Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Rule To List Two Guitarfishes as Threatened, 64094-64110 [2016-22450]

Download as PDF asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64094 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules information could also permit the record subject to obtain valuable insight concerning the information obtained during any investigation and to take measures to impede the investigation, e.g., destroy evidence or flee the area to avoid the investigation. (2) From subsection (c)(4) notification requirements because this system is exempt from the access and amendment provisions of subsection (d) as well as the accounting of disclosures provision of subsection (c)(3). The FBI takes seriously its obligation to maintain accurate records despite its assertion of this exemption, and to the extent it, in its sole discretion, agrees to permit amendment or correction of FBI records, it will share that information in appropriate cases. 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Application of these provisions would put the subject of an investigation on notice of the investigation and allow the subject an opportunity to engage in conduct VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 intended to impede the investigative activity or avoid apprehension. (6) From subsection (e)(4)(I), to the extent that this subsection is interpreted to require more detail regarding the record sources in this system than has been published in the Federal Register. Should the subsection be so interpreted, exemption from this provision is necessary to protect the sources of law enforcement and intelligence information and to protect the privacy and safety of witnesses and informants and others who provide information to the FBI. Further, greater specificity of properly classified records could compromise national security. (7) From subsection (e)(5) because in the collection of information for authorized law enforcement and intelligence purposes, including efforts to detect, deter, and/or mitigate insider threats to national security or to the FBI and its personnel, facilities, resources, and activities, due to the nature of investigations and intelligence collection, the FBI often collects information that may not be immediately shown to be accurate, relevant, timely, and complete, although the FBI takes reasonable steps to collect only the information necessary to support its mission and investigations. Additionally, the information may aid in establishing patterns of activity and providing criminal or intelligence leads. It could impede investigative progress if it were necessary to assure relevance, accuracy, timeliness and completeness of all information obtained during the scope of an investigation. Further, some of the records in this system may come from other domestic or foreign government entities, or private entities, and it would not be administratively feasible for the FBI to vouch for the compliance of these agencies with this provision. Dated: September 2, 2016. Erika Brown Lee, Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer, Department of Justice. [FR Doc. 2016–22412 Filed 9–16–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4410–02–P PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 223 [Docket No. 150211138–6789–01] RIN 0648–XD771 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Rule To List Two Guitarfishes as Threatened National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; 12-month petition finding; request for comments. AGENCY: We, NMFS, have completed a comprehensive status review under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) and the blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus). We have determined that, based on the best scientific and commercial data available, and after taking into account efforts being made to protect these species, both species meet the definition of a threatened species under the ESA. Therefore, we propose to list both species as threatened species under the ESA. We are not proposing to designate critical habitat for either of the species proposed for listing because the geographical areas occupied by these species are entirely outside U.S. jurisdiction. We are soliciting comments on our proposal to list these two foreign marine guitarfish species. DATES: Comments on this proposed rule must be received by November 18, 2016. Public hearing requests must be made by November 3, 2016. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2016–0082, by either of the following methods: • Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20160082. Click the ‘‘Comment Now’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit written comments to Brendan Newell, NMFS Office of Protected Resources (F/PR3), 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA. Instructions: You must submit comments by one of the above methods to ensure that we receive, document, and consider them. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on https://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. We will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). You can find the petition, status review report, Federal Register notices, and the list of references electronically on our Web site at https:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ petition81.htm. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brendan Newell, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources (OPR), Telephone: (301) 427–7710 or Marta Nammack, NMFS, (OPR), Telephone: (301) 427– 8469. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background On July 15, 2013, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians to list 81 marine species as threatened or endangered under the ESA. This petition included species from many different taxonomic groups, and we prepared our 90-day findings in batches by taxonomic group. We found that the petitioned actions may be warranted for 27 of the 81 species and announced the initiation of status reviews for each of the 27 species (78 FR 63941, October 25, 2013; 78 FR 66675, November 6, 2013; 78 FR 69376, November 19, 2013; 79 FR 9880, February 21, 2014; and 79 FR 10104, February 24, 2014). This document addresses the findings for 2 of those 27 species: Common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) and blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus). The status of, and relevant Federal Register notices for, the other 25 species can be found on our Web site at https:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ petition81.htm. We are responsible for determining whether species are threatened or endangered under the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). To make this determination, we consider first whether a group of organisms constitutes a ‘‘species’’ under the ESA, then whether the status of the species qualifies it for listing as either threatened or endangered. Section 3 of the ESA defines a ‘‘species’’ to include ‘‘any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.’’ On February 7, 1996, NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS; together, the Services) adopted a policy describing what constitutes a distinct population segment (DPS) of a taxonomic species (the DPS Policy; 61 FR 4722). The DPS Policy identified two elements that must be considered when identifying a DPS: (1) The discreteness of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species (or subspecies) to which it belongs; and (2) the significance of the population segment to the remainder of the species (or subspecies) to which it belongs. As stated in the DPS Policy, Congress expressed its expectation that the Services would exercise authority with regard to DPSs sparingly and only when the biological evidence indicates such action is warranted. Based on the scientific information available, we determined that the common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) and blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus) are ‘‘species’’ under the ESA. There is nothing in the scientific literature indicating that either of these species should be further divided into subspecies or DPSs. Section 3 of the ESA defines an endangered species as ‘‘any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range’’ and a threatened species as one ‘‘which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.’’ We interpret an ‘‘endangered species’’ to be one that is presently in danger of extinction. A ‘‘threatened species,’’ on the other hand, is not presently in danger of extinction, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future (that is, at a later time). In other words, the primary statutory difference between a threatened and endangered species is the timing of when a species may be in danger of extinction, either presently (endangered) or in the foreseeable future (threatened). When we consider whether a species might qualify as threatened under the ESA, we must consider the meaning of the term ‘‘foreseeable future.’’ It is appropriate to interpret ‘‘foreseeable future’’ as the horizon over which predictions about the conservation status of the species can be reasonably relied upon. The foreseeable future considers the life history of the species, habitat characteristics, availability of data, particular threats, ability to predict threats, and the reliability to forecast the effects of these threats and future events on the status of the species under PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64095 consideration. Because a species may be susceptible to a variety of threats for which different data are available, or which operate across different time scales, the foreseeable future is not necessarily reducible to a particular number of years. Section 4(a)(1) of the ESA requires us to determine whether any species is endangered or threatened due to any of the following factors: the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Under section (4)(b)(1)(A), we are also required to make listing determinations based solely on the best scientific and commercial data available, after conducting a review of the species’ status and after taking into account efforts being made by any state or foreign nation to protect the species. Status Review The status review for the two guitarfishes addressed in this finding was conducted by a NMFS biologist in the Office of Protected Resources. Henceforth, the status review report for these guitarfishes will be referenced in this preamble as ‘‘Newell (2016)’’, and is available at https:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ petition81.htm and on the respective species pages found on the Office of Protected Resources Web site (https:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ index.htm). In order to complete the status review, information was compiled on each species’ biology, ecology, life history, threats, and conservation status from information contained in the petition, our files, a comprehensive literature search, and consultation with experts. We also considered information submitted by the public in response to our petition finding. Newell (2016) provided an evaluation of the factors specified by section 4(a)(1)(A)–(E) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1)(A)–(E)) (Summary of Factors Affecting the Two Guitarfish Species), as well as the species’ demographic risks, such as low productivity, and then synthesized this information to estimate the extinction risk of the species (Extinction Risk). For the complete threats assessment, demographic risks analysis, and risk of extinction analysis, see Newell (2016). The demographic risk analysis, mentioned above, is an assessment of the manifestation of past threats that E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64096 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules have contributed to the species’ current status and informs the consideration of the biological response of the species to present and future threats. For this analysis, Newell (2016) considered the demographic viability factors developed by McElhany et al., (2000). The approach of considering demographic risk factors to help frame the consideration of extinction risk has been used in many of our status reviews, including for Pacific salmonids, Pacific hake, walleye pollock, Pacific cod, Puget Sound rockfishes, Pacific herring, scalloped and great hammerhead sharks, and black abalone (see https:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ for links to these reviews). In this approach, the collective condition of individual populations is considered at the species level according to four demographic viability factors: abundance; growth rate/productivity; spatial structure/ connectivity; and diversity. These viability factors reflect concepts that are well-founded in conservation biology, and that individually and collectively provide strong indicators of extinction risk. In conducting the threats assessment, Newell (2016) identified and summarized the section 4(a)(1) factors that are currently operating on the species and their likely impact on the biological status of the species. Newell (2016) also looked for future threats (where the impact on the species has yet to be manifested), and considered the reliability of forecasting the effects of these threats and future events on the status of these species. Using the findings from the demographic risk analysis and threats assessment, Newell (2016) evaluated the overall extinction risk of the species. Because speciesspecific information (such as current abundance) is sparse, qualitative ‘‘reference levels’’ of risk were used to describe extinction risk. The definitions of the qualitative ‘‘reference levels’’ of extinction risk were as follows: ‘‘Low Risk’’—a species is at low risk of extinction if it is not at a moderate or high level of extinction risk (see ‘‘Moderate risk’’ and ‘‘High risk’’ below). A species may be at low risk of extinction if it is not facing threats that result in declining trends in abundance, productivity, spatial structure, or diversity. A species at low risk of extinction is likely to show stable or increasing trends in abundance and productivity with connected, diverse populations. ‘‘Moderate Risk’’—a species is at moderate risk of extinction if it is on a trajectory that puts it at a high level of extinction risk in the foreseeable future (see description of VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 ‘‘High Risk’’ below). A species may be at moderate risk of extinction due to projected threats or declining trends in abundance, productivity, spatial structure, or diversity. ‘‘High Risk’’—a species with a high risk of extinction is at or near a level of abundance, productivity, spatial structure, and/or diversity that places its continued persistence in question. The demographics of a species at such a high level of risk may be highly uncertain and strongly influenced by stochastic or depensatory processes. (Stochastic processes are random processes evolving with time; depensatory processes are density-dependent processes where a decrease in a species’ population leads to reduced reproductive success, such as by an increase in the rate of predation on eggs or young, or through the reduced likelihood of finding a mate.) Similarly, a species may be at high risk of extinction if it faces clear and present threats (e.g., confinement to a small geographic area; imminent destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat; or disease epidemic) that are likely to create present and substantial demographic risks. The draft status review report (Newell (2016)) was submitted to independent peer reviewers; comments and information received from peer reviewers were addressed and incorporated as appropriate before finalizing the draft report. The status review report is available on our Web site (see ADDRESSES section) and the peer review report is available at https:// www.cio.noaa.gov/services_programs/ prplans/PRsummaries.html. Below we summarize information from the report and our analysis of the status of the two guitarfish species. Further details can be found in Newell (2016). Species Descriptions Guitarfishes are cartilaginous fishes (class Chondrichthyes), in the subclass Elasmobranchii (which includes all cartilaginous fishes except chimaeras). They are part of the super order Batoidea, and members of the order Rajiformes, which also includes skates, sawfishes, electric rays, and rays. Rajiformes are characterized by a dorsoventrally depressed body with the anterior edge of the pectoral fin attached to the side of the head (Serena 2005). Guitarfishes are members of the family Rhinobatidae, which have a moderately depressed, elongated, shark-like body form, with pectoral fins barely enlarged (compared to other batoids except for sawfish), a subtriangular disk, two subequal, well-developed, and wellseparated dorsal fins, and an elongated, PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 wedge-shaped snout. Guitarfishes have a stouter tail than all other batoids except sawfishes and torpedo rays (Bigelow & Schroeder 1953; Serena 2005). Rhinobatos rhinobatos and Rhinobatos cemiculus are sympatric species with relatively wide, overlapping ranges in the subtropical waters of the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. In the Atlantic both species range from Northern Portugal south to Angola, with R. rhinobatos extending slightly farther north into the Bay of Biscay in south Atlantic France. Both species’ historical ranges include all Mediterranean countries with the exception of Malta and France, which are only in the range of R. rhinobatos. Both species are primarily found in coastal and estuarine, sandy or muddy bottomed habitat from very shallow water to depths of approximately 100 m (Corsini-Foka 2009; Melendez & Macias 2007; Serena 2005). Both species feed on a variety of macrobenthic organisms, including crustaceans, fishes, and mollusks (Basusta et al.,, 2007; Enajjar et al.,, 2007; Lteif 2015; Patokina & Litvinov 2005). In terms of reproduction, Rhinobatos rhinobatos and Rhinobatos cemiculus are aplacental viviparous species (giving birth to live, free swimming young with embryo nutrition coming from a yolk sac rather than a placental connection). Both species aggregate seasonally to reproduce, with females visiting protected shallow waters to give birth (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Demirhan et al., 2010; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Ismen et al., 2007). As with many other elasmobranchs, females mature later and at greater sizes than males, females reach greater total length, and female fecundity increases with total length ´ (TL) (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Cortes 2000; Demirhan et al., 2010; Enajjar et al., 2008; Ismen et al., 2007). Based on the limited available information, both species seem to be relatively fast growing compared to most elasmobranch species (Basusta et al., ¸ 2008; Enajjar et al., 2012)_ENREF_53. Additional species-specific descriptions are provided below. Common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) are khaki-brown colored on their dorsal surface with a white underside (Melendez & Macias 2007). R. rhinobatos have rostral ridges that are widely separated over their entire length with the anterior of their nasal lobe level with the inner corner of their nostril. They have a wide posterior nasal flap and spiracles with two moderately developed folds, with the outer fold more prominent. They have no dorsal or anal spines and relatively E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules small thorns present around the inner margin of their orbits, between their spiracles, on their shoulders and along the midline of their discs and tails (Melendez & Macias 2007). There are regional variations in the maximum size and size at maturity of R. rhinobatos. TL ranges from 22–185 cm with the heaviest specimen recorded reaching 26.6 kg (Edelist 2014; Ismen et al., 2007). The best available information estimated that 50 percent of females and males reached maturity between 79–87 cm TL and 68–78 cm TL, respectively (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993; Demirhan et al., 2010; Enajjar et al., 2008), and that gestation lasts 9–12 months with females giving birth to 1–14 pups in the late summer or early fall (see Newell (2016)). The maximum age recorded was 24 years old (Basusta et al., 2008) and ¸ R. rhinobatos likely matures between 2 and 4 years old (Basusta et al., 2008; ¸ Demirhan et al., 2010). For a more detailed discussion of size, age, and reproduction see Newell (2016). Blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus) have a brown dorsal surface with a white underside and usually a blackish blotch on the snout, especially in juveniles. Their rostral ridges are narrowly separated and nearly join in the front. Their anterior nasal lobes extend little if any and their posterior nasal flaps are narrow. Their spiracle has two well-developed folds of about the same size. They have no anal or dorsal spine and have thorns present around the inner margin of their orbits, between their spiracles, on their shoulders, and along the midline of their disc and tail (Melendez & Macias 2007). There are regional variations in the maximum TL and size at maturity. TL ranges from 32–245 cm with the heaviest specimen recorded reaching 26 kg, although the maximum weight is likely much higher because the 26 kg specimen was only 202 cm TL (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Seck et al., 2004). Based on the best available information, 50 percent of females and males reached maturity between 138–153 cm TL and 112–138 cm TL, respectively (Enajjar et al., 2012; Valadou et al., 2006). The reported litter size varies greatly, but the reported range is 2–24 pups per litter with small litters typical (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Seck et al., 2004; Valadou et al., 2006). R. cemiculus is more prolific than R. rhinobatos, likely because it reaches a greater size than R. rhinobatos (Capape & Zaouali 1994). Gestation lasts between 5–12 months with parturition occurring in the later summer and early fall (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Seck et al., 2004; Valadou et al., 2006). Enajjar et al., (2012) found VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 64097 authors, some species, including guitarfishes, which are now rare or extirpated in other parts of the Mediterranean, are still common in Libyan waters. In neighboring Egypt, R. rhinobatos was common in commercial fishery catches in 1990 (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993). Over the last 10 years, guitarfishes and other elasmobranchs Historical and Current Distribution and have been increasingly exploited by Population Abundance Egyptian fishers as desirable bycatch Rhinobatos rhinobatos species, and recent declines in landings indicate that these populations are Historically the common guitarfish currently being overexploited (A. was known on all shores of the Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Mediterranean as well as the coastal Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016). eastern Atlantic from the Bay of Biscay North of Egypt, R. rhinobatos was (France) to Angola (Melendez & Macias considered common in Israeli waters as 2007). Throughout its historical of 2006, with the largest TL for the Mediterranean range this species has species recorded from a female likely always been rare in most of the specimen in the area (Edelist 2014; northwestern Mediterranean, and more common in the Levantine Sea and along Golani 2006). Lernau and Golani (2004) the southern shore of the Mediterranean state, ‘‘swarms of Rhinobatos rhinobatos are captured with purse seines.’’ from southern Tunisia to Egypt (AbdelAlthough this statement is not ´ Aziz et al., 1993; Capape et al., 2004; Cek et al., 2009; Edelist 2014; Lteif 2015; connected to a specific fishing area it ¸ appears the authors are either Saad et al., 2006). Presently R. rhinobatos has been extirpated from the discussing fishing along the Israeli coast or in the nearby Bardawil Lagoon on the northwestern Mediterranean, including Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. R. rhinobatos the coasts of Spain and France, as well is the most commonly observed as the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, and elasmobranch in Lebanese fisheries Adriatic Seas (Bertrand et al., 2000; (Lteif 2015). In a study of elasmobranch ´ Capape et al., 2006; Medits 2016a; exploitation in Syria in the early 2000s, Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). In R. rhinobatos was characterized as a this now curtailed portion of its range, ‘‘moderate economically important up until the early 20th century, R. species either for being caught in little rhinobatos was likely only common in quantities with high efforts in fishing, or the waters around Sicily (Doderlein for their little demand for human 1884; Psomadakis et al., 2009) and the consumption. Or maybe for both Balearic Islands of Spain (Notarbartolo reasons’’ (Saad et al., 2006). By di Sciara et al., 2007b). comparison, R. cemiculus was R. rhinobatos is present in all Tunisian waters, although less common characterized as a ‘‘very economically important species being caught in than R. cemiculus. It is more abundant in the southeastern area around the Gulf plentiful quantities and highly ` consumable’’ (Saad et al., 2006). No of Gabes and the Bahiret el Biban, clarification was given as to whether which are areas used by this species for ´ there is low catch with high effort, or reproduction (Capape et al., 2004; low demand. Regardless, the fact that R. Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., rhinobatos was characterized as being of 2012; Enajjar et al., 2008). In the ‘‘moderate’’ economic importance Northern and Southern Lagoons near indicates this fish is more than an the City of Tunis in the Gulf of Tunis occasional visitor to Syrian waters. In on the northwest coast of Tunisia, R. the Turkish portion of the Levantine Sea rhinobatos has become common since (off southeastern Turkey), R. rhinobatos 2004, in response to environmental is common in fisheries bycatch, restoration of the lagoons (Mejri et al., including in ˙skenderun Bay, where, as I 2004). Little information was available for the status of R. rhinobatos in Libyan of 2012, it was less common than R. cemiculus (Basusta et al., 2012; Cek et waters beyond that they are targeted by ¸ ¸ ˙ ´ al., 2009). West of Iskenderun Bay, fishers (Seret & Serena 2002). In a 2005 based on samples collected in the early report, the Regional Activity Centre for 1980s, R. rhinobatos is also common in Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) ¨ ¨ proposed a research program that would Mersin Bay (Gucu & Bingel 1994), and it was collected in a 2002–2003 survey focus on eight cartilaginous fishes of of the Karatas Coasts (located between Libya, including R. rhinobatos, because ¸ ˙ Iskenderun Bay and Mersin Bay). R. of their commercial importance and interest in their conservation (RAC/SPA rhinobatos has also been recorded in the Gulf of Antalya, west of Mersin Bay (C. 2005). According to the proposal that males and females in the Gulf of ´ Gabes, Tunisia, matured around 3 and 5 years of age, respectively, and that individuals of the species can live for at least 14 years. No other age data were found for this species. For a more detailed discussion of size, age, and reproduction, see Newell (2016). PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64098 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules Mancusi, ARPAT, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 23 March, 2016). Individuals of all life history stages, including large quantities of pregnant females, have been captured in the Gulf ` of Gabes and the Bahiret el Biban ´ (Capape et al., 2004), Alexandria, Egypt (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993), and in ˙ Iskenderun Bay (Cek et al., 2009). In the ¸ Aegean Sea, which is bound by the east coast of Turkey and the west coast of Greece, R. rhinobatos is rare (CorsiniFoka 2009). It was present on a checklist ˘ from 1969 (Bilecenoglu et al., 2014), with one individual reported in 2008 and another in the 1970s (Corsini-Foka 2009), while no occurrences were detected during a 2006–2007 survey of Saroz Bay in the northeastern Aegean (Keskin et al., 2011). In the Atlantic, north of the strait of Gibraltar, the only records we found of this species were from checklists and museum records from Spain and ˜´ Portugal (Banon et al., 2010; Carneiro et al., 2014) and it not is reported in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) DATRAS data base, which is a collection of 45 years’ worth of survey data including data collected off the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal (ICES 2016), indicating that they are likely historically rare North of the Strait of Gibraltar. Along the Atlantic coast of Africa, this species is found from Morocco to Angola. It is likely that this species is rare in Moroccan waters (Gulyugin et al., 2006; Serghini et al., 2008). In West Africa, R. rhinobatos has been one of the most common and widely distributed elasmobranchs in Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, but has become scarce throughout most of this portion of its range in recent decades (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Mauritania, fishing pressure has driven declines in the average size of guitarfishes landed in the Banc d’Arguin National Park from 1998 to 2007 (Diop & Dossa 2011). Restrictions on elasmobranch fishing in the park have allowed guitarfishes to recover locally but they are still exploited throughout the rest of Mauritanian waters (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Senegal, guitarfishes are heavily targeted and this fishing pressure has caused local declines in both species, with substantial declines reported over the period of 1990 to 2005 (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Notarbartolo di Sciara et VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). Rhinobatos rhinobatos occurs in the waters of Guinea-Bissau off the ´ mainland and around the Bijagos Archipelago where it is targeted by fishers (Cross 2015; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Kasisi 2004; Tous et al., 1998). In the late 1990s, rapid and substantial declines of R. rhinobatos were reported ´ in the Bijagos Archipelago, as specialized and sophisticated fishing teams targeting elasmobranchs for their fins migrated into the area, although previously the area had seen almost no elasmobranch fishing (Tous et al., 1998). In Guinea it is likely that this species is experiencing similar declines to those in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Gambia (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Sierra Leone, this species is one of the most heavily exploited elasmobranchs (Diop & Dossa 2011). It was recorded from 2008–2010 in a survey by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as well as in industrial and artisanal fishery data (Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, pers. comm. to M. Miller, NMFS, 11 April, 2016). Rhinobatos rhinobatos is listed in an updated checklist of the marine fishes of Cape Verde, an island nation located about 600 km west of Dakar, Senegal. However, the authors of the checklist considered the record of R. rhinobatos invalid, stating that they did not know of any records of this species in the Cape Verde Islands (Wirtz et al., 2013). Little information about the status of R. rhinobatos was available throughout the rest of this species’ Atlantic range. From January 2009 to December 2010, R. rhinobatos was recorded during a study of landings by artisanal fishers based in the Ghanaian villages of Ahwaim and Elmina (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Rhinobatos rhinobatos is present in Gabon, but is likely less abundant than R. cemiculus (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 26 June, 2016). Rhinobatos rhinobatos was not caught from March 2013 to May 2015 during a study of artisanal fisheries around Mayumba, Gabon (De Bruyne 2015). No information on this species was available from Ghana and Gabon prior to these periods of study. We found no data for R. rhinobatos in the following countries, which have coastline in this species’ range: Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, ´ ˜ Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and ´ Prıncipe, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Rhinobatos cemiculus Historically, the blackchin guitarfish had a distribution similar to, but slightly more restricted than, R. rhinobatos, with its range listed through most of the coastal Mediterranean, and in the eastern Atlantic from Portugal to Angola (Melendez & Macias 2007). In the Mediterranean, there are no records of this species off the coast of France ´ (Capape et al., 2006), and there are doubts about whether R. cemiculus occurred in the Adriatic Sea (Akyol & ´ Capape 2014). Throughout its historical Mediterranean range, this species has likely always been rare in most of the northwestern Mediterranean, and more common in the Levantine Sea and along the southern shore of the Mediterranean from southern Tunisia to Egypt (RafrafiNouira et al., 2015). Presently all guitarfishes have been extirpated from the northwestern Mediterranean including the coast of Spain, as well as from the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, and Adriatic Seas (Bertrand et al., 2000; ´ Capape et al., 2006; Medits 2016a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). In this now curtailed portion of its range, up until the early 20th century, R. cemiculus may have been common in the waters around Sicily (Doderlein 1884; Psomadakis et al., 2009), and frequently occurred around the Balearic Islands of Spain (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). Rhinobatos cemiculus commonly occur in fishery landings, both as a target species and as bycatch from the waters of the east coast of Tunisia, the north coast of Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean from Israel to southeastern Turkey (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Lteif 2015; Saad et al., 2006). It is fished throughout all of Tunisian waters. It is considered rare along the north coast of Tunisa, although it may become more common in this area due to warming seas (Rafrafi-Nouira et al., 2015) and environmental restoration (Mejri et al., 2004). It has always been abundant in southeastern Tunisia ` around the Gulf of Gabes and the Bahiret el Biban, where it is more abundant than R. rhinobatos, and is known to use these areas during reproduction, including for parturition ´ (Capape et al., 2004; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Enajjar et al., 2008). As with R. rhinobatos, little information is available on the status of R. cemiculus in Libyan waters beyond ´ that they are targeted by fishers (Seret & Serena 2002), and that they are still common, relative to their occurrence in other parts of the Mediterranean (RAC/ SPA 2005). Guitarfishes are consumed E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules in Libya, and in a 2005 proposal for a research program focused on the cartilaginous fishes of Libya, R. cemiculus was selected as one of the eight priority species for research because of its commercial importance and interest in its conservation (RAC/ ´ SPA 2005). Capape et al., (1981) reported that an Egyptian museum specimen of R. cemiculus originated from the Red Sea, but no other reference to this species occurring in the Red Sea was reported. We found no information on the distribution or abundance of R. cemiculus in Mediterranean Egyptian waters, but this fish likely occurs in this area (Capape & Zaouali 1994). North of Egypt, R. cemiculus is considered prevalent in Israeli waters (less common than R. rhinobatos), where it is caught as bycatch by commercial fishers (Golani 2006). From December 2012 to October 2014, R. cemiculus was the second most common elasmobranch in Lebanese fisheries catches after R. rhinobatos (Lteif 2015). In a study of elasmobranch exploitation in Syria in the early 2000s, R. cemiculus was characterized as a ‘‘very economically important species being caught in plentiful quantities and highly consumable’’ (Saad et al., 2006). North of Syria, R. cemiculus is one of the most common elasmobranchs in ˙ fisheries landings in Iskenderun Bay, Turkey (and more abundant than R. rhinobatos) (Basusta et al., 2012; Keskin ¸ et al., 2011). West of ˙skenderun Bay, R. I cemiculus was caught during a 2006 study of shrimp trawl bycatch in Mersin Bay sampling (Duruer et al., 2008). Rhinobatos rhinobatos, but not R. cemiculus, was collected in a 2002– 2003 survey of the Karatas Coasts (Cicek ¸ ¸ ¸ et al., 2014). In the Aegean Sea, R. cemiculus is rare (Corsini-Foka 2009; Filiz et al., 2016). In 2013, two large R. cemiculus were caught in trawls in ˙zmir Bay, Turkey (eastern-central I Aegean), which the authors considered a range expansion for this species ´ (Akyol & Capape 2014). Further expanding the range of this species, in October 2012 one R. cemiculus was caught near Bursa, Turkey, in the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Aegean Sea and the greater Mediterranean to the Black Sea (C. Mancusi, ARPAT, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 23 March, 2016), although this record has not been reported in peer-reviewed literature. In the Atlantic, north of the Strait of Gibraltar, the only records we found of this species were from checklists and museum records from Spain and ˜´ Portugal (Banon et al., 2010; Carneiro et al., 2014), although Rafrafi-Nouira et al., (2015) noted that north of the Strait of Gibraltar, R. cemiculus was only known VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 off Portugal. This species was not reported in the DATRAS data base (ICES 2016), indicating that they have historically been rare north of the Strait of Gibraltar. Along the Atlantic coast of Africa, this species is found from Morocco to Angola. It is likely rare in Moroccan waters (Gulyugin et al., 2006; Serghini et al., 2008). In West Africa, R. cemiculus has been one of most common and widely distributed elasmobranchs in Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, but it has become scarce throughout most of this portion of its range in recent decades (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Mauritania, fishing pressure has driven declines in the average size of guitarfishes landed in the Banc d’Arguin National Park from 1998 to 2007, resulting in 95 percent of the landed R. cemiculus being smaller than the size at 50 percent maturity (Diop & Dossa 2011). Restrictions on elasmobranch fishing in the park have allowed guitarfishes to recover locally, but they are still exploited throughout the rest of Mauritanian waters (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Senegal, guitarfishes are heavily targeted, and this has caused local declines in both species, with substantial declines reported over the period of 1990 to 2005 (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). Rhinobatos cemiculus occurs in the waters of Guinea-Bissau off the ´ mainland and around the Bijagos Archipelago, where they are targeted by fishers (Cross 2015; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Kasisi 2004; Tous et al., 1998). Rhinobatos cemiculus was one of the elasmobranch species taken in the highest numbers in 1989 during experimental fishing trips (Diop & Dossa 2011). In the late 1990s, rapid and substantial declines of R. cemiculus ´ were reported in the Bijagos Archipelago, as specialized and sophisticated fishing teams targeting elasmobranchs for their fins migrated into the area, although previously the area had seen almost no elasmobranch fishing (Tous et al., 1998). In Guinea, just south of Guinea-Bissau, R. cemiculus is one of the most important fishery species (Diop & Dossa 2011), and it is likely that this species is experiencing declines similar to those in Guinea, Senegal, and Gambia (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64099 Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Sierra Leone, this species is one of the most heavily exploited elasmobranchs (Diop & Dossa 2011). It was recorded from 2008 to 2010 in a survey by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as well as in industrial and artisanal fishery data (Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, pers. comm. to M. Miller, NMFS, 11 April, 2016). Rhinobatos cemiculus is likely not common or exploited in the waters of Cape Verde (Diop & Dossa 2011). Little information about the status of R. cemiculus was available throughout the rest of this species’ Atlantic range. From January 2009 to December 2010, R. cemiculus was not recorded in a study of landings by artisanal fishers based in the Ghanaian villages of Ahwaim and Elmina (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Rhinobatos cemiculus is present throughout Gabonese coastal waters (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 26 June, 2016), and it was reported as bycatch from March 2013 to May 2015 during a study of artisanal fisheries around Mayumba, Gabon (De Bruyne 2015). No information on this species was available from Ghana and Gabon prior to these periods of study. We found no data for R. cemiculus in the following countries with coastline in this species’ range: Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial ´ ´ ˜ Guinea, Sao Tome and Prıncipe, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. Summary of Factors Affecting the Two Guitarfish Species Available information regarding historical, current, and potential threats to these two guitarfishes was thoroughly reviewed (see Newell (2016)). We find that the main threat to these species is overutilization for commercial purposes. This threat is exacerbated by both species’ reproductive behavior. Mature adults, including near-term pregnant females, congregate in shallow waters to breed and give birth. This behavior is well understood and exploited by fishers throughout these species’ ranges and exposes both species to capture by most demersal fishing gear types (Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012). Although information on these species’ age structure and reproductive capacity is incomplete, it is likely that their reproductive capacity, which may be high compared to some other elasmobranchs, but low compared to most fished species, increases the threat of commercial overutilization to both E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 64100 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS species. We find that current regulatory mechanisms contribute to the extinction risk of both species because they are inadequate to protect these species from further overutilization. In addition, pollution and development that modifies coastal habitat may be a threat to these species’ survival, although the specific effects of these threats are not well studied, so there is significant uncertainty regarding the contribution of pollution and coastal development to the extinction risk of these guitarfishes. We summarize information regarding these threats and their interactions below, with species-specific information where available, and according to the factors specified in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. Available information does not indicate that recreational fishing, disease, predation, or other natural or manmade factors are operative threats on these species; therefore, we do not discuss these factors further in this finding. See Newell (2016) for a full discussion of all ESA section 4(a)(1) threat categories. