Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys Along the Oregon and California Coasts, 76448-76457 [2015-31036]

Download as PDF 76448 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230; telephone: (202) 482–6491. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background On August 3, 2015, the Department initiated the first sunset review of the antidumping duty orders on MCBs from Mexico and the PRC, pursuant to section 751(c) of the Act and 19 CFR 351.218(c)(1).2 The Department received a notice of intent to participate from the Magnesia Carbon Bricks Fair Trade Committee (Petitioners) within the deadline specified in 19 CFR 351.218(d)(1)(i).3 Petitioners claimed interested party status under section 771(9)(C) of the Act, as manufacturers of a domestic like product in the United States. We received a complete substantive response from Petitioners within the 30day deadline specified in 19 CFR 351.218(d)(3)(i).4 We received no responses from respondent interested parties. As a result, the Department conducted an expedited sunset review of the Order, pursuant to section 751(c)(3)(B) of the Act and 19 CFR 351.218(e)(1)(ii)(C)(2). mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Scope of the Orders Imports covered by the Orders consist of certain chemically bonded (resin or pitch), MCBs with a magnesia component of at least 70 percent magnesia (‘‘MgO’’) by weight, regardless of the source of raw materials for the MgO, with carbon levels ranging from trace amounts to 30 percent by weight, regardless of enhancements, (for example, MCBs can be enhanced with coating, grinding, tar impregnation or coking, high temperature heat treatments, anti-slip treatments or metal casing) and regardless of whether or not anti-oxidants are present (for example, antioxidants can be added to the mix from trace amounts to 15 percent by weight as various metals, metal alloys, and metal carbides). Certain MCBs that are the subject of this investigation are currently classifiable under subheadings 6902.10.1000, 6902.10.5000, 6815.91.0000, 6815.99.2000, and 6815.99.4000 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (‘‘HTSUS’’). While HTSUS subheadings are provided for convenience and customs purposes, the written description is dispositive. 2 See Initiation Notice. Letter from the domestic interested parties, dated August 18, 2015. 4 See Substantive Responses of the domestic interested parties, dated September 2, 2015. 3 See VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 Analysis of Comments Received All issues raised in this review are addressed in the ‘‘Issues and Decision Memorandum for the Expedited Sunset Review of the Antidumping Duty Order on Certain Magnesia Carbon Bricks from Mexico and the People’s Republic of China’’ (‘‘Decision Memorandum’’) from Christian Marsh, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office V, Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations, to Paul Piquado, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance, dated concurrently with and hereby adopted by this notice. The issues discussed in the Decision Memorandum include the likelihood of continuation or recurrence of dumping and the magnitude of the margins likely to prevail if the Orders were to be revoked. Parties may find a complete discussion of all issues raised in the review and the corresponding recommendations in this public memorandum which is on file electronically via Enforcement and Compliance’s Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Centralized Electronic Services System (‘‘ACCESS’’). Access to ACCESS is available in the Central Records Unit Room B8024 of the main Commerce building. In addition, a complete version of the Decision Memorandum can be accessed directly on the Web at http://trade.gov/ enforcement. The signed Decision Memorandum and the electronic version of the Decision Memorandum are identical in content. Final Results of Review Pursuant to sections 752(c)(1) and (3) of the Act, we determine that revocation of the antidumping duty order on MCBs from Mexico and the PRC would be likely to lead to continuation or recurrence of dumping at weightedaverage margins up to 57.90 percent for Mexico and up to 236 percent for the PRC. Notice Regarding Administrative Protective Order (‘‘APO’’) This notice also serves as the only reminder to parties subject to administrative protective order (‘‘APO’’) of their responsibility concerning the return or destruction of proprietary information disclosed under APO in accordance with 19 CFR 351.305. Timely notification of the return or destruction of APO materials or conversion to judicial protective order is hereby requested. Failure to comply with the regulations and terms of an APO is a violation which is subject to sanction. This sunset review and notice are in accordance with sections 751(c), 752(c), PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 and 777(i)(1) of the Act and 19 CFR 351.218. Dated: December 1, 2015. Christian Marsh, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations. [FR Doc. 2015–31084 Filed 12–8–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE282 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys Along the Oregon and California Coasts National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received an application from the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Study of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring surveys. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to PISCO to incidentally take, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals during the specified activity. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than January 8, 2016. ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is ITP.Pauline@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs. noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/ research.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information (e.g., SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http://www. nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/ research.htm. PISCO’s 2014–2015 monitoring report can also be found at this Web site. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rob Pauline, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking, other means of effecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘. . . an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].’’ Summary of Request On August 10, 2015 NMFS received an application from PISCO for the taking of marine mammals incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring surveys along the Oregon and California coasts. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on October 9, 2015. In December 2012, NMFS issued a 1-year IHA to PISCO to take marine mammals incidental to these same proposed activities (77 FR 72327, December 5, 2012). In December 2013, NMFS issued a second 1-year IHA to PISCO to take marine mammals incidental to these same proposed activities (78 FR 79403, December 30, 2013). The 2013 IHA expired on December 16, 2014. A third IHA was issued to PISCO with an effective date of December 17, 2014 (79 FR 73048, December 9, 2014) to take animals for these identical activities and expires on December 16, 2015. The research group at UC Santa Cruz operates in collaboration with two largescale marine research programs: PISCO and the Multi-agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe). The research group at UC Santa Cruz (PISCO) is responsible for many of the ongoing rocky intertidal monitoring programs along the Pacific coast. Monitoring occurs at rocky intertidal sites, often large bedrock benches, from the high intertidal to the water’s edge. Long-term monitoring projects include Community Structure Monitoring, Intertidal Biodiversity Surveys, Marine Protected Area Baseline Monitoring, Intertidal Recruitment Monitoring, and Ocean Acidification. Research is conducted throughout the year along the California and Oregon coasts and will continue indefinitely. Most sites are sampled one to two times per year over a 4–6 hour period during a negative low tide series. This IHA, if issued, would only be effective for a 12-month period. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Presence of survey personnel near pinniped haulout sites and unintentional approach of survey personnel towards hauled out pinnipeds. Take, by Level B harassment only, of individuals of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii), Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) and northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 76449 is anticipated to result from the specified activity. Description of the Specified Activity Overview PISCO proposes to continue rocky intertidal monitoring work that has been ongoing for 20 years. PISCO focuses on understanding the nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. west coast through a number of interdisciplinary collaborations. The program integrates long-term monitoring of ecological and oceanographic processes at dozens of sites with experimental work in the lab and field. A short description of each project is contained here. Additional information can be found in PISCO’s application (see ADDRESSES). Dates and Duration PISCO’s research is conducted throughout the year. Most sites are sampled one to two times per year over a 1-day period (4–6 hours per site) during a negative low tide series. Due to the large number of research sites, scheduling constraints, the necessity for negative low tides and favorable weather/ocean conditions, exact survey dates are variable and difficult to predict. Some sampling is anticipated to occur in all months. Specified Geographic Region Sampling sites occur along the California and Oregon coasts. Community Structure Monitoring sites range from Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Oregon to Government Point located northwest of Santa Barbara, California. Biodiversity Survey sites extend from Ecola State Park south to Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego County, California. Exact locations of sampling sites can be found in Tables 1 and 2 of PISCO’s application (see ADDRESSES). Detailed Description of Activities Community Structure Monitoring involves the use of permanent photoplot quadrats which target specific algal and invertebrate assemblages (e.g., mussels, rockweeds, barnacles). Each photoplot is photographed and scored for percent cover. The Community Structure Monitoring approach is based largely on surveys that quantify the percent cover and distribution of algae and invertebrates that constitute these communities. This approach allows researchers to quantify both the patterns of abundance of targeted species, as well as characterize changes in the communities in which they reside. Such information provides managers with insight into the causes and consequences of changes in species E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 76450 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES abundance. There are 47 Community Structure sites, each of which is surveyed over a 1-day period during a low tide series one to two times a year. Biodiversity Surveys are part of a long-term monitoring project and are conducted every 3–5 years across 140 established sites. These surveys involve point contact identification along permanent transects, mobile invertebrate quadrat counts, sea star band counts, and tidal height topographic measurements. Five sites will be visited as part of this proposed IHA including Government Point, Arroyo Hondo, Coal Oil Point, Mussel Shoals and Treasure Island. In September 2007, the state of California began establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas along the California coast as part of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Under baseline monitoring programs funded by Sea Grant and the Ocean Protection Council, PISCO established additional intertidal monitoring sites in the Central Coast, North Central Coast, and South Coast study regions. Baseline characterization of newly established areas involves sampling of these new sites, as well as established sites both within and outside of marine protected areas. These sites were sampled using existing Community Structure and Biodiversity protocols for consistency. Resampling of these sites may take place as part of future marine protected area evaluation. The intertidal zones where PISCO conducts intertidal monitoring are also areas where pinnipeds can be found hauled out on the shore at or adjacent to some research sites. Accessing portions of the intertidal habitat may cause incidental Level B (behavioral) harassment of pinnipeds through some unavoidable approaches if pinnipeds are hauled out directly in the study plots or while biologists walk from one location to another. No motorized equipment is involved in conducting these surveys. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Several pinniped species can be found along the California and Oregon coasts. The three that are most likely to occur at some of the research sites are California sea lion, harbor seal, and northern elephant seal. On rare occasions, PISCO researchers have seen very small numbers (i.e., five or fewer) of Steller sea lions at one of the sampling sites. However, these sightings are rare. We refer the public to Carretta et al. (2014) for general information on these species which are presented below this VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 section. The publication is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/ species.htm. Additional information on the status, distribution, seasonal distribution, and life history can also be found in PISCO’s application. Northern Elephant Seal Northern elephant seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The estimated population of the California breeding stock is approximately 179,000 animals with a minimum population of 81,368 (Carretta et al., 2014). Northern elephant seals range in the eastern and central North Pacific Ocean, from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. Northern elephant seals spend much of the year, generally about nine months, in the ocean. They are usually underwater, diving to depths of about 330–800 m (1,000–2,500 ft) for 20- to 30-minute intervals with only short breaks at the surface. They are rarely seen out at sea for this reason. While on land, they prefer sandy beaches. Northern elephant seals breed and give birth in California (U.S.) and Baja California (Mexico), primarily on offshore islands (Stewart et al., 1994), from December to March (Stewart and Huber, 1993). Males feed near the eastern Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska, and females feed further south, south of 45° N (Stewart and Huber, 1993; Le Boeuf et al., 1993). Adults return to land between March and August to molt, with males returning later than females. Adults return to their feeding areas again between their spring/summer molting and their winter breeding seasons. During PISCO research activities, the maximum number of northern elephant seals ever observed at a single site was at least 10 adults plus 10–20 sub-adults and pups. These were observed offshore of Piedras Blancas. The most recent monitoring report recorded 22 pups at Piedras Blancas resulting in the take of 4 pups. At other sites, elephant seals are very rarely observed during research activities. California Sea Lion California sea lions are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The California sea lion is now a full species, separated from the Galapagos sea lion (Z. wollebaeki) and the extinct Japanese sea lion ( Z. japonicus) (Brunner, 2003; Wolf et al., 2007; Schramm et al., 2009). The estimated population of the U.S. PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 stock of California sea lion is approximately 296,750 animals with a minimum of 153,337 individuals, and the current maximum population growth rate is 12 percent (Carretta et al., 2014). California sea lion breeding areas are on islands located in southern California, in western Baja California, Mexico, and the Gulf of California. During the breeding season, most California sea lions inhabit southern California and Mexico. Rookery sites in southern California are limited to the San Miguel Islands and the southerly Channel Islands of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente (Carretta et al., 2014). Males establish breeding territories during May through July on both land and in the water. Females come ashore in mid-May and June where they give birth to a single pup approximately 4–5 days after arrival and will nurse pups for about a week before going on their first feeding trip. Females will alternate feeding trips with nursing bouts until the pup is weaned between 4 and 10 months of age. In central California, a small number of pups are born on Ano Nuevo Island, Southeast Farallon Island, and occasionally at a few other locations; otherwise, the central California population is composed of non-breeders. A 2005 haul-out count of California sea lions between the Oregon/California border and Point Conception as well as the Channel Islands found 141,842 individuals (Carretta et al., 2010). The number of sea lions historically found at any one of PISCO’s study sites is variable, and often no California sea lions are observed during sampling. The most recent monitoring report indicated a total of 23 adults and 7 pups distributed among 6 sites resulting in 19 ˜ total takes. However, a strong El Nino is underway which may significantly increase the numbers of California sea lions observed. Pacific Harbor Seal Pacific harbor seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The estimated population of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals is approximately 30,968 animals with a minimum estimated population size of 27,348. A 1999 census of the Oregon/ Washington harbor seal stock found 24,732 (Carretta et al., 2014). The animals inhabit near-shore coastal and estuarine areas from Baja California, Mexico, to the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Pacific harbor seals are divided into two subspecies: P. v. stejnegeri in the western North Pacific, E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES near Japan, and P. v. richardii in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The latter subspecies, recognized as three separate stocks, inhabits the west coast of the continental U.S., including: The outer coastal waters of Oregon and Washington states; Washington state inland waters; and Alaska coastal and inland waters. In California, over 500 harbor seal haulout sites are widely distributed along the mainland and offshore islands, and include rocky shores, beaches and intertidal sandbars (Lowry et al., 2005). Harbor seals mate at sea, and females give birth during the spring and summer, although, the pupping season varies with latitude. Pups are nursed for an average of 24 days and are ready to swim minutes after being born. Harbor seal pupping takes place at many locations, and rookery size varies from a few pups to many hundreds of pups. Pupping generally occurs between March and June, and molting occurs between May and July. At several sites, harbor seals are often observed and have the potential to be disturbed by researchers accessing or sampling the site. The most recent monitoring report described a total of 48 adults and 4 pups distributed among sites. Observers recorded 37 total takes. Steller Sea Lion Steller sea lions range throughout the north Pacific from Japan to the Kamchatka Peninsula, along the Aleutian Islands, into the Gulf of Alaska, and down the west coast of North America to central California. Based on distribution, population dynamics, and genotypic data, the species occurring in United States waters has been divided into two stocks, the eastern U.S. stock (east of Cape Suckling, AK) and the western U.S. stock (west of Cape Sucking, AK) (Loughlin 1997). Breeding of the eastern stock occurs in rookeries in Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. This species was hunted by indigenous peoples for several thousand years throughout its range and as recently as the 1990s in the Aleutian Islands. Individuals from British Columbia to California were also killed in the early 1900s to reduce competition with commercial fisheries. The species dramatically declined from the 1970s to 1990s due to competition with commercial fishing and long-term environmental changes (Reeves et al. 2002). There has also been a continued decrease in population numbers along the southern and central California coast possibly due to a northward shift, and subsequent southern contraction in VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 breeding locations (Pitcher et al. 2007). In 1990, due to accelerating declines across its range, the species was listed as threatened under the ESA. According to the 2013 Alaska Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, the minimum population size of the eastern Steller sea lion stock is 59,968 and the estimated population size is 63,160 to 78,198 individuals (Allen and Angliss 2014). In 2013 the eastern U.S. stock was determined to be recovered and was delisted from the ESA. Past monitoring reports have not typically reported Steller sea lion observations. However, several years ago 5 Steller sea lions were observed at the Cape Arago, OR site. Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, usually range in coastal waters within 2 km (1.2 mi) of shore. This species is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is not considered further in this notice. Guadalupe fur seals’ (Arctocephalus townsendi) and Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are occasionally observed within the range of the study areas. However, Guadalupe fur seals only known breeding colony is on Guadalupe Island, off the Mexican coast. Increasing numbers have been seen on California’s Channel Islands, and in recent years, several Guadalupe fur seals have stranded along the central California coast. It is not yet known whether these ˜ strandings are a result of El Nino events (warmer water pushing their prey northward) or a sign of Guadalupe fur seals returning to their former range. Northern fur seals have recently reestablished a rookery on the Farallon Islands. They rarely come ashore except during pupping and breeding times and are almost never seen on mainland beaches unless they are sick. Given that the likelihood of observing these two fur seal species is quite low, they are not considered further. Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., personnel presence) have been observed to impact marine mammals. This discussion may also include reactions that we consider to rise to the level of a take and those that we do not consider to rise to the level of a take (for example, with acoustics, we may include a discussion of studies PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 76451 that showed animals not reacting at all to sound or exhibiting barely measurable avoidance). This section is intended as a background of potential effects and does not consider either the specific manner in which this activity will be carried out or the mitigation that will be implemented, and how either of those will shape the anticipated impacts from this specific activity. The appearance of researchers may have the potential to cause Level B harassment of any pinnipeds hauled out at sampling sites. Although marine mammals are never deliberately approached by survey personnel, approach may be unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out in the immediate vicinity of the permanent study plots. Disturbance may result in reactions ranging from an animal simply becoming alert to the presence of researchers (e.g., turning the head, assuming a more upright posture) to flushing from the haul-out site into the water. NMFS does not consider the lesser reactions to constitute behavioral harassment, or Level B harassment takes, but rather assumes that pinnipeds that flee some distance (assumed here to be two times their body length) or change the speed or direction of their movement in response to the presence of researchers are behaviorally harassed, and thus subject to Level B taking. Animals that respond to the presence of researchers by becoming alert, but do not move or change the nature of locomotion as described, are not considered to have been subject to behavioral harassment. Numerous studies have shown that human activity can flush harbor seals off haulout sites (Allen et al., 1985; Calambokidis et al., 1991; Suryan and Harvey, 1999). The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) has been shown to avoid beaches that have been disturbed often by humans (Kenyon, 1972). And in one case, human disturbance appeared to cause Steller sea lions to desert a breeding area at Northeast Point on St. Paul Island, Alaska (Kenyon, 1962). There are three ways in which disturbance, as described previously, could result in more than Level B harassment of marine mammals. All three are most likely to be consequences of stampeding, a potentially dangerous occurrence in which large numbers of animals succumb to mass panic and rush away from a stimulus. The three situations are (1) falling when entering the water at high-relief locations; (2) extended separation of mothers and pups; and (3) crushing of elephant seal pups by large males during a stampede. E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 76452 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Because hauled-out animals may move towards the water when disturbed, there is the risk of injury if animals stampede towards shorelines with precipitous relief (e.g., cliffs). If disturbed, hauled-out animals in these situations may move toward the water without risk of encountering barriers or hazards that would otherwise prevent them from leaving the area. In these circumstances, the risk of injury, serious injury, or death to hauled-out animals is very low. Thus, research activity poses no risk that disturbed animals may fall and be injured or killed as a result of disturbance at high-relief locations. Furthermore, few pups are anticipated to be encountered during the proposed monitoring surveys. A small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal and California sea lion pups, however, have been observed during past years. Though elephant seal pups are occasionally present when researchers visit survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two species. Harbor seals are very precocious with only a short period of time in which separation of a mother from a pup could occur. Pups are also typically found on sand beaches, while study sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes the possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat The only habitat modification associated with the proposed activity is the placement of permanent bolts and other sampling equipment in the intertidal. Once a particular study has ended, the respective sampling equipment is removed. No trash or field gear is left at a site. I Sampling activities are also not expected to result in any long-term modifications of haulout use or abandonment of haulouts since these sites are only visited 1–2 times per year which minimizes repeated disturbances. During periods of low tide (e.g., when tides are 0.6 m (2 ft) or less and low enough for pinnipeds to haul-out), we would expect the pinnipeds to return to the haulout site within 60 minutes of the disturbance (Allen et al., 1985). The effects to pinnipeds appear at the most to displace the animals temporarily from their haul out sites, and we do not expect that the pinnipeds would permanently abandon a haul-out site VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 during the conduct of rocky intertidal surveys. Thus, the proposed activity is not expected to have any habitat-related effects that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). Mitigation Measures PISCO proposes to implement several mitigation measures to reduce potential take by Level B (behavioral disturbance) harassment. Measures include: (1) Conducting slow movements and staying close to the ground to prevent or minimize stampeding; (2) avoiding loud noises (i.e., using hushed voices); (3) avoiding pinnipeds along access ways to sites by locating and taking a different access way and vacating the area as soon as sampling of the site is completed; (4) monitoring the offshore area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters; (5) using binoculars to detect pinnipeds before close approach to avoid being seen by animals; and (6) only approaching pinnipeds when are located in the sampling plots if there are no other means to accomplish the survey (however, approach must be slow and quiet so as not to cause a stampede). The methodologies and actions noted in this section will be utilized and included as mitigation measures in any issued IHA to ensure that impacts to marine mammals are mitigated to the lowest level practicable. The primary method of mitigating the risk of disturbance to pinnipeds, which will be in use at all times, is the selection of judicious routes of approach to study sites, avoiding close contact with pinnipeds hauled out on shore, and the use of extreme caution upon approach. In no case will marine mammals be deliberately approached by survey personnel, unless they are located in sampling plots and there is no other method available and in all cases every possible measure will be taken to select a pathway of approach to study sites PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 that minimizes the number of marine mammals potentially harassed. In general, researchers will stay inshore of pinnipeds whenever possible to allow maximum escape to the ocean. Each visit to a given study site will last for approximately 4–6 hours, after which the site is vacated and can be reoccupied by any marine mammals that may have been disturbed by the presence of researchers. By arriving before low tide, worker presence will tend to encourage pinnipeds to move to other areas for the day before they haul out and settle onto rocks at low tide. PISCO will suspend sampling and monitoring operations immediately if an injured marine mammal is found in the vicinity of the project area and the monitoring activities could aggravate its condition. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully reviewed PISCO’s proposed mitigation measures to ensure these measures would have the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; • The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and • The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. 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). E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 the applicant’s proposed measures, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must, where applicable, set forth ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking’’. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. PISCO has described their long-standing monitoring actions in Section 13 of the Application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information received from the public during the public comment period. Monitoring measures proposed by the applicant or prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following top-level goals: 1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, abundance, distribution, and/or density of species. 2. An increase in our understanding of the nature, scope, or context of the likely exposure of marine mammal VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 species to any of the potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g., sound or visual stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following: The action itself and its environment (e.g., sound source characterization, propagation, and ambient noise levels); the affected species (e.g., life history or dive pattern); the likely co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action (in whole or part) associated with specific adverse effects; and/or the likely biological or behavioral context of exposure to the stressor for the marine mammal (e.g., age class of exposed animals or known pupping, calving or feeding areas). 3. An increase in our understanding of how individual marine mammals respond (behaviorally or physiologically) to the specific stressors associated with the action (in specific contexts, where possible, e.g., at what distance or received level). 4. An increase in our understanding of how anticipated individual responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of stressors, may impact either: The long-term fitness and survival of an individual; or the population, species, or stock (e.g., through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival). 5. An increase in our understanding of how the activity affects marine mammal habitat, such as through effects on prey sources or acoustic habitat (e.g., through characterization of longer-term contributions of multiple sound sources to rising ambient noise levels and assessment of the potential chronic effects on marine mammals). 6. An increase in understanding of the impacts of the activity on marine mammals in combination with the impacts of other anthropogenic activities or natural factors occurring in the region. 7. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of mitigation and monitoring measures. 8. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals (through improved technology or methodology), both specifically within the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general, to better achieve the above goals. PISCO will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in California and Oregon by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag-bearing carcasses of pinnipeds, allowing transmittal of the information PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 76453 to appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of marine mammals for agency follow-up. Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to PISCO’s rocky intertidal monitoring will include observations made by the applicant. Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles when possible) of animals present before approaching, numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance behaviors during the monitoring surveys, including location, date, and time of the event. Disturbances will be recorded according to a three-point scale of intensity including: (1) Head orientation in response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a ushaped position, or changing from a lying to a sitting position and/or slight movement of less than 1 m; ‘‘alert’’; (2) Movements in response to or away from disturbance, over short distances (typically two times its body length) and including dramatic changes in direction or speed of locomotion for animals already in motion; ‘‘movement’’; and (3) All flushes to the water as well as lengthier retreats (>3 m); ‘‘flight’’. Observations regarding the number and species of any marine mammals observed, either in the water or hauled out, at or adjacent to the site, will be recorded as part of field observations during research activities. Observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds will be reported to NMFS so that any potential follow-up observations can be conducted by the appropriate personnel. In addition, observations of tag-bearing pinniped carcasses as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammals will be reported to NMFS. Information regarding physical and biological conditions pertaining to a site, as well as the date and time that research was conducted will also be noted. If at any time injury, serious injury, or mortality of the species for which take is authorized should occur, or if take of any kind of any other marine mammal occurs, and such action may be a result of the proposed research, PISCO will suspend research activities and contact NMFS immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure that another injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the applicant remains in compliance with the MMPA. A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2015–2016 field season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 76454 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES if a new IHA will be requested. The report will include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the IHA. A final report must be submitted to the Director of the NMFS Office of Protected Resources and to the NMFS West Coast Regional Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be considered to be the final report. Monitoring Results From Previously Authorized Activities PISCO complied with the mitigation and monitoring that we required under the IHA issued in December 2014. In compliance with the IHA, PISCO submitted a report detailing the activities and marine mammal monitoring they conducted. The IHA required PISCO to conduct counts of pinnipeds present at study sites prior to approaching the sites and to record species counts and any observed reactions to the presence of the researchers. From December 17, 2014, through September 30, 2015, PISCO researchers conducted rocky intertidal sampling at 61 sites over 48 days (see Table 6 in PISCO’s 2014–2015 report). During this time period, no injured, stranded, or dead pinnipeds were observed. Tables 7, 8, and 9 in PISCO’s monitoring report (see ADDRESSES) outline marine mammal observations and reactions. During this period there were 37 takes of harbor seals, 19 takes of California sea lions, and four takes of northern elephant seals. NMFS had authorized the take of 183 harbor seals, 60 California sea lions, and 30 Northern Elephant seals under the IHA. These takes are authorized to occur during 72 separate visits to all 47 Community Structure Monitoring sites and individual visits to five Biodiversity sites. Based on the results from the monitoring report, we conclude that these results support our original findings that the mitigation measures set forth in the 2014–2015 IHA effected the least practicable impact on the species or stocks. There were no stampede events this year and most disturbances were level 1 and 2—meaning the animal did not fully flush but observed or moved slightly in response to researchers. Those that did fully flush to the water did so slowly. Flushing events have only occurred with harbor seals. Most of these animals tended to observe researchers from the water and then rehaulout farther upcoast or downcoast of the site within 30 minutes or so. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment, involving temporary changes in behavior. The proposed mitigation and monitoring measures are expected to minimize the possibility of injurious or lethal takes such that take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is considered remote. Animals hauled out close to the actual survey sites may be disturbed by the presence of biologists and may alter their behavior or attempt to move away from the researchers. As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been harassed if it moved greater than 2 times its body length in response to the researcher’s presence or if the animal was already moving and changed direction and/or speed, or if the animal flushed into the water. Animals that became alert without such movements were not considered harassed. For the purpose of this proposed IHA, only Oregon and California sites that are frequently sampled and have a marine mammal presence during sampling were included in generating take estimates. Sites where only Biodiversity Surveys are conducted did not provide enough data to confidently estimate takes since they are sampled infrequently (once very 3–5 years). A small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal and California sea lion pup takes are anticipated as pups may be present at several sites during spring and summer sampling. Take estimates are based on marine mammal observations from each site. Marine mammal observations are done as part of PISCO site observations, which include notes on physical and biological conditions at the site. The maximum number of marine mammals, by species, seen at any given time throughout the sampling day is recorded at the conclusion of sampling. A marine mammal is counted if it is seen on access ways to the site, at the site, or immediately up-coast or down-coast of the site. Marine mammals in the water PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 immediately offshore are also recorded. Any other relevant information, including the location of a marine mammal relevant to the site, any unusual behavior, and the presence of pups is also noted. These observations formed the basis from which researchers with extensive knowledge and experience at each site estimated the actual number of marine mammals that may be subject to take. In most cases the number of takes is based on the maximum number of marine mammals that have been observed at a site throughout the history of the site (1–3 observation per year for 5–10 years or more). Section 6 in PISCO’s application outlines the number of visits per year for each sampling site and the potential number of pinnipeds anticipated to be encountered at each site. Tables 3, 4, 5 in PISCO’s application outlines the number of potential takes per site (see ADDRESSES). Harbor seals are expected to occur at 15 locations in numbers ranging from 30 per visit (25 adults and 5 pups) at the Pebble Beach site to 5 per visit (all adults) at the Shelter Cove, Kibesillah Hill, Sea Ranch and Franklin Point sites (Table 3 in Application). These numbers are based on past observations at each site as well as input from researchers with extensive knowledge of individual sites. NMFS took the number of takes estimated at each site, based on past observations as well as input from researchers with extensive site knowledge, and multiplied by the number of site visits scheduled during the authorization period. Nine sites were scheduled for one visit while six sites were projected to have 2 sites. A total of 190 adults and 13 pups were anticipated for take. Therefore, NMFS proposed the take of 203 harbor seals. Due to the potentially significant ˜ effect of El Nino on California sea lions NMFS is proposing to increase the number of California sea lion takes beyond what PISCO requested. Changes in sea surface temperature associated ˜ with El Nino can have significant impacts throughout the food web. ˜ Historically, El Nino years have resulted in high numbers of marine mammal strandings, likely due to changes in prey availability and increased physiologic stress on the animals. NOAA fisheries west coast region office has reported elevated strandings at locations in central and southern California. For a five-month period from January to May 2015, strandings were over ten times higher than the average stranding level for the same 5 month period during 2004–2012. PISCO plans to conduct 8 visits under this authorization at 5 different sites during the one-year E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices authorization period (see Table 2 in Application). PISCO had requested 90 takes for these 8 visits at five sites. However, given the increased numbers of California Sea lions recorded earlier ˜ in 2015 during the current El Nino event, NMFS proposes to authorize 8 times that number for a total of 720 authorized takes. While all of the five sites may not experience numbers that are ten times greater than is typical it is likely that observations will be significantly elevated. As such, NMFS has elected to increase the total number of takes originally anticipated by PISCO by a factor of eight resulting in a proposed authorization of 720 California sea lion takes. Northern elephant seals are only expected to occur at one site this year, Piedras Blancs, which will experience two separate visits. Up to twenty takes are expected during each visit for a total of 40 authorized takes. Previously, PISCO researchers had voluntarily re-scheduled any surveys when Steller sea lions were present. Stellers were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and PISCO did not want to disturb any threatened or endangered species or enter into a formal ESA section 7 consultation with NMFS on an annual basis. However, Eastern Steller sea lions have been de-listed and, therefore, PISCO will continue with surveys when they are present. PISCO researchers report that they have very rarely observed Stellers at any of their research sites and none have been seen the last several years. Four or five years ago researchers did observe five Stellers at the Cape Arago, OR site. Therefore, NMFS has conservatively authorized the take of up to 10 Steller sea lions. NMFS proposes to authorize the take, by Level B harassment only, of 720 California sea lions, 203 harbor seals, 40 northern elephant seals and 10 Steller sea lions. These numbers are considered to be maximum take estimates; therefore, actual take may be less if animals decide to haul out at a different location for the day or animals are out foraging at the time of the survey activities. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Analysis and Preliminary Determinations Negligible Impact 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’’ (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. 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 harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the species. No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of PISCO’s rocky intertidal monitoring, and none are proposed to be authorized. The risk of marine mammal injury, serious injury, or mortality associated with rocky intertidal monitoring increases somewhat if disturbances occur during breeding season. These situations present increased potential for mothers and dependent pups to become separated and, if separated pairs do not quickly reunite, the risk of mortality to pups (through starvation) may increase. Separately, adult male elephant seals may trample elephant seal pups if disturbed, which could potentially result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of the pups. The risk of either of these situations is greater in the event of a stampede. Very few pups are anticipated to be encountered during the proposed monitoring surveys. However, a small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal and California sea lion pups have been observed at several of the proposed monitoring sites during past years. Harbor seals are very precocious with only a short period of time in which separation of a mother from a pup cold occur. Though elephant seal pups are occasionally present when researchers visit survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two species. Furthermore, pups are typically found on sand beaches, while study sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes the possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups. No research would occur where separation of mother and her nursing PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 76455 pup or crushing of pups can become a concern. Typically, even those reactions constituting Level B harassment would result at most in temporary, short-term disturbance. In any given study season, researchers will visit sites one to two times per year for a total of 4–6 hours per visit. Therefore, disturbance of pinnipeds resulting from the presence of researchers lasts only for short periods of time and is separated by significant amounts of time in which no disturbance occurs. Some of the pinniped species may use some of the sites during certain times of year to conduct pupping and/or breeding. However, some of these species prefer to use the offshore islands for these activities. At the sites where pups may be present, PISCO has proposed to implement certain mitigation measures, such as no intentional flushing if dependent pups are present, which will avoid mother/ pup separation and trampling of pups. Of the four marine mammal species anticipated to occur in the proposed activity areas, none are listed under the ESA. Taking into account the mitigation measures that are planned, effects to marine mammals are generally expected to be restricted to short-term changes in behavior or temporary abandonment of haulout sites. Pinnipeds are not expected 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 preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from PISCO’s rocky intertidal monitoring program 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 Table 1 in this document presents the abundance of each species or stock, the proposed take estimates, the percentage of the affected populations or stocks that may be taken by harassment, and the species or stock trends. According to these estimates, PISCO would take less than 0.8% of each species or stock. Because these are maximum estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals may select other haulout sites the day the researchers are present. E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 76456 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices 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 preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. TABLE 1—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN FOR THE POTENTIALLY AFFECTED SPECIES DURING THE PROPOSED ROCKY INTERTIDAL MONITORING PROGRAM Species Abundance * Harbor seal .................................................................................................................................. Total proposed Level B take Percentage of stock or population 203 <0.01–0.8 720 40 10 0.2 <0.01 <0.01 1 30,968, 2 24,732 California sea lion ........................................................................................................................ Northern elephant seal ................................................................................................................ Steller sea lion ............................................................................................................................. 296,750 179,000 59,968 *Abundance estimates are taken from the 2014 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (Carretta et al., 2014). 1 California stock abundance estimate. 2 Oregon/Washington stock abundance estimate from 1999—Most recent surveys. Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Endangered Species Act (ESA) None of the marine mammals for which incidental take is proposed are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Therefore, NMFS has determined that issuance of the proposed IHA to PISCO under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA will have no effect on species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) In 2012, we prepared an EA analyzing the potential effects to the human environment from conducting rocky intertidal surveys along the California and Oregon coasts and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an IHA for PISCO’s rocky intertidal surveys in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). We have reviewed the application for a renewed IHA for ongoing monitoring activities for 2015– 16 and the 2014–15 monitoring report. Based on that review, we have determined that the proposed action is very similar to that considered in the previous IHA. In addition, no significant VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns have been identified. Thus, we have determined preliminarily that the preparation of a new or supplemental NEPA document is not necessary, and will, after review of public comments determine whether or not to reaffirm our 2012 FONSI. The 2012 NEPA documents are available for review at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/construction.htm. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to PISCO for the take of marine mammals incidental to conducting rocky intertidal monitoring research activities, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next. This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if issued). 1. This IHA is valid from January 1, 2016, through, December 31, 2016. 2. This IHA is valid only for specified activities associated with rocky intertidal monitoring surveys at specific sites along the U.S. California and Oregon coasts. 3. General Conditions a. A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of personnel operating under the authority of this authorization. b. The incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, is limited to the following species along the Oregon and California coasts: i. 203 harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii); PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 ii. 720 California sea lion (Zalophus californianus); iii. 40 northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris); and iv. 10 Steller Sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) c. The taking by injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or death of any of the species listed in condition 3(b) of the IHA or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. 4. Mitigation Measures: The holder of this IHA is required to implement the following mitigation measures: a. Field biologists must approach study sites cautiously and quietly, such that any disturbance of pinnipeds is minimized. The pathway and rate of approach must be chosen judiciously, avoiding to the extent possible any approach of hauled-out pinnipeds. If approach is unavoidable, field biologists must approach gradually such that stampeding of pinnipeds is avoided. Specific care must be taken to avoid any disturbance that may place pinniped pups at risk. Site visits should be limited to no more than 6 hours in the absence of extenuating circumstances, and personnel shall vacate the area as soon as sampling of the site is completed. b. Staff shall use binoculars to detect pinnipeds before close approach to avoid being seen by the animals. c. Staff shall monitor the offshore area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters. d. Staff shall reschedule work at sites where pups are present, unless other means to accomplishing the work can be E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 236 / Wednesday, December 9, 2015 / Notices done without causing disturbance to mothers and dependent pups. e. Staff shall approach pinnipeds when located in the sampling plots only if there are no other means to accomplish the survey and there are no pups present (however, approach must be slow and quiet so as not to minimize potential for stampede). 5. Monitoring: The holder of this IHA is required to conduct monitoring of marine mammals present at study sites prior to approaching the sites. a. Information to be recorded shall include the following: i. Species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles); and ii. Numbers of disturbances, by species and age, according to a threepoint scale of intensity including (1) Head orientation in response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped position, or changing from a lying to a sitting position and/or slight movement of less than 1 m; ‘‘alert’’; (2) Movements in response to or away from disturbance, over short distances (typically two times its body length) and including dramatic changes in direction or speed of locomotion for animals already in motion; ‘‘movement’’; and (3) All flushes to the water as well as lengthier retreats (>3 m); ‘‘flight’’. 6. Reporting: The holder of this IHA is required to: a. Report observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds, or of tag-bearing carcasses, to NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). b. Submit a draft monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2015–2016 field season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new IHA will be requested. A final report shall be prepared and submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report from NMFS. This report must contain the informational elements described above, at minimum. c. Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: i. In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, PISCO shall immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following information: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Dec 08, 2015 Jkt 238001 1. Time and date of the incident; 2. Description of the incident; 3. Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); 4. Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; 5. Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; 6. Fate of the animal(s); and 7. Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. PISCO may not resume the activities until notified by NMFS. ii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), PISCO shall immediately report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in 6(c)(i) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. iii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), PISCO shall report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. PISCO shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. 7. This IHA may be modified, suspended or withdrawn if the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if NMFS determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals. PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 76457 Request for Public Comments NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for PISCO’s proposed rocky intertidal monitoring program. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on PISCO’s request for an MMPA authorization. Dated: December 4, 2015. Perry Gayaldo, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–31036 Filed 12–8–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648-XE231 Endangered and Threatened Species; Recovery Plans National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commerce. ACTION: Notice of availability; extension of public comment period. AGENCY: We, NMFS, announce the extension of the comment period for the Proposed Endangered Species Act (ESA) Recovery Plan for Oregon Coast Coho Salmon (Proposed Plan) published on October 13, 2015. The Proposed Plan addresses the Oregon Coast Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) listed as threatened under the ESA. The geographic area covered by the Proposed Plan is the Pacific Ocean and freshwater habitat (rivers, streams and lakes) from the Necanicum River near Seaside, Oregon, on the northern end to the Sixes River near Port Orford, Oregon on the south. As required under the ESA, the Proposed Plan contains objective, measurable delisting criteria, site-specific management actions necessary to achieve the Proposed Plan’s goals, and estimates of the time and costs required to implement recovery actions. We are soliciting review and comment from the public and all interested parties on the Proposed Plan. The comment period is being extended—from December 14, 2015, to December 31, 2015—to provide additional opportunity for public comment. DATES: The deadline for receipt of comments on the Public Draft Recovery SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\09DEN1.SGM 09DEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 236 (Wednesday, December 9, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 76448-76457]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-31036]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE282


