Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Subsea Cable-Laying Operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas, 40274-40287 [2016-14585]

Download as PDF asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 40274 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices activities and to discuss resiliency and reliability topics. The agenda may change to accommodate Committee business. The final agenda will be posted on the Smart Grid Web site at http://www.nist.gov/smartgrid. Individuals and representatives of organizations who would like to offer comments and suggestions related to the Committee’s affairs are invited to request a place on the agenda by submitting their request to Cuong Nguyen at cuong.nguyen@nist.gov or (301) 975–2254 no later than 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, Friday, July 1, 2016. On Thursday, July 14, 2016, approximately one-half hour will be reserved at the end of the meeting for public comments, and speaking times will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. The amount of time per speaker will be determined by the number of requests received, but is likely to be about three minutes each. 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Mr. Nguyen’s email address is cuong.nguyen@nist.gov and his phone number is (301) 975–2254. For participants attending in person, please note that federal agencies, including NIST, can only accept a state-issued driver’s license or identification card for access to federal facilities if such license or identification card is issued by a state that is compliant with the REAL ID Act of 2005 (Pub. L. 109–13), or by a state that has an extension for REAL ID compliance. NIST currently accepts other forms of federal-issued identification in lieu of a state-issued driver’s license. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 For detailed information, please contact Mr. Nguyen or visit: http:// www.nist.gov/public_affairs/visitor/. Kent Rochford, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs. [FR Doc. 2016–14580 Filed 6–20–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–13–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE442 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Subsea CableLaying Operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization (IHA). AGENCY: In accordance with regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued an IHA to Quintillion Subsea Operations, LLC (Quintillion) to take, by harassment, small numbers of 12 species of marine mammals incidental to a subsea cablelaying operation in the state and federal waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, Alaska, during the openwater season of 2016. DATES: This authorization is effective from June 1, 2016 through October 31, 2016. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: 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. An 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 PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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 and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS’s review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the public comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the authorization. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. Summary of Request On October 29, 2015, NMFS received an IHA application and marine mammal mitigation and monitoring plan (4MP) from Quintillion for the taking of marine mammals incidental to conducting subsea cable-laying activities in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. After receiving NMFS’ comments on the initial application, Quintillion made revisions and updated its IHA application and 4MP on February 3, 2016. NMFS determined that the application and the 4MP were adequate and complete on February 5, 2016. NMFS published a notice on March 30, 2016 (81 FR 17666) making preliminary determinations and proposing to issue an IHA. The notice initiated a 30-day comment period. Quintillion proposed to install a subsea fiber optic network cable along E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices the northern and western coasts of Alaska in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 Arctic open-water season. The activity would occur between June 1 and October 31, 2016. Noise generated from the cable vessel’s dynamic positioning thruster could impact marine mammals in the vicinity of the activities. Take, by Level B harassments, of individuals of 12 species of marine mammals from the specified activity is authorized by the IHA. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Description of the Specified Activity A detailed description of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying program is provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 17666; March 30, 2016). Since that time, no changes have been made to the proposed construction activities. Therefore, a detailed description is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for the description of the specific activity. Comments and Responses A notice of NMFS’ proposal to issue an IHA to Quintillion was published in the Federal Register on March 30, 2016 (81 FR 17666). That notice described, in detail, Quintillion’s activity, the marine mammal species and subsistence activities that may be affected by the proposed subsea cable-laying project, and the anticipated effects on marine mammals and subsistence activities. During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received comments from the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) and the North Slope Borough (NSB). Specific comments and responses are provided below. Comment 1: The Commission recommends that NMFS issue the requested incidental harassment authorization, subject to inclusion of the proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures. Response: NMFS concurs with the Commission’s recommendation and has included the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures contained in the proposed authorization in the issued IHA. Comment 2: The NSB requests Quintillion continue coordination with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC), and its member communities, and other Alaska Native marine mammal user groups as appropriate, and participation in the well-established VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 and effective Conflict Avoidance Agreement (CAA) process. Response: Quintillion has worked closely with AEWC, the co-management groups, and the villages to develop a Plan of Cooperation (POC) that recognizes the time and place of subsistence use and provides an effective plan for avoiding active subsistence areas. Quintillion stated that it has discussed the potential for a CAA with the AEWC and that they agreed it is not necessary for Quintillion to sign a CAA for its subsea cable-laying project; therefore, Quintillion is not signing a CAA. NMFS has conducted a thorough analysis of the potential impact on subsistence activities from Quintillion’s proposed subsea cablelaying operations and determined that the proposed project would not have unmitigable impacts to subsistence use of marine mammals in the vicinity of the project area, given that Quintillion is required to implement a number of mitigation and monitoring measures (see ‘‘Impacts on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Use’’ section below for details). In addition, Quintillion has prepared a POC, which includes detailed maps showing scheduled cablelaying activity relative to seasonal subsistence use. Quintillion states that these maps have been reviewed and the schedule is supported by AEWC. NMFS has reviewed the POC and believes it contains all necessary information for us to make the above determination. Comment 3: The NSB requests Quintillion to communicate with all villages near its operations to make sure its activities do not disrupt subsistence activities, and to ensure the life, health and safety of Borough residents who may be out on the ocean. Response: As stated earlier in Response to Comment 2, the POC provided by Quintillion contains all necessary information for us to make a determination that Quintillion’s proposed subsea cable-laying activity would not have an unmitigable impact to subsistence use of marine mammal resources in the vicinity of the project area. This POC also includes the daily communication plan that Quintillion will be implementing. Further, Quintillion stated it is donating to AEWC and landing villages memberships to Marine Exchange Alaska, which will allow real-time PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 40275 tracking of Quintillion vessels during its subsea cable-laying operations. Comment 4: The NSB requests Quintillion conduct a robust visual and acoustical monitoring program with input from subsistence hunters and the Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management. Response: For the issuance of the IHA to Quintillion, NMFS worked with the applicant, NMFS’ biologists in the Alaska Region and Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and an independent peer-review panel to ensure that robust visual and acoustical monitoring programs are in place to provide adequate monitoring measures during Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operations in the Arctic. For visual monitoring, Quintillion is required to place both Inupiat and non-native Protected Species Observers (PSO) on three cable-laying vessels to conduct visual monitoring throughout the entire project during the daylight period, including all vessel transits. Quintillion is also required to provide substantial financial support to two existing passive acoustical monitoring (PAM) programs that will be monitoring both marine mammals and vessel noise in the cablelaying project area. These include supporting the National Marine Mammal Laboratory’s (NMML) PAM program in the northern Chukchi and western Beaufort Seas, and the Kotzebue Sound PAM in the southern Chukchi Sea. Support of these active programs, in lieu of a separate and unproven PAM program, was recommended by Dr. Robert Suydam with the NSB Department of Wildlife Management during the monitoring plan independent peer-review process. This approach was additionally supported by Dr. Manuel Castellote with NMML, who would also be the acoustical liaison for both PAM projects and would help to ensure the PAM projects provide the necessary information on marine mammal vocalizations and ship underwater sound needed for the 90-day report. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity The Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas support a diverse assemblage of marine mammals. Table 1 lists the 12 marine mammal species under NMFS jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area. E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 40276 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices TABLE 1—MARINE MAMMAL SPECIES WITH CONFIRMED OR POSSIBLE OCCURRENCE IN THE PROPOSED ACTION AREA Common name Scientific name Status Occurrence Seasonality Range Delphinapterus leucas .................................... Common ..................... Mostly Beaufort Sea .. 39,258 Beluga whale (eastern Chukchi Sea stock). .................................... .................................... Common ..................... Mostly Chukchi Sea ... 3,710 Beluga whale (eastern Bering Sea stock). Killer whale (Alaska resident stock). Harbor porpoise (Bering Sea stock). Mysticetes * Bowhead whale (W. Arctic stock). .................................... .................................... Common ..................... Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Year round ................. Bering Sea ................. 19,186 Orcinus orca ............... .................................... Occasional/Extralimital California to Alaska .... 2,347 Phocoena phocoena .. .................................... Occasional/Extralimital Mostly summer and early fall. Mostly summer and early fall. California to Alaska .... 48,215 Balaena mysticetus .... Endangered; Depleted Common ..................... Russia to Canada ...... 19,534 Eschrichtius robustus .................................... Somewhat common ... Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Mostly summer ........... 20,990 Balaenoptera physalus Endangered; Depleted Rare ........................... Mostly summer ........... Mexico to the U.S. Arctic Ocean. N.E. Pacific Ocean ..... Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Megaptera novaeangliae. .................................... Rare ........................... Mostly summer ........... N.E. Pacific Ocean ..... 810 Endangered; Depleted Rare ........................... Mostly summer ........... North Pacific Ocean ... 10,103 .................................... Endangered; Depleted Rare ........................... Mostly summer ........... North Pacific Ocean ... 1,107 Erigathus barbatus ..... .................................... Common ..................... Spring and summer ... Phoca hispida ............ .................................... Common ..................... Year round ................. Phoca largha .............. .................................... Common ..................... Summer ...................... Histriophoca fasciata .. .................................... Occasional ................. Summer ...................... Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Japan to U.S. Arctic Ocean. Russia to U.S. Arctic Ocean. Odontocetes Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock). Gray whale (E. North Pacific stock). * Fin whale (N. East Pacific). Minke whale ................... * Humpback whale (Central North Pacific stock). * Humpback whale (western North Pacific stock). Pinnipeds Bearded seal (Alaska stock). Ringed seal (Alaska stock). Spotted seal (Alaska stock). Ribbon seal (Alaska stock). Abundance 1,650 155,000 249,000 460,268 49,000 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES * Endangered, threatened, or species of concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); Depleted under the MMPA. Among these species, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are listed as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In addition, walrus and polar bear could also occur in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas; however, these species are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered in this Notice of Issuance of an IHA. Of all these species, bowhead and beluga whales and ringed, bearded, and spotted seals are the species most frequently sighted in the proposed activity area. The proposed action area in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas also includes areas that have been identified as important for bowhead whale reproduction during summer and fall and for beluga whale feeding and reproduction in summer. Most bowheads migrate in the fall through the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in water depths between 15 and 200 m (50 and 656 ft) deep (Miller et al. 2002), with annual variability depending on ice conditions. Hauser et al. (2008) conducted surveys for bowhead whales near the Colville River Delta (near Oliktok Point) during August and VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 September 2008, and found most bowheads between 25 and 30 km (15.5 and 18.6 mi) north of the barrier islands (Jones Islands), with the nearest in 18 m (60 ft) of water about 25 km (16 mi) north of the Colville River Delta. No bowheads were observed inside the 18m (60-ft) isobath. Most of the cable-lay activity planned for the Beaufort Sea will occur in water deeper than 15 m (50 ft), where migrating bowhead whales could most likely be encountered. Three stocks of beluga whale inhabit the waters where cable-lay is planned to occur: Beaufort Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, and Eastern Bering Sea (O’CorryCrowe et al. 1997). All three stocks winter in the open leads and polynyas of the Bering Sea (Hazard 1988). In spring, the Beaufort Sea stock migrates through coastal leads more than 2,000 km (1,200 mi) to their summering grounds in the Mackenzie River delta where they molt, feed, and calve in the warmer estuarine waters (Braham et al. 1977). In late summer, these belugas move into offshore northern waters to feed (Davis and Evans 1982, Harwood et al. 1996, Richard et al. 2001). In the fall, they begin their migration back to their PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 wintering grounds generally following an offshore route as they pass through the western Beaufort Sea (Richard et al. 2001). The Beaufort Sea stock beluga whales take a more coastal route during their fall migration, but compared to the vanguard of population and the survey effort expended, nearshore travel appears to be relatively rare. Most belugas recorded during aerial surveys conducted in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in the last two decades were found more than 65 km (40 mi) from shore (Miller et al. 1999, Funk et al. 2008, Christie et al. 2010, Clarke and Ferguson 2010, Brandon et al. 2011). For the most part, beluga whales from this stock are expected to occur well north of the proposed cable route through the Beaufort Sea at the time of cable-lay activity. The Eastern Chukchi Sea beluga whale stock summers in Kotzebue Sound and Kasegaluk Lagoon where they breed and molt, and then in late summer and fall they also move in the Beaufort Sea (Suydam et al. 2005). Suydam et al. (2005) satellite-tagged 23 beluga whales in Kasegaluk Lagoon and found nearly all the whales move into E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices the deeper waters of the Beaufort Sea post-tagging. However, virtually none of the whales were found in continental shelf waters (<200 m deep) of the Beaufort Sea, and all were in waters at least 65 km (40 mi) north of the northern Alaska coastline. The most recent stock estimate is 3,710 animals (Allen and Angliss 2015). The planned cable-lay activity is most likely to encounter this stock while laying the Kotzebue and Wainwright branch lines, but the routes do avoid the Kasegaluk Lagoon breeding and molting area. There is little information on movements of the East Bering Sea stock of beluga whales, although two whales that were satellite-tagged in 2012 near Nome wintered in Bristol Bay (Allen and Angliss 2015). Whales from this stock might be encountered while laying the Nome branch line. In addition, a few gray whales are expected to be encountered along the main trunk line route through the north Bering and Chukchi seas. However, they are expected to be commonly observed along the nearshore segments of the branch lines, especially the Wainwright branch, where they are commonly found in large feeding groups. Three of the ice seal species—ringed, bearded, and spotted seals—are fairly common in the proposed subsea cablelaying areas. However, there are no pinnipeds haulouts in the vicinity of the action area. Fin whale, minke whale, and ribbon seal are not common in the vicinity of the project area, though they could occur occasionally. Further information on the biology and local distribution of these species can be found in Quintillion’s application (see ADDRESSES) and the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which are available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ sars/species.html. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals The effects of the stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., acoustic effects of operation of dynamic thrusters) have the potential to result in harassment of marine mammals. The Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 17666, March 30, 2016) included a discussion of the effects of acoustic stimuli on marine mammals. Therefore, that information is not repeated here. No instances of injury, serious injury, or mortality (Level A take) are expected as a result of the subsea cable-laying operation activities, nor are any Level A take authorized by this IHA. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat Project activities that could potentially impact marine mammal habitats include acoustical impacts to prey resources from thruster noise and impacts associated with laying cable on sea bottom. Regarding the former, however, acoustical injury from thruster noise is unlikely. Previous noise studies (e.g., Greenlaw et al. 1988, Davis et al. 1998, Christian et al. 2004) with cod, crab, and schooling fish found little or no injury to adults, larvae, or eggs when exposed to impulsive noises exceeding 220 decibels (dB). Continuous noise levels from ship thrusters are generally below 180 dB, and do not create great enough pressures to cause tissue or organ injury. Nedwell et al. (2003) measured noise associated with cable trenching operations offshore of Wales, United Kingdom, and found that levels (178 dB at source) did not exceed those where significant avoidance reactions of fish would occur. Cable burial operations involve the use of ploughs or jets to cut trenches in the sea floor sediment. Cable ploughs are generally used where the substrate is cohesive enough to be ‘‘cut’’ and laid alongside the trench long enough for the cable to be laid at depth. In less cohesive substrates, where the sediment would immediately settle back into the trench before the cable could be laid, jetting is used to scour a more lasting furrow. The objective of both is to excavate a temporary trench of sufficient depth to fully bury the cable. The plough blade is 0.2 m (0.7 ft) wide, producing a trench of approximately the same width. Jetted trenches are somewhat wider, depending on the sediment type. Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat and prey include (1) crushing of benthic and epibenthic invertebrates with the plough blade, plough skid, or remote operating vehicle (ROV) track, (2) dislodgement of benthic invertebrates onto the surface where they may die, and (3) and the settlement of suspended sediments away from the trench where they may clog gills or feeding structures of sessile invertebrates or smother sensitive species (BERR 2008). However, the footprint of cable trenching is generally restricted to 2 to 3 m (7–10 ft) width (BERR 2008), and the displaced wedge or berm is expected to naturally backfill into the trench. Jetting results in more suspension of sediments, which may take days to settle, during which currents may transport it well away (up to several kilometers) from its source. Suspended sand particles generally settle within about 20 m (66 ft). BERR PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 40277 (2008) reviewed the effect of offshore wind farm construction, including laying of power and communication cables, on the environment. Based on a rating of 1 to 10, they concluded that sediment disturbance from plough operations rated the lowest at 1, with jetting rating from 2 to 4, depending on substrate. Dredging rated the highest (6) relative sediment disturbance. The maximum amount of trenching possible is about 1,900 km (1,180 mi), but the width of primary effect is only about 3 m (10 ft). Thus, the maximum impact footprint is less than 6 km2 (2.3 mi2), an insignificantly small area given the Chukchi Sea area alone is 595,000 km2 (230,000 mi2). Overall, cable-laying effects to marine mammal habitat and prey resources are considered not significant. Mitigation Measures In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses. The primary purpose of these mitigation measures is to detect marine mammals and avoid vessel interactions during the pre- and post-cable-laying activities. Due to the nature of the activities, the vessel will not be able to engage in direction alteration during cable-laying operations. However, since the cable-laying vessel will be moving at a slow speed of 600 meter/hour (0.37 mile per hour or 0.32 knot) during cable-laying operations, it is highly unlikely that the cable vessel would have physical interaction with marine mammals. For Quintillion’s proposed subsea cable-laying project, NMFS is requiring Quintillion to implement the following mitigation measures to minimize the potential impacts to marine mammals in the project vicinity as a result of its planned activities. (a) Establishing Zone of Influence (ZOI) A PSO would establish a ZOI where the received level is 120 dB during Qunitillion’s subsea cable-laying operation and conduct marine mammal monitoring during the operation. (b) Vessel Movement Mitigation during Pre- and Post-cable-laying Activities When the cable-lay fleet is traveling in Alaskan waters to and from the E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 40278 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES project area (before and after completion of cable-laying), the fleet vessels would: • Not approach concentrations or groups of whales (an aggregation of 6 or more whales) within 1.6 km (1 mi) by all vessels under the direction of Quintillion; • Take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with any bowhead whales observed within 1.6 km (1 mi) of a vessel; and • Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when visibility drops, to avoid the likelihood of collision with whales. The normal vessel travel speeds when laying cable is well less than 5 knots. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated prescribed mitigation measures for Quintillion’s planned subsea cablelaying project and considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measures are 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 received levels of 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 received levels of activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only); 4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 number at biologically important time or location) to received levels of 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; and 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 planned measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has determined that the prescribed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammals species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Prescribed measures to ensure availability of such species or stocks for taking for certain subsistence uses are discussed later in this document (see ‘‘Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses’’ section). Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must 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 IHAs 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. Quintillion submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the IHA application. The plan has not been modified or supplemented based on comments or new information received from the public during the public comment period or from the peer review panel (see the ‘‘Monitoring Plan Peer Review’’ section later in this document). Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following general goals: PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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; and 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. E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices Monitoring Measures Monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals affected by the subsea cable-laying operation and facilitate real-time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by vessel traffic. These goals will be accomplished in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during 2016 by conducting vessel-based monitoring and passive acoustic monitoring to document marine mammal presence and distribution in the vicinity of the operation area. Visual monitoring by PSOs during subsea cable-laying operations, and periods when the operation is not occurring, will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by the activity. Vessel-based PSOs onboard the vessels will record the numbers and species of marine mammals observed in the area and any observable reaction of marine mammals to the cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. Vessel-Based PSOs asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals would be done by trained PSOs throughout the period of subsea cable-laying operation. The observers will monitor the occurrence of marine mammals near the cable-laying vessel during all daylight periods during operation. PSO duties include watching for and identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and reactions to the survey operations; and documenting ‘‘take by harassment.’’ A sufficient number of PSOs would be required onboard each survey vessel to meet the following criteria: • 100 percent monitoring coverage during all periods of cable-laying operations in daylight; • Maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and • Maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO. PSO teams will consist of Inupiat observers and experienced field biologists. Each vessel will have an experienced field crew leader to supervise the PSO team. The total number of PSOs may decrease later in the season as the duration of daylight decreases. (1) PSOs Qualification and Training Lead PSOs and most PSOs will be individuals with experience as observers during marine mammal monitoring projects in Alaska or other offshore areas in recent years. New or inexperienced PSOs would be paired with an experienced PSO or VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 experienced field biologist so that the quality of marine mammal observations and data recording is kept consistent. Resumes for candidate PSOs will be provided to NMFS for review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers would be experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the area. All observers will complete a NMFSapproved observer training course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data collection procedures. (2) Marine Mammal Observation Protocol PSOs shall watch for marine mammals from the best available vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge. PSOs shall scan systematically with the unaided eye and 7 × 50 reticle binoculars, and nightvision and infra-red equipment when needed. Personnel on the bridge shall assist the marine mammal observer(s) in watching for marine mammals; however, bridge crew observations will not be used in lieu of PSO observation efforts. Monitoring shall consist of recording of the following information: 1. The species, group size, age/size/ sex categories (if determinable), the general behavioral activity, heading (if consistent), bearing and distance from vessel, sighting cue, behavioral pace, and apparent reaction of all marine mammals seen near the vessel (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.); 2. The time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel, along with sea state, visibility, cloud cover and sun glare at (I) any time a marine mammal is sighted, (II) at the start and end of each watch, and (III) during a watch (whenever there is a change in one or more variable); 3. The identification of all vessels that are visible within 5 km of the vessel from which observation is conducted whenever a marine mammal is sighted and the time observed; 4. Any identifiable marine mammal behavioral response (sighting data should be collected in a manner that will not detract from the PSO’s ability to detect marine mammals); 5. Any adjustments made to operating procedures; and 6. Visibility during observation periods so that total estimates of take can be corrected accordingly. Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with binoculars (7 × 50 binoculars) containing a reticle to measure the vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 40279 horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the water. Quintillion shall use the best available technology to improve detection capability during periods of fog and other types of inclement weather. Such technology might include night-vision goggles or binoculars as well as other instruments that incorporate infrared technology. PSOs shall understand the importance of classifying marine mammals as ‘‘unknown’’ or ‘‘unidentified’’ if they cannot identify the animals to species with confidence. In those cases, they shall note any information that might aid in the identification of the marine mammal sighted. For example, for an unidentified mysticete whale, the observers should record whether the animal had a dorsal fin. Additional details about unidentified marine mammal sightings, such as ‘‘blow only,’’ ‘‘mysticete with (or without) a dorsal fin,’’ ‘‘seal splash,’’ etc., shall be recorded. Acoustic Monitoring (1) Sound Source Measurements Quintillion will conduct a sound source verification (SSV) on one of the cable-lay ships and the anchor-handling tugs when both are operating near Nome (early in the season). (2) Passive Acoustic Monitoring After consulting with NMFS’ Office of Protected Resources, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife, Quintillion will contribute to the 2016 joint Arctic Whale Ecology Study (ARCWEST)/ Chukchi Acoustics, Oceanography, and Zooplankton Study-extension (CHAOZ– X). The summer minimum extent of sea ice in the northern Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, and western Beaufort Sea has diminished by more than 50 percent over the past two decades. This loss of ice has sparked concerns for long-term survival of ice-dependent species like polar bears, Pacific walrus, bearded seals, and ringed seals. In contrast, populations of some Arctic species such as bowhead and gray whales have increased in abundance, while subarctic species such as humpback, fin, and minke whales have expanded their ranges into the Arctic in response to warmer water and increased zooplankton production. The joint ARCWEST/CHAOZ–X program has been monitoring climate change and anthropogenic activity in the Arctic E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 40280 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices waters of Alaska since 2010 by tracking satellite-tagged animals, sampling lower trophic levels and physical oceanography, and passively acoustically monitoring marine mammal and vessel activity. The current mooring locations for the PAM portion of the joint program align closely with the proposed Quintillion cable-lay route. Operating passive acoustic recorders at these locations in 2016 would not only provide information on the distribution and composition of the marine mammal community along the proposed cablelay route at the time cable-lay activities would be occurring, but they could also record the contribution of the cable-lay activity on the local acoustical environment where the route passes close to these stations. Reporting Measures (1) Sound Source Verification Report A report on the preliminary results of the sound source verification measurements, including the measured source level, shall be submitted within 14 days after collection of those measurements at the start of the field season. This report will specify the distances of the ZOI that were adopted for the survey. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES (2) Technical Report (90-Day Report) A draft report will be submitted to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, within 90 days after the end of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The report will describe in detail: 1. Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total distances, and marine mammal distribution through the project period, accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of marine mammals); 2. Summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of the efficacy, measurements, and observations; 3. Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, and fog/glare); 4. Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover; 5. Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another applicable method, with the exact VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data available; and 6. A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual estimated takes. The draft report shall be subject to review and comment by NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS. The draft report will be considered the final report for this activity under this Authorization if NMFS has not provided comments and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of the draft report. (3) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA, such as a serious injury, or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), Quintillion will immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Name and type of vessel involved; • Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; • Description of the incident; • Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Water depth; • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; • Fate of the animal(s); and • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available). Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with Quintillion to determine the necessary measures to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Quintillion would not be able to resume its activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), Quintillion would immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with Quintillion to determine whether modifications in the activities would be appropriate. In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the 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), Quintillion would report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the discovery. Quintillion would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Quintillion can continue its operations under such a case. Monitoring Plan Peer Review The MMPA requires that monitoring plans be independently peer reviewed ‘‘where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a species or stock for taking for subsistence uses’’ (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(D)(ii)(III)). Regarding this requirement, NMFS’ implementing regulations state, ‘‘Upon receipt of a complete monitoring plan, and at its discretion, [NMFS] will either submit the plan to members of a peer review panel for review or within 60 days of receipt of the proposed monitoring plan, schedule a workshop to review the plan’’ (50 CFR 216.108(d)). NMFS convened an independent peer review panel to review Quintillion’s 4MP for the proposed subsea cablelaying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The panel met via web conference in early March 2016, and provided comments to NMFS in April 2016. The full panel report can be viewed on the Internet at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.html. NMFS provided the panel with Quintillion’s IHA application and E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices monitoring plan and asked the panel to answer the following questions: 1. Will the applicant’s stated objectives effectively further the understanding of the impacts of their activities on marine mammals and otherwise accomplish the goals stated above? If not, how should the objectives be modified to better accomplish the goals above? 2. Can the applicant achieve the stated objectives based on the methods described in the plan? 3. Are there technical modifications to the proposed monitoring techniques and methodologies proposed by the applicant that should be considered to better accomplish their stated objectives? 4. Are there techniques not proposed by the applicant (i.e., additional monitoring techniques or methodologies) that should be considered for inclusion in the applicant’s monitoring program to better accomplish their stated objectives? 5. What is the best way for an applicant to present their data and results (formatting, metrics, graphics, etc.) in the required reports that are to be submitted to NMFS (i.e., 90-day report and comprehensive report)? The peer-review panel report contains recommendations that the panel members felt were applicable to the Quintillion’s monitoring plans. Specifically, the panel recommended the following: (1) Additional PAM recorders be deployed closer to shore, if possible. This would allow for monitoring of sounds generated by nearshore cablelaying barges, as well as for detection of marine mammals. The panel identified waters near Kotzebue as a high priority for additional acoustic monitoring due to the presence of marine mammals sensitive to acoustic disturbance, such as beluga whales and bearded seals, and the reliance on those species for subsistence purposes; (2) Quintillion contributes funding to assist in the analysis of existing data from passive acoustic monitors deployed in 2013–2015 near Kotzebue. These data could serve as a baseline for noise levels and marine mammal distribution and vocalization rates during years in which cable-laying activities were not operating. Given financial constraints, the Panel recommends funding analyses of these additional PAM data at the expense of Quintillion’s proposed plan for PSOs to visually monitor for marine mammals; (3) If possible, PSOs be deployed on shallow-water barges. If accommodations are limited, PSOs could be deployed on a daily basis. If VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 PSOs cannot be deployed, the panel recommends that crew members receive PSO training; (4) Infra-red systems have improved considerably and should be considered as an additional monitoring tool for operations at night or in low visibility conditions; (5) If subsea cable-laying operations are not completed by mid-September in the Beaufort Sea, Quintillion should have a contingency plan for monitoring potential impacts to marine mammals, generally, and bowheads specifically. Because of the sensitivity of bowheads to anthropogenic sounds and the importance of the western Beaufort Sea as a feeding area, the monitoring plan should include methods for monitoring ‘‘over-the-horizon.’’ This plan might include aerial surveys, scout vessels with PSOs, or some other method. The information collected during this monitoring effort, if needed, would be very helpful in developing a mitigation and monitoring plan if Quintillion lays cable through the remainder of the Beaufort Sea in the future; (6) Quintillion should also have an appropriate communication plan in place to avoid impacting fall hunts of bowhead whales in the Beaufort (Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, and Barrow) and Chukchi seas (Barrow, Wainwright, and Point Lay), as much as possible; and (7) Quintillion should also ensure all sources of noise are included in SSV measurements and in its description of anticipated source levels (not just thrusters but winches under tension, plough hydraulics, active transducers, jetting, etc.). The ROV includes two jets, and it would be useful to get SSV measurements of the ROVs also. NMFS discussed the peer review panel report and the list of recommendations with Quintillion. For the aforementioned monitoring measures, NMFS requires and Quintillion agrees to implement the following: (1) Conducting additional PAM in nearshore waters near Kotzebue; (2) Contributing an additional $20,000 funding to assist in the analysis of existing data from passive acoustic monitors deployed in 2013–2015 near Kotzebue; (3) Using infra-red systems for marine mammal monitoring at night or in low visibility conditions; (4) Quintillion is required to have an appropriate communication plan in place to avoid impacting fall hunts of bowhead whales in the Beaufort (Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, and Barrow) and Chukchi seas (Barrow, Wainwright, and Point Lay), as much as possible. The communication plan is part of the POC PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 40281 that Quintillion submitted to NMFS; and (5) Conducting SSV measurements on all noise sources, including noise from the cable ship during plowing operations, and noise from the nearshore barge during winching, anchor-handling, and ROV operations. However, in discussions with Quintillion, NMFS determined that the following recommendations from the peer-review panel cannot be implemented. (1) It is not possible to deploy PSOs on the shallow water barge, and training crew members is unrealistic. Quintillion states that the shallow water barge is a small, flat barge with a deck, only a few feet off the water surface, and two modules to house offices and berths. Deck space is small and dangerous, and there is no elevated platform to monitor from. Crew members will be working on the deck at their normal jobs, and will have no time to watch for marine mammals. (2) Quintillion has worked closely with AEWC and other subsistence groups to develop a POC that allows Quintillion to complete their program in 2016, while minimizing impacts to subsistence use. However, if Quintillion cannot complete the work by midSeptember in the Beaufort Sea, Quintillion states that it could not afford to conduct aerial surveys and/or use scout vessels for additional monitoring. Furthermore, as stated earlier in Response to Comment 4, NMFS believes that Quintillion’s visual and acoustic monitoring plans are robust for its proposed subsea cable-laying activity. Therefore, additional monitoring utilizing aerial surveys and/or scout vessels is not warranted. 