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Habitat or Range Both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus have likely been extirpated from the northwestern Mediterranean. Rhinobatos rhinobatos has likely been extirpated from the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France, as well as the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, and Adriatic ´ Seas (Bertrand et al., 2000; Capape et al., 2006; Medits 2016a). Rhinobatos cemiculus may never have occurred in the Mediterranean waters of France, but it has been extirpated from the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas, the Balearic Islands, and possibly the Adriatic (it is uncertain if it ever occurred there) ´ (Akyol & Capape 2014; Medits 2016a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a). Throughout the area where both species have been extirpated, we found almost no information on the life-history of either species, including no mention of the presence of different maturity stages or pregnant females. Based on the lack of available information, it appears that both species were rare throughout much of the area where they have been extirpated, with the exception of the Balearic Islands and the waters off Sicily. Around the Balearic Islands, both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus were frequently observed until at least the early 20th century (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). In the Tyrrhenian Sea, especially around Sicily, Rhinobatos spp. was common in commercial trawls in the northern VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 Tyrrhenian as late as the 1960s (Doderlein 1884; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Psomadakis et al., 2009). Both species were present daily at the Palermo (northwest Sicily) fish market in the late 19th century, where R. rhinobatos was likely more common than R. cemiculus (Doderlein 1884). The seasonal influx of R. rhinobatos in Sicilian waters (which may also apply to R. cemiculus) described by Doderlein (1884) is similar to the seasonal congregation of breeding adults reported in other portions of both species’ ranges. Additionally, Doderlein (1884) reported specimens of R. cemiculus that were 170, 180, and 230 cm TL (the largest being male), indicating that these individuals were likely mature. However, there was no discussion of pregnant females, reproduction, or how R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus used these areas, so there is significant uncertainty regarding how the loss of the populations in Sicilian and Balearic waters, as well as the loss of populations in the rest of the northwestern Mediterranean, could contribute to the extinction risk of either species. Although we found no other evidence of extirpations, the best available information indicates significant declines of elasmobranchs in West Africa, with R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, which were once common, becoming scarce. This region has already seen the total or near extirpation of sawfishes and the African wedgefish (Diop & Dossa 2011; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005). Given the similarity of these species (relatively large, dorsoventrally flattened, coastal elasmobranchs) to Rhinobatos spp., and the significant fishing pressure in the area, it is reasonable to conclude that R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus could face the threat of range curtailment in West Africa in the foreseeable future. Throughout these species’ ranges there is not much information available on the species-specific threats to R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus habitat. However, in the Mediterranean, the decline of elasmobranch diversity and abundance is well documented, and is attributed in part to habitat destruction and pollution (Carlini et al., 2002; Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; Melendez & Macias 2007; Psomadakis et al., 2009). Mediterranean ecosystems have been shaped by human actions for millennia, perhaps more so than anywhere else on earth (Bradai et al., 2012). Large species that use coastal habitat, especially those species that use these areas as nursery areas (e.g., R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus), are particularly vulnerable in areas of intensive human activity PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 (Cavanagh & Gibson 2007). The semienclosed nature of the Mediterranean increases the effects of pollution and habitat degradation on elasmobranch species and, as a result, the status of elasmobranchs may be worse in the Mediterranean than in other regions of the world (Melendez & Macias 2007; ´ Seret & Serena 2002). The Mediterranean Sea receives heavy metals, pesticides, excess nutrients, and other pollutants in the form of run-off (Melendez & Macias 2007; Psomadakis et al., 2009). As long-lived predators, large elasmobranchs are significant bioaccumulators of pollutants (Melendez & Macias 2007). No information is available on the bioaccumulation of pollutants in the tissues of Rhinobatos spp. in the Mediterranean Sea, but other elasmobranchs, such as the spiny dogfish and the gulper shark, have shown high concentrations of toxins (Melendez & Macias 2007). A study of the accumulation of trace metals cadmium, copper, and zinc in fish along the Mauritanian coast showed low levels of bioaccumulation of these metals in the tissues of R. cemiculus compared to bony fishes. It should be noted that three specimens of R. cemiculus were the only elasmobranchs collected in this study, and that, in contrast with the Mediterranean, the trace metals in the area of the study are thought to be primarily natural in origin (Sidoumou et al., 2005). Pollution, habitat degradation, and development in the coastal zone are also of concern in some African countries within these species’ ranges (Diop & Dossa 2011; Kasisi 2004). While pollution is a concern in portions of both species’ ranges, the effects of pollution on elasmobranchs and marine food webs are not well understood (Melendez & Macias 2007). We found no information describing how marine pollution affects Rhinobatos spp., so the contribution of marine pollution to these species’ extinction risk is unknown. The significant demersal trawling that occurred and continues to occur throughout the Mediterranean range of the two Rhinobatos species (Edelist 2014; FAO 2016b; Sacchi 2008), and to a lesser extent throughout their Atlantic range (Diop & Dossa 2011), has likely altered seafloor morphology (Puig et al., 2012). In some important reproductive areas for Rhinobatos spp., such as the southeast coast of Turkey, intense trawling pressure has occurred over recent decades in depths less than 70 m (Cicek et al., 2014). However, we found ¸ ¸ no information that this habitat modification has had a direct effect on E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules the abundance or distribution of these two species. Additionally, trawl fishing within three nautical miles of the Mediterranean coast has been prohibited since 2012 in order to protect coastal elasmobranch species (FAO 2016e). Some information shows that these species are sensitive to habitat modification. Psomadakis et al., (2009) attributed the extirpation of Rhinobatos spp. from the northwestern Mediterranean to the combination of centuries of human development and fishing pressure. Additionally, both species returned to the Northern and Southern Tunis Lagoons in Tunisia after large scale restoration of the area (Mejri et al., 2004). Prior to restoration, the lagoons had undergone significant anthropogenic hydrological modification and been extremely polluted from sewage input and industrial waste (Noppen 2003). After restoration was completed in 2001, R. cemiculus was recorded for the first time, and R. rhinobatos, which had previously been rare, became common (Mejri et al., 2004). Based on the available information, it is likely that pollution and modification of habitat contribute to the risk of extirpation of both species from portions of their range. However, because of the lack of information on the pollution and habitat modification throughout their entire ranges, and because there is no information on the direct effects of these threats to either species, the degree of the contribution of these factors to the extinction risk of both species is unknown at this time. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Overutilization for Commercial Purposes The primary threat to both of these species is commercial overutilization. This threat is difficult to quantify, as fisheries data on elasmobranch landings throughout both species’ ranges has been drastically underreported (Clarke et al., 2006; Diop & Dossa 2011; FAO 2016a). When elasmobranch catches have been reported, it was generally not reported at the species level (Bradai et al., 2012; Echwikhi et al., 2012). However, based on surveys of fishers’ knowledge, museum records, and analysis of scientific surveys of the northern Mediterranean, it appears that commercial overutilization has been the main driver of both species’ extirpation from the northwestern Mediterranean, and their decline in abundance in other regions (Baino et al., 2001; Bertrand et ´ al., 2000; Capape et al., 2006; Carlini et al., 2002; Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Psomadakis et al., 2009). VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 The overutilization of these species is not concentrated in one area or fishery. Throughout portions of their ranges, they are, or were until recently, targeted for their fins, meat, or both (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. Comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 26 June, 2016; Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2012). Throughout their ranges, there is great diversity in fisheries and in the types of gear used (Diop & Dossa 2011; FAO 2016b). As bycatch, R. cemiculus and R. rhinobatos are particularly exposed to fishing pressure from demersal trawl, gillnet, and longline fisheries (Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; FAO 2016d). In West Africa, both species have been targeted by the shark fin fishery, which has led to both species becoming scarce in this region after a few decades of targeted fishing (Diop & Dossa 2011; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005). The explosion of the Chinese middle class at the end of the last century led to a rapid increase in demand for shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese dish desired for its alleged tonic properties and, most importantly, because it has served as an indicator of high societal status for centuries. Shark fins are one of the highest value seafood products in the world, especially compared to shark meat, which is widely regarded as low value (Dulvy et al., 2014; Hareide et al., 2007b). The value and quality of shark fins are judged by the thickness and length of the ceratotrichia, or fin needles, and based on this valuation system, guitarfishes have some of the most valuable elasmobranch fins (Hareide et al., 2007b). The majority of the commercial harvest information available for these species in the Atlantic pertains to the FAO Subregional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) member countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, GuineaBissau, Sierra Leone, and Cape Verde. Outside of the SRFC countries, we also found information on fisheries in Morocco, Ghana, and Gabon. We found no data for either species in the following countries, which have Atlantic coastline that is considered in one or both species’ ranges: France, Spain, Portugal, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, ´ ˜ Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and ´ Prıncipe, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. In the SRFC region, elasmobranchs, including R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, have historically been extremely abundant (Diop & Dossa 2011). Prior to the 1970s, elasmobranchs were primarily taken as bycatch and PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64101 processed for sale to meet local demand. There was a small market for salted and dried elasmobranch meat, based in Ghana that fueled trade for elasmobranch bycatch through the SRFC region, including for guitarfishes caught in Senegal and Gambia. However, compared to other fishery products, shark meat had very low value, so there was little economic incentive to develop a targeted fishery. Elasmobranch fishing in the SRFC region began to grow in Senegal and Gambia in the 1970s, and then, fueled by the growing demand for shark fins, developed into a robust and unsustainable shark fishery by the early 1980s. To supply the shark fin export industry, specialized shark fishing teams became increasingly common in the SRFC region. These teams of artisanal fishers migrate into new areas along the west coast of Africa as local elasmobranch resources become locally overexploited (Diop & Dossa 2011; Ducrocq & Diop 2006). As the fishery became more migratory, the increase in fishing effort drove the need to maximize profits, further encouraging the unsustainable, wasteful practice of finning (Diop & Dossa 2011; Tous et al., 1998). In recent decades the demand for elasmobranch meat, which was once considered a low value product, has grown, which provided additional economic incentive for growth in the shark fishery in the SRFC region (Clarke et al., 2007; Dent & Clarke 2015). The SRFC subregion’s international elasmobranch fishing industry is composed of industrial and artisanal fishing vessels, coastal processing facilities, and a robust trade network. Vessels are owned both by local fishermen and foreign investors (primarily Spanish). Owners have financed improvements in fishing technology (e.g. more advanced boats and nets) as yields have declined. Guitarfishes are also targeted from shore, such as by fishers using beachbased ‘‘‘guitar lines’’ in Mauritania. In the SRFC region, elasmobranch fishing effort steadily increased since the 1970s, with landings peaking in the early 2000s, and then showing a significant and ongoing drop. Throughout the region (with the exception of Cape Verde, an offshore island nation where neither species are abundant), ‘‘resources seem to be fully exploited, if not overexploited, for almost all selachian1 species’’ (Diop & Dossa 2011; Ducrocq & Diop 2006). Because Rhinobatos spp. have also been heavily targeted for their highly valuable fins in the SRFC region for decades, this status of full or overexploitation likely also 1 i.e. E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM sharks. 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64102 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules applies to guitarfishes in the SRFC region (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In the SRFC region, Diop and Dossa (2011) report the importance of one or both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus to local elasmobranch fisheries in all member countries except Gambia and Cape Verde. Fishers throughout this region time their fishing activities with the migration patterns and reproductive behavior of both species, targeting guitarfishes when they return to the shallows to give birth (Ducrocq & Diop 2006). In Mauritania, R. cemiculus is one of the three elasmobranch species taken in highest numbers (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, R. cemiculus is listed as one of the few species listed as ‘‘most important landings’’ and ‘‘taken in the highest numbers,’’ respectively. In Sierra Leone, ‘‘Rhinobatos spp. and Dasyatis spp. (stingrays) are found in the highest numbers, both in terms of weight and number.’’ In Senegal, both species, along with coastal sharks, are the main fisheries targets (Diop & Dossa 2011). Diatta et al., (2009) also found that guitarfishes were some of the primary elasmobranchs targeted by the robust artisanal fishery in Senegal, where finning is prevalent, and these fishes were caught when they returned to shallow waters to breed. While the shark fin industry has been the major driver for elasmobranch declines in the SRFC countries, it is not the sole driver of overutilization of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus. The region has also experienced heavy population shifts in recent decades, primarily from people migrating to the coast, and this has put increased demand on all marine resources. Additionally, fisheries reporting in the area is inadequate, and there is significant bycatch in the industrial fishing industry (Diop & Dossa 2011). In addition to reported harvest, since 1980, the African Atlantic coast has experienced extremely high rates of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including in shallow areas where both guitarfish species are vulnerable to capture (Agnew et al., 2009; Greenpeace 2015). As a result of the decades of sustained and widespread targeting of guitarfishes and other elasmobranchs in the SRFC region, combined with the increasing overall fishing effort, there has been an overall decrease in catch, with some species, such as sawfishes, lemon sharks and the African wedgefish, almost completely disappearing (Diop & Dossa 2011), and some species, including VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 guitarfishes, becoming scarce (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Ducrocq & Diop 2006). Based on survey and fisher interview data collected by the IUCN GuineaBissau Programme and the National Centro de Investigacao Pesqueira Applicada, both guitarfishes were the main targets of specialized fishing teams in Guinea-Bissau, and landings had declined substantially as of the late 1990s (Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Tous et al., 1998). This fishing pressure also drove down the average size of R. rhinobatos landed (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). According to unpublished data from the Senegalese Ministry of Maritime Economy and International Maritime Transportation, guitarfish landings in Senegal have decreased from 4,050 t in 1998 to 821 t in 2005, with a reduction in the overall size of specimens landed (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a). Diop and Dossa (2011) reported that, because of overexploitation in the Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania, 95 percent of landed R. cemiculus were smaller than their size-at-maturity, which was likely impacting their reproductive capacity. A ban on shark fishing in Banc d’Arguin National Park has allowed guitarfishes to recover within the park’s boundaries, but both species are still heavily targeted outside of the park (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). While Diop and Dossa (2011) characterized one or both species as being important, or landed in high numbers, in fisheries in Senegal, Mauritania, and Guinea-Bissau, the authors did not state a time period for these characterizations. As just discussed, significant declines in the overall abundance of guitarfishes have been reported in all of these countries (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b) as well as substantial reported declines in landings of larger, more fecund, individuals of both species in GuineaBissau, Senegal (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b) and Mauritania (Diop & Dossa 2011). Similar trends are likely in Guinea and Gambia (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). Because of the migratory fisheries in the SRFC countries, and the reported scarcity of guitarfishes throughout the area (Diop & Dossa 2011), it is reasonable to assume similar PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 declines have occurred or will occur in Sierra Leone. In Morocco, both species are likely rare; they are not targeted, but at least R. rhinobatos occurs as demersal trawl bycatch (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). We found no information on the commercial exploitation of Rhinobatos spp. in Morocco but, in general, Moroccan fisheries are likely in a state of overexploitation after years of intense and extremely underreported fishing activity by foreign vessels (Belhabib et al., 2012b; Jouffre & Inejih 2005). In Ghana, where the artisanal fishing industry is an important and entrenched part of the economy, the demand for dried and salted elasmobranch meat was an early driver of the regional elasmobranch industry (Diop & Dossa 2011; Ducrocq & Diop 2006; Nunoo & Asiedu 2013), and R. rhinobatos, but not R. cemiculus, was recently reported in artisanal fisheries landings (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). The demersal fisheries resources of Ghana have been ‘‘operating under stress during the last decades’’ (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Artisanal fishers from Ghana, as well as from neighboring Togo and Benin, have migrated to other countries’ fishing grounds along the west coast of Africa, likely because fishing grounds in these fishers’ countries have been overexploited, overcrowded, or both (De Bruyne 2015; Diop & Dossa 2011). In Gabon, both species are present in coastal waters, and are targeted by artisanal fishers using specialized gear for their meat and to supply the black market fin trade, which is connected to the West African fin trade. Both species are also targeted by recreational fishers (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 26 June, 2016). In the area of the village of Mayumba in southwest Gabon, R. cemiculus was the most frequent batoid species captured by artisanal fishers from 2014 to 2015 (R. rhinobatos is not mentioned). This catch included no mature females, which was noted by the author as an indicator that fishing has had a negative impact on the reproductive capacity of this species in the area. Although the author noted the absence of pregnant females, he did not discuss whether pregnant females had previously been recorded in the area. ‘‘Sea fishing’’ began around Mayumba in the 1950s with the arrival of fishers from Ghana, Benin, and Togo, many of whom had been crowded out of fishing grounds in the Republic of the Congo. Until recently, this area experienced unsustainable industrial and IUU fishing. In this area, there has also long been subsistence fishing by locals in the E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules Banio Lagoon, where sharks and rays were prevalent 30 years ago, but today are almost impossible to catch (De Bruyne 2015). Based on this information, it appears that overutilization has caused a decline in abundance and reproductive capacity of R. cemiculus in at least part of Gabonese waters. In contrast with the relatively recent and rapid exploitation of guitarfishes in the African Atlantic, primarily driven by the demand for shark fins, finning is not widely practiced in the Mediterranean (Hareide et al., 2007a; Serena 2005). Instead, in the Mediterranean these species have been impacted by the centuries of sustained fishing pressure coupled with recent increases in fishing effort and fishing technology advances (Ferretti et al., 2008; Psomadakis et al., 2009). As evidence of both species’ decline, R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus have been listed on Annex II: List of Endangered or Threatened Species of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean (SPA/BD Protocol) of the Barcelona Convention since 2012. The SPA/BD Protocol prohibits the landing of these species in the Mediterranean and requires that they ‘‘must be released unharmed and alive to the highest extent possible.’’ We found no studies on the survival rates of guitarfishes after being released from fishing gear interactions, so the potential of this requirement to reduce fishing mortality is unknown. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) recommendation GFCM/36/2012/3, which is associated with the SPA/BD Protocol (see Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms), also prohibits trawling within three nautical miles of the shoreline, greatly reducing the likelihood that these coastal fish will be caught as bycatch. Recommendation GFCM/36/2012/3 also prohibits finning and the landing of elasmobranchs without their heads and skins, thus protecting these fish from illegal sale (FAO 2016e)(Hareide et al., 2007a; Serena 2005). We found no information on the current level of IUU fishing on these species in the Mediterranean, so it is difficult to assess the impact of these prohibitions. Recent information from Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt indicates that the fisheries in these countries are inadequately regulated (Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Lteif 2015; A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016; SamyKamal 2015). Regardless of the efficacy of the SPA/ BD Protocol prohibitions, the historical VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 fishing pressure on R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus has driven declines in abundance throughout much of the Mediterranean (Baino et al., 2001; ´ Bertrand et al., 2000; Capape et al., 2006; Diop & Dossa 2011; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b; Psomadakis et al., 2009). The area has a long history of fishing pressure, which has not abated in recent decades (Ferretti et al., 2008). Better technology and increased fishing effort, including increased benthic continental shelf and slope trawling over the last 50 years, has resulted in the decline of many elasmobranch species (Bradai et al., 2012). In the northwestern Mediterranean, sustained and intensive fishing pressure has been a main driver of the extirpation of Rhinobatos spp. (Bradai et al., 2012; ´ Capape et al., 2006; Psomadakis et al., 2009; Sacchi 2008). The highest concentration of fishing vessels in the Mediterranean occurs in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian Sea GFCM subregions, which make up the majority of the current Mediterranean ranges of Rhinobatos spp. Turkey, which appears to have some of the largest concentrations of R. cemiculus along its southern coast, also has the most fishing vessels with 16,447 vessels (17.74 percent of vessels in the Mediterranean). However, some of these vessels fish in the Black Sea, where neither species is found, or in the Aegean Sea, where these species are rare (FAO 2016b). Between 1970 and 1985, reported Mediterranean and Black Sea chondrichthyan landings (which includes both guitarfishes) grew from 10,000 t to 25,000 t, and then declined to about 7,000 t annually in 2008 despite growing fishing effort (Bradai et al., 2012; Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; Hareide et al., 2007). During this time, Tunisia and Turkey were two of the most prolific Mediterranean elasmobranch fishing countries. As of 2007, there were six Mediterranean elasmobranchs affected by targeted fisheries. Historically, many more species had been targeted or landed in large quantities, but this number has been reduced because these fisheries are no longer commercially viable (Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; FAO 2016d; Ferretti et al., 2008). In a few areas in the Mediterranean, R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus are or were targeted or considered a valuable secondary catch. Additionally, the global demand for elasmobranch meat has grown rapidly in recent decades, with the reported production of meat and fillets growing from approximately 40,000 tons in 1985 PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64103 to 121,641 tons in 2004 (Clarke et al., 2007; Dent & Clarke 2015), potentially providing economic incentive to retain these species as targeted or incidental catch. The primary Mediterranean area where R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus have been fished is the waters of Tunisia, where seasonal artisanal fishers target elasmobranchs with gillnets and longlines when they move into shallow waters in the spring and summer (Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012). Rhinobatos spp. meat is sold in local markets and the skin is used for drumheads by local players (Capape & Zaouali 1994). In Tunisian waters R. cemiculus is landed in greater numbers than R. rhinobatos (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012), although species-specific data and reliable discard data are largely unavailable (Echwikhi et al., 2012). Data on fishing vessels are underreported, especially in Tunisia and Morocco. However, based on the available data, the Tunisian fleet is composed of 12,826 reported vessels, or 14.91 percent of the 92,734 vessels reported in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, making it the third largest Mediterranean and Black Sea fishing fleet. Since 1970, when total fisheries landings in Tunisia were about 25,000 tons, there has been a steady increase in landings, reaching an average of 101,400 t from 2000to 2013. Additionally, Tunisia has one of the youngest fishing fleets in terms of vessel age, indicating a relatively recent increase in fishing capacity. As is the case throughout the Mediterranean, the vast majority of the Tunisian fishery is composed of artisanal vessels (FAO 2016b). While elasmobranch landings have dropped overall in southern Tunisia (Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012), an assessment from the Workshop on Stock Assessment of Selected Species of Elasmobranchs in the GFCM area found that the southern Tunisian R. cemiculus stock was actually underfished from 2001–2007 (GFMC:SAC 2012). Targeted fishing for guitarfishes in Tunisia likely began in the 1970s to ´ mid-1980s (Capape et al., 2004; Echwikhi et al., 2013). The majority of Tunisian elasmobranch catches have ` ¨ been from the Gulf of Gabes (Bradaı et al., 2006; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012), where general elasmobranch landings and batoid landings steadily increased during the 1990s, peaked in 2002, and decreased from 2003 to 2008 (trend data are not available after 2008) (Echwikhi et al., 2012). Guitarfishes were targeted with special gillnets called ‘‘garracia,’’ with catches peaking in the spring and E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64104 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules summer when females move into shallow waters to gestate and give birth. Adults, juveniles, and neonates have also been caught as bycatch in demersal ¨ fish and shrimp trawls (Bradaı et al., 2006). In a study of elasmobranch ` gillnet fishing in the Gulf of Gabes from 2007 to 2008, R. cemiculus was the most abundant elasmobranch caught. R. cemiculus and R. rhinobatos were 52 percent and 6.81 percent of the total elasmobranch catch, respectively. Female R. cemiculus (40 percent mature) and R. rhinobatos (48 percent mature) were more common than males. The authors of this study noted that R. cemiculus is particularly susceptible to capture in bottom gillnets because of its shape and schooling behavior (Echwikhi et al., 2012). ` In recent years, Gulf of Gabes fishermen who had targeted grouper using demersal longlines have shifted to targeting elasmobranchs as grouper abundance has declined, although in this fishery elasmobranchs were still reported as bycatch (Echwikhi et al., 2013). The first study of elasmobranch catches in this longline fishery, conducted from 2007 to 2008, found that R. cemiculus was the most abundant elasmobranch, with R. cemiculus and R. rhinobatos composing 31.7 percent and 11.2 percent of the elasmobranch catch, respectively. Mature, pregnant females dominated the R. cemiculus catch, while males and females were about equal for R. rhinobatos, with slightly more mature individuals than juvenile individuals caught. This study found that longline fishing effort during this time period was ‘‘considerable’’ (Echwikhi et al., 2013). Enajjar et al., (2008) found a decrease in the overall TL and TL at 50 percent maturity for male and female R. rhinobatos in southern Tunisia, compared to the results reported by Capape et al., (1975, 1997). The reported decrease in R. rhinobatos, compared to the relatively recent GFCM:SAC (2012) stock assessment that found R. cemiculus was underfished in this area, may indicate that only the Tunisian population of R. rhinobatos is experiencing levels of fishing pressure that contribute to its risk of extinction. There is significant uncertainty with this conclusion because of the limited information available. Just east of the Tunisian border, there are artisanal gillnet and longline elasmobranch fisheries based in Tarwah, Libya, that, as of 2000, primarily targeted sharks of the family Carcharhinidae, with guitarfishes and angelsharks retained as associate target species (Lamboeuf et al., 2000). This information was reported in Appendix VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 VI of Lamboeuf et al., (2000), which provided an example of the project’s database printout, rather than a complete picture of guitarfish retention in Libya, and we found no additional information on guitarfish catch in this country. According to the RAC/SPA (2005) research proposal, guitarfishes have been traditionally consumed in Libya, and some species that have declined in the greater Mediterranean, including guitarfishes, are still relatively common in Libyan waters. The effects of targeted fishing in Libya on the extinction risk of these species are unknown at this time. Along the eastern Mediterranean, guitarfishes are illegally targeted in Lebanon by artisanal fishers. From December 2012 to October 2014, R. rhinobatos was the most common elasmobranch in Lebanese fisheries catches, followed by R. cemiculus, and both have had significant economic value. Fishing pressure in Lebanon is greatest in the north, where it has already impacted elasmobranch diversity (Lteif 2015). In a study of elasmobranch exploitation in Syria in the early 2000s, R. cemiculus was characterized as a ‘‘very economically important species being caught in plentiful quantities and highly consumable,’’ whereas R. rhinobatos was characterized as a ‘‘moderate economically important species either for being caught in little quantities with high efforts in fishing, or for their little demand for human consumption. Or maybe for both reasons’’ (Saad et al., 2006). It is unclear if R. cemiculus is more common or if there is a higher demand for its meat over that of R. rhinobatos, but these data indicate that both species were either targeted or welcomed as secondary catch in Syria. Overall fisheries landings in Lebanon and Syria increased since the 1970s, but their reported landings only make a small fraction of the overall Mediterranean catch (FAO 2016c). Throughout their entire Mediterranean ranges, R. cemiculus and R. rhinobatos have long been exposed to pressure as bycatch (Bradai et al., 2012). Rhinobatos cemiculus is one of the most commonly landed elasmobranchs in ˙skenderun Bay, Turkey (and more I abundant than R. rhinobatos) (Basusta et ¸ al., 2012; Keskin et al., 2011), where the coastal area is heavily fished, exposing mature, breeding individuals to capture when they migrate to shallow waters (Basusta et al., 2008). Rhinobatos spp. ¸ are not commercially important species in Turkey (Keskin et al., 2011), but Cek ¸ et al., (2009) reported that R. rhinobatos has been exploited by bottom trawlers ˙ in Iskenderun Bay since 1990, and it is PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 consumed locally. The same is likely true for R. cemiculus. After Egypt, Turkey has the highest number of registered trawlers in the Eastern Mediterranean, with 599 vessels (FAO 2016b). While some of these trawlers are concentrated in the Black Sea (FAO 2016b), the southeastern waters of Turkey, including ˙skenderun Bay, have I been intensely fished for decades and have shown obvious signs of decline in biodiversity and fish abundance (Cicek ¸ ¸ et al., 2014). In Egypt, Mediterranean fisheries landings have generally been growing since the 1970s, as fishing technology has advanced and fishing effort has increased. There have been periods where landings dropped despite continued increases in fishing efforts (FAO 2016c; Samy-Kamal 2015). As a result there has been an increase in the landings of and demand for cartilaginous fishes bycatch, with guitarfishes (not reported at the species level) composing the majority of these landings, primarily as bycatch from shrimp trawls. Prior to 2005, shark and ray bycatch were usually discarded. From 2005 to 2006, landings of cartilaginous fishes jumped from around 500 tons to over 3,000 tons. Over the last 10 years, this production has remained high, although recently it decreased from over 3,000 tons annually in 2010 and 2011, to 1,843 tons in 2014 in spite of sustained fishing effort (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016). Most of the landings in Egypt occur in the Nile Delta region, which is highly suitable for trawling and includes Alexandria, where R. rhinobatos is known to aggregate in shallow waters to give birth (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993; Samy-Kamal 2015). Within this region, almost 80 percent of the cartilaginous fish production is landed at two ports, Alexandria and Borg El Burullus (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016). Wildcaught fisheries in Egypt have been regulated for decades, but these regulations have been under-enforced, as the government has focused on developing the booming aquaculture industry. Additionally, regulations have not been updated to reflect the GFCM recommendations, which are apparently also not being enforced. This lack of enforcement has resulted in rampant IUU fishing in Egyptian waters, including unsustainable trawling and the use of illegal fishing gear (SamyKamal 2015). The lack of fishing regulations and enforcement has resulted in widespread declines in Egyptian fisheries, including in E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules elasmobranch populations, and is likely also affecting neighboring countries, as Egyptian fishers are known to illegally fish in Libyan waters (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016). In the waters of Cyprus, there was a large increase in coastal trawl fishing effort in the late 1980s. From 1985 to 1990, there was a spike in elasmobranch capture, primarily of dogfish, skates, and rays, followed by a sharp decline in capture after 1990. In response to a government fishing permit buy-back program, trawling effort has reduced substantially since the early 2000s (Hadjichristophorou 2006). In Israel, reported landings are low, approximately at the levels reported for Syria and Lebanon, and have been decreasing for decades (FAO 2016c), although Edelist (2014) considered the soft-bottomed habitat off Israel to be under intensive fishing pressure. Guitarfish are caught as bycatch by local fishermen, but there is little market for elasmobranch products because they are not kosher, thus their consumption is forbidden by Jewish law. Elasmobranch species are primarily caught as bycatch by local fishermen using trawls and bottom long-lines, and also purse seines and trammel nets (Golani 2006). Rhinobatos rhinobatos are considered common in the area, while R. cemiculus is prevalent but less abundant than R. rhinobatos (Edelist 2014; Golani 2006). The magnitude of the threat to R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus from commercial overharvest is impossible to fully assess because of the lack of fisheries data, especially at the species level, from all countries in which these species occur. However, the best available information shows (1) fishery driven extirpation of Rhinobatos spp. from the northwestern Mediterranean ´ (Capape et al., 2006; Psomadakis et al., 2009); (2) decreasing elasmobranch landings due to decades of technological advances and increased fishing effort (Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; Diop & Dossa ´ 2011; Melendez & Macias 2007; Seret & Serena 2002); (3) substantial decreases in the abundance of both species in West Africa (Diop & Dossa 2011); (4) considerable fishing effort in demersal fisheries concentrated in coastal areas where both species, especially reproductive individuals, are particularly vulnerable to capture (Cicek ¸ ¸ et al., 2014; Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Samy-Kamal 2015); (5) sustained targeting of these species as commercially important species (Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Lteif et al., 2016; Saad et al., 2006); and (6) evidence of VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 fishery driven size reduction (Diop & Dossa 2011; Enajjar et al., 2012). Based on this information, we conclude that overharvest from industrial and artisanal commercial fisheries is contributing significantly to the extinction risk of both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus throughout their ranges. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms There are some regional and national regulatory mechanisms that impact the conservation status of these species. In 2009, both species were listed on SPA/ BD Protocol Annex III: List of Species Whose Exploitation is Regulated, which was adopted under the Barcelona Convention in 1995 (Bradai et al., 2012). In 2012, both species were uplisted to Annex II: List of Endangered or Threatened Species (S. de Benedictis, GFCM Secretariat, pers. comm. to B. Newell, 12, May, 2016). The protocol charges all parties with identifying and compiling lists of all endangered or threatened species in their jurisdiction, controlling or prohibiting (where appropriate) the taking or disturbance of wild protected species, and coordinating their protection and recovery efforts for migratory species, among other measures that are likely less relevant to these species (RAC/SPA 1996). Currently, all coastal Mediterranean countries where these species occur are contracting parties to the SPA/BD Protocol (European Commission 2016). Further, since 2012, both species have been protected by GFCM recommendation GFCM/36/ 2012/3. This recommendation prohibits the finning of elasmobranchs or the beheading or skinning of elasmobranchs before landing, and it prohibits trawling in the first three nautical miles off the coast or up to the 50 m isobaths (whichever comes first). Additionally, Annex II elasmobranch species cannot be retained on board, transshipped, landed, transferred, stored, sold or displayed or offered for sale, and must be released unharmed and alive to the extent possible (GFCM/36/2012/3). Any capture of these species in the GFCM area of competence, which includes all national and high seas waters of the Mediterranean and Black Seas (FAO 2016f), is considered IUU fishing (S. de Benedictis, GFCM Secretariat, pers. comm. to B. Newell, 12, May, 2016). In the Mediterranean, the efficacy of these and other protections is unclear, but it appears that countries have historically been slow to adopt and enforce the SPA/BD Protocol protections (Serena 2005). Italy, Greece, and Lebanon have promulgated regulations in accordance with the SPA/ PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64105 BD Protocol to protect species listed in Annex II (Bradai et al., 2012; Lteif 2015), Tunisia has restricted the retention of rays and skates less than 40cm, and all cartilaginous fishes are protected in Israel (Bradai et al., 2012). In Lebanon, these regulations are neither being followed nor enforced (Lteif 2015). Historically, monitoring of the Mediterranean fleet has been negligible ´ (Seret & Serena 2002), and the data on cartilaginous fishes have not been reported at the species level (Echwikhi et al., 2012; Serena 2005). Vessel, bycatch, and discard data from artisanal fisheries, which primarily operate along the coast and make up 80 percent of the vessels in the Mediterranean, are difficult to obtain and likely underreported (FAO 2016c, 2016d). Echwikhi et al., (2012) and Echwikhi et al., (2013) describe the nature of artisanal gillnet and longline fisheries in Tunisia and the Mediterranean as ‘‘unregulated.’’ In Lebanon, Turkey, and Tunisia the artisanal sector makes up well over 80 percent of the total vessels, and no data were available for Syria (FAO 2016c), increasing the likelihood that fisheries in these important portions of Rhinobatos spp. range are underregulated and catches are underreported. In Egypt, which is also an important part of the range of at least R. rhinobatos, the wild catch fisheries are underregulated as the government has focused most of its resources on supporting the booming aquaculture industry (Samy-Kamal 2015). This lack of regulation and enforcement has led to widespread overfishing in Egyptian waters, where both guitarfish species have been retained as profitable bycatch species since 2005, and Egyptian fishers are known to illegally fish in Libyan waters because of the overexploited state of local Egyptian fisheries. Additionally, the focus on aquaculture production has resulted in the pollution of coastal brackish lakes, which degrades coastal ecosystems (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016). In the Atlantic African countries, as in the Mediterranean, artisanal fishing makes up a huge, growing proportion of the fishing activity. Until recently, this fishing sector has lacked speciesspecific data and strong management or regulations (De Bruyne 2015; Diop & Dossa 2011; Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Along the Atlantic coast of Africa, all of the SRFC countries have passed regulations that offer some protection to either or both species. Cape Verde, Guinea, Gambia, and Sierra Leone have all banned finning. Mauritania has banned all elasmobranch fishing (except E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64106 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules for houndshark) in Banc d’Arguin National Park since 2003. Guinea and Sierra Leone have introduced elasmobranch fishing licenses. GuineaBissau dismantled elasmobranch fishing camps in the Bijagos Archipelago and banned elasmobranch fishing in all marine protected areas (MPAs). Senegal established size limits for R. cemiculus (106 cm for males and 100 cm for females). However, all of the SRFC countries lack adequate technical and financial resources for monitoring and management, and regulations at the country level are not very strict and lack regional coordination (Diop & Dossa 2011). Whether these regulatory protections put in place in the SRFC countries are reducing the extinction risk of these species is unknown at this time. In Gabon, a national marine planning effort called ‘‘Gabon Bleu,’’ which was established in 2012, seeks to improve management of marine resources across different stakeholder groups, including artisanal and industrial fishing. The country’s 2005 Fisheries Code had established regulations that were not being followed, with reported noncompliance including the disconnection of vessel monitoring systems and the use of illegal monofilament nets by artisanal fishers. In 2012, under Gabon Bleu, all fishing activity was suspended, and all fishers who wished to resume work were required to sign an agreement that clearly defined the regulations and required their participation in fisheries research. Several arrests were made as a result of a crackdown on IUU fishing that included increased surveillance (De Bruyne 2015). Additionally, both species are considered ‘‘sensitive species’’ and cannot be targeted by fishers. Unfortunately, these regulations have not eliminated the black market for fins, so guitarfishes are still being targeted by artisanal fishers and illegally finned by demersal trawl fishers (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 28 June, 2016). In Mayumba National Park, only artisanal fishers have been allowed to operate, and sharks are no longer targeted (De Bruyne 2015). Recent efforts to improve monitoring of artisanal catches have also been made in Ghana (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Republic of the Congo, which shares Gabon’s southern border, banned all shark fishing along its entire coastline in 2001 (Marine Conservation Institute 2016), although we found no information on the enforcement of this ban. IUU fishing by foreign fleets is also a major challenge for sustainable fisheries VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 management in Africa. The west coast of Africa has experienced some of the highest amounts of IUU fishing in the world for decades (Agnew et al., 2009). Historically, EU vessels had fished unsustainably off African countries (Agnew et al., 2009; Belhabib et al., 2012a), but recent regulatory updates, such as the reform for the European Union Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), have curbed these practices (Greenpeace 2015). Currently, the biggest source of IUU fishing in Atlantic African waters, in particular the SRFC region, is China, whose African distant water fishing fleet has swelled from 13 vessels in 1985, to 462 vessels in 2013 (Greenpeace 2015). Chinese vessels, which negotiate fishing agreements with African countries, have been documented trawling in shallow prohibited areas, underreporting catch, using illegal fishing gear, misreporting vessel specifications (including gross tonnage), and tampering with vessel monitoring systems (Greenpeace 2015). Currently, it appears that many West African coastal states lack the regulatory and enforcement capacity to adequately deal with this issue (Greenpeace 2015). We found no regulatory information for Morocco, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. Overall, we found little information on the effectiveness of the current regulations in countries along the west coast of Africa and the Mediterranean, so it is difficult to assess how these regulations are impacting the extinction risk of both species. However, we do know that in the African Atlantic there has been rapid growth of unregulated or underregulated exploitation of both species. In addition, throughout both species’ ranges IUU fishing is still prevalent, and there is an abundance of coastal, artisanal fishers, who can be difficult to regulate because of the novelty of efforts to regulate and manage fishers that have long been undermanaged or not regulated at all. Because of these factors, as well as the high catchability and low reproductive potential of these species, we conclude that the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms is likely contributing significantly to the extinction risk of both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus. Although the 2012 SPA/ BD Protocol Annex II listing and other current regulations may, in time, provide sufficient protection to reduce these species’ risk of extinction, the current uncertainty associated with the enforcement of these restrictions is too great to conclude these protections are adequate to prevent overutilization. PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Extinction Risk Although there is no quantitative analysis of either species’ abundance over time, and data for many demographic characteristics of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus are lacking, the best available data indicate that these species currently face a moderate risk of extinction due to their inherent demographic vulnerabilities, coupled with commercial overutilization and the inadequacy of regulations of commercial fisheries in their ranges. As defined in the status review (see Newell (2016)), a species is considered to be at a moderate risk of extinction when it is on a trajectory that puts it at a high level of extinction risk in the foreseeable future. In this case, we define the foreseeable future as 15–20 years, which is a reasonable amount of time to project the continued threat of overutilization as countries throughout both species’ ranges develop and begin to enforce relevant regulations. Additionally, given the relatively low productivity of these species, it will likely take more than one generation for these species to recover. This foreseeable future corresponds roughly to three generation times of R. cemiculus (Enajjar et al., 2012). In this case, because of the lack of life-history data, we simply define the generation time of R. cemiculus as the age when the average female reaches sexual maturity (5.09 years). Rhinobatos rhinobatos The common guitarfish faces demographic risks that significantly increase its risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. Although there is no species-specific quantitative analysis of R. rhinobatos abundance over time, the best available information (including survey data, interviews with fishers, and anecdotal accounts) indicates that this species has likely undergone significant declines throughout most of its range, with no evidence to suggest a reversal of these trends, with the exception of a few, extremely localized examples. Based on survey data and historical records, this species once occurred throughout the entire coastal northwestern Mediterranean, including as a common species off the Balearic Islands and Sicily, but it has been extirpated for decades throughout this entire area. In the Mediterranean, strong fishing pressure on this species, both as a targeted species and as bycatch, likely still occurs in Tunisia, Lebanon, southeast Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. In Africa, substantial and relatively recent declines have occurred in Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone, all countries where this E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules species was one of the most common elasmobranch species only a few decades ago. This species is also targeted illegally for its fins in Gabon, and IUU fishing is likely rampant throughout most of its African Atlantic range. The limited productivity data on R. rhinobatos suggests this species may be relatively fast-growing and productive compared to other elasmobranchs. However, compared to most fished species, such as bony fishes, this species is slow-growing and has low productivity. Additionally, aspects of this species’ reproductive strategy make it inherently vulnerable to overexploitation. This species is longlived, and larger, older individuals are the most productive. Because this species migrates into shallow waters to give birth and breed, the breeding population of this species is very vulnerable to fishing capture and, as a result, a decline of the average size at maturity and rate of maturity in catches has been reported in many of the portions of this species’ range where data are available. Information on spatial structure, connectivity, and diversity is unavailable for this species. However, differences in maximum TL, size at maturity, and reproductive timing throughout this species’ range, combined with evidence of extirpated populations from areas that have not been recolonized after decades, suggest there may be isolated populations that contribute to the genetic diversity of this species. In conclusion, although there is significant uncertainty regarding the current abundance of this species, the best available information indicates that the species has suffered substantial declines in many portions of its range where it was once common. Throughout almost all of this species’ range, the threat of overutilization from industrial and artisanal fishing continues. Given the past evidence of fishery-driven extirpation in areas where this species was once common, and the stillpracticed targeting of mature, breeding individuals, which has likely reduced the reproductive potential of these species, we find that continued fishing pressure poses a significant risk of endangering this species with extinction in the foreseeable future. Additionally, the regulations and conservation measures in place are likely inadequate to reverse the decline of this species. In summary, based on the best available information and the above analysis, we conclude that R. rhinobatos is presently at a moderate risk of extinction throughout its range. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 Rhinobatos cemiculus The blackchin guitarfish faces demographic risks that significantly increase its risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. Although there is no species-specific quantitative analysis of R. cemiculus abundance over time, the best available information (including survey data, interviews with fishers, and anecdotal accounts) indicates that this species has likely undergone significant declines throughout most of its range, with no evidence to suggest a reversal of these trends, with the exception of a few, extremely localized examples. Based on survey data and historical records, this species once occurred throughout much of the coastal northwestern Mediterranean, likely as a common species off the Balearic Islands and Sicily, but it has been extirpated for decades throughout this entire area. In the Mediterranean, strong fishing pressure on this species, both as a targeted species and as bycatch, likely still occurs in Tunisia, Lebanon, southeast Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. In Africa, substantial and relatively recent declines have occurred in Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone, all countries where this species was one of the most common elasmobranch species only a few decades ago. This species is also targeted illegally for its fins in Gabon, and IUU fishing is likely rampant throughout most of its African Atlantic range. The limited productivity data on R. cemiculus suggests this species may be relatively fast-growing and productive compared to other elasmobranchs. However, compared to most fished species, such as bony fishes, this species is slow-growing and has low productivity. Additionally, aspects of this species’ reproductive strategy make it inherently vulnerable to overexploitation. This species is longlived and larger, older individuals are the most productive. Because this species migrates into shallow waters to give birth and breed, the breeding population of this species is very vulnerable to fishing capture and, as a result, a decline of the average size at maturity and rate of maturity in catches has been reported in many of the portions of this species’ range where data are available. Information on spatial structure, connectivity, and diversity is unavailable for this species. However, differences in maximum TL, size at maturity, and reproductive timing throughout this species’ range, combined with evidence of extirpated populations from areas that have not been recolonized after decades, suggest PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64107 there may be isolated populations that contribute to the genetic diversity of this species. In conclusion, although there is significant uncertainty regarding the current abundance of this species, the best available information indicates that the species has suffered substantial declines in many portions of its range where it was once common. Throughout almost all of this species’ range, the threat of overutilization from industrial and artisanal fishing continues. Given the past evidence of fishery driven extirpation in areas where this species was once common, and the stillpracticed targeting of mature, breeding individuals, which has likely reduced the reproductive potential of this species, we find that continued fishing pressure poses a significant risk of endangering this species with extinction in the foreseeable future. Additionally, the regulations and conservation measures in place are likely inadequate to reverse the decline of this species. In summary, based on the best available information and the above analysis, we conclude that R. cemiculus is presently at a moderate risk of extinction throughout its range. Conservation Efforts Throughout the ranges of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, we found no efforts that are dedicated specifically to the conservation of these species. However, there are some efforts in portions of their ranges that may have a positive effect on the status of these species. These include recently developed management plans and protections from harvest and habitat modification in national parks and MPAs. All SRFC countries except Gambia have adopted, or integrated into their fisheries management plans, a National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-Sharks) as part of the Sub-Regional Plan of Action for the Conservation of Sharks (SRPOA-Sharks) (Diop & Dossa 2011). With assistance from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Shark Specialist Group (IUCNSSG), these plans were developed under the recommendations of the FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA–SHARKS). IPOA– SHARKS seeks to ensure conservation and sustainable management of sharks with emphasis on quality data collection for management purposes (IUCNSSG 2016). In the SRFC, these plans are still in the early stage of implementation, and it remains to be seen how effective they will be in E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 64108 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules minimizing the extinction risk of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus. Additionally, all of the SRFC countries lack adequate technical and financial resources for monitoring and management, and regulations at the country level are not very strict and lack regional coordination (Diop & Dossa 2011). There are no NPOA-Sharks developed for the other African nations in these species’ Atlantic ranges (IUCNSSG 2016). All European countries have adopted the EU Plan of Action (EUPOA Sharks) but we could find little information on conservation actions associated with this plan. The GFMC is one of the only FAO Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RMFOs) with the competence to adopt spatial management measures in the high seas. However, many of these protections have focused on the deep sea (FAO 2016e), offering little conservation value to either species. In the early 2000s, Cyprus initiated a fishing license buyback program, which likely reduced trawl impact on these species (Hadjichristophorou 2006), although we found little information on either species’ status in Cyprian waters, so we cannot evaluate the conservation benefit of this action. The Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) and the Network of Marine Protection Area Managers in the Mediterranean (MedPAN) have been working with a diverse network of partners to establish a network of well-connected, wellmanaged MPAs that protect at least 10 percent of the Mediterranean Sea while representing the sea’s biodiversity ´ ´ (Gabrie et al., 2012). The Gabrie et al., (2012) report, entitled ‘‘The Status of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean Sea,’’ found that, as of 2012, only 4.6 percent of the Mediterranean surface (114,600 km2) was protected by MPAs, with these areas mostly concentrated in the coastal zone, predominantly in the northern basin where these species are rare or have been extirpated. Two Mediterranean ecoregions that are important to both species, the Tunisian plateau and the Levantine Sea, were found to be ‘‘markedly underrepresented.’’ Management of MPAs throughout the Mediterranean was found to be weak, with many MPAs lacking dedicated managers and management plans and financial resources, and having a low surveillance levels, with only northwestern MPAs reporting a sufficient budget to effectively manage. Additionally, the level of ecosystem protection varies throughout the Mediterranean MPAs. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 For example, most are not ‘‘no-take’’ zones, so artisanal and recreational fishers still have access to many protected areas. There are also MPAs on the West Coast of Africa that might impact or have already impacted the status of these two guitarfish species. In the Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania, the use of specialized gear such as guitarfish nets as well as the targeting of shark and ray species has been prohibited since 2003 (Diop & Dossa 2011). This allowed the local guitarfish populations to recover, but both species are still targeted outside of the park (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). GuineaBissau has banned shark fishing in all of its MPAs, including the Bijagos Archipelago, which includes important areas for both species (Cross 2015; Diop & Dossa 2011). Mayumba National Park in Gabon, where at least R. cemiculus is found, has recently implemented gear restrictions and no longer allows industrial fishing (De Bruyne 2015). There are also other MPAs that dot the west coast of Africa, but they collectively cover only a small fraction of both species’ ranges (MPAtlas 2016). Proposed Determination There is significant uncertainty regarding the status of the current populations of both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, but both species may still be relatively common, although very likely below their historical population levels, in Tunisia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and southeastern Turkey. Based on this information, and the best available scientific and commercial information, as summarized here and in Newell (2015), we find that neither Rhinobatos species is currently at high risk of extinction throughout their entire ranges. However, both species are at moderate risk of extinction. We assessed the ESA section 4(a)(1) factors and conclude that R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus face ongoing threats of overutilization by fisheries and inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms throughout their ranges. Both species have also suffered a curtailment of a large portion of their historical ranges. These species’ natural biological vulnerability to overexploitation and present demographic risks (declining abundance, decreasing size of reproductive individuals, and low productivity) are currently exacerbating the negative effects of these threats. Further, ongoing conservation efforts are not adequate to improve the status of these species. Thus, both species are likely to become endangered throughout PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 their ranges in the foreseeable future. We therefore propose to list both species as threatened under the ESA. Effects of Listing Conservation measures provided for species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA include recovery plans (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)); concurrent designation of critical habitat, if prudent and determinable (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A)) and consistent with implementing regulations; Federal agency requirements to consult with NMFS under section 7 of the ESA to ensure their actions do not jeopardize the species or result in adverse modification or destruction of critical habitat should it be designated (16 U.S.C. 1536); and, for endangered species, prohibitions on taking (16 U.S.C. 1538). Recognition of the species’ plight through listing promotes conservation actions by Federal and state agencies, foreign entities, private groups, and individuals. Identifying Section 7 Conference and Consultation Requirements Section 7(a)(2) (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2)) of the ESA and NMFS/USFWS regulations require Federal agencies to consult with us to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Section 7(a)(4) (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(4)) of the ESA and NMFS/USFWS regulations also require Federal agencies to confer with us on actions likely to jeopardize the continued existence of species proposed for listing, or that result in the destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat of those species. It is unlikely that the listing of these species under the ESA will increase the number of section 7 consultations, because these species occur outside of the United States and are unlikely to be affected by Federal actions. Critical Habitat Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1532(5)) as: (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the ESA, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) essential to the conservation of the species and (b) that may require special management considerations or protection; and (2) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed upon a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules species. ‘‘Conservation’’ means the use of all methods and procedures needed to bring the species to the point at which listing under the ESA is no longer necessary (16 U.S.C. 1532(3)). Section 4(a)(3)(A) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A)) requires that, to the extent prudent and determinable, critical habitat be designated concurrently with the listing of a species. However, critical habitat shall not be designated in foreign countries or other areas outside U.S. jurisdiction (50 CFR 424.12(h)). The best available scientific and commercial data as discussed above identify the geographical areas occupied by R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as being entirely outside U.S. jurisdiction, so we cannot designate critical habitat for these species. Identification of Those Activities That Would Constitute a Violation of Section 9 of the ESA On July 1, 1994, NMFS and FWS published a policy (59 FR 34272) that requires NMFS to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not constitute a violation of section 9 of the ESA. Because we are proposing to list the R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as threatened, no prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) of the ESA will apply to these species. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Protective Regulations Under Section 4(d) of the ESA We are proposing to list R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as threatened under the ESA. In the case of threatened species, ESA section 4(d) leaves it to the Secretary’s discretion whether, and to what extent, to extend the section 9(a) ‘‘take’’ prohibitions to the species, and authorizes us to issue regulations necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species. Thus, we have flexibility under section 4(d) to tailor protective regulations, taking into account the effectiveness of available conservation measures. The section 4(d) protective regulations may prohibit, with respect to threatened species, some or all of the acts which section 9(a) of the ESA prohibits with respect to endangered species. These section 9(a) prohibitions apply to all individuals, organizations, and agencies subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Because neither species has ever occupied U.S. waters, and the United States has no known commercial or management interest in either species, we propose to not apply any section 9(a) prohibitions to either species. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 Public Comments Solicited To ensure that any final action resulting from this proposed rule to list the R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as threatened will be as accurate and effective as possible, we are soliciting comments and information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other interested parties on information in the status review and proposed rule. Comments are encouraged on these proposals (See DATES and ADDRESSES). We must base our final determination on the best available scientific and commercial information. We cannot, for example, consider the economic effects of a listing determination. Before finalizing this proposed rule, we will consider the comments and any additional information we receive, and such information may lead to a final regulation that differs from this proposal or result in a withdrawal of this listing proposal. We particularly seek: (1) Information concerning the threats to the Rhinobatos species proposed for listing; (2) Taxonomic information on the species; (3) Biological information (life history, genetics, population connectivity, etc.) on the species; (4) Efforts being made to protect the species throughout their current ranges; (5) Information on the commercial trade of the species; (6) Historical and current distribution and abundance and trends for the species; and (7) Any of the above information on either or both species from the following countries, from which we have very little information: Morocco, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, ´ ´ ˜ Sao Tome and Prıncipe, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Algeria, and Syria. We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting documentation, such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter’s name, address, and any association, institution, or business that the person represents. Role of Peer Review In December 2004, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review establishing a minimum peer review standard. We solicited peer review comments on the draft common guitarfish and blackchin guitarfish status review report (Newell (2016)) PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 64109 from three scientists familiar with both guitarfish species. We received and reviewed these peer review comments, and incorporated them into both the draft status review report for the common guitarfish and blackchin guitarfish and this proposed rule. Peer reviewer comments on the draft status review are summarized in the peer review report, which is available at: https://www.cio.noaa.gov/services_ programs/prplans/PRsummaries.html. References A complete list of references used in this proposed rule is available upon request (see ADDRESSES). Classification National Environmental Policy Act The 1982 amendments to the ESA, in section 4(b)(1)(A), restrict the information that may be considered when assessing species for listing. Based on this limitation of criteria for a listing decision and the opinion in Pacific Legal Foundation v. Andrus, 675 F. 2d 825 (6th Cir. 1981), NMFS has concluded that ESA listing actions are not subject to the environmental assessment requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Executive Order 12866, Regulatory Flexibility Act, and Paperwork Reduction Act As noted in the Conference Report on the 1982 amendments to the ESA, economic impacts cannot be considered when assessing the status of a species. Therefore, the economic analysis requirements of the Regulatory Flexibility Act are not applicable to the listing process. In addition, this proposed rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. This proposed rule does not contain a collection-of-information requirement for the purposes of the Paperwork Reduction Act. Executive Order 13132, Federalism In accordance with E.O. 13132, we determined that this proposed rule does not have significant federalism effects and that a federalism assessment is not required. In keeping with the intent of the Administration and Congress to provide continuing and meaningful dialogue on issues of mutual state and Federal interest, this proposed rule will be given to the relevant governmental agencies in the countries in which the species occurs, and they will be invited to comment. We will confer with the U.S. Department of State to ensure appropriate notice is given to all foreign nations within the ranges of both species. As the process continues, we E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1 64110 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 181 / Monday, September 19, 2016 / Proposed Rules intend to continue engaging in informal and formal contacts with the U.S. State Department, giving careful consideration to all written and oral comments received. Dated: September 12, 2016. Samuel D. Rauch, III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531–1543; subpart B, § 223.201–202 also issued under 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.; 16 U.S.C. 5503(d) for § 223.206(d)(9). List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 223 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Transportation. 2. In § 223.102, paragraph (e), add entries for two species in alphabetical order by common name under the ‘‘Fishes’’ table subheading to read as follows: ■ For the reasons set out in the preamble, we propose to amend 50 CFR part 223 as follows: PART 223—THREATENED MARINE AND ANADROMOUS SPECIES § 223.102 Enumeration of threatened marine and anadromous species. * 1. The authority citation for part 223 continues to read as follows: ■ * * (e) * * * * * Species 1 Common name Scientific name * Citation(s) for listing determination(s) Description of listed entity * * * Critical habitat * * ESA Rules * FISHES * Guitarfish, blackchin Guitarfish, common .. * Rhinobatos cemiculus. Rhinobatos rhinobatos. * * * * * Entire species ........... [Federal Register citation and date when published as a final rule]. Entire species ........... [Federal Register citation and date when published as a final rule]. * * * * * * NA NA NA NA * 1 Species includes taxonomic species, subspecies, distinct population segments (DPSs) (for a policy statement, see 61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), and evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) (for a policy statement, see 56 FR 58612, November 20, 1991). * * * * * [FR Doc. 2016–22450 Filed 9–16–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Parts 223 and 224 [Docket No. 160614520–6520–01] RIN 0648–XE686 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Proposed Rule To List the Maui’s Dolphin as Endangered and the South Island Hector’s Dolphin as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS AGENCY: We, NMFS, propose to list the Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) as endangered and the South Island Hector’s dolphin (C. hectori hectori) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We have reviewed the best available scientific SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:18 Sep 16, 2016 Jkt 238001 and commercial data and completed a comprehensive status review for these two subspecies of Hector’s dolphin (C. hectori). The Maui’s dolphin faces serious demographic risks due to critically low abundance, a low population growth rate, a restricted range, low genetic diversity, and ongoing threats such as bycatch in commercial and recreational gillnets. We have determined Maui’s dolphin is currently in danger of extinction throughout its range and, therefore, meets the definition of an endangered species. The relatively more abundant and more widely distributed South Island Hector’s dolphin has experienced large historical declines and is expected to continue to slowly decline due to bycatch and other lesser threats, such as disease and impacts associated with tourism. We have determined that this subspecies is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, but is likely to become so within the foreseeable future; and therefore, it meets the definition of a threatened species. Both subspecies occur only in New Zealand. We are authorized to designate critical habitat within U.S. jurisdiction only, and we are not aware of any areas within U.S jurisdiction that may meet the definition of critical habitat under the ESA. PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Therefore, we are not proposing to designate critical habitat. We are soliciting public comments on our status review report and proposal to list these two subspecies. DATES: Comments on this proposed rule must be received by November 18, 2016. Public hearing requests must be made by November 3, 2016. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2016–0118, by either of the following methods: • Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20160118, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit written comments to Lisa Manning, NMFS Office of Protected Resources (F/PR3), 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA. Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov E:\FR\FM\19SEP1.SGM 19SEP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 181 (Monday, September 19, 2016)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 64094-64110]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-22450]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 223