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys 
Along the Oregon and California Coasts

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

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

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from the Partnership for 
Interdisciplinary Study of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the University of 
California (UC) Santa Cruz for an Incidental Harassment Authorization 
(IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to rocky 
intertidal monitoring surveys. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection 
Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA 
to PISCO to incidentally take, by Level B harassment only, marine 
mammals during the specified activity.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than January 
8, 2016.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, 
Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email 
comments is ITP.Pauline@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email 
comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments 
sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-
megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm without change. All Personal Identifying 
Information (e.g.,

[[Page 76449]]

name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the 
references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the 
address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. PISCO's 2014-2015 
monitoring report can also be found at this Web site. Documents cited 
in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular 
business hours, at the aforementioned address.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

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

Summary of Request

    On August 10, 2015 NMFS received an application from PISCO for the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring 
surveys along the Oregon and California coasts. NMFS determined that 
the application was adequate and complete on October 9, 2015. In 
December 2012, NMFS issued a 1-year IHA to PISCO to take marine mammals 
incidental to these same proposed activities (77 FR 72327, December 5, 
2012). In December 2013, NMFS issued a second 1-year IHA to PISCO to 
take marine mammals incidental to these same proposed activities (78 FR 
79403, December 30, 2013). The 2013 IHA expired on December 16, 2014. A 
third IHA was issued to PISCO with an effective date of December 17, 
2014 (79 FR 73048, December 9, 2014) to take animals for these 
identical activities and expires on December 16, 2015.
    The research group at UC Santa Cruz operates in collaboration with 
two large-scale marine research programs: PISCO and the Multi-agency 
Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe). The research group at UC Santa Cruz 
(PISCO) is responsible for many of the ongoing rocky intertidal 
monitoring programs along the Pacific coast. Monitoring occurs at rocky 
intertidal sites, often large bedrock benches, from the high intertidal 
to the water's edge. Long-term monitoring projects include Community 
Structure Monitoring, Intertidal Biodiversity Surveys, Marine Protected 
Area Baseline Monitoring, Intertidal Recruitment Monitoring, and Ocean 
Acidification. Research is conducted throughout the year along the 
California and Oregon coasts and will continue indefinitely. Most sites 
are sampled one to two times per year over a 4-6 hour period during a 
negative low tide series. This IHA, if issued, would only be effective 
for a 12-month period. The following specific aspects of the proposed 
activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Presence 
of survey personnel near pinniped haulout sites and unintentional 
approach of survey personnel towards hauled out pinnipeds. Take, by 
Level B harassment only, of individuals of California sea lions 
(Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii), 
Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) and northern elephant seals 
(Mirounga angustirostris) is anticipated to result from the specified 
activity.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    PISCO proposes to continue rocky intertidal monitoring work that 
has been ongoing for 20 years. PISCO focuses on understanding the 
nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. west coast through a number of 
interdisciplinary collaborations. The program integrates long-term 
monitoring of ecological and oceanographic processes at dozens of sites 
with experimental work in the lab and field. A short description of 
each project is contained here. Additional information can be found in 
PISCO's application (see ADDRESSES).

Dates and Duration

    PISCO's research is conducted throughout the year. Most sites are 
sampled one to two times per year over a 1-day period (4-6 hours per 
site) during a negative low tide series. Due to the large number of 
research sites, scheduling constraints, the necessity for negative low 
tides and favorable weather/ocean conditions, exact survey dates are 
variable and difficult to predict. Some sampling is anticipated to 
occur in all months.

Specified Geographic Region

    Sampling sites occur along the California and Oregon coasts. 
Community Structure Monitoring sites range from Ecola State Park near 
Cannon Beach, Oregon to Government Point located northwest of Santa 
Barbara, California. Biodiversity Survey sites extend from Ecola State 
Park south to Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego County, 
California. Exact locations of sampling sites can be found in Tables 1 
and 2 of PISCO's application (see ADDRESSES).

Detailed Description of Activities

    Community Structure Monitoring involves the use of permanent 
photoplot quadrats which target specific algal and invertebrate 
assemblages (e.g., mussels, rockweeds, barnacles). Each photoplot is 
photographed and scored for percent cover. The Community Structure 
Monitoring approach is based largely on surveys that quantify the 
percent cover and distribution of algae and invertebrates that 
constitute these communities. This approach allows researchers to 
quantify both the patterns of abundance of targeted species, as well as 
characterize changes in the communities in which they reside. Such 
information provides managers with insight into the causes and 
consequences of changes in species

[[Page 76450]]

abundance. There are 47 Community Structure sites, each of which is 
surveyed over a 1-day period during a low tide series one to two times 
a year.
    Biodiversity Surveys are part of a long-term monitoring project and 
are conducted every 3-5 years across 140 established sites. These 
surveys involve point contact identification along permanent transects, 
mobile invertebrate quadrat counts, sea star band counts, and tidal 
height topographic measurements. Five sites will be visited as part of 
this proposed IHA including Government Point, Arroyo Hondo, Coal Oil 
Point, Mussel Shoals and Treasure Island.
    In September 2007, the state of California began establishing a 
network of Marine Protected Areas along the California coast as part of 
the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Under baseline monitoring 
programs funded by Sea Grant and the Ocean Protection Council, PISCO 
established additional intertidal monitoring sites in the Central 
Coast, North Central Coast, and South Coast study regions. Baseline 
characterization of newly established areas involves sampling of these 
new sites, as well as established sites both within and outside of 
marine protected areas. These sites were sampled using existing 
Community Structure and Biodiversity protocols for consistency. 
Resampling of these sites may take place as part of future marine 
protected area evaluation.
    The intertidal zones where PISCO conducts intertidal monitoring are 
also areas where pinnipeds can be found hauled out on the shore at or 
adjacent to some research sites. Accessing portions of the intertidal 
habitat may cause incidental Level B (behavioral) harassment of 
pinnipeds through some unavoidable approaches if pinnipeds are hauled 
out directly in the study plots or while biologists walk from one 
location to another. No motorized equipment is involved in conducting 
these surveys.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Several pinniped species can be found along the California and 
Oregon coasts. The three that are most likely to occur at some of the 
research sites are California sea lion, harbor seal, and northern 
elephant seal. On rare occasions, PISCO researchers have seen very 
small numbers (i.e., five or fewer) of Steller sea lions at one of the 
sampling sites. However, these sightings are rare.
    We refer the public to Carretta et al. (2014) for general 
information on these species which are presented below this section. 
The publication is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/species.htm. Additional information on the status, distribution, 
seasonal distribution, and life history can also be found in PISCO's 
application.

Northern Elephant Seal

    Northern elephant seals are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), nor are they categorized as 
depleted under the MMPA. The estimated population of the California 
breeding stock is approximately 179,000 animals with a minimum 
population of 81,368 (Carretta et al., 2014).
    Northern elephant seals range in the eastern and central North 
Pacific Ocean, from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. 
Northern elephant seals spend much of the year, generally about nine 
months, in the ocean. They are usually underwater, diving to depths of 
about 330-800 m (1,000-2,500 ft) for 20- to 30-minute intervals with 
only short breaks at the surface. They are rarely seen out at sea for 
this reason. While on land, they prefer sandy beaches.
    Northern elephant seals breed and give birth in California (U.S.) 
and Baja California (Mexico), primarily on offshore islands (Stewart et 
al., 1994), from December to March (Stewart and Huber, 1993). Males 
feed near the eastern Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska, and 
females feed further south, south of 45[deg] N (Stewart and Huber, 
1993; Le Boeuf et al., 1993). Adults return to land between March and 
August to molt, with males returning later than females. Adults return 
to their feeding areas again between their spring/summer molting and 
their winter breeding seasons.
    During PISCO research activities, the maximum number of northern 
elephant seals ever observed at a single site was at least 10 adults 
plus 10-20 sub-adults and pups. These were observed offshore of Piedras 
Blancas. The most recent monitoring report recorded 22 pups at Piedras 
Blancas resulting in the take of 4 pups. At other sites, elephant seals 
are very rarely observed during research activities.

California Sea Lion

    California sea lions are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The 
California sea lion is now a full species, separated from the Galapagos 
sea lion (Z. wollebaeki) and the extinct Japanese sea lion ( Z. 
japonicus) (Brunner, 2003; Wolf et al., 2007; Schramm et al., 2009). 
The estimated population of the U.S. stock of California sea lion is 
approximately 296,750 animals with a minimum of 153,337 individuals, 
and the current maximum population growth rate is 12 percent (Carretta 
et al., 2014).
    California sea lion breeding areas are on islands located in 
southern California, in western Baja California, Mexico, and the Gulf 
of California. During the breeding season, most California sea lions 
inhabit southern California and Mexico. Rookery sites in southern 
California are limited to the San Miguel Islands and the southerly 
Channel Islands of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente 
(Carretta et al., 2014). Males establish breeding territories during 
May through July on both land and in the water. Females come ashore in 
mid-May and June where they give birth to a single pup approximately 4-
5 days after arrival and will nurse pups for about a week before going 
on their first feeding trip. Females will alternate feeding trips with 
nursing bouts until the pup is weaned between 4 and 10 months of age. 
In central California, a small number of pups are born on Ano Nuevo 
Island, Southeast Farallon Island, and occasionally at a few other 
locations; otherwise, the central California population is composed of 
non-breeders.
    A 2005 haul-out count of California sea lions between the Oregon/
California border and Point Conception as well as the Channel Islands 
found 141,842 individuals (Carretta et al., 2010). The number of sea 
lions historically found at any one of PISCO's study sites is variable, 
and often no California sea lions are observed during sampling. The 
most recent monitoring report indicated a total of 23 adults and 7 pups 
distributed among 6 sites resulting in 19 total takes. However, a 
strong El Ni[ntilde]o is underway which may significantly increase the 
numbers of California sea lions observed.