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]. Takes by Level B harassments of some species are anticipated as a result of Quintillion’s proposed subsea cablelaying operation. NMFS expects marine mammal takes could result from noise propagation from dynamic position thrusters during cable-laying operation. E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 40282 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices NMFS does not expect marine mammals would be taken by collision with cable and support vessels, because the vessels will be moving at low speeds, and PSOs on the vessels will be monitoring for marine mammals and will be able to alert the vessels to avoid any marine mammals in the area. For non-impulse sounds, such as those produced by the dynamic positioning thrusters during Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation, NMFS uses the 180 and 190 dB (rms) re 1 mPa isopleth to indicate the onset of Level A harassment for cetaceans and pinnipeds, respectively; and the 120 dB (rms) re 1 mPa isopleth for Level B harassment of all marine mammals. Quintillion provided calculations of the 120-dB isopleths expected to be produced by the dynamic positioning thrusters during the proposed cable-laying operation to estimate takes by harassment. NMFS used those calculations to make the necessary MMPA findings. Quintillion provided a full description of the methodology used to estimate takes by harassment in its IHA application, which is also provided in the following sections. There is no 180 or 190-dB zone from the planned activities. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Noise Sources The planned cable-laying activity is expected to generate underwater noises from several sources, including thrusters, plows, jets, ROVs, echo sounders, and positioning beacons. The predominant noise source and the only underwater noise that is likely to result in take of marine mammals during cable-laying operations is the cavitating noise produced by the thrusters during dynamic positioning of the vessel (Tetra Tech 2014). Cavitation is random collapsing of bubbles produced by the blades. The vessel of Quintillion’s contractor Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks, the C/S Ile de Brehat, maintains dynamic positioning during cable-laying operations by using two 1,500 kW bow thrusters, two 1,500 kW aft thrusters, and one 1,500 kW fore thruster. Sound source measurements have not been conducted specific to the C/S Ile de Brehat, but other acoustical studies have shown thruster noise measurements ranging between 171 and 180 dB re 1 mPa (rms) at 1 m (Nedwell et al. 2003, MacGillivary 2006, Samsung 2009, Hartin et al. 2011, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014). Various acoustical investigations in the Atlantic Ocean have modeled distances to the 120-dB isopleth, with results ranging between 1.4 and 3.575 km (Samsung 2009, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014) for water depths similar to where Quintillion would be operating in the Arctic Ocean. However, all these ranges were based on conservative modeling that included maximum parameters and worst-case assumptions. Hartin et al. (2011) physically measured dynamic positioning noise from the 104-m (341-ft) Fugro Synergy operating in the Chukchi Sea while it was using thrusters (2,500 kW) more powerful than those used on the C/S Ile de Brehat (1,500 kW). Measured dominant frequencies were 110 to 140 Hz, and the measured (90th percentile) radius to the 120-dB isopleth was 2.3 km (1.4 mi). Because this radius is a measured value from the same water body where Quintillion’s cable-laying operation would occur, as opposed to a conservatively modeled value from the Atlantic Ocean, it is the value used in calculating marine mammal exposure estimates. Sound source levels from the Fugro Synergy during dynamic positioning did not exceed 180 dB, thus there are no Level A harassment or injury concerns. Acoustic Footprint The acoustical footprint (total ensonified area) was determined by assuming that dynamic position would occur along all trunk and branch lines within the proposed fiber optics cable network, regardless of the cable-lay vessel used. The sum total of submerged cable length is 1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi). Assuming that the radius to the 120-dB isopleth is 2.3 km (1.4 mi) (Hartin et al. 2011), then the total ensonified area represents a swath that is 1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi) in length and 4.6 km (2.8 mi) in width (2 x 2.3 km) or 8,752.4 km2 (3,379.3 mi2). The Nome branch (194.7 km [121.0 mi]) and 87.1 km (54.1 mi) of the trunk line between branch unite (BU) Nome and BU Kotzebue fall within the Bering Sea. The combined length of those is 281.8 km (175.1 mi) and the total ensonified area is 1,296.3 km2 (500.5 mi2). The Oliktok branch (73.9 km [45.9 mi]) and 254.1 km (157.9 mi) of the trunk line between Barrow and Oliktok are found in the Beaufort Sea. Here the combined length is 328 km (203.8 mi) and total ensonified area is 1,508.8 km2 (582.6 mi2). The remaining area 5,947.3 km2 (2,296.3 mi2) falls within the Chukchi Sea. Marine Mammal Densities Density estimates for bowhead, gray, and beluga whales were derived from aerial survey data collected in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas during the 2011 to 2014 Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) program (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). The planned cable routes cross ASAMM survey blocks 2, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea, and blocks 13, 14, 18, 21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. Only data collected in these blocks were used to estimate densities for bowhead and gray whales. Beluga densities were derived from ASAMM data collected for the depth zones between 36 and 50 m (118 and 164 ft) within the Chukchi Sea between longitudes 157 ° and 169 ° W., and the depth zones between 21 and 200 m (68.9 and 656.2 ft) in the Beaufort Sea between longitudes 154 ° and 157 ° W. These depth zones reflect the depths where most of the cable-lay will occur. Harbor porpoise densities (Chukchi Sea only) are from Hartin et al. (2013), and ringed seal densities are from Aerts et al. (2014; Chukchi Sea) and Moulton and Lawson (2002; Beaufort Sea). Spotted and bearded seal densities in the Chukchi Sea are also from Aerts et al. (2014), while spotted and bearded seal densities in the Beaufort Sea were developed by assuming both represented 5 percent of ringed seal densities. Too few sightings have been made in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for all other marine mammal species to develop credible density estimates. The density estimates for the seven species are presented in Table 2 (Chukchi/Bering) and Table 3 (Beaufort) below. The specific parameters used in deriving these estimates are provided in the discussions that follow. TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (#/km2) IN THE CHUKCHI AND BERING SEAS Species Summer Bowhead Whale ............................................................................................................................................................... Gray Whale ...................................................................................................................................................................... Beluga Whale .................................................................................................................................................................. Harbor Porpoise ............................................................................................................................................................... Ringed Seal ..................................................................................................................................................................... Spotted Seal .................................................................................................................................................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 0.0025 0.0680 0.0894 0.0022 0.0846 0.0423 Fall 0.0438 0.0230 0.0632 0.0022 0.0507 0.0253 40283 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (#/km2) IN THE CHUKCHI AND BERING SEAS—Continued Species Summer Bearded Seal ................................................................................................................................................................... 0.0630 Fall 0.0440 TABLE 3—MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (#/km2) IN THE BEAUFORT SEA Species Summer asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Bowhead Whale ............................................................................................................................................................... Gray Whale ...................................................................................................................................................................... Beluga Whale .................................................................................................................................................................. Ringed Seal ..................................................................................................................................................................... Spotted Seal .................................................................................................................................................................... Bearded Seal ................................................................................................................................................................... Bowhead Whale: The summer density estimate for bowhead whales was derived from June, July, and August aerial survey data collected in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea during the 2011 to 2014 ASAMM program (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Fall data were collected during September and October. Data only from the survey blocks that will be crossed by the proposed cable route were used in the calculations, which included blocks 3, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea and 13, 14, 18, 21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. ASAMM surveys did not extend more than about 25 km (15.5 mi) south of Point Hope, and there are no other systematic survey data for bowhead whales south of this point. During these four years, 87 bowhead whales were recorded in the three Beaufort Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,556mi) of summer survey effort (0.0072/km), and 201 whales during 16,829 km (10,457mi) of fall effort (0.0019/km). In the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 11 bowheads were recorded during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort (0.0004/km), and 160 during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey (0.0071/km). Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and Clarke 2013), and a 0.07 correction factor (Ferguson, personal communication) for whales missed during the surveys, results in corrected densities of 0.0444 (Beaufort summer), 0.0742 (Beaufort fall), 0.0025 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0438 (Chukchi fall) whales per km2 (Tables 2 and 3). Gray whale: Gray whale density estimates were derived from the same ASAMM transect data used to determine bowhead whale densities. During the four years of aerial survey, 35 gray whales were recorded in the three Beaufort Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,557 mi) of summer survey effort (0.0029/km), and 142 gray whales during 16,829 km (10,457 mi) of fall effort (0.0084/km). In the five Chukchi VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 Sea survey blocks, 298 gray whales were recorded during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort (0.0084/km), and 84 during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey (0.0037/km). Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and Clarke 2013), and a correction factor of 0.07, results in corrected densities of 0.0179 (Beaufort summer), 0.0524 (Beaufort fall), 0.0680 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0230 (Chukchi fall) whales per km2 (Tables 2 and 3). Beluga Whale: Beluga whale density estimates were derived from the ASAMM transect data collected from 2011 to 2014 (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). During the summer aerial surveys (June-August) there were 248 beluga whale observed along 3,894 km (2,420 mi) of transect in waters between 21 to 200 m (13–124 ft) deep and between longitudes 154 °W. and 157 °W. This equates to 0.0637 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density of 0.0894 whales per km2, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor (Ferguson, personal communication). Fall density estimates (September–October) for this region were based on 192 beluga whales seen along 4,267 km (2,651 mi). This equates to 0.0449 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density of 0.0632 whales per km2, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. During the summer aerial surveys (June–August), there were 30 beluga whales observed along 20,240 km (12,577 mi) of transect in waters less than 36 to 50 m (22–31 ft) deep and between longitudes 157 °W. and 169 °W. This equates to 0.0015 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density of 0.0021 whales per km2, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Calculated fall beluga densities for the same region was based on 231 beluga whales seen during 22,887 km of transect (1,794 mi). This equates to 0.0101 whales/km and a corrected density of 0.142 whales per km2, again PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 0.0444 0.0179 0.0021 0.3547 0.0177 0.0177 Fall 0.0742 0.0524 0.0142 0.2510 0.0125 0.0125 assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Harbor Porpoise: Although harbor porpoise are known to occur in low numbers in the Chukchi Sea (Aerts et al. 2014), no harbor porpoise were positively identified during Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) and ASAMM aerial surveys conducted in the Chukchi Sea from 2006 to 2013 (Clarke et al. 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). A few small unidentified cetaceans that were observed may have been harbor porpoise. Hartin et al. (2013) conducted vessel-based surveys in the Chukchi Sea while monitoring oil and gas activities between 2006 and 2010 and recorded several harbor porpoise throughout the summer and early fall. Vessel-based surveys may be more conducive to sighting these small, cryptic porpoise than the aerial-based COMIDA/ASAMM surveys. Hartin et al.’s (2013) three-year average summer densities (0.0022/km2) and fall densities (0.0021/km2) were very similar, and are included in Table 2. Ringed and Spotted Seals: Aerts et al. (2014) conducted a marine mammal monitoring program in the northeastern Chukchi Sea in association with oil & gas exploration activities between 2008 and 2013. For seal sightings that were either ringed or spotted seals, the highest summer density was 0.127 seals/km2 (2008) and the highest fall density was 0.076 seals/km2 (2013). Where seals could be identified to species, they found the ratio of ringed to spotted seals to be 2:1. Applying this ratio to the combined densities results in species densities of 0.0846 seals/km2 (summer) and 0.0507 seals/km2 (fall) for ringed seals, and 0.0423 seals/km2 (summer) and 0.0253 seals/km2 (fall) for spotted seals. These are the densities used in the exposure calculations (Table 2) and to represent ringed and spotted seal densities for both the northern Bering and Chukchi seas. E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 40284 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices Moulton and Lawson (2002) conducted summer shipboard-based surveys for pinnipeds along the nearshore Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast, while Kingsley (1986) conducted surveys here along the ice margin representing fall conditions. The ringed seal results from these surveys were used in the exposure estimates (Table 3). Neither survey provided a good estimate of spotted seal densities. Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) recorded pinnipeds during barging activity between West Dock and Cape Simpson, and found high numbers of ringed seal in Harrison Bay, and peaks in spotted seal numbers off the Colville River Delta where a haulout site is located. Approximately 5 percent of all phocid sightings recorded by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) were spotted seals, which provide a suitable estimate of the proportion of ringed seals versus spotted seals in the Colville River Delta and Harrison Bay, both areas close to the proposed Oliktok branch line. Thus, the estimated densities of spotted seals in the cablelay survey area were derived by multiplying the ringed seal densities from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5 percent. Spotted seals are a summer resident in the Beaufort Sea and are generally found in nearshore waters, especially in association with haulout sites at or near river mouths. Their summer density in the Beaufort Sea is a function of distance from these haul out sites. Near Oliktok Point (Hauser et al. 2008, Lomac-McNair et al. 2014) where the Oliktok cable branch will reach shore, they are more common than ringed seals, but they are very uncommon farther offshore where most of the Beaufort Sea cable-lay activity will occur. This distribution of density is taken into account in the take authorization request. Bearded Seal: The most representative estimates of summer and fall density of bearded seals in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas come from the Aerts et al. (2014) monitoring program that ran from 2008 to 2013 in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. During this period the highest summer estimate was 0.063 seals/km2 (2013) and the highest fall estimate was 0.044 seals/km2 (2010). These are the values that were used in developing exposure estimates for this species for the northern Bering and Chukchi sea cable-lay areas (Table 2). There are no accurate density estimates for bearded seals in the Beaufort Sea based on survey data. However, Stirling et al. (1982) noted that the proportion of eastern Beaufort Sea bearded seals is 5 percent that of ringed seals. Further, Clarke et al. (2013, 2014) recorded 82 bearded seals in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas during the 2012 and 2013 ASAMM surveys, which represented 5.1 percent of all their ringed seal and small unidentified pinniped sightings (1,586). Bengtson et al. (2005) noted a similar ratio (6 percent) during spring surveys of ice seals in the Chukchi Sea. Therefore, the density values in Table 3 (/km2) were determined by multiplying ringed seal density from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5 percent as was done with spotted seals. Level B Exposure Calculations The estimated potential harassment take of local marine mammals by Quintillion’s fiber optics cable-lay project was determined by multiplying the seasonal animal densities in Tables 2 and 3 with the seasonal area that would be ensonified by thruster noise greater than 120 dB re 1 mPa (rms). The total area that would be ensonified in the Chukchi Sea is 5,947 km2 (2,296 mi2), and for the Bering Sea is 1,296 km2 (500 mi2). Since there are no marine mammal density estimates for the northern Bering Sea, the ensonified area was combined with the Chukchi Sea for a total ZOI of 7,243 km2 (2,796 mi2). The ensonified area for the Beaufort Sea is 1,509 km2 (583 mi2). Because the cable-laying plan is to begin in the south as soon as ice conditions allow and work northward, the intention is to complete the Bering and Chukchi seas portion of the network (1,575 km, [979 mi]) during the summer (June to August), and Beaufort Sea portion (328 km [204 mi]) during the fall (September and October). Thus, summer exposure estimates apply for the Bering and Chukchi areas and the fall exposure estimates for the Beaufort (Table 4). TABLE 4—THE AUTHORIZED NUMBER OF LEVEL B HARASSMENT EXPOSURES TO MARINE MAMMALS Exposures Bering/ Chukchi Species Bowhead Whale ........................................................................................................................... Gray Whale .................................................................................................................................. Beluga Whale .............................................................................................................................. Harbor Porpoise ........................................................................................................................... Ringed Seal ................................................................................................................................. Spotted Seal ................................................................................................................................ Bearded Seal ............................................................................................................................... asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES The estimated takes of marine mammals are based on the estimated exposures for marine mammals with known density information. For marine mammals whose estimated number of exposures were not calculated due to a lack of reasonably accurate density estimates, but for which occurrence records within the project area exist (i.e., humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, killer whale, and ribbon seal), a small number of takes relatively based 18 493 648 16 613 306 451 Exposures Beaufort 112 79 21 0 379 19 19 Exposures total 130 572 669 16 992 325 470 on group size and site fidelity have been requested in case they are encountered. A summary of estimated takes is provided in Table 5. TABLE 5—LEVEL B TAKE REQUEST AS PERCENTAGE OF STOCK Stock abundance Species Bowhead whale ........................................................................................................................... Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock) ............................................................................................. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 19,534 39,258 21JNN1 Level B take authorized 130 669 Request Level B take by stock (%) 0.8 1.7 40285 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices TABLE 5—LEVEL B TAKE REQUEST AS PERCENTAGE OF STOCK—Continued Stock abundance Species Beluga whale (E. Chukchi Sea stock) ......................................................................................... Beluga whale (E. Bering Sea stock) ........................................................................................... Gray whale ................................................................................................................................... Humpback whale (W.N. Pacific stock) ........................................................................................ Humpback whale (Cent. N. Pacific stock) ................................................................................... Fin whale ..................................................................................................................................... Minke whale ................................................................................................................................. Killer whale .................................................................................................................................. Harbor porpoise ........................................................................................................................... Ringed seal .................................................................................................................................. Spotted seal ................................................................................................................................. Bearded seal ................................................................................................................................ Ribbon seal .................................................................................................................................. The estimated Level B takes as a percentage of the marine mammal stock are less than 18 percent in all cases (Table 5). The highest percent of population estimated to be taken is 18 percent for Level B harassments of the East Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whale. However, that percentage assumes that all beluga whales taken are from that population. Most likely, some beluga whales would be taken from each of the three stocks, meaning fewer than 669 beluga whales would be taken from any individual stock. The Level B takes of beluga whales as a percentage of populations would likely be below 1.7, 18, and 3.5 percent for the Beaufort Sea, East Chukchi Sea, and East Bering Sea stocks, respectively. Analysis and Determinations asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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., 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, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the species. To avoid repetition, this introductory discussion of our analyses applies to all the species listed in Table 5, given that the anticipated effects of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation on marine mammals, taking into account the proposed mitigation, are expected to be relatively similar in nature. Where there are meaningful differences between species or stocks, or groups of species, in anticipated individual responses to activities, impact of expected take on the population due to differences in population status, or impacts on habitat, they are described separately in the analysis below. No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation, and none are authorized. Additionally, animals in the area are not expected to incur hearing impairment (i.e., temporary hearing threshold shift [TTS] or permanent hearing threshold shift [PTS]) or non-auditory physiological effects. The takes that are anticipated and authorized are expected to be limited to short-term Level B behavioral harassment in the form of brief startling reaction and/or temporary vacating of the area. Any effects on marine mammals are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around Quintillion’s proposed activities and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment.’’ Mitigation measures, such as controlled vessel speed and dedicated marine mammal observers, will ensure that takes are within the level being analyzed. In all cases, the effects are expected to be short-term, with no lasting biological consequence. Of the 12 marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed cable- PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 3,710 19.186 20,990 1,107 10,103 1,652 1,233 2,347 48,215 249,000 460,268 155,000 61,100 Level B take authorized 669 669 572 15 15 15 5 5 16 992 325 470 5 Request Level B take by stock (%) 18.0 3.5 2.7 1.36 0.14 0.91 0.40 0.21 0.03 0.49 0.07 0.08 0.01 laying area, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are listed as endangered under the ESA. These species are also designated as ‘‘depleted’’ under the MMPA. None of the other species that may occur in the project area are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. The project area of the Quintillion’s proposed activities is within areas that have been identified as biologically important areas (BIAs) for feeding for the gray and bowhead whales and for reproduction for gray whale during the summer and fall months (Clarke et al. 2015). In addition, the coastal Beaufort Sea also serves as a migratory corridor during bowhead whale spring migration, as well as for their feeding and breeding activities. Additionally, the coastal area of Chukchi and Beaufort seas also serve as BIAs for beluga whales for their feeding and migration. However, Quintillion’s proposed cablelaying operation would only briefly transit through the area in a slow speed (600 meters per hour). As discussed earlier, the Level B behavioral harassment of marine mammals from the proposed activity is expected to be brief startling reaction and temporary vacating of the area. There is no longterm biologically significant impact to marine mammals expected from the proposed subsea cable-laying activity. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from Quintillion’s proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas is not expected to adversely affect the affected species or stocks through E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 40286 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices impacts on annual rates of recruitment or survival, and therefore will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Small Numbers The requested takes represent less than 18 percent of all populations or stocks potentially impacted (see Table 5 in this document). These take estimates represent the percentage of each species or stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment. The numbers of marine mammals estimated to be taken are small proportions of the total populations of the affected species or stocks. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses The planned cable-lay activities will occur within the marine subsistence areas used by the villages of Nome, Wales, Kotzebue, Little Diomede, Kivalina, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut. Subsistence use varies considerably by season and location. Seven of the villages hunt bowhead whales (Suydam and George 2004). The small villages of Wales, Little Diomedes, and Kivalina take a bowhead whale about once every five years. Point Hope and Nuiqsut each harvest three to four whales annually, and Wainwright five to six. Harvest from Barrow is by far the highest, with about 25 whales taken each year, generally split between spring and fall hunts. Point Hope and Wainwright harvest occurs largely during the spring hunt, and Nuiqsut’s during the fall. Nuiqsut whalers base from Cross Island, located 70 km (44 mi) east of Oliktok. Beluga are also annually harvested by the above villages. Beluga harvest is most important to Point Hope. For example, the village harvested 84 beluga whales during the spring of 2012, and averaged 31 whales a year from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 2010). Beluga are also important to Wainwright village. They harvested 34 beluga whales in 2012, and averaged 11 annually from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 2010). All the other villages— Nome, Kotzebue, Wales, Kivalina, Little Diomede, and Barrow—averaged less than 10 whales a year (Frost and Suydam 2010). All villages utilize seals to one degree or another as well. Ringed seal harvest mostly occurs in the winter and spring VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 when they are hauled out on ice near leads or at breathing holes. Bearded seals are taken from boats during the early summer as they migrate northward in the Chukchi Sea and eastward in the Beaufort Sea. Bearded seals are a staple for villages like Kotzebue and Kivalina that have limited access to bowhead and beluga whales (Georgette and Loon 1993). Thetis Island, located just off the Colville River Delta, is an important base from which villagers from Nuiqsut hunt bearded seals each summer after ice breakup. Spotted seals are an important summer resource for Wainwright and Nuiqsut, but other villages will avoid them because the meat is less appealing than other available marine mammals. The planned cable-lay activity will occur in the summer after the spring bowhead and beluga whale hunts have ended, and will avoid the ice period when ringed seals are harvested. The Oliktok branch will pass within 4 km (2 mi) of Thetis Island, but the laying of cable along that branch would occur in late summer or early fall, long after the bearded seal hunt is over. Based on the planned cable-lay time table relative to the seasonal timing of the various subsistence harvests, cablelay activities into Kotzebue (bearded seal), Wainwright (beluga whale), and around Point Barrow (bowhead whale) could overlap with important harvest periods. Quintillion will work closely with the AEWC, the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, the Ice Seal Committee, and the North Slope Borough to minimize any effects cablelay activities might have on subsistence harvest. Plan of Cooperation or Measures To Minimize Impacts to Subsistence Hunts Regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(12) require IHA applicants for activities that take place in Arctic waters to provide a POC or information that identifies what measures have been taken and/or will be taken to minimize adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence purposes. Quintillion has prepared a POC, which was developed by identifying and evaluating any potential effects the proposed cable-laying operation might have on seasonal abundance that is relied upon for subsistence use. Specifically, Quintillion has contracted with Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks to furnish and install the cable system. AlcatelLucent’s vessel, C/S Ile de Brehat, participates in the Automatic Identification System (AIS) vessel tracking system allowing the vessel to be tracked and located in real time. The PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 accuracy and real time availability of AIS information via the web for the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas will not be fully known until the vessels are in the project area. If access to the information is limited, Quintillion will provide alternate vessel information to the public on a regular basis. Quintillion can aid and support the AIS data with additional information provided to the local search and rescue, or other source nominated during the community outreach program. In addition, Quintillion will communicate closely with the communities of Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, and Wainwright should activities progress far enough north in late June to mid-July when the villages are still engaged with their annual beluga whale hunt. Quintillion will also communicate closely with the communities of Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut to minimize impacts on the communities’ fall bowhead whale subsistence hunts, which typically occur during late September and into October. Prior to starting offshore activities, Quintillion will consult with Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut as well as the North Slope Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, and other stakeholders such as the EWC, the AEWC, the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (ABWC), and the Alaska Nanuuq Commission (ANC). Quintillion will also engage in consultations with additional groups on request. A copy of the POC can be viewed on the Internet at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.html. Endangered Species Act (ESA) Within the project area, the bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are listed as endangered under the ESA. NMFS’ Permits and Conservation Division consulted with staff in NMFS’ Alaska Region Protected Resources Division under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to Quintillion under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this activity. In May 2016, NMFS finished conducting its section 7 consultation and issued a Biological Opinion concluding that the issuance of the IHA associated with Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 open-water season is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered bowhead, humpback, and fin whales. No critical habitat has been designated for these species, therefore none will be affected. E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 119 / Tuesday, June 21, 2016 / Notices National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) that includes an analysis of potential environmental effects associated with NMFS’ issuance of an IHA to Quintillion to take marine mammals incidental to conducting subsea cable-laying operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The draft EA was available to the public for a 30-day comment period before it was finalized. NMFS has finalized the EA and prepared a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for this action. The FONSI was signed in May, prior to this issuance of the IHA. Therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not necessary. Authorization As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to Quintillion for the take of marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting subsea cable-laying operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 openwater season, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: June 16, 2016. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–14585 Filed 6–20–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE688 Fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico; Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR); Assessment Webinar for Gulf of Mexico Data-Limited Species National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of SEDAR 49 Assessment Webinar I for Gulf of Mexico DataLimited Species. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES AGENCY: The SEDAR 49 assessment of the Gulf of Mexico Data-Limited Species will consist of a data workshop, a review workshop, and a series of Assessment Webinars. DATES: The SEDAR 49 Assessment Webinar I will be held on Tuesday, July 12, 2016, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. For SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:37 Jun 20, 2016 Jkt 238001 agenda details, see SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION. The meeting will be held via Webinar. The Webinar is open to members of the public. Those interested in participating should contact Julie A. Neer at SEDAR (see Contact Information Below) to request an invitation providing Webinar access information. Please request Webinar invitations at least 24 hours in advance of each Webinar. SEDAR address: 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, North Charleston, SC 29405. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Julie A. Neer, SEDAR Coordinator; (843) 571– 4366; email: Julie.neer@safmc.net. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: ADDRESSES: Agenda The Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Caribbean Fishery Management Councils, in conjunction with NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic and Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commissions have implemented the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) process, a multi-step method for determining the status of fish stocks in the Southeast Region. SEDAR is a multistep process including: (1) Data Workshop; (2) Assessment Process utilizing Webinars; and (3) Review Workshop. The product of the Data Workshop is a data report that compiles and evaluates potential datasets and recommends which datasets are appropriate for assessment analyses. The product of the Assessment Process is a stock assessment report that describes the fisheries, evaluates the status of the stock, estimates biological benchmarks, projects future population conditions, and recommends research and monitoring needs. The assessment is independently peer reviewed at the Review Workshop. The product of the Review Workshop is a Summary documenting panel opinions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the stock assessment and input data. Participants for SEDAR Workshops are appointed by the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Caribbean Fishery Management Councils and NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office, HMS Management Division, and Southeast Fisheries Science Center. Participants include data collectors and database managers; stock assessment scientists, biologists, and researchers; constituency representatives including fishermen, environmentalists, and NGO’s; International experts; and staff of Councils, Commissions, and state and federal agencies. PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 40287 The items of discussion in the Assessment Process Webinars are as follows: 1. Using datasets and initial assessment analysis recommended from the Data Workshop, panelists will employ assessment models to evaluate stock status, estimate population benchmarks and management criteria, and project future conditions. 2. Participants will recommend the most appropriate methods and configurations for determining stock status and estimating population parameters. Although non-emergency issues not contained in this agenda may come before this group for discussion, those issues may not be the subject of formal action during this meeting. Action will be restricted to those issues specifically identified in this notice and any issues arising after publication of this notice that require emergency action under section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provided the public has been notified of the intent to take final action to address the emergency. Special Accommodations These meetings are physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to the Council office (see ADDRESSES) at least 5 business days prior to each workshop. Note: The times and sequence specified in this agenda are subject to change. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: June 16, 2016. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–14590 Filed 6–20–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0658–XE690 Fisheries of the South Atlantic; Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR); Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of SEDAR 50 Stock ID Work Group Post-Meeting Webinar. AGENCY: The SEDAR 50 assessment(s) of the Atlantic stock(s) of blueline SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\21JNN1.SGM 21JNN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 119 (Tuesday, June 21, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 40274-40287]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-14585]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE442