[Docket No. 150211138-6789-01]
RIN 0648-XD771


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Rule To 
List Two Guitarfishes as Threatened

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; 12-month petition finding; request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: We, NMFS, have completed a comprehensive status review under 
the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the common guitarfish (Rhinobatos 
rhinobatos) and the blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus). We 
have determined that, based on the best scientific and commercial data 
available, and after taking into account efforts being made to protect 
these species, both species meet the definition of a threatened species 
under the ESA. Therefore, we propose to list both species as threatened 
species under the ESA. We are not proposing to designate critical 
habitat for either of the species proposed for listing because the 
geographical areas occupied by these species are entirely outside U.S. 
jurisdiction. We are soliciting comments on our proposal to list these 
two foreign marine guitarfish species.

DATES: Comments on this proposed rule must be received by November 18, 
2016. Public hearing requests must be made by November 3, 2016.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2016-0082, by either of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0082. Click the 
``Comment Now'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach 
your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Brendan Newell, NMFS 
Office of Protected Resources (F/PR3), 1315 East-West Highway, Silver 
Spring, MD 20910, USA.
    Instructions: You must submit comments by one of the above methods 
to ensure that we receive, document, and consider them. Comments sent 
by any other method, to any other address

[[Page 64095]]

or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not 
be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted for public viewing on https://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. We will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). You can find the petition, status review report, Federal 
Register notices, and the list of references electronically on our Web 
site at https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/petition81.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brendan Newell, NMFS, Office of 
Protected Resources (OPR), Telephone: (301) 427-7710 or Marta Nammack, 
NMFS, (OPR), Telephone: (301) 427-8469.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    On July 15, 2013, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians 
to list 81 marine species as threatened or endangered under the ESA. 
This petition included species from many different taxonomic groups, 
and we prepared our 90-day findings in batches by taxonomic group. We 
found that the petitioned actions may be warranted for 27 of the 81 
species and announced the initiation of status reviews for each of the 
27 species (78 FR 63941, October 25, 2013; 78 FR 66675, November 6, 
2013; 78 FR 69376, November 19, 2013; 79 FR 9880, February 21, 2014; 
and 79 FR 10104, February 24, 2014). This document addresses the 
findings for 2 of those 27 species: Common guitarfish (Rhinobatos 
rhinobatos) and blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus). The status 
of, and relevant Federal Register notices for, the other 25 species can 
be found on our Web site at https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/petition81.htm.
    We are responsible for determining whether species are threatened 
or endangered under the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). To make this 
determination, we consider first whether a group of organisms 
constitutes a ``species'' under the ESA, then whether the status of the 
species qualifies it for listing as either threatened or endangered. 
Section 3 of the ESA defines a ``species'' to include ``any subspecies 
of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of 
any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when 
mature.''
    On February 7, 1996, NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(USFWS; together, the Services) adopted a policy describing what 
constitutes a distinct population segment (DPS) of a taxonomic species 
(the DPS Policy; 61 FR 4722). The DPS Policy identified two elements 
that must be considered when identifying a DPS: (1) The discreteness of 
the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species (or 
subspecies) to which it belongs; and (2) the significance of the 
population segment to the remainder of the species (or subspecies) to 
which it belongs. As stated in the DPS Policy, Congress expressed its 
expectation that the Services would exercise authority with regard to 
DPSs sparingly and only when the biological evidence indicates such 
action is warranted. Based on the scientific information available, we 
determined that the common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) and 
blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus) are ``species'' under the 
ESA. There is nothing in the scientific literature indicating that 
either of these species should be further divided into subspecies or 
DPSs.
    Section 3 of the ESA defines an endangered species as ``any species 
which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range'' and a threatened species as one ``which is 
likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range.'' We interpret an 
``endangered species'' to be one that is presently in danger of 
extinction. A ``threatened species,'' on the other hand, is not 
presently in danger of extinction, but is likely to become so in the 
foreseeable future (that is, at a later time). In other words, the 
primary statutory difference between a threatened and endangered 
species is the timing of when a species may be in danger of extinction, 
either presently (endangered) or in the foreseeable future 
(threatened).
    When we consider whether a species might qualify as threatened 
under the ESA, we must consider the meaning of the term ``foreseeable 
future.'' It is appropriate to interpret ``foreseeable future'' as the 
horizon over which predictions about the conservation status of the 
species can be reasonably relied upon. The foreseeable future considers 
the life history of the species, habitat characteristics, availability 
of data, particular threats, ability to predict threats, and the 
reliability to forecast the effects of these threats and future events 
on the status of the species under consideration. Because a species may 
be susceptible to a variety of threats for which different data are 
available, or which operate across different time scales, the 
foreseeable future is not necessarily reducible to a particular number 
of years.
    Section 4(a)(1) of the ESA requires us to determine whether any 
species is endangered or threatened due to any of the following 
factors: the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or 
predation; the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or other 
natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Under 
section (4)(b)(1)(A), we are also required to make listing 
determinations based solely on the best scientific and commercial data 
available, after conducting a review of the species' status and after 
taking into account efforts being made by any state or foreign nation 
to protect the species.

