential for large-scale movements leading to 
injury, serious injury, or mortality because the researchers must delay 
ingress into the landing areas until after the pinnipeds present have 
slowly entered the water.
    (4) The limited access of Point Blue's researchers to Southeast 
Farallon Island, A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National 
Seashore during the pupping season.
    We do not anticipate that any injuries, serious injuries, or 
mortalities would occur as a result of Point Blue's proposed 
activities, and we do not authorize injury, serious injury or 
mortality. These species may exhibit behavioral modifications, 
including temporarily vacating the area during the proposed seabird and 
pinniped research activities to avoid the resultant acoustic and visual 
disturbances. Further, these proposed activities would not take place 
in areas of significance for marine mammal feeding, resting, breeding, 
or calving and would not adversely impact marine mammal habitat. Due to 
the nature, degree, and context of the behavioral harassment 
anticipated, the activities are not expected to impact annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.
    NMFS does not expect pinnipeds to permanently abandon any area that 
is surveyed by researchers, as is evidenced by continued presence of 
pinnipeds at the sites during annual monitoring counts. Based on the 
analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified 
activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the proposed mitigation and 
monitoring measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from 
Point Blue's seabird research activities will not adversely affect 
annual rates of recruitment or survival and therefore will have a 
negligible impact on the affected species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that four species of marine 
mammals could be potentially affected by Level B harassment over the 
course of the proposed Authorization. Because these are maximum 
estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals 
may select other haulout sites the day the researchers are present. For 
each species, these numbers are small numbers (each, less than or equal 
to two percent) relative to the population size. These incidental 
harassment numbers represent approximately 3.33 percent of the U.S. 
stock of California sea lion, 1.74 percent of the California stock of 
Pacific harbor seal, 0.16 percent of the California breeding stock of 
northern elephant seal, and 0.17 percent of the eastern distinct 
population segment of Steller sea lion.

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

    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA also requires us to determine that 
the taking will not have an unmitigable adverse effect on the 
availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use. 
There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by 
this action. Thus, NMFS has determined that the total taking of 
affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for 
subsistence purposes.

Endangered Species Act

    On October 23, 2013 NMFS announced the removal of the eastern 
distinct population segment of Steller sea lions from the list of 
threatened species under the ESA. No marine mammal species listed under 
the ESA are anticipated to occur in the action area. Therefore, NMFS 
has determined that a section 7 consultation under the ESA is not 
required.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    In 2014, we prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the 
potential effects to the human environment from NMFS' issuance of a 
proposed Authorization to Point Blue for their seabird research 
activities. In January 2014, NMFS issued a Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an Authorization for Point Blue's 
research activities in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA 
Administrative Order 216-6 (Environmental Review Procedures for 
Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). 
Point Blue's proposed activities and impacts for 2015-2016 are within 
the scope of the 2014 EA and FONSI. NMFS has reviewed the 2014 EA and 
determined that there are no new direct, indirect, or cumulative 
impacts to the human and natural environment associated with the 
Authorization requiring evaluation in a supplemental EA and NMFS, 
therefore, reaffirms the 2014 FONSI.

Authorization

    As a result of these determinations, we have issued an 
Authorization to Point Blue for the take of marine mammals incidental 
to proposed seabird and pinniped research activities, provided they 
incorporate the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and 
reporting requirements.

    Dated: February 3, 2015.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-03849 Filed 2-24-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P