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Subsea Cable-Laying Operations in 
the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization 
(IHA).

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SUMMARY: In accordance with regulations implementing the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that 
NMFS has issued an IHA to Quintillion Subsea Operations, LLC 
(Quintillion) to take, by harassment, small numbers of 12 species of 
marine mammals incidental to a subsea cable-laying operation in the 
state and federal waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, 
Alaska, during the open-water season of 2016.

DATES: This authorization is effective from June 1, 2016 through 
October 31, 2016.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, 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.
    An 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 and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting of such takings 
are set forth. NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 
as ``an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be 
reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.''
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process 
by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization 
to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. 
Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA establishes a 45-day time limit for 
NMFS's review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and 
comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental 
harassment of small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the 
close of the public comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the 
authorization.
    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].

Summary of Request

    On October 29, 2015, NMFS received an IHA application and marine 
mammal mitigation and monitoring plan (4MP) from Quintillion for the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to conducting subsea cable-laying 
activities in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. After 
receiving NMFS' comments on the initial application, Quintillion made 
revisions and updated its IHA application and 4MP on February 3, 2016. 
NMFS determined that the application and the 4MP were adequate and 
complete on February 5, 2016. NMFS published a notice on March 30, 2016 
(81 FR 17666) making preliminary determinations and proposing to issue 
an IHA. The notice initiated a 30-day comment period.
    Quintillion proposed to install a subsea fiber optic network cable 
along

[[Page 40275]]

the northern and western coasts of Alaska in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, 
and Beaufort seas during the 2016 Arctic open-water season. The 
activity would occur between June 1 and October 31, 2016. Noise 
generated from the cable vessel's dynamic positioning thruster could 
impact marine mammals in the vicinity of the activities. Take, by Level 
B harassments, of individuals of 12 species of marine mammals from the 
specified activity is authorized by the IHA.

Description of the Specified Activity

    A detailed description of Quintillion's subsea cable-laying program 
is provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 
17666; March 30, 2016). Since that time, no changes have been made to 
the proposed construction activities. Therefore, a detailed description 
is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for 
the description of the specific activity.

Comments and Responses

    A notice of NMFS' proposal to issue an IHA to Quintillion was 
published in the Federal Register on March 30, 2016 (81 FR 17666). That 
notice described, in detail, Quintillion's activity, the marine mammal 
species and subsistence activities that may be affected by the proposed 
subsea cable-laying project, and the anticipated effects on marine 
mammals and subsistence activities. During the 30-day public comment 
period, NMFS received comments from the Marine Mammal Commission 
(Commission) and the North Slope Borough (NSB). Specific comments and 
responses are provided below.
    Comment 1: The Commission recommends that NMFS issue the requested 
incidental harassment authorization, subject to inclusion of the 
proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures.
    Response: NMFS concurs with the Commission's recommendation and has 
included the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures contained 
in the proposed authorization in the issued IHA.
    Comment 2: The NSB requests Quintillion continue coordination with 
the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC), and its member 
communities, and other Alaska Native marine mammal user groups as 
appropriate, and participation in the well-established and effective 
Conflict Avoidance Agreement (CAA) process.
    Response: Quintillion has worked closely with AEWC, the co-
management groups, and the villages to develop a Plan of Cooperation 
(POC) that recognizes the time and place of subsistence use and 
provides an effective plan for avoiding active subsistence areas. 
Quintillion stated that it has discussed the potential for a CAA with 
the AEWC and that they agreed it is not necessary for Quintillion to 
sign a CAA for its subsea cable-laying project; therefore, Quintillion 
is not signing a CAA. NMFS has conducted a thorough analysis of the 
potential impact on subsistence activities from Quintillion's proposed 
subsea cable-laying operations and determined that the proposed project 
would not have unmitigable impacts to subsistence use of marine mammals 
in the vicinity of the project area, given that Quintillion is required 
to implement a number of mitigation and monitoring measures (see 
``Impacts on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for 
Subsistence Use'' section below for details). In addition, Quintillion 
has prepared a POC, which includes detailed maps showing scheduled 
cable-laying activity relative to seasonal subsistence use. Quintillion 
states that these maps have been reviewed and the schedule is supported 
by AEWC. NMFS has reviewed the POC and believes it contains all 
necessary information for us to make the above determination.
    Comment 3: The NSB requests Quintillion to communicate with all 
villages near its operations to make sure its activities do not disrupt 
subsistence activities, and to ensure the life, health and safety of 
Borough residents who may be out on the ocean.
    Response: As stated earlier in Response to Comment 2, the POC 
provided by Quintillion contains all necessary information for us to 
make a determination that Quintillion's proposed subsea cable-laying 
activity would not have an unmitigable impact to subsistence use of 
marine mammal resources in the vicinity of the project area. This POC 
also includes the daily communication plan that Quintillion will be 
implementing. Further, Quintillion stated it is donating to AEWC and 
landing villages memberships to Marine Exchange Alaska, which will 
allow real-time tracking of Quintillion vessels during its subsea 
cable-laying operations.
    Comment 4: The NSB requests Quintillion conduct a robust visual and 
acoustical monitoring program with input from subsistence hunters and 
the Borough's Department of Wildlife Management.
    Response: For the issuance of the IHA to Quintillion, NMFS worked 
with the applicant, NMFS' biologists in the Alaska Region and Alaska 
Fisheries Science Center, and an independent peer-review panel to 
ensure that robust visual and acoustical monitoring programs are in 
place to provide adequate monitoring measures during Quintillion's 
subsea cable-laying operations in the Arctic. For visual monitoring, 
Quintillion is required to place both Inupiat and non-native Protected 
Species Observers (PSO) on three cable-laying vessels to conduct visual 
monitoring throughout the entire project during the daylight period, 
including all vessel transits. Quintillion is also required to provide 
substantial financial support to two existing passive acoustical 
monitoring (PAM) programs that will be monitoring both marine mammals 
and vessel noise in the cable-laying project area. These include 
supporting the National Marine Mammal Laboratory's (NMML) PAM program 
in the northern Chukchi and western Beaufort Seas, and the Kotzebue 
Sound PAM in the southern Chukchi Sea. Support of these active 
programs, in lieu of a separate and unproven PAM program, was 
recommended by Dr. Robert Suydam with the NSB Department of Wildlife 
Management during the monitoring plan independent peer-review process. 
This approach was additionally supported by Dr. Manuel Castellote with 
NMML, who would also be the acoustical liaison for both PAM projects 
and would help to ensure the PAM projects provide the necessary 
information on marine mammal vocalizations and ship underwater sound 
needed for the 90-day report.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    The Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas support a diverse assemblage 
of marine mammals. Table 1 lists the 12 marine mammal species under 
NMFS jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed 
project area.

[[Page 40276]]



                            Table 1--Marine Mammal Species With Confirmed or Possible Occurrence in the Proposed Action Area
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Common name                Scientific name           Status             Occurrence          Seasonality             Range          Abundance
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Odontocetes
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock)  Delphinapterus        ...................  Common.............  Mostly spring and    Mostly Beaufort Sea       39,258
                                    leucas.                                                         fall with some in
                                                                                                    summer.
Beluga whale (eastern Chukchi Sea  ....................  ...................  Common.............  Mostly spring and    Mostly Chukchi Sea.        3,710
 stock).                                                                                            fall with some in
                                                                                                    summer.
Beluga whale (eastern Bering Sea   ....................  ...................  Common.............  Year round.........  Bering Sea.........       19,186
 stock).
Killer whale (Alaska resident      Orcinus orca........  ...................  Occasional/          Mostly summer and    California to              2,347
 stock).                                                                       Extralimital.        early fall.          Alaska.
Harbor porpoise (Bering Sea        Phocoena phocoena...  ...................  Occasional/          Mostly summer and    California to             48,215
 stock).                                                                       Extralimital.        early fall.          Alaska.
Mysticetes
* Bowhead whale (W. Arctic stock)  Balaena mysticetus..  Endangered;          Common.............  Mostly spring and    Russia to Canada...       19,534
                                                          Depleted.                                 fall with some in
                                                                                                    summer.
Gray whale (E. North Pacific       Eschrichtius          ...................  Somewhat common....  Mostly summer......  Mexico to the U.S.        20,990
 stock).                            robustus.                                                                            Arctic Ocean.
* Fin whale (N. East Pacific)....  Balaenoptera          Endangered;          Rare...............  Mostly summer......  N.E. Pacific Ocean.        1,650
                                    physalus.             Depleted.
Minke whale......................  Balaenoptera          ...................  Rare...............  Mostly summer......  N.E. Pacific Ocean.          810
                                    acutorostrata.
* Humpback whale (Central North    Megaptera             Endangered;          Rare...............  Mostly summer......  North Pacific Ocean       10,103
 Pacific stock).                    novaeangliae.         Depleted.
* Humpback whale (western North    ....................  Endangered;          Rare...............  Mostly summer......  North Pacific Ocean        1,107
 Pacific stock).                                          Depleted.
Pinnipeds
Bearded seal (Alaska stock)......  Erigathus barbatus..  ...................  Common.............  Spring and summer..  Bering, Chukchi,         155,000
                                                                                                                         and Beaufort Seas.
Ringed seal (Alaska stock).......  Phoca hispida.......  ...................  Common.............  Year round.........  Bering, Chukchi,         249,000
                                                                                                                         and Beaufort Seas.
Spotted seal (Alaska stock)......  Phoca largha........  ...................  Common.............  Summer.............  Japan to U.S.            460,268
                                                                                                                         Arctic Ocean.
Ribbon seal (Alaska stock).......  Histriophoca          ...................  Occasional.........  Summer.............  Russia to U.S.            49,000
                                    fasciata.                                                                            Arctic Ocean.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Endangered, threatened, or species of concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); Depleted under the MMPA.

    Among these species, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are listed 
as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 
addition, walrus and polar bear could also occur in the Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas; however, these species are managed by the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered in this 
Notice of Issuance of an IHA.
    Of all these species, bowhead and beluga whales and ringed, 
bearded, and spotted seals are the species most frequently sighted in 
the proposed activity area. The proposed action area in the Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas also includes areas that have been 
identified as important for bowhead whale reproduction during summer 
and fall and for beluga whale feeding and reproduction in summer.
    Most bowheads migrate in the fall through the Alaskan Beaufort Sea 
in water depths between 15 and 200 m (50 and 656 ft) deep (Miller et 
al. 2002), with annual variability depending on ice conditions. Hauser 
et al. (2008) conducted surveys for bowhead whales near the Colville 
River Delta (near Oliktok Point) during August and September 2008, and 
found most bowheads between 25 and 30 km (15.5 and 18.6 mi) north of 
the barrier islands (Jones Islands), with the nearest in 18 m (60 ft) 
of water about 25 km (16 mi) north of the Colville River Delta. No 
bowheads were observed inside the 18-m (60-ft) isobath. Most of the 
cable-lay activity planned for the Beaufort Sea will occur in water 
deeper than 15 m (50 ft), where migrating bowhead whales could most 
likely be encountered.
    Three stocks of beluga whale inhabit the waters where cable-lay is 
planned to occur: Beaufort Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, and Eastern Bering 
Sea (O'Corry-Crowe et al. 1997). All three stocks winter in the open 
leads and polynyas of the Bering Sea (Hazard 1988). In spring, the 
Beaufort Sea stock migrates through coastal leads more than 2,000 km 
(1,200 mi) to their summering grounds in the Mackenzie River delta 
where they molt, feed, and calve in the warmer estuarine waters (Braham 
et al. 1977). In late summer, these belugas move into offshore northern 
waters to feed (Davis and Evans 1982, Harwood et al. 1996, Richard et 
al. 2001). In the fall, they begin their migration back to their 
wintering grounds generally following an offshore route as they pass 
through the western Beaufort Sea (Richard et al. 2001).
    The Beaufort Sea stock beluga whales take a more coastal route 
during their fall migration, but compared to the vanguard of population 
and the survey effort expended, nearshore travel appears to be 
relatively rare. Most belugas recorded during aerial surveys conducted 
in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in the last two decades were found more 
than 65 km (40 mi) from shore (Miller et al. 1999, Funk et al. 2008, 
Christie et al. 2010, Clarke and Ferguson 2010, Brandon et al. 2011). 
For the most part, beluga whales from this stock are expected to occur 
well north of the proposed cable route through the Beaufort Sea at the 
time of cable-lay activity.
    The Eastern Chukchi Sea beluga whale stock summers in Kotzebue 
Sound and Kasegaluk Lagoon where they breed and molt, and then in late 
summer and fall they also move in the Beaufort Sea (Suydam et al. 
2005). Suydam et al. (2005) satellite-tagged 23 beluga whales in 
Kasegaluk Lagoon and found nearly all the whales move into

[[Page 40277]]

the deeper waters of the Beaufort Sea post-tagging. However, virtually 
none of the whales were found in continental shelf waters (<200 m deep) 
of the Beaufort Sea, and all were in waters at least 65 km (40 mi) 
north of the northern Alaska coastline. The most recent stock estimate 
is 3,710 animals (Allen and Angliss 2015). The planned cable-lay 
activity is most likely to encounter this stock while laying the 
Kotzebue and Wainwright branch lines, but the routes do avoid the 
Kasegaluk Lagoon breeding and molting area.
    There is little information on movements of the East Bering Sea 
stock of beluga whales, although two whales that were satellite-tagged 
in 2012 near Nome wintered in Bristol Bay (Allen and Angliss 2015). 
Whales from this stock might be encountered while laying the Nome 
branch line.
    In addition, a few gray whales are expected to be encountered along 
the main trunk line route through the north Bering and Chukchi seas. 
However, they are expected to be commonly observed along the nearshore 
segments of the branch lines, especially the Wainwright branch, where 
they are commonly found in large feeding groups.
    Three of the ice seal species--ringed, bearded, and spotted seals--
are fairly common in the proposed subsea cable-laying areas. However, 
there are no pinnipeds haulouts in the vicinity of the action area.
    Fin whale, minke whale, and ribbon seal are not common in the 
vicinity of the project area, though they could occur occasionally.
    Further information on the biology and local distribution of these 
species can be found in Quintillion's application (see ADDRESSES) and 
the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which are available 
online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/species.html.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    The effects of the stressors associated with the specified activity 
(e.g., acoustic effects of operation of dynamic thrusters) have the 
potential to result in harassment of marine mammals. The Federal 
Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 17666, March 30, 2016) 
included a discussion of the effects of acoustic stimuli on marine 
mammals. Therefore, that information is not repeated here. No instances 
of injury, serious injury, or mortality (Level A take) are expected as 
a result of the subsea cable-laying operation activities, nor are any 
Level A take authorized by this IHA.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    Project activities that could potentially impact marine mammal 
habitats include acoustical impacts to prey resources from thruster 
noise and impacts associated with laying cable on sea bottom. Regarding 
the former, however, acoustical injury from thruster noise is unlikely. 
Previous noise studies (e.g., Greenlaw et al. 1988, Davis et al. 1998, 
Christian et al. 2004) with cod, crab, and schooling fish found little 
or no injury to adults, larvae, or eggs when exposed to impulsive 
noises exceeding 220 decibels (dB). Continuous noise levels from ship 
thrusters are generally below 180 dB, and do not create great enough 
pressures to cause tissue or organ injury.
    Nedwell et al. (2003) measured noise associated with cable 
trenching operations offshore of Wales, United Kingdom, and found that 
levels (178 dB at source) did not exceed those where significant 
avoidance reactions of fish would occur. Cable burial operations 
involve the use of ploughs or jets to cut trenches in the sea floor 
sediment. Cable ploughs are generally used where the substrate is 
cohesive enough to be ``cut'' and laid alongside the trench long enough 
for the cable to be laid at depth. In less cohesive substrates, where 
the sediment would immediately settle back into the trench before the 
cable could be laid, jetting is used to scour a more lasting furrow. 
The objective of both is to excavate a temporary trench of sufficient 
depth to fully bury the cable. The plough blade is 0.2 m (0.7 ft) wide, 
producing a trench of approximately the same width. Jetted trenches are 
somewhat wider, depending on the sediment type. Potential impacts to 
marine mammal habitat and prey include (1) crushing of benthic and 
epibenthic invertebrates with the plough blade, plough skid, or remote 
operating vehicle (ROV) track, (2) dislodgement of benthic 
invertebrates onto the surface where they may die, and (3) and the 
settlement of suspended sediments away from the trench where they may 
clog gills or feeding structures of sessile invertebrates or smother 
sensitive species (BERR 2008). However, the footprint of cable 
trenching is generally restricted to 2 to 3 m (7-10 ft) width (BERR 
2008), and the displaced wedge or berm is expected to naturally 
backfill into the trench. Jetting results in more suspension of 
sediments, which may take days to settle, during which currents may 
transport it well away (up to several kilometers) from its source. 
Suspended sand particles generally settle within about 20 m (66 ft). 
BERR (2008) reviewed the effect of offshore wind farm construction, 
including laying of power and communication cables, on the environment. 
Based on a rating of 1 to 10, they concluded that sediment disturbance 
from plough operations rated the lowest at 1, with jetting rating from 
2 to 4, depending on substrate. Dredging rated the highest (6) relative 
sediment disturbance.
    The maximum amount of trenching possible is about 1,900 km (1,180 
mi), but the width of primary effect is only about 3 m (10 ft). Thus, 
the maximum impact footprint is less than 6 km\2\ (2.3 mi\2\), an 
insignificantly small area given the Chukchi Sea area alone is 595,000 
km\2\ (230,000 mi\2\). Overall, cable-laying effects to marine mammal 
habitat and prey resources are considered not significant.