Status Review

    The status review for the two guitarfishes addressed in this 
finding was conducted by a NMFS biologist in the Office of Protected 
Resources. Henceforth, the status review report for these guitarfishes 
will be referenced in this preamble as ``Newell (2016)'', and is 
available at https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/petition81.htm and on 
the respective species pages found on the Office of Protected Resources 
Web site (https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/index.htm). In order to 
complete the status review, information was compiled on each species' 
biology, ecology, life history, threats, and conservation status from 
information contained in the petition, our files, a comprehensive 
literature search, and consultation with experts. We also considered 
information submitted by the public in response to our petition 
finding.
    Newell (2016) provided an evaluation of the factors specified by 
section 4(a)(1)(A)-(E) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1)(A)-(E)) 
(Summary of Factors Affecting the Two Guitarfish Species), as well as 
the species' demographic risks, such as low productivity, and then 
synthesized this information to estimate the extinction risk of the 
species (Extinction Risk). For the complete threats assessment, 
demographic risks analysis, and risk of extinction analysis, see Newell 
(2016).
    The demographic risk analysis, mentioned above, is an assessment of 
the manifestation of past threats that

[[Page 64096]]

have contributed to the species' current status and informs the 
consideration of the biological response of the species to present and 
future threats. For this analysis, Newell (2016) considered the 
demographic viability factors developed by McElhany et al., (2000). The 
approach of considering demographic risk factors to help frame the 
consideration of extinction risk has been used in many of our status 
reviews, including for Pacific salmonids, Pacific hake, walleye 
pollock, Pacific cod, Puget Sound rockfishes, Pacific herring, 
scalloped and great hammerhead sharks, and black abalone (see https://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ for links to these reviews). In this 
approach, the collective condition of individual populations is 
considered at the species level according to four demographic viability 
factors: abundance; growth rate/productivity; spatial structure/
connectivity; and diversity. These viability factors reflect concepts 
that are well-founded in conservation biology, and that individually 
and collectively provide strong indicators of extinction risk.
    In conducting the threats assessment, Newell (2016) identified and 
summarized the section 4(a)(1) factors that are currently operating on 
the species and their likely impact on the biological status of the 
species. Newell (2016) also looked for future threats (where the impact 
on the species has yet to be manifested), and considered the 
reliability of forecasting the effects of these threats and future 
events on the status of these species. Using the findings from the 
demographic risk analysis and threats assessment, Newell (2016) 
evaluated the overall extinction risk of the species. Because species-
specific information (such as current abundance) is sparse, qualitative 
``reference levels'' of risk were used to describe extinction risk. The 
definitions of the qualitative ``reference levels'' of extinction risk 
were as follows: ``Low Risk''--a species is at low risk of extinction 
if it is not at a moderate or high level of extinction risk (see 
``Moderate risk'' and ``High risk'' below). A species may be at low 
risk of extinction if it is not facing threats that result in declining 
trends in abundance, productivity, spatial structure, or diversity. A 
species at low risk of extinction is likely to show stable or 
increasing trends in abundance and productivity with connected, diverse 
populations. ``Moderate Risk''--a species is at moderate risk of 
extinction if it is on a trajectory that puts it at a high level of 
extinction risk in the foreseeable future (see description of ``High 
Risk'' below). A species may be at moderate risk of extinction due to 
projected threats or declining trends in abundance, productivity, 
spatial structure, or diversity. ``High Risk''--a species with a high 
risk of extinction is at or near a level of abundance, productivity, 
spatial structure, and/or diversity that places its continued 
persistence in question. The demographics of a species at such a high 
level of risk may be highly uncertain and strongly influenced by 
stochastic or depensatory processes. (Stochastic processes are random 
processes evolving with time; depensatory processes are density-
dependent processes where a decrease in a species' population leads to 
reduced reproductive success, such as by an increase in the rate of 
predation on eggs or young, or through the reduced likelihood of 
finding a mate.) Similarly, a species may be at high risk of extinction 
if it faces clear and present threats (e.g., confinement to a small 
geographic area; imminent destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
its habitat; or disease epidemic) that are likely to create present and 
substantial demographic risks.
    The draft status review report (Newell (2016)) was submitted to 
independent peer reviewers; comments and information received from peer 
reviewers were addressed and incorporated as appropriate before 
finalizing the draft report. The status review report is available on 
our Web site (see ADDRESSES section) and the peer review report is 
available at https://www.cio.noaa.gov/services_programs/prplans/PRsummaries.html. Below we summarize information from the report and 
our analysis of the status of the two guitarfish species. Further 
details can be found in Newell (2016).

Species Descriptions

    Guitarfishes are cartilaginous fishes (class Chondrichthyes), in 
the subclass Elasmobranchii (which includes all cartilaginous fishes 
except chimaeras). They are part of the super order Batoidea, and 
members of the order Rajiformes, which also includes skates, sawfishes, 
electric rays, and rays. Rajiformes are characterized by a 
dorsoventrally depressed body with the anterior edge of the pectoral 
fin attached to the side of the head (Serena 2005). Guitarfishes are 
members of the family Rhinobatidae, which have a moderately depressed, 
elongated, shark-like body form, with pectoral fins barely enlarged 
(compared to other batoids except for sawfish), a subtriangular disk, 
two sub-equal, well-developed, and well-separated dorsal fins, and an 
elongated, wedge-shaped snout. Guitarfishes have a stouter tail than 
all other batoids except sawfishes and torpedo rays (Bigelow & 
Schroeder 1953; Serena 2005).
    Rhinobatos rhinobatos and Rhinobatos cemiculus are sympatric 
species with relatively wide, overlapping ranges in the subtropical 
waters of the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. In the Atlantic both 
species range from Northern Portugal south to Angola, with R. 
rhinobatos extending slightly farther north into the Bay of Biscay in 
south Atlantic France. Both species' historical ranges include all 
Mediterranean countries with the exception of Malta and France, which 
are only in the range of R. rhinobatos. Both species are primarily 
found in coastal and estuarine, sandy or muddy bottomed habitat from 
very shallow water to depths of approximately 100 m (Corsini-Foka 2009; 
Melendez & Macias 2007; Serena 2005). Both species feed on a variety of 
macrobenthic organisms, including crustaceans, fishes, and mollusks 
(Basusta et al.,, 2007; Enajjar et al.,, 2007; Lteif 2015; Patokina & 
Litvinov 2005).
    In terms of reproduction, Rhinobatos rhinobatos and Rhinobatos 
cemiculus are aplacental viviparous species (giving birth to live, free 
swimming young with embryo nutrition coming from a yolk sac rather than 
a placental connection). Both species aggregate seasonally to 
reproduce, with females visiting protected shallow waters to give birth 
(Capape & Zaouali 1994; Demirhan et al., 2010; Echwikhi et al., 2013; 
Ismen et al., 2007). As with many other elasmobranchs, females mature 
later and at greater sizes than males, females reach greater total 
length, and female fecundity increases with total length (TL) (Capape & 
Zaouali 1994; Cort[eacute]s 2000; Demirhan et al., 2010; Enajjar et 
al., 2008; Ismen et al., 2007). Based on the limited available 
information, both species seem to be relatively fast growing compared 
to most elasmobranch species (Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2008; Enajjar et 
al., 2012)_ENREF_53. Additional species-specific descriptions are 
provided below.
    Common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) are khaki-brown colored 
on their dorsal surface with a white underside (Melendez & Macias 
2007). R. rhinobatos have rostral ridges that are widely separated over 
their entire length with the anterior of their nasal lobe level with 
the inner corner of their nostril. They have a wide posterior nasal 
flap and spiracles with two moderately developed folds, with the outer 
fold more prominent. They have no dorsal or anal spines and relatively

[[Page 64097]]

small thorns present around the inner margin of their orbits, between 
their spiracles, on their shoulders and along the midline of their 
discs and tails (Melendez & Macias 2007). There are regional variations 
in the maximum size and size at maturity of R. rhinobatos. TL ranges 
from 22-185 cm with the heaviest specimen recorded reaching 26.6 kg 
(Edelist 2014; Ismen et al., 2007). The best available information 
estimated that 50 percent of females and males reached maturity between 
79-87 cm TL and 68-78 cm TL, respectively (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993; 
Demirhan et al., 2010; Enajjar et al., 2008), and that gestation lasts 
9-12 months with females giving birth to 1-14 pups in the late summer 
or early fall (see Newell (2016)). The maximum age recorded was 24 
years old (Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2008) and R. rhinobatos likely 
matures between 2 and 4 years old (Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2008; 
Demirhan et al., 2010). For a more detailed discussion of size, age, 
and reproduction see Newell (2016).
    Blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus) have a brown dorsal 
surface with a white underside and usually a blackish blotch on the 
snout, especially in juveniles. Their rostral ridges are narrowly 
separated and nearly join in the front. Their anterior nasal lobes 
extend little if any and their posterior nasal flaps are narrow. Their 
spiracle has two well-developed folds of about the same size. They have 
no anal or dorsal spine and have thorns present around the inner margin 
of their orbits, between their spiracles, on their shoulders, and along 
the midline of their disc and tail (Melendez & Macias 2007). There are 
regional variations in the maximum TL and size at maturity. TL ranges 
from 32-245 cm with the heaviest specimen recorded reaching 26 kg, 
although the maximum weight is likely much higher because the 26 kg 
specimen was only 202 cm TL (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Seck et al., 2004). 
Based on the best available information, 50 percent of females and 
males reached maturity between 138-153 cm TL and 112-138 cm TL, 
respectively (Enajjar et al., 2012; Valadou et al., 2006). The reported 
litter size varies greatly, but the reported range is 2-24 pups per 
litter with small litters typical (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Seck et al., 
2004; Valadou et al., 2006). R. cemiculus is more prolific than R. 
rhinobatos, likely because it reaches a greater size than R. rhinobatos 
(Capape & Zaouali 1994). Gestation lasts between 5-12 months with 
parturition occurring in the later summer and early fall (Capape & 
Zaouali 1994; Seck et al., 2004; Valadou et al., 2006). Enajjar et al., 
(2012) found that males and females in the Gulf of Gab[eacute]s, 
Tunisia, matured around 3 and 5 years of age, respectively, and that 
individuals of the species can live for at least 14 years. No other age 
data were found for this species. For a more detailed discussion of 
size, age, and reproduction, see Newell (2016).

Historical and Current Distribution and Population Abundance

Rhinobatos rhinobatos

    Historically the common guitarfish was known on all shores of the 
Mediterranean as well as the coastal eastern Atlantic from the Bay of 
Biscay (France) to Angola (Melendez & Macias 2007). Throughout its 
historical Mediterranean range this species has likely always been rare 
in most of the northwestern Mediterranean, and more common in the 
Levantine Sea and along the southern shore of the Mediterranean from 
southern Tunisia to Egypt (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993; Capap[eacute] et 
al., 2004; [Ccedil]ek et al., 2009; Edelist 2014; Lteif 2015; Saad et 
al., 2006). Presently R. rhinobatos has been extirpated from the 
northwestern Mediterranean, including the coasts of Spain and France, 
as well as the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, and Adriatic Seas (Bertrand et 
al., 2000; Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; Medits 2016a; Notarbartolo di 
Sciara et al., 2007b). In this now curtailed portion of its range, up 
until the early 20th century, R. rhinobatos was likely only common in 
the waters around Sicily (Doderlein 1884; Psomadakis et al., 2009) and 
the Balearic Islands of Spain (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b).
    R. rhinobatos is present in all Tunisian waters, although less 
common than R. cemiculus. It is more abundant in the southeastern area 
around the Gulf of Gab[egrave]s and the Bahiret el Biban, which are 
areas used by this species for reproduction (Capap[eacute] et al., 
2004; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Enajjar et al., 
2008). In the Northern and Southern Lagoons near the City of Tunis in 
the Gulf of Tunis on the northwest coast of Tunisia, R. rhinobatos has 
become common since 2004, in response to environmental restoration of 
the lagoons (Mejri et al., 2004). Little information was available for 
the status of R. rhinobatos in Libyan waters beyond that they are 
targeted by fishers (S[eacute]ret & Serena 2002). In a 2005 report, the 
Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) 
proposed a research program that would focus on eight cartilaginous 
fishes of Libya, including R. rhinobatos, because of their commercial 
importance and interest in their conservation (RAC/SPA 2005). According 
to the proposal authors, some species, including guitarfishes, which 
are now rare or extirpated in other parts of the Mediterranean, are 
still common in Libyan waters. In neighboring Egypt, R. rhinobatos was 
common in commercial fishery catches in 1990 (Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993). 
Over the last 10 years, guitarfishes and other elasmobranchs have been 
increasingly exploited by Egyptian fishers as desirable bycatch 
species, and recent declines in landings indicate that these 
populations are currently being overexploited (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. 
comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016).
    North of Egypt, R. rhinobatos was considered common in Israeli 
waters as of 2006, with the largest TL for the species recorded from a 
female specimen in the area (Edelist 2014; Golani 2006). Lernau and 
Golani (2004) state, ``swarms of Rhinobatos rhinobatos are captured 
with purse seines.'' Although this statement is not connected to a 
specific fishing area it appears the authors are either discussing 
fishing along the Israeli coast or in the nearby Bardawil Lagoon on the 
Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. R. rhinobatos is the most commonly observed 
elasmobranch in Lebanese fisheries (Lteif 2015). In a study of 
elasmobranch exploitation in Syria in the early 2000s, R. rhinobatos 
was characterized as a ``moderate economically important species either 
for being caught in little quantities with high efforts in fishing, or 
for their little demand for human consumption. Or maybe for both 
reasons'' (Saad et al., 2006). By comparison, R. cemiculus was 
characterized as a ``very economically important species being caught 
in plentiful quantities and highly consumable'' (Saad et al., 2006). No 
clarification was given as to whether there is low catch with high 
effort, or low demand. Regardless, the fact that R. rhinobatos was 
characterized as being of ``moderate'' economic importance indicates 
this fish is more than an occasional visitor to Syrian waters. In the 
Turkish portion of the Levantine Sea (off southeastern Turkey), R. 
rhinobatos is common in fisheries bycatch, including in [Idot]skenderun 
Bay, where, as of 2012, it was less common than R. cemiculus 
(Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2012; [Ccedil]ek et al., 2009). West of 
[Idot]skenderun Bay, based on samples collected in the early 1980s, R. 
rhinobatos is also common in Mersin Bay (G[uuml]c[uuml] & Bingel 1994), 
and it was collected in a 2002-2003 survey of the Karata[scedil] Coasts 
(located between [Idot]skenderun Bay and Mersin Bay). R. rhinobatos has 
also been recorded in the Gulf of Antalya, west of Mersin Bay (C.

[[Page 64098]]

Mancusi, ARPAT, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 23 March, 2016). 
Individuals of all life history stages, including large quantities of 
pregnant females, have been captured in the Gulf of Gab[egrave]s and 
the Bahiret el Biban (Capap[eacute] et al., 2004), Alexandria, Egypt 
(Abdel-Aziz et al., 1993), and in [Idot]skenderun Bay ([Ccedil]ek et 
al., 2009). In the Aegean Sea, which is bound by the east coast of 
Turkey and the west coast of Greece, R. rhinobatos is rare (Corsini-
Foka 2009). It was present on a checklist from 1969 (Bileceno[gbreve]lu 
et al., 2014), with one individual reported in 2008 and another in the 
1970s (Corsini-Foka 2009), while no occurrences were detected during a 
2006-2007 survey of Saroz Bay in the northeastern Aegean (Keskin et 
al., 2011).
    In the Atlantic, north of the strait of Gibraltar, the only records 
we found of this species were from checklists and museum records from 
Spain and Portugal (Ba[ntilde][oacute]n et al., 2010; Carneiro et al., 
2014) and it not is reported in the International Council for the 
Exploration of the Sea (ICES) DATRAS data base, which is a collection 
of 45 years' worth of survey data including data collected off the 
Atlantic coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal (ICES 2016), indicating 
that they are likely historically rare North of the Strait of 
Gibraltar.
    Along the Atlantic coast of Africa, this species is found from 
Morocco to Angola. It is likely that this species is rare in Moroccan 
waters (Gulyugin et al., 2006; Serghini et al., 2008). In West Africa, 
R. rhinobatos has been one of the most common and widely distributed 
elasmobranchs in Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, 
and Sierra Leone, but has become scarce throughout most of this portion 
of its range in recent decades (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs 
Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Mauritania, 
fishing pressure has driven declines in the average size of 
guitarfishes landed in the Banc d'Arguin National Park from 1998 to 
2007 (Diop & Dossa 2011). Restrictions on elasmobranch fishing in the 
park have allowed guitarfishes to recover locally but they are still 
exploited throughout the rest of Mauritanian waters (M. Ducrocq, Parcs 
Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Senegal, 
guitarfishes are heavily targeted and this fishing pressure has caused 
local declines in both species, with substantial declines reported over 
the period of 1990 to 2005 (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, 
pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Notarbartolo di Sciara 
et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b).
    Rhinobatos rhinobatos occurs in the waters of Guinea-Bissau off the 
mainland and around the Bijag[oacute]s Archipelago where it is targeted 
by fishers (Cross 2015; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Kasisi 2004; Tous et 
al., 1998). In the late 1990s, rapid and substantial declines of R. 
rhinobatos were reported in the Bijag[oacute]s Archipelago, as 
specialized and sophisticated fishing teams targeting elasmobranchs for 
their fins migrated into the area, although previously the area had 
seen almost no elasmobranch fishing (Tous et al., 1998). In Guinea it 
is likely that this species is experiencing similar declines to those 
in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Gambia (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. 
comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Sierra Leone, this species 
is one of the most heavily exploited elasmobranchs (Diop & Dossa 2011). 
It was recorded from 2008-2010 in a survey by the Sierra Leone Ministry 
of Fisheries and Marine Resources as well as in industrial and 
artisanal fishery data (Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine 
Resources, pers. comm. to M. Miller, NMFS, 11 April, 2016). Rhinobatos 
rhinobatos is listed in an updated checklist of the marine fishes of 
Cape Verde, an island nation located about 600 km west of Dakar, 
Senegal. However, the authors of the checklist considered the record of 
R. rhinobatos invalid, stating that they did not know of any records of 
this species in the Cape Verde Islands (Wirtz et al., 2013).
    Little information about the status of R. rhinobatos was available 
throughout the rest of this species' Atlantic range. From January 2009 
to December 2010, R. rhinobatos was recorded during a study of landings 
by artisanal fishers based in the Ghanaian villages of Ahwaim and 
Elmina (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Rhinobatos rhinobatos is present in 
Gabon, but is likely less abundant than R. cemiculus (G. De Bruyne, 
Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 
26 June, 2016). Rhinobatos rhinobatos was not caught from March 2013 to 
May 2015 during a study of artisanal fisheries around Mayumba, Gabon 
(De Bruyne 2015). No information on this species was available from 
Ghana and Gabon prior to these periods of study. We found no data for 
R. rhinobatos in the following countries, which have coastline in this 
species' range: Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, 
Equatorial Guinea, S[atilde]o Tom[eacute] and Pr[iacute]ncipe, Republic 
of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola.