Pacific Harbor Seal

    Pacific harbor seals are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The 
estimated population of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals is 
approximately 30,968 animals with a minimum estimated population size 
of 27,348. A 1999 census of the Oregon/Washington harbor seal stock 
found 24,732 (Carretta et al., 2014).
    The animals inhabit near-shore coastal and estuarine areas from 
Baja California, Mexico, to the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Pacific 
harbor seals are divided into two subspecies: P. v. stejnegeri in the 
western North Pacific,

[[Page 76451]]

near Japan, and P. v. richardii in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The 
latter subspecies, recognized as three separate stocks, inhabits the 
west coast of the continental U.S., including: The outer coastal waters 
of Oregon and Washington states; Washington state inland waters; and 
Alaska coastal and inland waters.
    In California, over 500 harbor seal haulout sites are widely 
distributed along the mainland and offshore islands, and include rocky 
shores, beaches and intertidal sandbars (Lowry et al., 2005). Harbor 
seals mate at sea, and females give birth during the spring and summer, 
although, the pupping season varies with latitude. Pups are nursed for 
an average of 24 days and are ready to swim minutes after being born. 
Harbor seal pupping takes place at many locations, and rookery size 
varies from a few pups to many hundreds of pups. Pupping generally 
occurs between March and June, and molting occurs between May and July.
    At several sites, harbor seals are often observed and have the 
potential to be disturbed by researchers accessing or sampling the 
site. The most recent monitoring report described a total of 48 adults 
and 4 pups distributed among sites. Observers recorded 37 total takes.

Steller Sea Lion

    Steller sea lions range throughout the north Pacific from Japan to 
the Kamchatka Peninsula, along the Aleutian Islands, into the Gulf of 
Alaska, and down the west coast of North America to central California. 
Based on distribution, population dynamics, and genotypic data, the 
species occurring in United States waters has been divided into two 
stocks, the eastern U.S. stock (east of Cape Suckling, AK) and the 
western U.S. stock (west of Cape Sucking, AK) (Loughlin 1997). Breeding 
of the eastern stock occurs in rookeries in Alaska, British Columbia, 
Oregon, and California.
    This species was hunted by indigenous peoples for several thousand 
years throughout its range and as recently as the 1990s in the Aleutian 
Islands. Individuals from British Columbia to California were also 
killed in the early 1900s to reduce competition with commercial 
fisheries. The species dramatically declined from the 1970s to 1990s 
due to competition with commercial fishing and long-term environmental 
changes (Reeves et al. 2002). There has also been a continued decrease 
in population numbers along the southern and central California coast 
possibly due to a northward shift, and subsequent southern contraction 
in breeding locations (Pitcher et al. 2007). In 1990, due to 
accelerating declines across its range, the species was listed as 
threatened under the ESA.
    According to the 2013 Alaska Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, the 
minimum population size of the eastern Steller sea lion stock is 59,968 
and the estimated population size is 63,160 to 78,198 individuals 
(Allen and Angliss 2014). In 2013 the eastern U.S. stock was determined 
to be recovered and was delisted from the ESA.
    Past monitoring reports have not typically reported Steller sea 
lion observations. However, several years ago 5 Steller sea lions were 
observed at the Cape Arago, OR site.
Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area
    California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as 
threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, 
usually range in coastal waters within 2 km (1.2 mi) of shore. This 
species is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is not 
considered further in this notice. Guadalupe fur seals' (Arctocephalus 
townsendi) and Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are 
occasionally observed within the range of the study areas. However, 
Guadalupe fur seals only known breeding colony is on Guadalupe Island, 
off the Mexican coast. Increasing numbers have been seen on 
California's Channel Islands, and in recent years, several Guadalupe 
fur seals have stranded along the central California coast. It is not 
yet known whether these strandings are a result of El Ni[ntilde]o 
events (warmer water pushing their prey northward) or a sign of 
Guadalupe fur seals returning to their former range. Northern fur seals 
have recently re-established a rookery on the Farallon Islands. They 
rarely come ashore except during pupping and breeding times and are 
almost never seen on mainland beaches unless they are sick. Given that 
the likelihood of observing these two fur seal species is quite low, 
they are not considered further.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the 
types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., 
personnel presence) have been observed to impact marine mammals. This 
discussion may also include reactions that we consider to rise to the 
level of a take and those that we do not consider to rise to the level 
of a take (for example, with acoustics, we may include a discussion of 
studies that showed animals not reacting at all to sound or exhibiting 
barely measurable avoidance). This section is intended as a background 
of potential effects and does not consider either the specific manner 
in which this activity will be carried out or the mitigation that will 
be implemented, and how either of those will shape the anticipated 
impacts from this specific activity.
    The appearance of researchers may have the potential to cause Level 
B harassment of any pinnipeds hauled out at sampling sites. Although 
marine mammals are never deliberately approached by survey personnel, 
approach may be unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out in the 
immediate vicinity of the permanent study plots. Disturbance may result 
in reactions ranging from an animal simply becoming alert to the 
presence of researchers (e.g., turning the head, assuming a more 
upright posture) to flushing from the haul-out site into the water. 
NMFS does not consider the lesser reactions to constitute behavioral 
harassment, or Level B harassment takes, but rather assumes that 
pinnipeds that flee some distance (assumed here to be two times their 
body length) or change the speed or direction of their movement in 
response to the presence of researchers are behaviorally harassed, and 
thus subject to Level B taking. Animals that respond to the presence of 
researchers by becoming alert, but do not move or change the nature of 
locomotion as described, are not considered to have been subject to 
behavioral harassment.
    Numerous studies have shown that human activity can flush harbor 
seals off haulout sites (Allen et al., 1985; Calambokidis et al., 1991; 
Suryan and Harvey, 1999). The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus 
schauinslandi) has been shown to avoid beaches that have been disturbed 
often by humans (Kenyon, 1972). And in one case, human disturbance 
appeared to cause Steller sea lions to desert a breeding area at 
Northeast Point on St. Paul Island, Alaska (Kenyon, 1962).
    There are three ways in which disturbance, as described previously, 
could result in more than Level B harassment of marine mammals. All 
three are most likely to be consequences of stampeding, a potentially 
dangerous occurrence in which large numbers of animals succumb to mass 
panic and rush away from a stimulus. The three situations are (1) 
falling when entering the water at high-relief locations; (2) extended 
separation of mothers and pups; and (3) crushing of elephant seal pups 
by large males during a stampede.

[[Page 76452]]

    Because hauled-out animals may move towards the water when 
disturbed, there is the risk of injury if animals stampede towards 
shorelines with precipitous relief (e.g., cliffs). If disturbed, 
hauled-out animals in these situations may move toward the water 
without risk of encountering barriers or hazards that would otherwise 
prevent them from leaving the area. In these circumstances, the risk of 
injury, serious injury, or death to hauled-out animals is very low. 
Thus, research activity poses no risk that disturbed animals may fall 
and be injured or killed as a result of disturbance at high-relief 
locations. Furthermore, few pups are anticipated to be encountered 
during the proposed monitoring surveys. A small number of harbor seal, 
northern elephant seal and California sea lion pups, however, have been 
observed during past years. Though elephant seal pups are occasionally 
present when researchers visit survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is 
very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher 
presence than the other two species. Harbor seals are very precocious 
with only a short period of time in which separation of a mother from a 
pup could occur. Pups are also typically found on sand beaches, while 
study sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that 
there is typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the 
caution used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes 
the possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in 
extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    The only habitat modification associated with the proposed activity 
is the placement of permanent bolts and other sampling equipment in the 
intertidal. Once a particular study has ended, the respective sampling 
equipment is removed. No trash or field gear is left at a site. I 
Sampling activities are also not expected to result in any long-term 
modifications of haulout use or abandonment of haulouts since these 
sites are only visited 1-2 times per year which minimizes repeated 
disturbances. During periods of low tide (e.g., when tides are 0.6 m (2 
ft) or less and low enough for pinnipeds to haul-out), we would expect 
the pinnipeds to return to the haulout site within 60 minutes of the 
disturbance (Allen et al., 1985). The effects to pinnipeds appear at 
the most to displace the animals temporarily from their haul out sites, 
and we do not expect that the pinnipeds would permanently abandon a 
haul-out site during the conduct of rocky intertidal surveys. Thus, the 
proposed activity is not expected to have any habitat-related effects 
that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual 
marine mammals or their populations.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, set 
forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and 
other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species 
or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the 
availability of such species or stock for taking for certain 
subsistence uses (where relevant).

Mitigation Measures

    PISCO proposes to implement several mitigation measures to reduce 
potential take by Level B (behavioral disturbance) harassment. Measures 
include: (1) Conducting slow movements and staying close to the ground 
to prevent or minimize stampeding; (2) avoiding loud noises (i.e., 
using hushed voices); (3) avoiding pinnipeds along access ways to sites 
by locating and taking a different access way and vacating the area as 
soon as sampling of the site is completed; (4) monitoring the offshore 
area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid 
flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters; 
(5) using binoculars to detect pinnipeds before close approach to avoid 
being seen by animals; and (6) only approaching pinnipeds when are 
located in the sampling plots if there are no other means to accomplish 
the survey (however, approach must be slow and quiet so as not to cause 
a stampede).
    The methodologies and actions noted in this section will be 
utilized and included as mitigation measures in any issued IHA to 
ensure that impacts to marine mammals are mitigated to the lowest level 
practicable. The primary method of mitigating the risk of disturbance 
to pinnipeds, which will be in use at all times, is the selection of 
judicious routes of approach to study sites, avoiding close contact 
with pinnipeds hauled out on shore, and the use of extreme caution upon 
approach. In no case will marine mammals be deliberately approached by 
survey personnel, unless they are located in sampling plots and there 
is no other method available and in all cases every possible measure 
will be taken to select a pathway of approach to study sites that 
minimizes the number of marine mammals potentially harassed. In 
general, researchers will stay inshore of pinnipeds whenever possible 
to allow maximum escape to the ocean. Each visit to a given study site 
will last for approximately 4-6 hours, after which the site is vacated 
and can be re-occupied by any marine mammals that may have been 
disturbed by the presence of researchers. By arriving before low tide, 
worker presence will tend to encourage pinnipeds to move to other areas 
for the day before they haul out and settle onto rocks at low tide.
    PISCO will suspend sampling and monitoring operations immediately 
if an injured marine mammal is found in the vicinity of the project 
area and the monitoring activities could aggravate its condition.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully reviewed PISCO's proposed mitigation measures to 
ensure these measures would have the least practicable impact on the 
affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our 
evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the 
following factors in relation to one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals;
     The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
     The practicability of the measure for applicant 
implementation.
    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).