Mitigation Measures

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods 
of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the 
least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species 
or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses.
    The primary purpose of these mitigation measures is to detect 
marine mammals and avoid vessel interactions during the pre- and post-
cable-laying activities. Due to the nature of the activities, the 
vessel will not be able to engage in direction alteration during cable-
laying operations. However, since the cable-laying vessel will be 
moving at a slow speed of 600 meter/hour (0.37 mile per hour or 0.32 
knot) during cable-laying operations, it is highly unlikely that the 
cable vessel would have physical interaction with marine mammals. For 
Quintillion's proposed subsea cable-laying project, NMFS is requiring 
Quintillion to implement the following mitigation measures to minimize 
the potential impacts to marine mammals in the project vicinity as a 
result of its planned activities.
(a) Establishing Zone of Influence (ZOI)
    A PSO would establish a ZOI where the received level is 120 dB 
during Qunitillion's subsea cable-laying operation and conduct marine 
mammal monitoring during the operation.
(b) Vessel Movement Mitigation during Pre- and Post-cable-laying 
Activities
    When the cable-lay fleet is traveling in Alaskan waters to and from 
the

[[Page 40278]]

project area (before and after completion of cable-laying), the fleet 
vessels would:
     Not approach concentrations or groups of whales (an 
aggregation of 6 or more whales) within 1.6 km (1 mi) by all vessels 
under the direction of Quintillion;
     Take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction 
with any bowhead whales observed within 1.6 km (1 mi) of a vessel; and
     Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when visibility drops, 
to avoid the likelihood of collision with whales. The normal vessel 
travel speeds when laying cable is well less than 5 knots.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated prescribed mitigation measures for 
Quintillion's planned subsea cable-laying project and considered a 
range of other measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes 
the means of effecting the least practicable impact on the affected 
marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of 
potential measures included consideration of the following factors in 
relation to one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measures are 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 received 
levels of 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 received levels of activities expected to result in the take of 
marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing 
harassment takes only);
    4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number 
or number at biologically important time or location) to received 
levels of 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; and
    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 planned measures, as 
well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has determined that the 
prescribed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least 
practicable impact on marine mammals species or stocks and their 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance. Prescribed measures to ensure 
availability of such species or stocks for taking for certain 
subsistence uses are discussed later in this document (see ``Impact on 
Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses'' section).

Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must 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 IHAs 
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. 
Quintillion submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the 
IHA application. The plan has not been modified or supplemented based 
on comments or new information received from the public during the 
public comment period or from the peer review panel (see the 
``Monitoring Plan Peer Review'' section later in this document).
    Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or 
more of the following general 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; and
    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.

[[Page 40279]]

Monitoring Measures

    Monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine 
mammals affected by the subsea cable-laying operation and facilitate 
real-time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by vessel 
traffic. These goals will be accomplished in the Bering, Chukchi, and 
Beaufort seas during 2016 by conducting vessel-based monitoring and 
passive acoustic monitoring to document marine mammal presence and 
distribution in the vicinity of the operation area.
    Visual monitoring by PSOs during subsea cable-laying operations, 
and periods when the operation is not occurring, will provide 
information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by 
the activity. Vessel-based PSOs onboard the vessels will record the 
numbers and species of marine mammals observed in the area and any 
observable reaction of marine mammals to the cable-laying operation in 
the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas.

Vessel-Based PSOs

    Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals would be done by trained 
PSOs throughout the period of subsea cable-laying operation. The 
observers will monitor the occurrence of marine mammals near the cable-
laying vessel during all daylight periods during operation. PSO duties 
include watching for and identifying marine mammals; recording their 
numbers, distances, and reactions to the survey operations; and 
documenting ``take by harassment.''
    A sufficient number of PSOs would be required onboard each survey 
vessel to meet the following criteria:
     100 percent monitoring coverage during all periods of 
cable-laying operations in daylight;
     Maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and
     Maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO.
    PSO teams will consist of Inupiat observers and experienced field 
biologists. Each vessel will have an experienced field crew leader to 
supervise the PSO team. The total number of PSOs may decrease later in 
the season as the duration of daylight decreases.
(1) PSOs Qualification and Training
    Lead PSOs and most PSOs will be individuals with experience as 
observers during marine mammal monitoring projects in Alaska or other 
offshore areas in recent years. New or inexperienced PSOs would be 
paired with an experienced PSO or experienced field biologist so that 
the quality of marine mammal observations and data recording is kept 
consistent.
    Resumes for candidate PSOs will be provided to NMFS for review and 
acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers would be 
experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the 
area. All observers will complete a NMFS-approved observer training 
course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data 
collection procedures.
(2) Marine Mammal Observation Protocol
    PSOs shall watch for marine mammals from the best available vantage 
point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge. PSOs shall scan 
systematically with the unaided eye and 7 x 50 reticle binoculars, and 
night-vision and infra-red equipment when needed. Personnel on the 
bridge shall assist the marine mammal observer(s) in watching for 
marine mammals; however, bridge crew observations will not be used in 
lieu of PSO observation efforts.
    Monitoring shall consist of recording of the following information:
    1. The species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if 
determinable), the general behavioral activity, heading (if 
consistent), bearing and distance from vessel, sighting cue, behavioral 
pace, and apparent reaction of all marine mammals seen near the vessel 
(e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.);
    2. The time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel, 
along with sea state, visibility, cloud cover and sun glare at (I) any 
time a marine mammal is sighted, (II) at the start and end of each 
watch, and (III) during a watch (whenever there is a change in one or 
more variable);
    3. The identification of all vessels that are visible within 5 km 
of the vessel from which observation is conducted whenever a marine 
mammal is sighted and the time observed;
    4. Any identifiable marine mammal behavioral response (sighting 
data should be collected in a manner that will not detract from the 
PSO's ability to detect marine mammals);
    5. Any adjustments made to operating procedures; and
    6. Visibility during observation periods so that total estimates of 
take can be corrected accordingly.
    Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with 
binoculars (7 x 50 binoculars) containing a reticle to measure the 
vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the 
horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve 
their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the 
water. Quintillion shall use the best available technology to improve 
detection capability during periods of fog and other types of inclement 
weather. Such technology might include night-vision goggles or 
binoculars as well as other instruments that incorporate infrared 
technology.
    PSOs shall understand the importance of classifying marine mammals 
as ``unknown'' or ``unidentified'' if they cannot identify the animals 
to species with confidence. In those cases, they shall note any 
information that might aid in the identification of the marine mammal 
sighted. For example, for an unidentified mysticete whale, the 
observers should record whether the animal had a dorsal fin. Additional 
details about unidentified marine mammal sightings, such as ``blow 
only,'' ``mysticete with (or without) a dorsal fin,'' ``seal splash,'' 
etc., shall be recorded.

Acoustic Monitoring

(1) Sound Source Measurements
    Quintillion will conduct a sound source verification (SSV) on one 
of the cable-lay ships and the anchor-handling tugs when both are 
operating near Nome (early in the season).
(2) Passive Acoustic Monitoring
    After consulting with NMFS' Office of Protected Resources, the 
National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), and the North Slope Borough 
Department of Wildlife, Quintillion will contribute to the 2016 joint 
Arctic Whale Ecology Study (ARCWEST)/Chukchi Acoustics, Oceanography, 
and Zooplankton Study-extension (CHAOZ-X).
    The summer minimum extent of sea ice in the northern Bering Sea, 
Chukchi Sea, and western Beaufort Sea has diminished by more than 50 
percent over the past two decades. This loss of ice has sparked 
concerns for long-term survival of ice-dependent species like polar 
bears, Pacific walrus, bearded seals, and ringed seals. In contrast, 
populations of some Arctic species such as bowhead and gray whales have 
increased in abundance, while subarctic species such as humpback, fin, 
and minke whales have expanded their ranges into the Arctic in response 
to warmer water and increased zooplankton production. The joint 
ARCWEST/CHAOZ-X program has been monitoring climate change and 
anthropogenic activity in the Arctic

[[Page 40280]]

waters of Alaska since 2010 by tracking satellite-tagged animals, 
sampling lower trophic levels and physical oceanography, and passively 
acoustically monitoring marine mammal and vessel activity.
    The current mooring locations for the PAM portion of the joint 
program align closely with the proposed Quintillion cable-lay route. 
Operating passive acoustic recorders at these locations in 2016 would 
not only provide information on the distribution and composition of the 
marine mammal community along the proposed cable-lay route at the time 
cable-lay activities would be occurring, but they could also record the 
contribution of the cable-lay activity on the local acoustical 
environment where the route passes close to these stations.

Reporting Measures

(1) Sound Source Verification Report
    A report on the preliminary results of the sound source 
verification measurements, including the measured source level, shall 
be submitted within 14 days after collection of those measurements at 
the start of the field season. This report will specify the distances 
of the ZOI that were adopted for the survey.
(2) Technical Report (90-Day Report)
    A draft report will be submitted to the Director, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, within 90 days after the end of 
Quintillion's subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and 
Beaufort seas. The report will describe in detail:
    1. Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total 
distances, and marine mammal distribution through the project period, 
accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and 
detectability of marine mammals);
    2. Summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of 
the efficacy, measurements, and observations;
    3. Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing 
detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, 
and fog/glare);
    4. Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine 
mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender 
categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover;
    5. Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with uncertainty 
expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, 
posterior probability distribution, or another applicable method, with 
the exact approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data 
available; and
    6. A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual 
estimated takes.
    The draft report shall be subject to review and comment by NMFS. 
Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final report 
prior to acceptance by NMFS. The draft report will be considered the 
final report for this activity under this Authorization if NMFS has not 
provided comments and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of the 
draft report.
(3) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals
    In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly 
causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA, 
such as a serious injury, or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear 
interaction, and/or entanglement), Quintillion will immediately cease 
the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the 
Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The 
report would include the following information:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Name and type of vessel involved;
     Vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
     Description of the incident;
     Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding 
the incident;
     Water depth;
     Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
     Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 
hours preceding the incident;
     Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
     Fate of the animal(s); and
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if 
equipment is available).
    Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with Quintillion 
to determine the necessary measures to minimize the likelihood of 
further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Quintillion would 
not be able to resume its activities until notified by NMFS via letter, 
email, or telephone.
    In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and 
the lead PSO determines that the cause of the death is unknown and the 
death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of 
decomposition as described in the next paragraph), Quintillion would 
immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the 
NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional 
Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the same information 
identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work 
with Quintillion to determine whether modifications in the activities 
would be appropriate.
    In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and 
the lead PSO determines that the 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), Quintillion would report the incident to the Chief 
of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email 
to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the 
discovery. Quintillion would provide photographs or video footage (if 
available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to 
NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Quintillion can continue 
its operations under such a case.

Monitoring Plan Peer Review

    The MMPA requires that monitoring plans be independently peer 
reviewed ``where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a 
species or stock for taking for subsistence uses'' (16 U.S.C. 
1371(a)(5)(D)(ii)(III)). Regarding this requirement, NMFS' implementing 
regulations state, ``Upon receipt of a complete monitoring plan, and at 
its discretion, [NMFS] will either submit the plan to members of a peer 
review panel for review or within 60 days of receipt of the proposed 
monitoring plan, schedule a workshop to review the plan'' (50 CFR 
216.108(d)).
    NMFS convened an independent peer review panel to review 
Quintillion's 4MP for the proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the 
Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The panel met via web conference in 
early March 2016, and provided comments to NMFS in April 2016. The full 
panel report can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.html.
    NMFS provided the panel with Quintillion's IHA application and

[[Page 40281]]