Rhinobatos cemiculus

    Historically, the blackchin guitarfish had a distribution similar 
to, but slightly more restricted than, R. rhinobatos, with its range 
listed through most of the coastal Mediterranean, and in the eastern 
Atlantic from Portugal to Angola (Melendez & Macias 2007). In the 
Mediterranean, there are no records of this species off the coast of 
France (Capap[eacute] et al., 2006), and there are doubts about whether 
R. cemiculus occurred in the Adriatic Sea (Akyol & Capap[eacute] 2014). 
Throughout its historical Mediterranean range, this species has likely 
always been rare in most of the northwestern Mediterranean, and more 
common in the Levantine Sea and along the southern shore of the 
Mediterranean from southern Tunisia to Egypt (Rafrafi-Nouira et al., 
2015). Presently all guitarfishes have been extirpated from the 
northwestern Mediterranean including the coast of Spain, as well as 
from the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, and Adriatic Seas (Bertrand et al., 
2000; Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; Medits 2016a; Notarbartolo di Sciara 
et al., 2007b). In this now curtailed portion of its range, up until 
the early 20th century, R. cemiculus may have been common in the waters 
around Sicily (Doderlein 1884; Psomadakis et al., 2009), and frequently 
occurred around the Balearic Islands of Spain (Notarbartolo di Sciara 
et al., 2007b).
    Rhinobatos cemiculus commonly occur in fishery landings, both as a 
target species and as bycatch from the waters of the east coast of 
Tunisia, the north coast of Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean from 
Israel to southeastern Turkey (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Lteif 2015; Saad 
et al., 2006). It is fished throughout all of Tunisian waters. It is 
considered rare along the north coast of Tunisa, although it may become 
more common in this area due to warming seas (Rafrafi-Nouira et al., 
2015) and environmental restoration (Mejri et al., 2004). It has always 
been abundant in southeastern Tunisia around the Gulf of Gab[egrave]s 
and the Bahiret el Biban, where it is more abundant than R. rhinobatos, 
and is known to use these areas during reproduction, including for 
parturition (Capap[eacute] et al., 2004; Echwikhi et al., 2013; 
Echwikhi et al., 2012; Enajjar et al., 2008).
    As with R. rhinobatos, little information is available on the 
status of R. cemiculus in Libyan waters beyond that they are targeted 
by fishers (S[eacute]ret & Serena 2002), and that they are still 
common, relative to their occurrence in other parts of the 
Mediterranean (RAC/SPA 2005). Guitarfishes are consumed

[[Page 64099]]

in Libya, and in a 2005 proposal for a research program focused on the 
cartilaginous fishes of Libya, R. cemiculus was selected as one of the 
eight priority species for research because of its commercial 
importance and interest in its conservation (RAC/SPA 2005). 
Capap[eacute] et al., (1981) reported that an Egyptian museum specimen 
of R. cemiculus originated from the Red Sea, but no other reference to 
this species occurring in the Red Sea was reported. We found no 
information on the distribution or abundance of R. cemiculus in 
Mediterranean Egyptian waters, but this fish likely occurs in this area 
(Capape & Zaouali 1994).
    North of Egypt, R. cemiculus is considered prevalent in Israeli 
waters (less common than R. rhinobatos), where it is caught as bycatch 
by commercial fishers (Golani 2006). From December 2012 to October 
2014, R. cemiculus was the second most common elasmobranch in Lebanese 
fisheries catches after R. rhinobatos (Lteif 2015). In a study of 
elasmobranch exploitation in Syria in the early 2000s, R. cemiculus was 
characterized as a ``very economically important species being caught 
in plentiful quantities and highly consumable'' (Saad et al., 2006).
    North of Syria, R. cemiculus is one of the most common 
elasmobranchs in fisheries landings in [Idot]skenderun Bay, Turkey (and 
more abundant than R. rhinobatos) (Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2012; Keskin 
et al., 2011). West of [Idot]skenderun Bay, R. cemiculus was caught 
during a 2006 study of shrimp trawl bycatch in Mersin Bay sampling 
(Duruer et al., 2008). Rhinobatos rhinobatos, but not R. cemiculus, was 
collected in a 2002-2003 survey of the Karata[scedil] Coasts 
([Ccedil]i[ccedil]ek et al., 2014). In the Aegean Sea, R. cemiculus is 
rare (Corsini-Foka 2009; Filiz et al., 2016). In 2013, two large R. 
cemiculus were caught in trawls in [Idot]zmir Bay, Turkey (eastern-
central Aegean), which the authors considered a range expansion for 
this species (Akyol & Capap[eacute] 2014). Further expanding the range 
of this species, in October 2012 one R. cemiculus was caught near 
Bursa, Turkey, in the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Aegean Sea and 
the greater Mediterranean to the Black Sea (C. Mancusi, ARPAT, pers. 
comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 23 March, 2016), although this record has not 
been reported in peer-reviewed literature.
    In the Atlantic, north of the Strait of Gibraltar, the only records 
we found of this species were from checklists and museum records from 
Spain and Portugal (Ba[ntilde][oacute]n et al., 2010; Carneiro et al., 
2014), although Rafrafi-Nouira et al., (2015) noted that north of the 
Strait of Gibraltar, R. cemiculus was only known off Portugal. This 
species was not reported in the DATRAS data base (ICES 2016), 
indicating that they have historically been rare north of the Strait of 
Gibraltar.
    Along the Atlantic coast of Africa, this species is found from 
Morocco to Angola. It is likely rare in Moroccan waters (Gulyugin et 
al., 2006; Serghini et al., 2008). In West Africa, R. cemiculus has 
been one of most common and widely distributed elasmobranchs in 
Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, 
but it has become scarce throughout most of this portion of its range 
in recent decades (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. 
comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Mauritania, fishing 
pressure has driven declines in the average size of guitarfishes landed 
in the Banc d'Arguin National Park from 1998 to 2007, resulting in 95 
percent of the landed R. cemiculus being smaller than the size at 50 
percent maturity (Diop & Dossa 2011). Restrictions on elasmobranch 
fishing in the park have allowed guitarfishes to recover locally, but 
they are still exploited throughout the rest of Mauritanian waters (M. 
Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). 
In Senegal, guitarfishes are heavily targeted, and this has caused 
local declines in both species, with substantial declines reported over 
the period of 1990 to 2005 (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, 
pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Notarbartolo di Sciara 
et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b).
    Rhinobatos cemiculus occurs in the waters of Guinea-Bissau off the 
mainland and around the Bijag[oacute]s Archipelago, where they are 
targeted by fishers (Cross 2015; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Kasisi 2004; 
Tous et al., 1998). Rhinobatos cemiculus was one of the elasmobranch 
species taken in the highest numbers in 1989 during experimental 
fishing trips (Diop & Dossa 2011). In the late 1990s, rapid and 
substantial declines of R. cemiculus were reported in the 
Bijag[oacute]s Archipelago, as specialized and sophisticated fishing 
teams targeting elasmobranchs for their fins migrated into the area, 
although previously the area had seen almost no elasmobranch fishing 
(Tous et al., 1998). In Guinea, just south of Guinea-Bissau, R. 
cemiculus is one of the most important fishery species (Diop & Dossa 
2011), and it is likely that this species is experiencing declines 
similar to those in Guinea, Senegal, and Gambia (M. Ducrocq, Parcs 
Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). In Sierra Leone, 
this species is one of the most heavily exploited elasmobranchs (Diop & 
Dossa 2011). It was recorded from 2008 to 2010 in a survey by the 
Sierra Leone Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as well as in 
industrial and artisanal fishery data (Sierra Leone Ministry of 
Fisheries and Marine Resources, pers. comm. to M. Miller, NMFS, 11 
April, 2016). Rhinobatos cemiculus is likely not common or exploited in 
the waters of Cape Verde (Diop & Dossa 2011). Little information about 
the status of R. cemiculus was available throughout the rest of this 
species' Atlantic range. From January 2009 to December 2010, R. 
cemiculus was not recorded in a study of landings by artisanal fishers 
based in the Ghanaian villages of Ahwaim and Elmina (Nunoo & Asiedu 
2013). Rhinobatos cemiculus is present throughout Gabonese coastal 
waters (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. 
comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 26 June, 2016), and it was reported as 
bycatch from March 2013 to May 2015 during a study of artisanal 
fisheries around Mayumba, Gabon (De Bruyne 2015). No information on 
this species was available from Ghana and Gabon prior to these periods 
of study. We found no data for R. cemiculus in the following countries 
with coastline in this species' range: Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, 
Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, S[atilde]o Tom[eacute] and 
Pr[iacute]ncipe, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the 
Congo, and Angola.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Two Guitarfish Species

    Available information regarding historical, current, and potential 
threats to these two guitarfishes was thoroughly reviewed (see Newell 
(2016)). We find that the main threat to these species is 
overutilization for commercial purposes. This threat is exacerbated by 
both species' reproductive behavior. Mature adults, including near-term 
pregnant females, congregate in shallow waters to breed and give birth. 
This behavior is well understood and exploited by fishers throughout 
these species' ranges and exposes both species to capture by most 
demersal fishing gear types (Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2013; 
Echwikhi et al., 2012). Although information on these species' age 
structure and reproductive capacity is incomplete, it is likely that 
their reproductive capacity, which may be high compared to some other 
elasmobranchs, but low compared to most fished species, increases the 
threat of commercial overutilization to both

[[Page 64100]]

species. We find that current regulatory mechanisms contribute to the 
extinction risk of both species because they are inadequate to protect 
these species from further overutilization. In addition, pollution and 
development that modifies coastal habitat may be a threat to these 
species' survival, although the specific effects of these threats are 
not well studied, so there is significant uncertainty regarding the 
contribution of pollution and coastal development to the extinction 
risk of these guitarfishes. We summarize information regarding these 
threats and their interactions below, with species-specific information 
where available, and according to the factors specified in section 
4(a)(1) of the ESA. Available information does not indicate that 
recreational fishing, disease, predation, or other natural or manmade 
factors are operative threats on these species; therefore, we do not 
discuss these factors further in this finding. See Newell (2016) for a 
full discussion of all ESA section 4(a)(1) threat categories.

Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
Habitat or Range

    Both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus have likely been extirpated 
from the northwestern Mediterranean. Rhinobatos rhinobatos has likely 
been extirpated from the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France, as 
well as the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, and Adriatic Seas (Bertrand et al., 
2000; Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; Medits 2016a). Rhinobatos cemiculus 
may never have occurred in the Mediterranean waters of France, but it 
has been extirpated from the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas, the Balearic 
Islands, and possibly the Adriatic (it is uncertain if it ever occurred 
there) (Akyol & Capap[eacute] 2014; Medits 2016a; Notarbartolo di 
Sciara et al., 2007a). Throughout the area where both species have been 
extirpated, we found almost no information on the life-history of 
either species, including no mention of the presence of different 
maturity stages or pregnant females. Based on the lack of available 
information, it appears that both species were rare throughout much of 
the area where they have been extirpated, with the exception of the 
Balearic Islands and the waters off Sicily.
    Around the Balearic Islands, both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus 
were frequently observed until at least the early 20th century 
(Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 
2007b). In the Tyrrhenian Sea, especially around Sicily, Rhinobatos 
spp. was common in commercial trawls in the northern Tyrrhenian as late 
as the 1960s (Doderlein 1884; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; Psomadakis et 
al., 2009). Both species were present daily at the Palermo (northwest 
Sicily) fish market in the late 19th century, where R. rhinobatos was 
likely more common than R. cemiculus (Doderlein 1884). The seasonal 
influx of R. rhinobatos in Sicilian waters (which may also apply to R. 
cemiculus) described by Doderlein (1884) is similar to the seasonal 
congregation of breeding adults reported in other portions of both 
species' ranges.
    Additionally, Doderlein (1884) reported specimens of R. cemiculus 
that were 170, 180, and 230 cm TL (the largest being male), indicating 
that these individuals were likely mature. However, there was no 
discussion of pregnant females, reproduction, or how R. rhinobatos and 
R. cemiculus used these areas, so there is significant uncertainty 
regarding how the loss of the populations in Sicilian and Balearic 
waters, as well as the loss of populations in the rest of the 
northwestern Mediterranean, could contribute to the extinction risk of 
either species.
    Although we found no other evidence of extirpations, the best 
available information indicates significant declines of elasmobranchs 
in West Africa, with R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, which were once 
common, becoming scarce. This region has already seen the total or near 
extirpation of sawfishes and the African wedgefish (Diop & Dossa 2011; 
Fowler & Cavanagh 2005). Given the similarity of these species 
(relatively large, dorsoventrally flattened, coastal elasmobranchs) to 
Rhinobatos spp., and the significant fishing pressure in the area, it 
is reasonable to conclude that R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus could 
face the threat of range curtailment in West Africa in the foreseeable 
future.
    Throughout these species' ranges there is not much information 
available on the species-specific threats to R. rhinobatos and R. 
cemiculus habitat. However, in the Mediterranean, the decline of 
elasmobranch diversity and abundance is well documented, and is 
attributed in part to habitat destruction and pollution (Carlini et 
al., 2002; Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; Melendez & Macias 2007; Psomadakis 
et al., 2009). Mediterranean ecosystems have been shaped by human 
actions for millennia, perhaps more so than anywhere else on earth 
(Bradai et al., 2012). Large species that use coastal habitat, 
especially those species that use these areas as nursery areas (e.g., 
R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus), are particularly vulnerable in areas 
of intensive human activity (Cavanagh & Gibson 2007). The semi-enclosed 
nature of the Mediterranean increases the effects of pollution and 
habitat degradation on elasmobranch species and, as a result, the 
status of elasmobranchs may be worse in the Mediterranean than in other 
regions of the world (Melendez & Macias 2007; S[eacute]ret & Serena 
2002).
    The Mediterranean Sea receives heavy metals, pesticides, excess 
nutrients, and other pollutants in the form of run-off (Melendez & 
Macias 2007; Psomadakis et al., 2009). As long-lived predators, large 
elasmobranchs are significant bioaccumulators of pollutants (Melendez & 
Macias 2007). No information is available on the bioaccumulation of 
pollutants in the tissues of Rhinobatos spp. in the Mediterranean Sea, 
but other elasmobranchs, such as the spiny dogfish and the gulper 
shark, have shown high concentrations of toxins (Melendez & Macias 
2007). A study of the accumulation of trace metals cadmium, copper, and 
zinc in fish along the Mauritanian coast showed low levels of 
bioaccumulation of these metals in the tissues of R. cemiculus compared 
to bony fishes. It should be noted that three specimens of R. cemiculus 
were the only elasmobranchs collected in this study, and that, in 
contrast with the Mediterranean, the trace metals in the area of the 
study are thought to be primarily natural in origin (Sidoumou et al., 
2005).
    Pollution, habitat degradation, and development in the coastal zone 
are also of concern in some African countries within these species' 
ranges (Diop & Dossa 2011; Kasisi 2004). While pollution is a concern 
in portions of both species' ranges, the effects of pollution on 
elasmobranchs and marine food webs are not well understood (Melendez & 
Macias 2007). We found no information describing how marine pollution 
affects Rhinobatos spp., so the contribution of marine pollution to 
these species' extinction risk is unknown.
    The significant demersal trawling that occurred and continues to 
occur throughout the Mediterranean range of the two Rhinobatos species 
(Edelist 2014; FAO 2016b; Sacchi 2008), and to a lesser extent 
throughout their Atlantic range (Diop & Dossa 2011), has likely altered 
seafloor morphology (Puig et al., 2012). In some important reproductive 
areas for Rhinobatos spp., such as the southeast coast of Turkey, 
intense trawling pressure has occurred over recent decades in depths 
less than 70 m ([Ccedil]i[ccedil]ek et al., 2014). However, we found no 
information that this habitat modification has had a direct effect on

[[Page 64101]]

the abundance or distribution of these two species. Additionally, trawl 
fishing within three nautical miles of the Mediterranean coast has been 
prohibited since 2012 in order to protect coastal elasmobranch species 
(FAO 2016e).
    Some information shows that these species are sensitive to habitat 
modification. Psomadakis et al., (2009) attributed the extirpation of 
Rhinobatos spp. from the northwestern Mediterranean to the combination 
of centuries of human development and fishing pressure. Additionally, 
both species returned to the Northern and Southern Tunis Lagoons in 
Tunisia after large scale restoration of the area (Mejri et al., 2004). 
Prior to restoration, the lagoons had undergone significant 
anthropogenic hydrological modification and been extremely polluted 
from sewage input and industrial waste (Noppen 2003). After restoration 
was completed in 2001, R. cemiculus was recorded for the first time, 
and R. rhinobatos, which had previously been rare, became common (Mejri 
et al., 2004). Based on the available information, it is likely that 
pollution and modification of habitat contribute to the risk of 
extirpation of both species from portions of their range. However, 
because of the lack of information on the pollution and habitat 
modification throughout their entire ranges, and because there is no 
information on the direct effects of these threats to either species, 
the degree of the contribution of these factors to the extinction risk 
of both species is unknown at this time.

Overutilization for Commercial Purposes

    The primary threat to both of these species is commercial 
overutilization. This threat is difficult to quantify, as fisheries 
data on elasmobranch landings throughout both species' ranges has been 
drastically underreported (Clarke et al., 2006; Diop & Dossa 2011; FAO 
2016a). When elasmobranch catches have been reported, it was generally 
not reported at the species level (Bradai et al., 2012; Echwikhi et 
al., 2012). However, based on surveys of fishers' knowledge, museum 
records, and analysis of scientific surveys of the northern 
Mediterranean, it appears that commercial overutilization has been the 
main driver of both species' extirpation from the northwestern 
Mediterranean, and their decline in abundance in other regions (Baino 
et al., 2001; Bertrand et al., 2000; Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; 
Carlini et al., 2002; Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2012; 
Psomadakis et al., 2009).
    The overutilization of these species is not concentrated in one 
area or fishery. Throughout portions of their ranges, they are, or were 
until recently, targeted for their fins, meat, or both (G. De Bruyne, 
Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. Comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 
26 June, 2016; Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2012). Throughout 
their ranges, there is great diversity in fisheries and in the types of 
gear used (Diop & Dossa 2011; FAO 2016b). As bycatch, R. cemiculus and 
R. rhinobatos are particularly exposed to fishing pressure from 
demersal trawl, gillnet, and longline fisheries (Cavanagh & Gibson 
2007; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; FAO 2016d).
    In West Africa, both species have been targeted by the shark fin 
fishery, which has led to both species becoming scarce in this region 
after a few decades of targeted fishing (Diop & Dossa 2011; Fowler & 
Cavanagh 2005). The explosion of the Chinese middle class at the end of 
the last century led to a rapid increase in demand for shark fin soup, 
a traditional Chinese dish desired for its alleged tonic properties 
and, most importantly, because it has served as an indicator of high 
societal status for centuries. Shark fins are one of the highest value 
seafood products in the world, especially compared to shark meat, which 
is widely regarded as low value (Dulvy et al., 2014; Hareide et al., 
2007b). The value and quality of shark fins are judged by the thickness 
and length of the ceratotrichia, or fin needles, and based on this 
valuation system, guitarfishes have some of the most valuable 
elasmobranch fins (Hareide et al., 2007b).
    The majority of the commercial harvest information available for 
these species in the Atlantic pertains to the FAO Subregional Fisheries 
Commission (SRFC) member countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, 
Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Cape Verde. Outside of the 
SRFC countries, we also found information on fisheries in Morocco, 
Ghana, and Gabon. We found no data for either species in the following 
countries, which have Atlantic coastline that is considered in one or 
both species' ranges: France, Spain, Portugal, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, 
Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, S[atilde]o 
Tom[eacute] and Pr[iacute]ncipe, Republic of the Congo, Democratic 
Republic of the Congo, and Angola.
    In the SRFC region, elasmobranchs, including R. rhinobatos and R. 
cemiculus, have historically been extremely abundant (Diop & Dossa 
2011). Prior to the 1970s, elasmobranchs were primarily taken as 
bycatch and processed for sale to meet local demand. There was a small 
market for salted and dried elasmobranch meat, based in Ghana that 
fueled trade for elasmobranch bycatch through the SRFC region, 
including for guitarfishes caught in Senegal and Gambia. However, 
compared to other fishery products, shark meat had very low value, so 
there was little economic incentive to develop a targeted fishery. 
Elasmobranch fishing in the SRFC region began to grow in Senegal and 
Gambia in the 1970s, and then, fueled by the growing demand for shark 
fins, developed into a robust and unsustainable shark fishery by the 
early 1980s. To supply the shark fin export industry, specialized shark 
fishing teams became increasingly common in the SRFC region. These 
teams of artisanal fishers migrate into new areas along the west coast 
of Africa as local elasmobranch resources become locally overexploited 
(Diop & Dossa 2011; Ducrocq & Diop 2006). As the fishery became more 
migratory, the increase in fishing effort drove the need to maximize 
profits, further encouraging the unsustainable, wasteful practice of 
finning (Diop & Dossa 2011; Tous et al., 1998). In recent decades the 
demand for elasmobranch meat, which was once considered a low value 
product, has grown, which provided additional economic incentive for 
growth in the shark fishery in the SRFC region (Clarke et al., 2007; 
Dent & Clarke 2015).
    The SRFC subregion's international elasmobranch fishing industry is 
composed of industrial and artisanal fishing vessels, coastal 
processing facilities, and a robust trade network. Vessels are owned 
both by local fishermen and foreign investors (primarily Spanish). 
Owners have financed improvements in fishing technology (e.g. more 
advanced boats and nets) as yields have declined. Guitarfishes are also 
targeted from shore, such as by fishers using beach-based ```guitar 
lines'' in Mauritania. In the SRFC region, elasmobranch fishing effort 
steadily increased since the 1970s, with landings peaking in the early 
2000s, and then showing a significant and ongoing drop. Throughout the 
region (with the exception of Cape Verde, an offshore island nation 
where neither species are abundant), ``resources seem to be fully 
exploited, if not overexploited, for almost all selachian\1\ species'' 
(Diop & Dossa 2011; Ducrocq & Diop 2006). Because Rhinobatos spp. have 
also been heavily targeted for their highly valuable fins in the SRFC 
region for decades, this status of full or overexploitation likely also

[[Page 64102]]

applies to guitarfishes in the SRFC region (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. 
Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ i.e. sharks.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In the SRFC region, Diop and Dossa (2011) report the importance of 
one or both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus to local elasmobranch 
fisheries in all member countries except Gambia and Cape Verde. Fishers 
throughout this region time their fishing activities with the migration 
patterns and reproductive behavior of both species, targeting 
guitarfishes when they return to the shallows to give birth (Ducrocq & 
Diop 2006). In Mauritania, R. cemiculus is one of the three 
elasmobranch species taken in highest numbers (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. 
Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). 
In Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, R. cemiculus is listed as one of the few 
species listed as ``most important landings'' and ``taken in the 
highest numbers,'' respectively. In Sierra Leone, ``Rhinobatos spp. and 
Dasyatis spp. (stingrays) are found in the highest numbers, both in 
terms of weight and number.'' In Senegal, both species, along with 
coastal sharks, are the main fisheries targets (Diop & Dossa 2011). 
Diatta et al., (2009) also found that guitarfishes were some of the 
primary elasmobranchs targeted by the robust artisanal fishery in 
Senegal, where finning is prevalent, and these fishes were caught when 
they returned to shallow waters to breed.
    While the shark fin industry has been the major driver for 
elasmobranch declines in the SRFC countries, it is not the sole driver 
of overutilization of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus. The region has 
also experienced heavy population shifts in recent decades, primarily 
from people migrating to the coast, and this has put increased demand 
on all marine resources. Additionally, fisheries reporting in the area 
is inadequate, and there is significant bycatch in the industrial 
fishing industry (Diop & Dossa 2011). In addition to reported harvest, 
since 1980, the African Atlantic coast has experienced extremely high 
rates of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including 
in shallow areas where both guitarfish species are vulnerable to 
capture (Agnew et al., 2009; Greenpeace 2015).
    As a result of the decades of sustained and widespread targeting of 
guitarfishes and other elasmobranchs in the SRFC region, combined with 
the increasing overall fishing effort, there has been an overall 
decrease in catch, with some species, such as sawfishes, lemon sharks 
and the African wedgefish, almost completely disappearing (Diop & Dossa 
2011), and some species, including guitarfishes, becoming scarce (Diop 
& Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 
21 June, 2016; Ducrocq & Diop 2006). Based on survey and fisher 
interview data collected by the IUCN Guinea-Bissau Programme and the 
National Centro de Investigacao Pesqueira Applicada, both guitarfishes 
were the main targets of specialized fishing teams in Guinea-Bissau, 
and landings had declined substantially as of the late 1990s (Fowler & 
Cavanagh 2005; Tous et al., 1998). This fishing pressure also drove 
down the average size of R. rhinobatos landed (Notarbartolo di Sciara 
et al., 2007b). According to unpublished data from the Senegalese 
Ministry of Maritime Economy and International Maritime Transportation, 
guitarfish landings in Senegal have decreased from 4,050 t in 1998 to 
821 t in 2005, with a reduction in the overall size of specimens landed 
(Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a). Diop and Dossa (2011) reported 
that, because of overexploitation in the Banc d'Arguin National Park in 
Mauritania, 95 percent of landed R. cemiculus were smaller than their 
size-at-maturity, which was likely impacting their reproductive 
capacity. A ban on shark fishing in Banc d'Arguin National Park has 
allowed guitarfishes to recover within the park's boundaries, but both 
species are still heavily targeted outside of the park (M. Ducrocq, 
Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016).
    While Diop and Dossa (2011) characterized one or both species as 
being important, or landed in high numbers, in fisheries in Senegal, 
Mauritania, and Guinea-Bissau, the authors did not state a time period 
for these characterizations. As just discussed, significant declines in 
the overall abundance of guitarfishes have been reported in all of 
these countries (Diop & Dossa 2011; M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. 
comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016; Fowler & Cavanagh 2005; 
Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 
2007b) as well as substantial reported declines in landings of larger, 
more fecund, individuals of both species in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal 
(Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 
2007b) and Mauritania (Diop & Dossa 2011). Similar trends are likely in 
Guinea and Gambia (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. comm. to J. Shultz, 
NMFS, 21 June, 2016). Because of the migratory fisheries in the SRFC 
countries, and the reported scarcity of guitarfishes throughout the 
area (Diop & Dossa 2011), it is reasonable to assume similar declines 
have occurred or will occur in Sierra Leone.
    In Morocco, both species are likely rare; they are not targeted, 
but at least R. rhinobatos occurs as demersal trawl bycatch 
(Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007b). We found no information on the 
commercial exploitation of Rhinobatos spp. in Morocco but, in general, 
Moroccan fisheries are likely in a state of overexploitation after 
years of intense and extremely underreported fishing activity by 
foreign vessels (Belhabib et al., 2012b; Jouffre & Inejih 2005). In 
Ghana, where the artisanal fishing industry is an important and 
entrenched part of the economy, the demand for dried and salted 
elasmobranch meat was an early driver of the regional elasmobranch 
industry (Diop & Dossa 2011; Ducrocq & Diop 2006; Nunoo & Asiedu 2013), 
and R. rhinobatos, but not R. cemiculus, was recently reported in 
artisanal fisheries landings (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). The demersal 
fisheries resources of Ghana have been ``operating under stress during 
the last decades'' (Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Artisanal fishers from Ghana, 
as well as from neighboring Togo and Benin, have migrated to other 
countries' fishing grounds along the west coast of Africa, likely 
because fishing grounds in these fishers' countries have been 
overexploited, overcrowded, or both (De Bruyne 2015; Diop & Dossa 
2011).
    In Gabon, both species are present in coastal waters, and are 
targeted by artisanal fishers using specialized gear for their meat and 
to supply the black market fin trade, which is connected to the West 
African fin trade. Both species are also targeted by recreational 
fishers (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. 
comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 26 June, 2016). In the area of the village of 
Mayumba in southwest Gabon, R. cemiculus was the most frequent batoid 
species captured by artisanal fishers from 2014 to 2015 (R. rhinobatos 
is not mentioned). This catch included no mature females, which was 
noted by the author as an indicator that fishing has had a negative 
impact on the reproductive capacity of this species in the area. 
Although the author noted the absence of pregnant females, he did not 
discuss whether pregnant females had previously been recorded in the 
area. ``Sea fishing'' began around Mayumba in the 1950s with the 
arrival of fishers from Ghana, Benin, and Togo, many of whom had been 
crowded out of fishing grounds in the Republic of the Congo. Until 
recently, this area experienced unsustainable industrial and IUU 
fishing. In this area, there has also long been subsistence fishing by 
locals in the