[[Page 76453]]

    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 the applicant's proposed measures, NMFS 
has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures 
provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine 
mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention 
to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must, where applicable, set forth 
``requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such 
taking''. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) 
indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of 
accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result 
in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or 
impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be 
present in the proposed action area. PISCO has described their long-
standing monitoring actions in Section 13 of the Application. The plan 
may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information 
received from the public during the public comment period.
    Monitoring measures proposed by the applicant or prescribed by NMFS 
should accomplish one or more of the following top-level goals:
    1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of 
marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, 
abundance, distribution, and/or density of species.
    2. An increase in our understanding of the nature, scope, or 
context of the likely exposure of marine mammal species to any of the 
potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g., sound or visual 
stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following: 
The action itself and its environment (e.g., sound source 
characterization, propagation, and ambient noise levels); the affected 
species (e.g., life history or dive pattern); the likely co-occurrence 
of marine mammal species with the action (in whole or part) associated 
with specific adverse effects; and/or the likely biological or 
behavioral context of exposure to the stressor for the marine mammal 
(e.g., age class of exposed animals or known pupping, calving or 
feeding areas).
    3. An increase in our understanding of how individual marine 
mammals respond (behaviorally or physiologically) to the specific 
stressors associated with the action (in specific contexts, where 
possible, e.g., at what distance or received level).
    4. An increase in our understanding of how anticipated individual 
responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of 
stressors, may impact either: The long-term fitness and survival of an 
individual; or the population, species, or stock (e.g., through effects 
on annual rates of recruitment or survival).
    5. An increase in our understanding of how the activity affects 
marine mammal habitat, such as through effects on prey sources or 
acoustic habitat (e.g., through characterization of longer-term 
contributions of multiple sound sources to rising ambient noise levels 
and assessment of the potential chronic effects on marine mammals).
    6. An increase in understanding of the impacts of the activity on 
marine mammals in combination with the impacts of other anthropogenic 
activities or natural factors occurring in the region.
    7. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of 
mitigation and monitoring measures.
    8. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals 
(through improved technology or methodology), both specifically within 
the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the 
mitigation) and in general, to better achieve the above goals.
    PISCO will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in California 
and Oregon by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, 
or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up 
research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag-bearing 
carcasses of pinnipeds, allowing transmittal of the information to 
appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of 
marine mammals for agency follow-up.
    Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to PISCO's rocky 
intertidal monitoring will include observations made by the applicant. 
Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups/
juveniles when possible) of animals present before approaching, numbers 
of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance behaviors 
during the monitoring surveys, including location, date, and time of 
the event. Disturbances will be recorded according to a three-point 
scale of intensity including: (1) Head orientation in response to 
disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, 
craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped 
position, or changing from a lying to a sitting position and/or slight 
movement of less than 1 m; ``alert''; (2) Movements in response to or 
away from disturbance, over short distances (typically two times its 
body length) and including dramatic changes in direction or speed of 
locomotion for animals already in motion; ``movement''; and (3) All 
flushes to the water as well as lengthier retreats (>3 m); ``flight''. 
Observations regarding the number and species of any marine mammals 
observed, either in the water or hauled out, at or adjacent to the 
site, will be recorded as part of field observations during research 
activities. Observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or 
distributions of pinnipeds will be reported to NMFS so that any 
potential follow-up observations can be conducted by the appropriate 
personnel. In addition, observations of tag-bearing pinniped carcasses 
as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammals will be 
reported to NMFS. Information regarding physical and biological 
conditions pertaining to a site, as well as the date and time that 
research was conducted will also be noted.
    If at any time injury, serious injury, or mortality of the species 
for which take is authorized should occur, or if take of any kind of 
any other marine mammal occurs, and such action may be a result of the 
proposed research, PISCO will suspend research activities and contact 
NMFS immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure that 
another injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the applicant 
remains in compliance with the MMPA.
    A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected 
Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2015-2016 field 
season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season

[[Page 76454]]

if a new IHA will be requested. The report will include a summary of 
the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set 
forth in the IHA. A final report must be submitted to the Director of 
the NMFS Office of Protected Resources and to the NMFS West Coast 
Regional Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from 
NMFS on the draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, 
the draft final report will be considered to be the final report.

Monitoring Results From Previously Authorized Activities

    PISCO complied with the mitigation and monitoring that we required 
under the IHA issued in December 2014. In compliance with the IHA, 
PISCO submitted a report detailing the activities and marine mammal 
monitoring they conducted. The IHA required PISCO to conduct counts of 
pinnipeds present at study sites prior to approaching the sites and to 
record species counts and any observed reactions to the presence of the 
researchers.
    From December 17, 2014, through September 30, 2015, PISCO 
researchers conducted rocky intertidal sampling at 61 sites over 48 
days (see Table 6 in PISCO's 2014-2015 report). During this time 
period, no injured, stranded, or dead pinnipeds were observed. Tables 
7, 8, and 9 in PISCO's monitoring report (see ADDRESSES) outline marine 
mammal observations and reactions. During this period there were 37 
takes of harbor seals, 19 takes of California sea lions, and four takes 
of northern elephant seals. NMFS had authorized the take of 183 harbor 
seals, 60 California sea lions, and 30 Northern Elephant seals under 
the IHA. These takes are authorized to occur during 72 separate visits 
to all 47 Community Structure Monitoring sites and individual visits to 
five Biodiversity sites.
    Based on the results from the monitoring report, we conclude that 
these results support our original findings that the mitigation 
measures set forth in the 2014-2015 IHA effected the least practicable 
impact on the species or stocks. There were no stampede events this 
year and most disturbances were level 1 and 2--meaning the animal did 
not fully flush but observed or moved slightly in response to 
researchers. Those that did fully flush to the water did so slowly. 
Flushing events have only occurred with harbor seals. Most of these 
animals tended to observe researchers from the water and then re-
haulout farther upcoast or downcoast of the site within 30 minutes or 
so.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].
    All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment, involving 
temporary changes in behavior. The proposed mitigation and monitoring 
measures are expected to minimize the possibility of injurious or 
lethal takes such that take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is 
considered remote. Animals hauled out close to the actual survey sites 
may be disturbed by the presence of biologists and may alter their 
behavior or attempt to move away from the researchers.
    As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been 
harassed if it moved greater than 2 times its body length in response 
to the researcher's presence or if the animal was already moving and 
changed direction and/or speed, or if the animal flushed into the 
water. Animals that became alert without such movements were not 
considered harassed.
    For the purpose of this proposed IHA, only Oregon and California 
sites that are frequently sampled and have a marine mammal presence 
during sampling were included in generating take estimates. Sites where 
only Biodiversity Surveys are conducted did not provide enough data to 
confidently estimate takes since they are sampled infrequently (once 
very 3-5 years). A small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal 
and California sea lion pup takes are anticipated as pups may be 
present at several sites during spring and summer sampling.
    Take estimates are based on marine mammal observations from each 
site. Marine mammal observations are done as part of PISCO site 
observations, which include notes on physical and biological conditions 
at the site. The maximum number of marine mammals, by species, seen at 
any given time throughout the sampling day is recorded at the 
conclusion of sampling. A marine mammal is counted if it is seen on 
access ways to the site, at the site, or immediately up-coast or down-
coast of the site. Marine mammals in the water immediately offshore are 
also recorded. Any other relevant information, including the location 
of a marine mammal relevant to the site, any unusual behavior, and the 
presence of pups is also noted.
    These observations formed the basis from which researchers with 
extensive knowledge and experience at each site estimated the actual 
number of marine mammals that may be subject to take. In most cases the 
number of takes is based on the maximum number of marine mammals that 
have been observed at a site throughout the history of the site (1-3 
observation per year for 5-10 years or more). Section 6 in PISCO's 
application outlines the number of visits per year for each sampling 
site and the potential number of pinnipeds anticipated to be 
encountered at each site. Tables 3, 4, 5 in PISCO's application 
outlines the number of potential takes per site (see ADDRESSES).
    Harbor seals are expected to occur at 15 locations in numbers 
ranging from 30 per visit (25 adults and 5 pups) at the Pebble Beach 
site to 5 per visit (all adults) at the Shelter Cove, Kibesillah Hill, 
Sea Ranch and Franklin Point sites (Table 3 in Application). These 
numbers are based on past observations at each site as well as input 
from researchers with extensive knowledge of individual sites. NMFS 
took the number of takes estimated at each site, based on past 
observations as well as input from researchers with extensive site 
knowledge, and multiplied by the number of site visits scheduled during 
the authorization period. Nine sites were scheduled for one visit while 
six sites were projected to have 2 sites. A total of 190 adults and 13 
pups were anticipated for take. Therefore, NMFS proposed the take of 
203 harbor seals.
    Due to the potentially significant effect of El Ni[ntilde]o on 
California sea lions NMFS is proposing to increase the number of 
California sea lion takes beyond what PISCO requested. Changes in sea 
surface temperature associated with El Ni[ntilde]o can have significant 
impacts throughout the food web. Historically, El Ni[ntilde]o years 
have resulted in high numbers of marine mammal strandings, likely due 
to changes in prey availability and increased physiologic stress on the 
animals. NOAA fisheries west coast region office has reported elevated 
strandings at locations in central and southern California. For a five-
month period from January to May 2015, strandings were over ten times 
higher than the average stranding level for the same 5 month period 
during 2004-2012. PISCO plans to conduct 8 visits under this 
authorization at 5 different sites during the one-year

[[Page 76455]]

authorization period (see Table 2 in Application). PISCO had requested 
90 takes for these 8 visits at five sites. However, given the increased 
numbers of California Sea lions recorded earlier in 2015 during the 
current El Ni[ntilde]o event, NMFS proposes to authorize 8 times that 
number for a total of 720 authorized takes. While all of the five sites 
may not experience numbers that are ten times greater than is typical 
it is likely that observations will be significantly elevated. As such, 
NMFS has elected to increase the total number of takes originally 
anticipated by PISCO by a factor of eight resulting in a proposed 
authorization of 720 California sea lion takes.
    Northern elephant seals are only expected to occur at one site this 
year, Piedras Blancs, which will experience two separate visits. Up to 
twenty takes are expected during each visit for a total of 40 
authorized takes.
    Previously, PISCO researchers had voluntarily re-scheduled any 
surveys when Steller sea lions were present. Stellers were listed under 
the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and PISCO did not want to disturb any 
threatened or endangered species or enter into a formal ESA section 7 
consultation with NMFS on an annual basis. However, Eastern Steller sea 
lions have been de-listed and, therefore, PISCO will continue with 
surveys when they are present. PISCO researchers report that they have 
very rarely observed Stellers at any of their research sites and none 
have been seen the last several years. Four or five years ago 
researchers did observe five Stellers at the Cape Arago, OR site. 
Therefore, NMFS has conservatively authorized the take of up to 10 
Steller sea lions.
    NMFS proposes to authorize the take, by Level B harassment only, of 
720 California sea lions, 203 harbor seals, 40 northern elephant seals 
and 10 Steller sea lions. These numbers are considered to be maximum 
take estimates; therefore, actual take may be less if animals decide to 
haul out at a different location for the day or animals are out 
foraging at the time of the survey activities.