monitoring plan and asked the panel to answer the following questions:
    1. Will the applicant's stated objectives effectively further the 
understanding of the impacts of their activities on marine mammals and 
otherwise accomplish the goals stated above? If not, how should the 
objectives be modified to better accomplish the goals above?
    2. Can the applicant achieve the stated objectives based on the 
methods described in the plan?
    3. Are there technical modifications to the proposed monitoring 
techniques and methodologies proposed by the applicant that should be 
considered to better accomplish their stated objectives?
    4. Are there techniques not proposed by the applicant (i.e., 
additional monitoring techniques or methodologies) that should be 
considered for inclusion in the applicant's monitoring program to 
better accomplish their stated objectives?
    5. What is the best way for an applicant to present their data and 
results (formatting, metrics, graphics, etc.) in the required reports 
that are to be submitted to NMFS (i.e., 90-day report and comprehensive 
report)?
    The peer-review panel report contains recommendations that the 
panel members felt were applicable to the Quintillion's monitoring 
plans. Specifically, the panel recommended the following:
    (1) Additional PAM recorders be deployed closer to shore, if 
possible. This would allow for monitoring of sounds generated by 
nearshore cable-laying barges, as well as for detection of marine 
mammals. The panel identified waters near Kotzebue as a high priority 
for additional acoustic monitoring due to the presence of marine 
mammals sensitive to acoustic disturbance, such as beluga whales and 
bearded seals, and the reliance on those species for subsistence 
purposes;
    (2) Quintillion contributes funding to assist in the analysis of 
existing data from passive acoustic monitors deployed in 2013-2015 near 
Kotzebue. These data could serve as a baseline for noise levels and 
marine mammal distribution and vocalization rates during years in which 
cable-laying activities were not operating. Given financial 
constraints, the Panel recommends funding analyses of these additional 
PAM data at the expense of Quintillion's proposed plan for PSOs to 
visually monitor for marine mammals;
    (3) If possible, PSOs be deployed on shallow-water barges. If 
accommodations are limited, PSOs could be deployed on a daily basis. If 
PSOs cannot be deployed, the panel recommends that crew members receive 
PSO training;
    (4) Infra-red systems have improved considerably and should be 
considered as an additional monitoring tool for operations at night or 
in low visibility conditions;
    (5) If subsea cable-laying operations are not completed by mid-
September in the Beaufort Sea, Quintillion should have a contingency 
plan for monitoring potential impacts to marine mammals, generally, and 
bowheads specifically. Because of the sensitivity of bowheads to 
anthropogenic sounds and the importance of the western Beaufort Sea as 
a feeding area, the monitoring plan should include methods for 
monitoring ``over-the-horizon.'' This plan might include aerial 
surveys, scout vessels with PSOs, or some other method. The information 
collected during this monitoring effort, if needed, would be very 
helpful in developing a mitigation and monitoring plan if Quintillion 
lays cable through the remainder of the Beaufort Sea in the future;
    (6) Quintillion should also have an appropriate communication plan 
in place to avoid impacting fall hunts of bowhead whales in the 
Beaufort (Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, and Barrow) and Chukchi seas (Barrow, 
Wainwright, and Point Lay), as much as possible; and
    (7) Quintillion should also ensure all sources of noise are 
included in SSV measurements and in its description of anticipated 
source levels (not just thrusters but winches under tension, plough 
hydraulics, active transducers, jetting, etc.). The ROV includes two 
jets, and it would be useful to get SSV measurements of the ROVs also.
    NMFS discussed the peer review panel report and the list of 
recommendations with Quintillion. For the aforementioned monitoring 
measures, NMFS requires and Quintillion agrees to implement the 
following:
    (1) Conducting additional PAM in nearshore waters near Kotzebue;
    (2) Contributing an additional $20,000 funding to assist in the 
analysis of existing data from passive acoustic monitors deployed in 
2013-2015 near Kotzebue;
    (3) Using infra-red systems for marine mammal monitoring at night 
or in low visibility conditions;
    (4) Quintillion is required to have an appropriate communication 
plan in place to avoid impacting fall hunts of bowhead whales in the 
Beaufort (Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, and Barrow) and Chukchi seas (Barrow, 
Wainwright, and Point Lay), as much as possible. The communication plan 
is part of the POC that Quintillion submitted to NMFS; and
    (5) Conducting SSV measurements on all noise sources, including 
noise from the cable ship during plowing operations, and noise from the 
nearshore barge during winching, anchor-handling, and ROV operations.
    However, in discussions with Quintillion, NMFS determined that the 
following recommendations from the peer-review panel cannot be 
implemented.
    (1) It is not possible to deploy PSOs on the shallow water barge, 
and training crew members is unrealistic. Quintillion states that the 
shallow water barge is a small, flat barge with a deck, only a few feet 
off the water surface, and two modules to house offices and berths. 
Deck space is small and dangerous, and there is no elevated platform to 
monitor from. Crew members will be working on the deck at their normal 
jobs, and will have no time to watch for marine mammals.
    (2) Quintillion has worked closely with AEWC and other subsistence 
groups to develop a POC that allows Quintillion to complete their 
program in 2016, while minimizing impacts to subsistence use. However, 
if Quintillion cannot complete the work by mid-September in the 
Beaufort Sea, Quintillion states that it could not afford to conduct 
aerial surveys and/or use scout vessels for additional monitoring. 
Furthermore, as stated earlier in Response to Comment 4, NMFS believes 
that Quintillion's visual and acoustic monitoring plans are robust for 
its proposed subsea cable-laying activity. Therefore, additional 
monitoring utilizing aerial surveys and/or scout vessels is not 
warranted.

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].
    Takes by Level B harassments of some species are anticipated as a 
result of Quintillion's proposed subsea cable-laying operation. NMFS 
expects marine mammal takes could result from noise propagation from 
dynamic position thrusters during cable-laying operation.

[[Page 40282]]

NMFS does not expect marine mammals would be taken by collision with 
cable and support vessels, because the vessels will be moving at low 
speeds, and PSOs on the vessels will be monitoring for marine mammals 
and will be able to alert the vessels to avoid any marine mammals in 
the area.
    For non-impulse sounds, such as those produced by the dynamic 
positioning thrusters during Quintillion's subsea cable-laying 
operation, NMFS uses the 180 and 190 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa isopleth to 
indicate the onset of Level A harassment for cetaceans and pinnipeds, 
respectively; and the 120 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa isopleth for Level B 
harassment of all marine mammals. Quintillion provided calculations of 
the 120-dB isopleths expected to be produced by the dynamic positioning 
thrusters during the proposed cable-laying operation to estimate takes 
by harassment. NMFS used those calculations to make the necessary MMPA 
findings. Quintillion provided a full description of the methodology 
used to estimate takes by harassment in its IHA application, which is 
also provided in the following sections. There is no 180 or 190-dB zone 
from the planned activities.

Noise Sources

    The planned cable-laying activity is expected to generate 
underwater noises from several sources, including thrusters, plows, 
jets, ROVs, echo sounders, and positioning beacons. The predominant 
noise source and the only underwater noise that is likely to result in 
take of marine mammals during cable-laying operations is the cavitating 
noise produced by the thrusters during dynamic positioning of the 
vessel (Tetra Tech 2014). Cavitation is random collapsing of bubbles 
produced by the blades. The vessel of Quintillion's contractor Alcatel-
Lucent Submarine Networks, the C/S Ile de Brehat, maintains dynamic 
positioning during cable-laying operations by using two 1,500 kW bow 
thrusters, two 1,500 kW aft thrusters, and one 1,500 kW fore thruster. 
Sound source measurements have not been conducted specific to the C/S 
Ile de Brehat, but other acoustical studies have shown thruster noise 
measurements ranging between 171 and 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) at 1 m 
(Nedwell et al. 2003, MacGillivary 2006, Samsung 2009, Hartin et al. 
2011, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014).
    Various acoustical investigations in the Atlantic Ocean have 
modeled distances to the 120-dB isopleth, with results ranging between 
1.4 and 3.575 km (Samsung 2009, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014) 
for water depths similar to where Quintillion would be operating in the 
Arctic Ocean. However, all these ranges were based on conservative 
modeling that included maximum parameters and worst-case assumptions.
    Hartin et al. (2011) physically measured dynamic positioning noise 
from the 104-m (341-ft) Fugro Synergy operating in the Chukchi Sea 
while it was using thrusters (2,500 kW) more powerful than those used 
on the C/S Ile de Brehat (1,500 kW). Measured dominant frequencies were 
110 to 140 Hz, and the measured (90th percentile) radius to the 120-dB 
isopleth was 2.3 km (1.4 mi). Because this radius is a measured value 
from the same water body where Quintillion's cable-laying operation 
would occur, as opposed to a conservatively modeled value from the 
Atlantic Ocean, it is the value used in calculating marine mammal 
exposure estimates. Sound source levels from the Fugro Synergy during 
dynamic positioning did not exceed 180 dB, thus there are no Level A 
harassment or injury concerns.

Acoustic Footprint

    The acoustical footprint (total ensonified area) was determined by 
assuming that dynamic position would occur along all trunk and branch 
lines within the proposed fiber optics cable network, regardless of the 
cable-lay vessel used. The sum total of submerged cable length is 
1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi). Assuming that the radius to the 120-dB 
isopleth is 2.3 km (1.4 mi) (Hartin et al. 2011), then the total 
ensonified area represents a swath that is 1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi) in 
length and 4.6 km (2.8 mi) in width (2 x 2.3 km) or 8,752.4 km\2\ 
(3,379.3 mi\2\). The Nome branch (194.7 km [121.0 mi]) and 87.1 km 
(54.1 mi) of the trunk line between branch unite (BU) Nome and BU 
Kotzebue fall within the Bering Sea. The combined length of those is 
281.8 km (175.1 mi) and the total ensonified area is 1,296.3 km\2\ 
(500.5 mi\2\). The Oliktok branch (73.9 km [45.9 mi]) and 254.1 km 
(157.9 mi) of the trunk line between Barrow and Oliktok are found in 
the Beaufort Sea. Here the combined length is 328 km (203.8 mi) and 
total ensonified area is 1,508.8 km\2\ (582.6 mi\2\). The remaining 
area 5,947.3 km\2\ (2,296.3 mi\2\) falls within the Chukchi Sea.

Marine Mammal Densities

    Density estimates for bowhead, gray, and beluga whales were derived 
from aerial survey data collected in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas 
during the 2011 to 2014 Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) 
program (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). The planned cable 
routes cross ASAMM survey blocks 2, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea, and 
blocks 13, 14, 18, 21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. Only data collected 
in these blocks were used to estimate densities for bowhead and gray 
whales. Beluga densities were derived from ASAMM data collected for the 
depth zones between 36 and 50 m (118 and 164 ft) within the Chukchi Sea 
between longitudes 157 [deg] and 169 [deg] W., and the depth zones 
between 21 and 200 m (68.9 and 656.2 ft) in the Beaufort Sea between 
longitudes 154 [deg] and 157 [deg] W. These depth zones reflect the 
depths where most of the cable-lay will occur. Harbor porpoise 
densities (Chukchi Sea only) are from Hartin et al. (2013), and ringed 
seal densities are from Aerts et al. (2014; Chukchi Sea) and Moulton 
and Lawson (2002; Beaufort Sea). Spotted and bearded seal densities in 
the Chukchi Sea are also from Aerts et al. (2014), while spotted and 
bearded seal densities in the Beaufort Sea were developed by assuming 
both represented 5 percent of ringed seal densities. Too few sightings 
have been made in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for all other marine 
mammal species to develop credible density estimates.
    The density estimates for the seven species are presented in Table 
2 (Chukchi/Bering) and Table 3 (Beaufort) below. The specific 
parameters used in deriving these estimates are provided in the 
discussions that follow.

  Table 2--Marine Mammal Densities (#/km\2\) in the Chukchi and Bering
                                  Seas
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    Species                        Summer        Fall
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead Whale.................................       0.0025       0.0438
Gray Whale....................................       0.0680       0.0230
Beluga Whale..................................       0.0894       0.0632
Harbor Porpoise...............................       0.0022       0.0022
Ringed Seal...................................       0.0846       0.0507
Spotted Seal..................................       0.0423       0.0253

[[Page 40283]]

 
Bearded Seal..................................       0.0630       0.0440
------------------------------------------------------------------------


     Table 3--Marine Mammal Densities (#/km\2\) in the Beaufort Sea
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    Species                        Summer        Fall
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead Whale.................................       0.0444       0.0742
Gray Whale....................................       0.0179       0.0524
Beluga Whale..................................       0.0021       0.0142
Ringed Seal...................................       0.3547       0.2510
Spotted Seal..................................       0.0177       0.0125
Bearded Seal..................................       0.0177       0.0125
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Bowhead Whale: The summer density estimate for bowhead whales was 
derived from June, July, and August aerial survey data collected in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Sea during the 2011 to 2014 ASAMM program (Clarke 
et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Fall data were collected during 
September and October. Data only from the survey blocks that will be 
crossed by the proposed cable route were used in the calculations, 
which included blocks 3, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea and 13, 14, 18, 
21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. ASAMM surveys did not extend more than 
about 25 km (15.5 mi) south of Point Hope, and there are no other 
systematic survey data for bowhead whales south of this point. During 
these four years, 87 bowhead whales were recorded in the three Beaufort 
Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,556mi) of summer survey effort (0.0072/
km), and 201 whales during 16,829 km (10,457mi) of fall effort (0.0019/
km). In the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 11 bowheads were recorded 
during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort (0.0004/km), and 160 
during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey (0.0071/km). Applying an 
effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and Clarke 2013), 
and a 0.07 correction factor (Ferguson, personal communication) for 
whales missed during the surveys, results in corrected densities of 
0.0444 (Beaufort summer), 0.0742 (Beaufort fall), 0.0025 (Chukchi 
summer), and 0.0438 (Chukchi fall) whales per km\2\ (Tables 2 and 3).
    Gray whale: Gray whale density estimates were derived from the same 
ASAMM transect data used to determine bowhead whale densities. During 
the four years of aerial survey, 35 gray whales were recorded in the 
three Beaufort Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,557 mi) of summer survey 
effort (0.0029/km), and 142 gray whales during 16,829 km (10,457 mi) of 
fall effort (0.0084/km). In the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 298 
gray whales were recorded during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort 
(0.0084/km), and 84 during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey 
(0.0037/km). Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 
(Ferguson and Clarke 2013), and a correction factor of 0.07, results in 
corrected densities of 0.0179 (Beaufort summer), 0.0524 (Beaufort 
fall), 0.0680 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0230 (Chukchi fall) whales per 
km\2\ (Tables 2 and 3).
    Beluga Whale: Beluga whale density estimates were derived from the 
ASAMM transect data collected from 2011 to 2014 (Clarke et al. 2012, 
2013, 2014, 2015). During the summer aerial surveys (June-August) there 
were 248 beluga whale observed along 3,894 km (2,420 mi) of transect in 
waters between 21 to 200 m (13-124 ft) deep and between longitudes 154 
[deg]W. and 157 [deg]W. This equates to 0.0637 whales/km of trackline 
and a corrected density of 0.0894 whales per km\2\, assuming an ESW of 
0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor (Ferguson, personal 
communication). Fall density estimates (September-October) for this 
region were based on 192 beluga whales seen along 4,267 km (2,651 mi). 
This equates to 0.0449 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density 
of 0.0632 whales per km\2\, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 
correction factor.
    During the summer aerial surveys (June-August), there were 30 
beluga whales observed along 20,240 km (12,577 mi) of transect in 
waters less than 36 to 50 m (22-31 ft) deep and between longitudes 157 
[deg]W. and 169 [deg]W. This equates to 0.0015 whales/km of trackline 
and a corrected density of 0.0021 whales per km\2\, assuming an ESW of 
0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Calculated fall beluga densities 
for the same region was based on 231 beluga whales seen during 22,887 
km of transect (1,794 mi). This equates to 0.0101 whales/km and a 
corrected density of 0.142 whales per km\2\, again assuming an ESW of 
0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor.
    Harbor Porpoise: Although harbor porpoise are known to occur in low 
numbers in the Chukchi Sea (Aerts et al. 2014), no harbor porpoise were 
positively identified during Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling 
Area (COMIDA) and ASAMM aerial surveys conducted in the Chukchi Sea 
from 2006 to 2013 (Clarke et al. 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). A few small 
unidentified cetaceans that were observed may have been harbor 
porpoise. Hartin et al. (2013) conducted vessel-based surveys in the 
Chukchi Sea while monitoring oil and gas activities between 2006 and 
2010 and recorded several harbor porpoise throughout the summer and 
early fall. Vessel-based surveys may be more conducive to sighting 
these small, cryptic porpoise than the aerial-based COMIDA/ASAMM 
surveys. Hartin et al.'s (2013) three-year average summer densities 
(0.0022/km\2\) and fall densities (0.0021/km\2\) were very similar, and 
are included in Table 2.
    Ringed and Spotted Seals: Aerts et al. (2014) conducted a marine 
mammal monitoring program in the northeastern Chukchi Sea in 
association with oil & gas exploration activities between 2008 and 
2013. For seal sightings that were either ringed or spotted seals, the 
highest summer density was 0.127 seals/km\2\ (2008) and the highest 
fall density was 0.076 seals/km\2\ (2013). Where seals could be 
identified to species, they found the ratio of ringed to spotted seals 
to be 2:1. Applying this ratio to the combined densities results in 
species densities of 0.0846 seals/km\2\ (summer) and 0.0507 seals/km\2\ 
(fall) for ringed seals, and 0.0423 seals/km\2\ (summer) and 0.0253 
seals/km\2\ (fall) for spotted seals. These are the densities used in 
the exposure calculations (Table 2) and to represent ringed and spotted 
seal densities for both the northern Bering and Chukchi seas.