[[Page 64103]]

Banio Lagoon, where sharks and rays were prevalent 30 years ago, but 
today are almost impossible to catch (De Bruyne 2015). Based on this 
information, it appears that overutilization has caused a decline in 
abundance and reproductive capacity of R. cemiculus in at least part of 
Gabonese waters.
    In contrast with the relatively recent and rapid exploitation of 
guitarfishes in the African Atlantic, primarily driven by the demand 
for shark fins, finning is not widely practiced in the Mediterranean 
(Hareide et al., 2007a; Serena 2005). Instead, in the Mediterranean 
these species have been impacted by the centuries of sustained fishing 
pressure coupled with recent increases in fishing effort and fishing 
technology advances (Ferretti et al., 2008; Psomadakis et al., 2009). 
As evidence of both species' decline, R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus 
have been listed on Annex II: List of Endangered or Threatened Species 
of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological 
Diversity in the Mediterranean (SPA/BD Protocol) of the Barcelona 
Convention since 2012. The SPA/BD Protocol prohibits the landing of 
these species in the Mediterranean and requires that they ``must be 
released unharmed and alive to the highest extent possible.'' We found 
no studies on the survival rates of guitarfishes after being released 
from fishing gear interactions, so the potential of this requirement to 
reduce fishing mortality is unknown.
    General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) 
recommendation GFCM/36/2012/3, which is associated with the SPA/BD 
Protocol (see Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms), also 
prohibits trawling within three nautical miles of the shoreline, 
greatly reducing the likelihood that these coastal fish will be caught 
as bycatch. Recommendation GFCM/36/2012/3 also prohibits finning and 
the landing of elasmobranchs without their heads and skins, thus 
protecting these fish from illegal sale (FAO 2016e)(Hareide et al., 
2007a; Serena 2005). We found no information on the current level of 
IUU fishing on these species in the Mediterranean, so it is difficult 
to assess the impact of these prohibitions. Recent information from 
Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt indicates that the fisheries in these 
countries are inadequately regulated (Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi 
et al., 2012; Lteif 2015; A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, 
NMFS, 21 July, 2016; Samy-Kamal 2015).
    Regardless of the efficacy of the SPA/BD Protocol prohibitions, the 
historical fishing pressure on R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus has 
driven declines in abundance throughout much of the Mediterranean 
(Baino et al., 2001; Bertrand et al., 2000; Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; 
Diop & Dossa 2011; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2007a; Notarbartolo 
di Sciara et al., 2007b; Psomadakis et al., 2009). The area has a long 
history of fishing pressure, which has not abated in recent decades 
(Ferretti et al., 2008). Better technology and increased fishing 
effort, including increased benthic continental shelf and slope 
trawling over the last 50 years, has resulted in the decline of many 
elasmobranch species (Bradai et al., 2012). In the northwestern 
Mediterranean, sustained and intensive fishing pressure has been a main 
driver of the extirpation of Rhinobatos spp. (Bradai et al., 2012; 
Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; Psomadakis et al., 2009; Sacchi 2008). The 
highest concentration of fishing vessels in the Mediterranean occurs in 
the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian Sea GFCM subregions, which 
make up the majority of the current Mediterranean ranges of Rhinobatos 
spp. Turkey, which appears to have some of the largest concentrations 
of R. cemiculus along its southern coast, also has the most fishing 
vessels with 16,447 vessels (17.74 percent of vessels in the 
Mediterranean). However, some of these vessels fish in the Black Sea, 
where neither species is found, or in the Aegean Sea, where these 
species are rare (FAO 2016b).
    Between 1970 and 1985, reported Mediterranean and Black Sea 
chondrichthyan landings (which includes both guitarfishes) grew from 
10,000 t to 25,000 t, and then declined to about 7,000 t annually in 
2008 despite growing fishing effort (Bradai et al., 2012; Cavanagh & 
Gibson 2007; Hareide et al., 2007). During this time, Tunisia and 
Turkey were two of the most prolific Mediterranean elasmobranch fishing 
countries. As of 2007, there were six Mediterranean elasmobranchs 
affected by targeted fisheries. Historically, many more species had 
been targeted or landed in large quantities, but this number has been 
reduced because these fisheries are no longer commercially viable 
(Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; FAO 2016d; Ferretti et al., 2008). In a few 
areas in the Mediterranean, R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus are or were 
targeted or considered a valuable secondary catch. Additionally, the 
global demand for elasmobranch meat has grown rapidly in recent 
decades, with the reported production of meat and fillets growing from 
approximately 40,000 tons in 1985 to 121,641 tons in 2004 (Clarke et 
al., 2007; Dent & Clarke 2015), potentially providing economic 
incentive to retain these species as targeted or incidental catch.
    The primary Mediterranean area where R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus 
have been fished is the waters of Tunisia, where seasonal artisanal 
fishers target elasmobranchs with gillnets and longlines when they move 
into shallow waters in the spring and summer (Echwikhi et al., 2013; 
Echwikhi et al., 2012). Rhinobatos spp. meat is sold in local markets 
and the skin is used for drumheads by local players (Capape & Zaouali 
1994). In Tunisian waters R. cemiculus is landed in greater numbers 
than R. rhinobatos (Capape & Zaouali 1994; Echwikhi et al., 2013; 
Echwikhi et al., 2012), although species-specific data and reliable 
discard data are largely unavailable (Echwikhi et al., 2012). Data on 
fishing vessels are underreported, especially in Tunisia and Morocco. 
However, based on the available data, the Tunisian fleet is composed of 
12,826 reported vessels, or 14.91 percent of the 92,734 vessels 
reported in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, making it the third 
largest Mediterranean and Black Sea fishing fleet. Since 1970, when 
total fisheries landings in Tunisia were about 25,000 tons, there has 
been a steady increase in landings, reaching an average of 101,400 t 
from 2000to 2013. Additionally, Tunisia has one of the youngest fishing 
fleets in terms of vessel age, indicating a relatively recent increase 
in fishing capacity. As is the case throughout the Mediterranean, the 
vast majority of the Tunisian fishery is composed of artisanal vessels 
(FAO 2016b). While elasmobranch landings have dropped overall in 
southern Tunisia (Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012), an 
assessment from the Workshop on Stock Assessment of Selected Species of 
Elasmobranchs in the GFCM area found that the southern Tunisian R. 
cemiculus stock was actually underfished from 2001-2007 (GFMC:SAC 
2012).
    Targeted fishing for guitarfishes in Tunisia likely began in the 
1970s to mid-1980s (Capap[eacute] et al., 2004; Echwikhi et al., 2013). 
The majority of Tunisian elasmobranch catches have been from the Gulf 
of Gab[egrave]s (Brada[iuml] et al., 2006; Echwikhi et al., 2013; 
Echwikhi et al., 2012), where general elasmobranch landings and batoid 
landings steadily increased during the 1990s, peaked in 2002, and 
decreased from 2003 to 2008 (trend data are not available after 2008) 
(Echwikhi et al., 2012). Guitarfishes were targeted with special 
gillnets called ``garracia,'' with catches peaking in the spring and

[[Page 64104]]

summer when females move into shallow waters to gestate and give birth. 
Adults, juveniles, and neonates have also been caught as bycatch in 
demersal fish and shrimp trawls (Brada[iuml] et al., 2006). In a study 
of elasmobranch gillnet fishing in the Gulf of Gab[egrave]s from 2007 
to 2008, R. cemiculus was the most abundant elasmobranch caught. R. 
cemiculus and R. rhinobatos were 52 percent and 6.81 percent of the 
total elasmobranch catch, respectively. Female R. cemiculus (40 percent 
mature) and R. rhinobatos (48 percent mature) were more common than 
males. The authors of this study noted that R. cemiculus is 
particularly susceptible to capture in bottom gillnets because of its 
shape and schooling behavior (Echwikhi et al., 2012).
    In recent years, Gulf of Gab[egrave]s fishermen who had targeted 
grouper using demersal longlines have shifted to targeting 
elasmobranchs as grouper abundance has declined, although in this 
fishery elasmobranchs were still reported as bycatch (Echwikhi et al., 
2013). The first study of elasmobranch catches in this longline 
fishery, conducted from 2007 to 2008, found that R. cemiculus was the 
most abundant elasmobranch, with R. cemiculus and R. rhinobatos 
composing 31.7 percent and 11.2 percent of the elasmobranch catch, 
respectively. Mature, pregnant females dominated the R. cemiculus 
catch, while males and females were about equal for R. rhinobatos, with 
slightly more mature individuals than juvenile individuals caught. This 
study found that longline fishing effort during this time period was 
``considerable'' (Echwikhi et al., 2013). Enajjar et al., (2008) found 
a decrease in the overall TL and TL at 50 percent maturity for male and 
female R. rhinobatos in southern Tunisia, compared to the results 
reported by Capape et al., (1975, 1997). The reported decrease in R. 
rhinobatos, compared to the relatively recent GFCM:SAC (2012) stock 
assessment that found R. cemiculus was underfished in this area, may 
indicate that only the Tunisian population of R. rhinobatos is 
experiencing levels of fishing pressure that contribute to its risk of 
extinction. There is significant uncertainty with this conclusion 
because of the limited information available.
    Just east of the Tunisian border, there are artisanal gillnet and 
longline elasmobranch fisheries based in Tarwah, Libya, that, as of 
2000, primarily targeted sharks of the family Carcharhinidae, with 
guitarfishes and angelsharks retained as associate target species 
(Lamboeuf et al., 2000). This information was reported in Appendix VI 
of Lamboeuf et al., (2000), which provided an example of the project's 
database printout, rather than a complete picture of guitarfish 
retention in Libya, and we found no additional information on 
guitarfish catch in this country. According to the RAC/SPA (2005) 
research proposal, guitarfishes have been traditionally consumed in 
Libya, and some species that have declined in the greater 
Mediterranean, including guitarfishes, are still relatively common in 
Libyan waters. The effects of targeted fishing in Libya on the 
extinction risk of these species are unknown at this time.
    Along the eastern Mediterranean, guitarfishes are illegally 
targeted in Lebanon by artisanal fishers. From December 2012 to October 
2014, R. rhinobatos was the most common elasmobranch in Lebanese 
fisheries catches, followed by R. cemiculus, and both have had 
significant economic value. Fishing pressure in Lebanon is greatest in 
the north, where it has already impacted elasmobranch diversity (Lteif 
2015). In a study of elasmobranch exploitation in Syria in the early 
2000s, R. cemiculus was characterized as a ``very economically 
important species being caught in plentiful quantities and highly 
consumable,'' whereas R. rhinobatos was characterized as a ``moderate 
economically important species either for being caught in little 
quantities with high efforts in fishing, or for their little demand for 
human consumption. Or maybe for both reasons'' (Saad et al., 2006). It 
is unclear if R. cemiculus is more common or if there is a higher 
demand for its meat over that of R. rhinobatos, but these data indicate 
that both species were either targeted or welcomed as secondary catch 
in Syria. Overall fisheries landings in Lebanon and Syria increased 
since the 1970s, but their reported landings only make a small fraction 
of the overall Mediterranean catch (FAO 2016c).
    Throughout their entire Mediterranean ranges, R. cemiculus and R. 
rhinobatos have long been exposed to pressure as bycatch (Bradai et 
al., 2012). Rhinobatos cemiculus is one of the most commonly landed 
elasmobranchs in [Idot]skenderun Bay, Turkey (and more abundant than R. 
rhinobatos) (Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2012; Keskin et al., 2011), where 
the coastal area is heavily fished, exposing mature, breeding 
individuals to capture when they migrate to shallow waters 
(Ba[scedil]usta et al., 2008). Rhinobatos spp. are not commercially 
important species in Turkey (Keskin et al., 2011), but [Ccedil]ek et 
al., (2009) reported that R. rhinobatos has been exploited by bottom 
trawlers in [Idot]skenderun Bay since 1990, and it is consumed locally. 
The same is likely true for R. cemiculus. After Egypt, Turkey has the 
highest number of registered trawlers in the Eastern Mediterranean, 
with 599 vessels (FAO 2016b). While some of these trawlers are 
concentrated in the Black Sea (FAO 2016b), the southeastern waters of 
Turkey, including [Idot]skenderun Bay, have been intensely fished for 
decades and have shown obvious signs of decline in biodiversity and 
fish abundance ([Ccedil]i[ccedil]ek et al., 2014).
    In Egypt, Mediterranean fisheries landings have generally been 
growing since the 1970s, as fishing technology has advanced and fishing 
effort has increased. There have been periods where landings dropped 
despite continued increases in fishing efforts (FAO 2016c; Samy-Kamal 
2015). As a result there has been an increase in the landings of and 
demand for cartilaginous fishes bycatch, with guitarfishes (not 
reported at the species level) composing the majority of these 
landings, primarily as bycatch from shrimp trawls. Prior to 2005, shark 
and ray bycatch were usually discarded. From 2005 to 2006, landings of 
cartilaginous fishes jumped from around 500 tons to over 3,000 tons. 
Over the last 10 years, this production has remained high, although 
recently it decreased from over 3,000 tons annually in 2010 and 2011, 
to 1,843 tons in 2014 in spite of sustained fishing effort (A. 
Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 2016). Most of 
the landings in Egypt occur in the Nile Delta region, which is highly 
suitable for trawling and includes Alexandria, where R. rhinobatos is 
known to aggregate in shallow waters to give birth (Abdel-Aziz et al., 
1993; Samy-Kamal 2015). Within this region, almost 80 percent of the 
cartilaginous fish production is landed at two ports, Alexandria and 
Borg El Burullus (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 
July, 2016). Wild-caught fisheries in Egypt have been regulated for 
decades, but these regulations have been under-enforced, as the 
government has focused on developing the booming aquaculture industry. 
Additionally, regulations have not been updated to reflect the GFCM 
recommendations, which are apparently also not being enforced. This 
lack of enforcement has resulted in rampant IUU fishing in Egyptian 
waters, including unsustainable trawling and the use of illegal fishing 
gear (Samy-Kamal 2015). The lack of fishing regulations and enforcement 
has resulted in widespread declines in Egyptian fisheries, including in

[[Page 64105]]

elasmobranch populations, and is likely also affecting neighboring 
countries, as Egyptian fishers are known to illegally fish in Libyan 
waters (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 21 July, 
2016).
    In the waters of Cyprus, there was a large increase in coastal 
trawl fishing effort in the late 1980s. From 1985 to 1990, there was a 
spike in elasmobranch capture, primarily of dogfish, skates, and rays, 
followed by a sharp decline in capture after 1990. In response to a 
government fishing permit buy-back program, trawling effort has reduced 
substantially since the early 2000s (Hadjichristophorou 2006). In 
Israel, reported landings are low, approximately at the levels reported 
for Syria and Lebanon, and have been decreasing for decades (FAO 
2016c), although Edelist (2014) considered the soft-bottomed habitat 
off Israel to be under intensive fishing pressure. Guitarfish are 
caught as bycatch by local fishermen, but there is little market for 
elasmobranch products because they are not kosher, thus their 
consumption is forbidden by Jewish law. Elasmobranch species are 
primarily caught as bycatch by local fishermen using trawls and bottom 
long-lines, and also purse seines and trammel nets (Golani 2006). 
Rhinobatos rhinobatos are considered common in the area, while R. 
cemiculus is prevalent but less abundant than R. rhinobatos (Edelist 
2014; Golani 2006).
    The magnitude of the threat to R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus from 
commercial overharvest is impossible to fully assess because of the 
lack of fisheries data, especially at the species level, from all 
countries in which these species occur. However, the best available 
information shows (1) fishery driven extirpation of Rhinobatos spp. 
from the northwestern Mediterranean (Capap[eacute] et al., 2006; 
Psomadakis et al., 2009); (2) decreasing elasmobranch landings due to 
decades of technological advances and increased fishing effort 
(Cavanagh & Gibson 2007; Diop & Dossa 2011; Melendez & Macias 2007; 
S[eacute]ret & Serena 2002); (3) substantial decreases in the abundance 
of both species in West Africa (Diop & Dossa 2011); (4) considerable 
fishing effort in demersal fisheries concentrated in coastal areas 
where both species, especially reproductive individuals, are 
particularly vulnerable to capture ([Ccedil]i[ccedil]ek et al., 2014; 
Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi et al., 2012; Samy-
Kamal 2015); (5) sustained targeting of these species as commercially 
important species (Diop & Dossa 2011; Echwikhi et al., 2013; Echwikhi 
et al., 2012; Lteif et al., 2016; Saad et al., 2006); and (6) evidence 
of fishery driven size reduction (Diop & Dossa 2011; Enajjar et al., 
2012). Based on this information, we conclude that overharvest from 
industrial and artisanal commercial fisheries is contributing 
significantly to the extinction risk of both R. rhinobatos and R. 
cemiculus throughout their ranges.

Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    There are some regional and national regulatory mechanisms that 
impact the conservation status of these species. In 2009, both species 
were listed on SPA/BD Protocol Annex III: List of Species Whose 
Exploitation is Regulated, which was adopted under the Barcelona 
Convention in 1995 (Bradai et al., 2012). In 2012, both species were 
uplisted to Annex II: List of Endangered or Threatened Species (S. de 
Benedictis, GFCM Secretariat, pers. comm. to B. Newell, 12, May, 2016). 
The protocol charges all parties with identifying and compiling lists 
of all endangered or threatened species in their jurisdiction, 
controlling or prohibiting (where appropriate) the taking or 
disturbance of wild protected species, and coordinating their 
protection and recovery efforts for migratory species, among other 
measures that are likely less relevant to these species (RAC/SPA 1996). 
Currently, all coastal Mediterranean countries where these species 
occur are contracting parties to the SPA/BD Protocol (European 
Commission 2016). Further, since 2012, both species have been protected 
by GFCM recommendation GFCM/36/2012/3. This recommendation prohibits 
the finning of elasmobranchs or the beheading or skinning of 
elasmobranchs before landing, and it prohibits trawling in the first 
three nautical miles off the coast or up to the 50 m isobaths 
(whichever comes first). Additionally, Annex II elasmobranch species 
cannot be retained on board, transshipped, landed, transferred, stored, 
sold or displayed or offered for sale, and must be released unharmed 
and alive to the extent possible (GFCM/36/2012/3). Any capture of these 
species in the GFCM area of competence, which includes all national and 
high seas waters of the Mediterranean and Black Seas (FAO 2016f), is 
considered IUU fishing (S. de Benedictis, GFCM Secretariat, pers. comm. 
to B. Newell, 12, May, 2016).
    In the Mediterranean, the efficacy of these and other protections 
is unclear, but it appears that countries have historically been slow 
to adopt and enforce the SPA/BD Protocol protections (Serena 2005). 
Italy, Greece, and Lebanon have promulgated regulations in accordance 
with the SPA/BD Protocol to protect species listed in Annex II (Bradai 
et al., 2012; Lteif 2015), Tunisia has restricted the retention of rays 
and skates less than 40cm, and all cartilaginous fishes are protected 
in Israel (Bradai et al., 2012). In Lebanon, these regulations are 
neither being followed nor enforced (Lteif 2015). Historically, 
monitoring of the Mediterranean fleet has been negligible (S[eacute]ret 
& Serena 2002), and the data on cartilaginous fishes have not been 
reported at the species level (Echwikhi et al., 2012; Serena 2005). 
Vessel, bycatch, and discard data from artisanal fisheries, which 
primarily operate along the coast and make up 80 percent of the vessels 
in the Mediterranean, are difficult to obtain and likely underreported 
(FAO 2016c, 2016d). Echwikhi et al., (2012) and Echwikhi et al., (2013) 
describe the nature of artisanal gillnet and longline fisheries in 
Tunisia and the Mediterranean as ``unregulated.'' In Lebanon, Turkey, 
and Tunisia the artisanal sector makes up well over 80 percent of the 
total vessels, and no data were available for Syria (FAO 2016c), 
increasing the likelihood that fisheries in these important portions of 
Rhinobatos spp. range are underregulated and catches are underreported.
    In Egypt, which is also an important part of the range of at least 
R. rhinobatos, the wild catch fisheries are underregulated as the 
government has focused most of its resources on supporting the booming 
aquaculture industry (Samy-Kamal 2015). This lack of regulation and 
enforcement has led to widespread overfishing in Egyptian waters, where 
both guitarfish species have been retained as profitable bycatch 
species since 2005, and Egyptian fishers are known to illegally fish in 
Libyan waters because of the overexploited state of local Egyptian 
fisheries. Additionally, the focus on aquaculture production has 
resulted in the pollution of coastal brackish lakes, which degrades 
coastal ecosystems (A. Marbourk, NOS, pers. comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 
21 July, 2016).
    In the Atlantic African countries, as in the Mediterranean, 
artisanal fishing makes up a huge, growing proportion of the fishing 
activity. Until recently, this fishing sector has lacked species-
specific data and strong management or regulations (De Bruyne 2015; 
Diop & Dossa 2011; Nunoo & Asiedu 2013). Along the Atlantic coast of 
Africa, all of the SRFC countries have passed regulations that offer 
some protection to either or both species. Cape Verde, Guinea, Gambia, 
and Sierra Leone have all banned finning. Mauritania has banned all 
elasmobranch fishing (except