Analysis and Preliminary Determinations

Negligible Impact

    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'' (50 CFR 216.103). A 
negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-
level effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, 
alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact 
determination. 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 harassment 
takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the 
status of the species.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
PISCO's rocky intertidal monitoring, and none are proposed to be 
authorized. The risk of marine mammal injury, serious injury, or 
mortality associated with rocky intertidal monitoring increases 
somewhat if disturbances occur during breeding season. These situations 
present increased potential for mothers and dependent pups to become 
separated and, if separated pairs do not quickly reunite, the risk of 
mortality to pups (through starvation) may increase. Separately, adult 
male elephant seals may trample elephant seal pups if disturbed, which 
could potentially result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of 
the pups. The risk of either of these situations is greater in the 
event of a stampede.
    Very few pups are anticipated to be encountered during the proposed 
monitoring surveys. However, a small number of harbor seal, northern 
elephant seal and California sea lion pups have been observed at 
several of the proposed monitoring sites during past years. Harbor 
seals are very precocious with only a short period of time in which 
separation of a mother from a pup cold occur. Though elephant seal pups 
are occasionally present when researchers visit survey sites, risk of 
pup mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less 
reactive to researcher presence than the other two species. 
Furthermore, pups are typically found on sand beaches, while study 
sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is 
typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution 
used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes the 
possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in 
extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups. 
No research would occur where separation of mother and her nursing pup 
or crushing of pups can become a concern.
    Typically, even those reactions constituting Level B harassment 
would result at most in temporary, short-term disturbance. In any given 
study season, researchers will visit sites one to two times per year 
for a total of 4-6 hours per visit. Therefore, disturbance of pinnipeds 
resulting from the presence of researchers lasts only for short periods 
of time and is separated by significant amounts of time in which no 
disturbance occurs.
    Some of the pinniped species may use some of the sites during 
certain times of year to conduct pupping and/or breeding. However, some 
of these species prefer to use the offshore islands for these 
activities. At the sites where pups may be present, PISCO has proposed 
to implement certain mitigation measures, such as no intentional 
flushing if dependent pups are present, which will avoid mother/pup 
separation and trampling of pups.
    Of the four marine mammal species anticipated to occur in the 
proposed activity areas, none are listed under the ESA. Taking into 
account the mitigation measures that are planned, effects to marine 
mammals are generally expected to be restricted to short-term changes 
in behavior or temporary abandonment of haulout sites. Pinnipeds are 
not expected 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 
preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from PISCO's 
rocky intertidal monitoring program 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

    Table 1 in this document presents the abundance of each species or 
stock, the proposed take estimates, the percentage of the affected 
populations or stocks that may be taken by harassment, and the species 
or stock trends. According to these estimates, PISCO would take less 
than 0.8% of each species or stock. Because these are maximum 
estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals 
may select other haulout sites the day the researchers are present.

[[Page 76456]]

    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 preliminarily finds 
that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the 
populations of the affected species or stocks.

 Table 1--Population Abundance Estimates, Total Proposed Level B Take, and Percentage of Population That May Be
       Taken for the Potentially Affected Species During the Proposed Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Percentage of
                             Species                                Abundance *   Total proposed     stock or
                                                                                    Level B take    population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor seal.....................................................     \1\ 30,968,             203       <0.01-0.8
                                                                      \2\ 24,732
California sea lion.............................................         296,750             720             0.2
Northern elephant seal..........................................         179,000              40           <0.01
Steller sea lion................................................          59,968              10           <0.01
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Abundance estimates are taken from the 2014 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (Carretta et al.,
  2014).
\1\ California stock abundance estimate.
\2\ Oregon/Washington stock abundance estimate from 1999--Most recent surveys.

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

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

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

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

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    In 2012, we prepared an EA analyzing the potential effects to the 
human environment from conducting rocky intertidal surveys along the 
California and Oregon coasts and issued a Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an IHA for PISCO's rocky intertidal 
surveys in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA Administrative 
Order 216-6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the 
National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). We have reviewed the 
application for a renewed IHA for ongoing monitoring activities for 
2015-16 and the 2014-15 monitoring report. Based on that review, we 
have determined that the proposed action is very similar to that 
considered in the previous IHA. In addition, no significant new 
circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns have 
been identified. Thus, we have determined preliminarily that the 
preparation of a new or supplemental NEPA document is not necessary, 
and will, after review of public comments determine whether or not to 
reaffirm our 2012 FONSI. The 2012 NEPA documents are available for 
review at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/construction.htm.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to PISCO for the take of marine mammals incidental to 
conducting rocky intertidal monitoring research activities, provided 
the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided 
next.
    This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording 
contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if 
issued).
    1. This IHA is valid from January 1, 2016, through, December 31, 
2016.
    2. This IHA is valid only for specified activities associated with 
rocky intertidal monitoring surveys at specific sites along the U.S. 
California and Oregon coasts.
    3. General Conditions
    a. A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of personnel 
operating under the authority of this authorization.
    b. The incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B harassment 
only, is limited to the following species along the Oregon and 
California coasts:
    i. 203 harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii);
    ii. 720 California sea lion (Zalophus californianus);
    iii. 40 northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris); and
    iv. 10 Steller Sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
    c. The taking by injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or 
death of any of the species listed in condition 3(b) of the IHA or any 
taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may 
result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA.
    4. Mitigation Measures: The holder of this IHA is required to 
implement the following mitigation measures:
    a. Field biologists must approach study sites cautiously and 
quietly, such that any disturbance of pinnipeds is minimized. The 
pathway and rate of approach must be chosen judiciously, avoiding to 
the extent possible any approach of hauled-out pinnipeds. If approach 
is unavoidable, field biologists must approach gradually such that 
stampeding of pinnipeds is avoided. Specific care must be taken to 
avoid any disturbance that may place pinniped pups at risk. Site visits 
should be limited to no more than 6 hours in the absence of extenuating 
circumstances, and personnel shall vacate the area as soon as sampling 
of the site is completed.
    b. Staff shall use binoculars to detect pinnipeds before close 
approach to avoid being seen by the animals.
    c. Staff shall monitor the offshore area for predators (such as 
killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when 
predators are observed in nearshore waters.
    d. Staff shall reschedule work at sites where pups are present, 
unless other means to accomplishing the work can be

[[Page 76457]]

done without causing disturbance to mothers and dependent pups.
    e. Staff shall approach pinnipeds when located in the sampling 
plots only if there are no other means to accomplish the survey and 
there are no pups present (however, approach must be slow and quiet so 
as not to minimize potential for stampede).
    5. Monitoring: The holder of this IHA is required to conduct 
monitoring of marine mammals present at study sites prior to 
approaching the sites.
    a. Information to be recorded shall include the following:
    i. Species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles); and
    ii. Numbers of disturbances, by species and age, according to a 
three-point scale of intensity including (1) Head orientation in 
response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the 
disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-
shaped position, or changing from a lying to a sitting position and/or 
slight movement of less than 1 m; ``alert''; (2) Movements in response 
to or away from disturbance, over short distances (typically two times 
its body length) and including dramatic changes in direction or speed 
of locomotion for animals already in motion; ``movement''; and (3) All 
flushes to the water as well as lengthier retreats (>3 m); ``flight''.
    6. Reporting: The holder of this IHA is required to:
    a. Report observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or 
distributions of pinnipeds, or of tag-bearing carcasses, to NMFS 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC).
    b. Submit a draft monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected 
Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2015-2016 field 
season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new 
IHA will be requested. A final report shall be prepared and submitted 
within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report 
from NMFS. This report must contain the informational elements 
described above, at minimum.
    c. Reporting injured or dead marine mammals:
    i. In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take 
of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an 
injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, PISCO shall 
immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following 
information:
    1. Time and date of the incident;
    2. Description of the incident;
    3. Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
    4. Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours 
preceding the incident;
    5. Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved;
    6. Fate of the animal(s); and
    7. Photographs or video footage of the animal(s).
    Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with PISCO to 
determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of 
further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. PISCO may not 
resume the activities until notified by NMFS.
    ii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is 
discovered and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death 
is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a 
moderate state of decomposition), PISCO shall immediately report the 
incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest 
Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same 
information identified in 6(c)(i) of this IHA. Activities may continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work 
with PISCO to determine whether additional mitigation measures or 
modifications to the activities are appropriate.
    iii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is 
discovered and it is determined that the injury or death is not 
associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA 
(e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced 
decomposition, or scavenger damage), PISCO shall report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. PISCO 
shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of 
the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while 
NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident.
    7. This IHA may be modified, suspended or withdrawn if the holder 
fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if NMFS 
determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible 
impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals.

Request for Public Comments

    NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and 
any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for PISCO's proposed 
rocky intertidal monitoring program. Please include with your comments 
any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final 
decision on PISCO's request for an MMPA authorization.

    Dated: December 4, 2015.
Perry Gayaldo,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-31036 Filed 12-8-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P