[[Page 40284]]

    Moulton and Lawson (2002) conducted summer shipboard-based surveys 
for pinnipeds along the nearshore Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast, while 
Kingsley (1986) conducted surveys here along the ice margin 
representing fall conditions. The ringed seal results from these 
surveys were used in the exposure estimates (Table 3). Neither survey 
provided a good estimate of spotted seal densities. Green and Negri 
(2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) recorded pinnipeds during barging 
activity between West Dock and Cape Simpson, and found high numbers of 
ringed seal in Harrison Bay, and peaks in spotted seal numbers off the 
Colville River Delta where a haulout site is located. Approximately 5 
percent of all phocid sightings recorded by Green and Negri (2005) and 
Green et al. (2006, 2007) were spotted seals, which provide a suitable 
estimate of the proportion of ringed seals versus spotted seals in the 
Colville River Delta and Harrison Bay, both areas close to the proposed 
Oliktok branch line. Thus, the estimated densities of spotted seals in 
the cable-lay survey area were derived by multiplying the ringed seal 
densities from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5 
percent.
    Spotted seals are a summer resident in the Beaufort Sea and are 
generally found in nearshore waters, especially in association with 
haulout sites at or near river mouths. Their summer density in the 
Beaufort Sea is a function of distance from these haul out sites. Near 
Oliktok Point (Hauser et al. 2008, Lomac-McNair et al. 2014) where the 
Oliktok cable branch will reach shore, they are more common than ringed 
seals, but they are very uncommon farther offshore where most of the 
Beaufort Sea cable-lay activity will occur. This distribution of 
density is taken into account in the take authorization request.
    Bearded Seal: The most representative estimates of summer and fall 
density of bearded seals in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas come 
from the Aerts et al. (2014) monitoring program that ran from 2008 to 
2013 in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. During this period the highest 
summer estimate was 0.063 seals/km\2\ (2013) and the highest fall 
estimate was 0.044 seals/km\2\ (2010). These are the values that were 
used in developing exposure estimates for this species for the northern 
Bering and Chukchi sea cable-lay areas (Table 2).
    There are no accurate density estimates for bearded seals in the 
Beaufort Sea based on survey data. However, Stirling et al. (1982) 
noted that the proportion of eastern Beaufort Sea bearded seals is 5 
percent that of ringed seals. Further, Clarke et al. (2013, 2014) 
recorded 82 bearded seals in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas during 
the 2012 and 2013 ASAMM surveys, which represented 5.1 percent of all 
their ringed seal and small unidentified pinniped sightings (1,586). 
Bengtson et al. (2005) noted a similar ratio (6 percent) during spring 
surveys of ice seals in the Chukchi Sea. Therefore, the density values 
in Table 3 (/km\2\) were determined by multiplying ringed seal density 
from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5 percent as was 
done with spotted seals.

Level B Exposure Calculations

    The estimated potential harassment take of local marine mammals by 
Quintillion's fiber optics cable-lay project was determined by 
multiplying the seasonal animal densities in Tables 2 and 3 with the 
seasonal area that would be ensonified by thruster noise greater than 
120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms). The total area that would be ensonified in 
the Chukchi Sea is 5,947 km\2\ (2,296 mi\2\), and for the Bering Sea is 
1,296 km\2\ (500 mi\2\). Since there are no marine mammal density 
estimates for the northern Bering Sea, the ensonified area was combined 
with the Chukchi Sea for a total ZOI of 7,243 km\2\ (2,796 mi\2\). The 
ensonified area for the Beaufort Sea is 1,509 km\2\ (583 mi\2\).
    Because the cable-laying plan is to begin in the south as soon as 
ice conditions allow and work northward, the intention is to complete 
the Bering and Chukchi seas portion of the network (1,575 km, [979 mi]) 
during the summer (June to August), and Beaufort Sea portion (328 km 
[204 mi]) during the fall (September and October). Thus, summer 
exposure estimates apply for the Bering and Chukchi areas and the fall 
exposure estimates for the Beaufort (Table 4).

                Table 4--The Authorized Number of Level B Harassment Exposures to Marine Mammals
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     Exposures       Exposures       Exposures
                             Species                              Bering/Chukchi     Beaufort          total
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead Whale...................................................              18             112             130
Gray Whale......................................................             493              79             572
Beluga Whale....................................................             648              21             669
Harbor Porpoise.................................................              16               0              16
Ringed Seal.....................................................             613             379             992
Spotted Seal....................................................             306              19             325
Bearded Seal....................................................             451              19             470
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The estimated takes of marine mammals are based on the estimated 
exposures for marine mammals with known density information. For marine 
mammals whose estimated number of exposures were not calculated due to 
a lack of reasonably accurate density estimates, but for which 
occurrence records within the project area exist (i.e., humpback whale, 
fin whale, minke whale, killer whale, and ribbon seal), a small number 
of takes relatively based on group size and site fidelity have been 
requested in case they are encountered. A summary of estimated takes is 
provided in Table 5.

                              Table 5--Level B Take Request as Percentage of Stock
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Request Level
                             Species                                   Stock       Level B take      B take by
                                                                     abundance      authorized       stock (%)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead whale...................................................          19,534             130             0.8
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock)...............................          39,258             669             1.7

[[Page 40285]]

 
Beluga whale (E. Chukchi Sea stock).............................           3,710             669            18.0
Beluga whale (E. Bering Sea stock)..............................          19.186             669             3.5
Gray whale......................................................          20,990             572             2.7
Humpback whale (W.N. Pacific stock).............................           1,107              15            1.36
Humpback whale (Cent. N. Pacific stock).........................          10,103              15            0.14
Fin whale.......................................................           1,652              15            0.91
Minke whale.....................................................           1,233               5            0.40
Killer whale....................................................           2,347               5            0.21
Harbor porpoise.................................................          48,215              16            0.03
Ringed seal.....................................................         249,000             992            0.49
Spotted seal....................................................         460,268             325            0.07
Bearded seal....................................................         155,000             470            0.08
Ribbon seal.....................................................          61,100               5            0.01
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The estimated Level B takes as a percentage of the marine mammal 
stock are less than 18 percent in all cases (Table 5). The highest 
percent of population estimated to be taken is 18 percent for Level B 
harassments of the East Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whale. However, 
that percentage assumes that all beluga whales taken are from that 
population. Most likely, some beluga whales would be taken from each of 
the three stocks, meaning fewer than 669 beluga whales would be taken 
from any individual stock. The Level B takes of beluga whales as a 
percentage of populations would likely be below 1.7, 18, and 3.5 
percent for the Beaufort Sea, East Chukchi Sea, and East Bering Sea 
stocks, respectively.

Analysis and 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, 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.
    To avoid repetition, this introductory discussion of our analyses 
applies to all the species listed in Table 5, given that the 
anticipated effects of Quintillion's subsea cable-laying operation on 
marine mammals, taking into account the proposed mitigation, are 
expected to be relatively similar in nature. Where there are meaningful 
differences between species or stocks, or groups of species, in 
anticipated individual responses to activities, impact of expected take 
on the population due to differences in population status, or impacts 
on habitat, they are described separately in the analysis below.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
Quintillion's subsea cable-laying operation, and none are authorized. 
Additionally, animals in the area are not expected to incur hearing 
impairment (i.e., temporary hearing threshold shift [TTS] or permanent 
hearing threshold shift [PTS]) or non-auditory physiological effects. 
The takes that are anticipated and authorized are expected to be 
limited to short-term Level B behavioral harassment in the form of 
brief startling reaction and/or temporary vacating of the area.
    Any effects on marine mammals are generally expected to be 
restricted to avoidance of a limited area around Quintillion's proposed 
activities and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA 
definition of ``Level B harassment.'' Mitigation measures, such as 
controlled vessel speed and dedicated marine mammal observers, will 
ensure that takes are within the level being analyzed. In all cases, 
the effects are expected to be short-term, with no lasting biological 
consequence.
    Of the 12 marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed 
cable-laying area, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are listed as 
endangered under the ESA. These species are also designated as 
``depleted'' under the MMPA. None of the other species that may occur 
in the project area are listed as threatened or endangered under the 
ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA.
    The project area of the Quintillion's proposed activities is within 
areas that have been identified as biologically important areas (BIAs) 
for feeding for the gray and bowhead whales and for reproduction for 
gray whale during the summer and fall months (Clarke et al. 2015). In 
addition, the coastal Beaufort Sea also serves as a migratory corridor 
during bowhead whale spring migration, as well as for their feeding and 
breeding activities. Additionally, the coastal area of Chukchi and 
Beaufort seas also serve as BIAs for beluga whales for their feeding 
and migration. However, Quintillion's proposed cable-laying operation 
would only briefly transit through the area in a slow speed (600 meters 
per hour). As discussed earlier, the Level B behavioral harassment of 
marine mammals from the proposed activity is expected to be brief 
startling reaction and temporary vacating of the area. There is no 
long-term biologically significant impact to marine mammals expected 
from the proposed subsea cable-laying activity.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and 
mitigation measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from 
Quintillion's proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas is not expected to adversely affect the 
affected species or stocks through

[[Page 40286]]

impacts on annual rates of recruitment or survival, and therefore will 
have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or 
stocks.

Small Numbers

    The requested takes represent less than 18 percent of all 
populations or stocks potentially impacted (see Table 5 in this 
document). These take estimates represent the percentage of each 
species or stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment. 
The numbers of marine mammals estimated to be taken are small 
proportions of the total populations of the affected species or stocks.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, NMFS finds that 
small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the 
populations of the affected species or stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses

    The planned cable-lay activities will occur within the marine 
subsistence areas used by the villages of Nome, Wales, Kotzebue, Little 
Diomede, Kivalina, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut. 
Subsistence use varies considerably by season and location. Seven of 
the villages hunt bowhead whales (Suydam and George 2004). The small 
villages of Wales, Little Diomedes, and Kivalina take a bowhead whale 
about once every five years. Point Hope and Nuiqsut each harvest three 
to four whales annually, and Wainwright five to six. Harvest from 
Barrow is by far the highest, with about 25 whales taken each year, 
generally split between spring and fall hunts. Point Hope and 
Wainwright harvest occurs largely during the spring hunt, and Nuiqsut's 
during the fall. Nuiqsut whalers base from Cross Island, located 70 km 
(44 mi) east of Oliktok.
    Beluga are also annually harvested by the above villages. Beluga 
harvest is most important to Point Hope. For example, the village 
harvested 84 beluga whales during the spring of 2012, and averaged 31 
whales a year from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 2010). Beluga are 
also important to Wainwright village. They harvested 34 beluga whales 
in 2012, and averaged 11 annually from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 
2010). All the other villages--Nome, Kotzebue, Wales, Kivalina, Little 
Diomede, and Barrow--averaged less than 10 whales a year (Frost and 
Suydam 2010).
    All villages utilize seals to one degree or another as well. Ringed 
seal harvest mostly occurs in the winter and spring when they are 
hauled out on ice near leads or at breathing holes. Bearded seals are 
taken from boats during the early summer as they migrate northward in 
the Chukchi Sea and eastward in the Beaufort Sea. Bearded seals are a 
staple for villages like Kotzebue and Kivalina that have limited access 
to bowhead and beluga whales (Georgette and Loon 1993). Thetis Island, 
located just off the Colville River Delta, is an important base from 
which villagers from Nuiqsut hunt bearded seals each summer after ice 
breakup. Spotted seals are an important summer resource for Wainwright 
and Nuiqsut, but other villages will avoid them because the meat is 
less appealing than other available marine mammals.
    The planned cable-lay activity will occur in the summer after the 
spring bowhead and beluga whale hunts have ended, and will avoid the 
ice period when ringed seals are harvested. The Oliktok branch will 
pass within 4 km (2 mi) of Thetis Island, but the laying of cable along 
that branch would occur in late summer or early fall, long after the 
bearded seal hunt is over.
    Based on the planned cable-lay time table relative to the seasonal 
timing of the various subsistence harvests, cable-lay activities into 
Kotzebue (bearded seal), Wainwright (beluga whale), and around Point 
Barrow (bowhead whale) could overlap with important harvest periods. 
Quintillion will work closely with the AEWC, the Alaska Beluga Whale 
Committee, the Ice Seal Committee, and the North Slope Borough to 
minimize any effects cable-lay activities might have on subsistence 
harvest.

Plan of Cooperation or Measures To Minimize Impacts to Subsistence 
Hunts

    Regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(12) require IHA applicants for 
activities that take place in Arctic waters to provide a POC or 
information that identifies what measures have been taken and/or will 
be taken to minimize adverse effects on the availability of marine 
mammals for subsistence purposes.
    Quintillion has prepared a POC, which was developed by identifying 
and evaluating any potential effects the proposed cable-laying 
operation might have on seasonal abundance that is relied upon for 
subsistence use.
    Specifically, Quintillion has contracted with Alcatel-Lucent 
Submarine Networks to furnish and install the cable system. Alcatel-
Lucent's vessel, C/S Ile de Brehat, participates in the Automatic 
Identification System (AIS) vessel tracking system allowing the vessel 
to be tracked and located in real time. The accuracy and real time 
availability of AIS information via the web for the Bering, Chukchi, 
and Beaufort seas will not be fully known until the vessels are in the 
project area. If access to the information is limited, Quintillion will 
provide alternate vessel information to the public on a regular basis. 
Quintillion can aid and support the AIS data with additional 
information provided to the local search and rescue, or other source 
nominated during the community outreach program.
    In addition, Quintillion will communicate closely with the 
communities of Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, and Wainwright should activities 
progress far enough north in late June to mid-July when the villages 
are still engaged with their annual beluga whale hunt. Quintillion will 
also communicate closely with the communities of Wainwright, Barrow, 
and Nuiqsut to minimize impacts on the communities' fall bowhead whale 
subsistence hunts, which typically occur during late September and into 
October.
    Prior to starting offshore activities, Quintillion will consult 
with Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut as well as 
the North Slope Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, and other 
stakeholders such as the EWC, the AEWC, the Alaska Beluga Whale 
Committee (ABWC), and the Alaska Nanuuq Commission (ANC). Quintillion 
will also engage in consultations with additional groups on request.
    A copy of the POC can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.html.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    Within the project area, the bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are 
listed as endangered under the ESA. NMFS' Permits and Conservation 
Division consulted with staff in NMFS' Alaska Region Protected 
Resources Division under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA 
to Quintillion under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this 
activity. In May 2016, NMFS finished conducting its section 7 
consultation and issued a Biological Opinion concluding that the 
issuance of the IHA associated with Quintillion's subsea cable-laying 
operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 
open-water season is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence 
of the endangered bowhead, humpback, and fin whales. No critical 
habitat has been designated for these species, therefore none will be 
affected.

[[Page 40287]]

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) that includes an 
analysis of potential environmental effects associated with NMFS' 
issuance of an IHA to Quintillion to take marine mammals incidental to 
conducting subsea cable-laying operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and 
Beaufort seas. The draft EA was available to the public for a 30-day 
comment period before it was finalized. NMFS has finalized the EA and 
prepared a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for this action. 
The FONSI was signed in May, prior to this issuance of the IHA. 
Therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not 
necessary.

Authorization

    As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to 
Quintillion for the take of marine mammals, by Level B harassment, 
incidental to conducting subsea cable-laying operations in the Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 open-water season, provided 
the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements are incorporated.

    Dated: June 16, 2016.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-14585 Filed 6-20-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P