[[Page 64106]]

for houndshark) in Banc d'Arguin National Park since 2003. Guinea and 
Sierra Leone have introduced elasmobranch fishing licenses. Guinea-
Bissau dismantled elasmobranch fishing camps in the Bijagos Archipelago 
and banned elasmobranch fishing in all marine protected areas (MPAs). 
Senegal established size limits for R. cemiculus (106 cm for males and 
100 cm for females). However, all of the SRFC countries lack adequate 
technical and financial resources for monitoring and management, and 
regulations at the country level are not very strict and lack regional 
coordination (Diop & Dossa 2011). Whether these regulatory protections 
put in place in the SRFC countries are reducing the extinction risk of 
these species is unknown at this time.
    In Gabon, a national marine planning effort called ``Gabon Bleu,'' 
which was established in 2012, seeks to improve management of marine 
resources across different stakeholder groups, including artisanal and 
industrial fishing. The country's 2005 Fisheries Code had established 
regulations that were not being followed, with reported non-compliance 
including the disconnection of vessel monitoring systems and the use of 
illegal monofilament nets by artisanal fishers. In 2012, under Gabon 
Bleu, all fishing activity was suspended, and all fishers who wished to 
resume work were required to sign an agreement that clearly defined the 
regulations and required their participation in fisheries research. 
Several arrests were made as a result of a crackdown on IUU fishing 
that included increased surveillance (De Bruyne 2015). Additionally, 
both species are considered ``sensitive species'' and cannot be 
targeted by fishers. Unfortunately, these regulations have not 
eliminated the black market for fins, so guitarfishes are still being 
targeted by artisanal fishers and illegally finned by demersal trawl 
fishers (G. De Bruyne, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mayumba, pers. 
comm. to B. Newell, NMFS, 28 June, 2016). In Mayumba National Park, 
only artisanal fishers have been allowed to operate, and sharks are no 
longer targeted (De Bruyne 2015). Recent efforts to improve monitoring 
of artisanal catches have also been made in Ghana (Nunoo & Asiedu 
2013). Republic of the Congo, which shares Gabon's southern border, 
banned all shark fishing along its entire coastline in 2001 (Marine 
Conservation Institute 2016), although we found no information on the 
enforcement of this ban.
    IUU fishing by foreign fleets is also a major challenge for 
sustainable fisheries management in Africa. The west coast of Africa 
has experienced some of the highest amounts of IUU fishing in the world 
for decades (Agnew et al., 2009). Historically, EU vessels had fished 
unsustainably off African countries (Agnew et al., 2009; Belhabib et 
al., 2012a), but recent regulatory updates, such as the reform for the 
European Union Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), have curbed these 
practices (Greenpeace 2015). Currently, the biggest source of IUU 
fishing in Atlantic African waters, in particular the SRFC region, is 
China, whose African distant water fishing fleet has swelled from 13 
vessels in 1985, to 462 vessels in 2013 (Greenpeace 2015). Chinese 
vessels, which negotiate fishing agreements with African countries, 
have been documented trawling in shallow prohibited areas, 
underreporting catch, using illegal fishing gear, misreporting vessel 
specifications (including gross tonnage), and tampering with vessel 
monitoring systems (Greenpeace 2015). Currently, it appears that many 
West African coastal states lack the regulatory and enforcement 
capacity to adequately deal with this issue (Greenpeace 2015).
    We found no regulatory information for Morocco, Liberia, Cote 
d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the 
Congo, and Angola. Overall, we found little information on the 
effectiveness of the current regulations in countries along the west 
coast of Africa and the Mediterranean, so it is difficult to assess how 
these regulations are impacting the extinction risk of both species. 
However, we do know that in the African Atlantic there has been rapid 
growth of unregulated or underregulated exploitation of both species. 
In addition, throughout both species' ranges IUU fishing is still 
prevalent, and there is an abundance of coastal, artisanal fishers, who 
can be difficult to regulate because of the novelty of efforts to 
regulate and manage fishers that have long been undermanaged or not 
regulated at all. Because of these factors, as well as the high 
catchability and low reproductive potential of these species, we 
conclude that the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms is 
likely contributing significantly to the extinction risk of both R. 
rhinobatos and R. cemiculus. Although the 2012 SPA/BD Protocol Annex II 
listing and other current regulations may, in time, provide sufficient 
protection to reduce these species' risk of extinction, the current 
uncertainty associated with the enforcement of these restrictions is 
too great to conclude these protections are adequate to prevent 
overutilization.

Extinction Risk

    Although there is no quantitative analysis of either species' 
abundance over time, and data for many demographic characteristics of 
R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus are lacking, the best available data 
indicate that these species currently face a moderate risk of 
extinction due to their inherent demographic vulnerabilities, coupled 
with commercial overutilization and the inadequacy of regulations of 
commercial fisheries in their ranges. As defined in the status review 
(see Newell (2016)), a species is considered to be at a moderate risk 
of extinction when it is on a trajectory that puts it at a high level 
of extinction risk in the foreseeable future. In this case, we define 
the foreseeable future as 15-20 years, which is a reasonable amount of 
time to project the continued threat of overutilization as countries 
throughout both species' ranges develop and begin to enforce relevant 
regulations. Additionally, given the relatively low productivity of 
these species, it will likely take more than one generation for these 
species to recover. This foreseeable future corresponds roughly to 
three generation times of R. cemiculus (Enajjar et al., 2012). In this 
case, because of the lack of life-history data, we simply define the 
generation time of R. cemiculus as the age when the average female 
reaches sexual maturity (5.09 years).

Rhinobatos rhinobatos

    The common guitarfish faces demographic risks that significantly 
increase its risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. Although 
there is no species-specific quantitative analysis of R. rhinobatos 
abundance over time, the best available information (including survey 
data, interviews with fishers, and anecdotal accounts) indicates that 
this species has likely undergone significant declines throughout most 
of its range, with no evidence to suggest a reversal of these trends, 
with the exception of a few, extremely localized examples. Based on 
survey data and historical records, this species once occurred 
throughout the entire coastal northwestern Mediterranean, including as 
a common species off the Balearic Islands and Sicily, but it has been 
extirpated for decades throughout this entire area. In the 
Mediterranean, strong fishing pressure on this species, both as a 
targeted species and as bycatch, likely still occurs in Tunisia, 
Lebanon, southeast Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. In Africa, substantial and 
relatively recent declines have occurred in Mauritania, Senegal, 
Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone, all countries where this

[[Page 64107]]

species was one of the most common elasmobranch species only a few 
decades ago. This species is also targeted illegally for its fins in 
Gabon, and IUU fishing is likely rampant throughout most of its African 
Atlantic range.
    The limited productivity data on R. rhinobatos suggests this 
species may be relatively fast-growing and productive compared to other 
elasmobranchs. However, compared to most fished species, such as bony 
fishes, this species is slow-growing and has low productivity. 
Additionally, aspects of this species' reproductive strategy make it 
inherently vulnerable to overexploitation. This species is long-lived, 
and larger, older individuals are the most productive. Because this 
species migrates into shallow waters to give birth and breed, the 
breeding population of this species is very vulnerable to fishing 
capture and, as a result, a decline of the average size at maturity and 
rate of maturity in catches has been reported in many of the portions 
of this species' range where data are available. Information on spatial 
structure, connectivity, and diversity is unavailable for this species. 
However, differences in maximum TL, size at maturity, and reproductive 
timing throughout this species' range, combined with evidence of 
extirpated populations from areas that have not been recolonized after 
decades, suggest there may be isolated populations that contribute to 
the genetic diversity of this species.
    In conclusion, although there is significant uncertainty regarding 
the current abundance of this species, the best available information 
indicates that the species has suffered substantial declines in many 
portions of its range where it was once common. Throughout almost all 
of this species' range, the threat of overutilization from industrial 
and artisanal fishing continues. Given the past evidence of fishery-
driven extirpation in areas where this species was once common, and the 
still-practiced targeting of mature, breeding individuals, which has 
likely reduced the reproductive potential of these species, we find 
that continued fishing pressure poses a significant risk of endangering 
this species with extinction in the foreseeable future. Additionally, 
the regulations and conservation measures in place are likely 
inadequate to reverse the decline of this species. In summary, based on 
the best available information and the above analysis, we conclude that 
R. rhinobatos is presently at a moderate risk of extinction throughout 
its range.

Rhinobatos cemiculus

    The blackchin guitarfish faces demographic risks that significantly 
increase its risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. Although 
there is no species-specific quantitative analysis of R. cemiculus 
abundance over time, the best available information (including survey 
data, interviews with fishers, and anecdotal accounts) indicates that 
this species has likely undergone significant declines throughout most 
of its range, with no evidence to suggest a reversal of these trends, 
with the exception of a few, extremely localized examples. Based on 
survey data and historical records, this species once occurred 
throughout much of the coastal northwestern Mediterranean, likely as a 
common species off the Balearic Islands and Sicily, but it has been 
extirpated for decades throughout this entire area. In the 
Mediterranean, strong fishing pressure on this species, both as a 
targeted species and as bycatch, likely still occurs in Tunisia, 
Lebanon, southeast Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. In Africa, substantial and 
relatively recent declines have occurred in Mauritania, Senegal, 
Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone, all countries where this 
species was one of the most common elasmobranch species only a few 
decades ago. This species is also targeted illegally for its fins in 
Gabon, and IUU fishing is likely rampant throughout most of its African 
Atlantic range.
    The limited productivity data on R. cemiculus suggests this species 
may be relatively fast-growing and productive compared to other 
elasmobranchs. However, compared to most fished species, such as bony 
fishes, this species is slow-growing and has low productivity. 
Additionally, aspects of this species' reproductive strategy make it 
inherently vulnerable to overexploitation. This species is long-lived 
and larger, older individuals are the most productive. Because this 
species migrates into shallow waters to give birth and breed, the 
breeding population of this species is very vulnerable to fishing 
capture and, as a result, a decline of the average size at maturity and 
rate of maturity in catches has been reported in many of the portions 
of this species' range where data are available. Information on spatial 
structure, connectivity, and diversity is unavailable for this species. 
However, differences in maximum TL, size at maturity, and reproductive 
timing throughout this species' range, combined with evidence of 
extirpated populations from areas that have not been recolonized after 
decades, suggest there may be isolated populations that contribute to 
the genetic diversity of this species.
    In conclusion, although there is significant uncertainty regarding 
the current abundance of this species, the best available information 
indicates that the species has suffered substantial declines in many 
portions of its range where it was once common. Throughout almost all 
of this species' range, the threat of overutilization from industrial 
and artisanal fishing continues. Given the past evidence of fishery 
driven extirpation in areas where this species was once common, and the 
still-practiced targeting of mature, breeding individuals, which has 
likely reduced the reproductive potential of this species, we find that 
continued fishing pressure poses a significant risk of endangering this 
species with extinction in the foreseeable future. Additionally, the 
regulations and conservation measures in place are likely inadequate to 
reverse the decline of this species. In summary, based on the best 
available information and the above analysis, we conclude that R. 
cemiculus is presently at a moderate risk of extinction throughout its 
range.

Conservation Efforts

    Throughout the ranges of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, we found 
no efforts that are dedicated specifically to the conservation of these 
species. However, there are some efforts in portions of their ranges 
that may have a positive effect on the status of these species. These 
include recently developed management plans and protections from 
harvest and habitat modification in national parks and MPAs.
    All SRFC countries except Gambia have adopted, or integrated into 
their fisheries management plans, a National Plan of Action for the 
Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-Sharks) as part of the Sub-
Regional Plan of Action for the Conservation of Sharks (SRPOA-Sharks) 
(Diop & Dossa 2011). With assistance from the International Union for 
the Conservation of Nature's Shark Specialist Group (IUCNSSG), these 
plans were developed under the recommendations of the FAO International 
Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-
SHARKS). IPOA-SHARKS seeks to ensure conservation and sustainable 
management of sharks with emphasis on quality data collection for 
management purposes (IUCNSSG 2016). In the SRFC, these plans are still 
in the early stage of implementation, and it remains to be seen how 
effective they will be in

[[Page 64108]]

minimizing the extinction risk of R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus. 
Additionally, all of the SRFC countries lack adequate technical and 
financial resources for monitoring and management, and regulations at 
the country level are not very strict and lack regional coordination 
(Diop & Dossa 2011). There are no NPOA-Sharks developed for the other 
African nations in these species' Atlantic ranges (IUCNSSG 2016). All 
European countries have adopted the EU Plan of Action (EUPOA Sharks) 
but we could find little information on conservation actions associated 
with this plan.
    The GFMC is one of the only FAO Regional Fisheries Management 
Organizations (RMFOs) with the competence to adopt spatial management 
measures in the high seas. However, many of these protections have 
focused on the deep sea (FAO 2016e), offering little conservation value 
to either species. In the early 2000s, Cyprus initiated a fishing 
license buy-back program, which likely reduced trawl impact on these 
species (Hadjichristophorou 2006), although we found little information 
on either species' status in Cyprian waters, so we cannot evaluate the 
conservation benefit of this action.
    The Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/
SPA) and the Network of Marine Protection Area Managers in the 
Mediterranean (MedPAN) have been working with a diverse network of 
partners to establish a network of well-connected, well-managed MPAs 
that protect at least 10 percent of the Mediterranean Sea while 
representing the sea's biodiversity (Gabri[eacute] et al., 2012). The 
Gabri[eacute] et al., (2012) report, entitled ``The Status of Marine 
Protected Areas in the Mediterranean Sea,'' found that, as of 2012, 
only 4.6 percent of the Mediterranean surface (114,600 km\2\) was 
protected by MPAs, with these areas mostly concentrated in the coastal 
zone, predominantly in the northern basin where these species are rare 
or have been extirpated. Two Mediterranean ecoregions that are 
important to both species, the Tunisian plateau and the Levantine Sea, 
were found to be ``markedly under-represented.'' Management of MPAs 
throughout the Mediterranean was found to be weak, with many MPAs 
lacking dedicated managers and management plans and financial 
resources, and having a low surveillance levels, with only northwestern 
MPAs reporting a sufficient budget to effectively manage. Additionally, 
the level of ecosystem protection varies throughout the Mediterranean 
MPAs. For example, most are not ``no-take'' zones, so artisanal and 
recreational fishers still have access to many protected areas.
    There are also MPAs on the West Coast of Africa that might impact 
or have already impacted the status of these two guitarfish species. In 
the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania, the use of specialized 
gear such as guitarfish nets as well as the targeting of shark and ray 
species has been prohibited since 2003 (Diop & Dossa 2011). This 
allowed the local guitarfish populations to recover, but both species 
are still targeted outside of the park (M. Ducrocq, Parcs Gabon, pers. 
comm. to J. Shultz, NMFS, 21 June, 2016). Guinea-Bissau has banned 
shark fishing in all of its MPAs, including the Bijagos Archipelago, 
which includes important areas for both species (Cross 2015; Diop & 
Dossa 2011). Mayumba National Park in Gabon, where at least R. 
cemiculus is found, has recently implemented gear restrictions and no 
longer allows industrial fishing (De Bruyne 2015). There are also other 
MPAs that dot the west coast of Africa, but they collectively cover 
only a small fraction of both species' ranges (MPAtlas 2016).

Proposed Determination

    There is significant uncertainty regarding the status of the 
current populations of both R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus, but both 
species may still be relatively common, although very likely below 
their historical population levels, in Tunisia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, 
and southeastern Turkey. Based on this information, and the best 
available scientific and commercial information, as summarized here and 
in Newell (2015), we find that neither Rhinobatos species is currently 
at high risk of extinction throughout their entire ranges. However, 
both species are at moderate risk of extinction. We assessed the ESA 
section 4(a)(1) factors and conclude that R. rhinobatos and R. 
cemiculus face ongoing threats of overutilization by fisheries and 
inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms throughout their ranges. Both 
species have also suffered a curtailment of a large portion of their 
historical ranges. These species' natural biological vulnerability to 
overexploitation and present demographic risks (declining abundance, 
decreasing size of reproductive individuals, and low productivity) are 
currently exacerbating the negative effects of these threats. Further, 
ongoing conservation efforts are not adequate to improve the status of 
these species. Thus, both species are likely to become endangered 
throughout their ranges in the foreseeable future. We therefore propose 
to list both species as threatened under the ESA.

Effects of Listing

    Conservation measures provided for species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the ESA include recovery plans (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)); 
concurrent designation of critical habitat, if prudent and determinable 
(16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A)) and consistent with implementing regulations; 
Federal agency requirements to consult with NMFS under section 7 of the 
ESA to ensure their actions do not jeopardize the species or result in 
adverse modification or destruction of critical habitat should it be 
designated (16 U.S.C. 1536); and, for endangered species, prohibitions 
on taking (16 U.S.C. 1538). Recognition of the species' plight through 
listing promotes conservation actions by Federal and state agencies, 
foreign entities, private groups, and individuals.

Identifying Section 7 Conference and Consultation Requirements

    Section 7(a)(2) (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2)) of the ESA and NMFS/USFWS 
regulations require Federal agencies to consult with us to ensure that 
activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or destroy or 
adversely modify critical habitat. Section 7(a)(4) (16 U.S.C. 
1536(a)(4)) of the ESA and NMFS/USFWS regulations also require Federal 
agencies to confer with us on actions likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of species proposed for listing, or that result in 
the destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat of 
those species. It is unlikely that the listing of these species under 
the ESA will increase the number of section 7 consultations, because 
these species occur outside of the United States and are unlikely to be 
affected by Federal actions.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 
1532(5)) as: (1) The specific areas within the geographical area 
occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the 
ESA, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) 
essential to the conservation of the species and (b) that may require 
special management considerations or protection; and (2) specific areas 
outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is 
listed upon a determination that such areas are essential for the 
conservation of the

[[Page 64109]]

species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all methods and procedures 
needed to bring the species to the point at which listing under the ESA 
is no longer necessary (16 U.S.C. 1532(3)). Section 4(a)(3)(A) of the 
ESA (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A)) requires that, to the extent prudent and 
determinable, critical habitat be designated concurrently with the 
listing of a species. However, critical habitat shall not be designated 
in foreign countries or other areas outside U.S. jurisdiction (50 CFR 
424.12(h)).
    The best available scientific and commercial data as discussed 
above identify the geographical areas occupied by R. rhinobatos and R. 
cemiculus as being entirely outside U.S. jurisdiction, so we cannot 
designate critical habitat for these species.

Identification of Those Activities That Would Constitute a Violation of 
Section 9 of the ESA

    On July 1, 1994, NMFS and FWS published a policy (59 FR 34272) that 
requires NMFS to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the 
time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the ESA. Because we are 
proposing to list the R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as threatened, no 
prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) of the ESA will apply to these species.

Protective Regulations Under Section 4(d) of the ESA

    We are proposing to list R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as 
threatened under the ESA. In the case of threatened species, ESA 
section 4(d) leaves it to the Secretary's discretion whether, and to 
what extent, to extend the section 9(a) ``take'' prohibitions to the 
species, and authorizes us to issue regulations necessary and advisable 
for the conservation of the species. Thus, we have flexibility under 
section 4(d) to tailor protective regulations, taking into account the 
effectiveness of available conservation measures. The section 4(d) 
protective regulations may prohibit, with respect to threatened 
species, some or all of the acts which section 9(a) of the ESA 
prohibits with respect to endangered species. These section 9(a) 
prohibitions apply to all individuals, organizations, and agencies 
subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Because neither species has ever occupied 
U.S. waters, and the United States has no known commercial or 
management interest in either species, we propose to not apply any 
section 9(a) prohibitions to either species.

Public Comments Solicited

    To ensure that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
to list the R. rhinobatos and R. cemiculus as threatened will be as 
accurate and effective as possible, we are soliciting comments and 
information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, the 
scientific community, industry, and any other interested parties on 
information in the status review and proposed rule. Comments are 
encouraged on these proposals (See DATES and ADDRESSES). We must base 
our final determination on the best available scientific and commercial 
information. We cannot, for example, consider the economic effects of a 
listing determination. Before finalizing this proposed rule, we will 
consider the comments and any additional information we receive, and 
such information may lead to a final regulation that differs from this 
proposal or result in a withdrawal of this listing proposal. We 
particularly seek:
    (1) Information concerning the threats to the Rhinobatos species 
proposed for listing;
    (2) Taxonomic information on the species;
    (3) Biological information (life history, genetics, population 
connectivity, etc.) on the species;
    (4) Efforts being made to protect the species throughout their 
current ranges;
    (5) Information on the commercial trade of the species;
    (6) Historical and current distribution and abundance and trends 
for the species; and
    (7) Any of the above information on either or both species from the 
following countries, from which we have very little information: 
Morocco, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, 
Equatorial Guinea, S[atilde]o Tom[eacute] and Pr[iacute]ncipe, Republic 
of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Algeria, and 
Syria.
    We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting 
documentation, such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of 
pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter's name, address, and any 
association, institution, or business that the person represents.

Role of Peer Review

    In December 2004, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued 
a Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review establishing a 
minimum peer review standard. We solicited peer review comments on the 
draft common guitarfish and blackchin guitarfish status review report 
(Newell (2016)) from three scientists familiar with both guitarfish 
species. We received and reviewed these peer review comments, and 
incorporated them into both the draft status review report for the 
common guitarfish and blackchin guitarfish and this proposed rule. Peer 
reviewer comments on the draft status review are summarized in the peer 
review report, which is available at: https://www.cio.noaa.gov/services_programs/prplans/PRsummaries.html.

References

    A complete list of references used in this proposed rule is 
available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Classification

National Environmental Policy Act

    The 1982 amendments to the ESA, in section 4(b)(1)(A), restrict the 
information that may be considered when assessing species for listing. 
Based on this limitation of criteria for a listing decision and the 
opinion in Pacific Legal Foundation v. Andrus, 675 F. 2d 825 (6th Cir. 
1981), NMFS has concluded that ESA listing actions are not subject to 
the environmental assessment requirements of the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA).

Executive Order 12866, Regulatory Flexibility Act, and Paperwork 
Reduction Act

    As noted in the Conference Report on the 1982 amendments to the 
ESA, economic impacts cannot be considered when assessing the status of 
a species. Therefore, the economic analysis requirements of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act are not applicable to the listing process. 
In addition, this proposed rule is exempt from review under Executive 
Order 12866. This proposed rule does not contain a collection-of-
information requirement for the purposes of the Paperwork Reduction 
Act.

Executive Order 13132, Federalism

    In accordance with E.O. 13132, we determined that this proposed 
rule does not have significant federalism effects and that a federalism 
assessment is not required. In keeping with the intent of the 
Administration and Congress to provide continuing and meaningful 
dialogue on issues of mutual state and Federal interest, this proposed 
rule will be given to the relevant governmental agencies in the 
countries in which the species occurs, and they will be invited to 
comment. We will confer with the U.S. Department of State to ensure 
appropriate notice is given to all foreign nations within the ranges of 
both species. As the process continues, we

[[Page 64110]]

intend to continue engaging in informal and formal contacts with the 
U.S. State Department, giving careful consideration to all written and 
oral comments received.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 223

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, 
Transportation.

    Dated: September 12, 2016.
Samuel D. Rauch, III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, we propose to amend 50 CFR 
part 223 as follows:

PART 223--THREATENED MARINE AND ANADROMOUS SPECIES

0
1. The authority citation for part 223 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1531-1543; subpart B, Sec.  223.201-202 
also issued under 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.; 16 U.S.C. 5503(d) for 
Sec.  223.206(d)(9).

0
2. In Sec.  223.102, paragraph (e), add entries for two species in 
alphabetical order by common name under the ``Fishes'' table subheading 
to read as follows:


Sec.  223.102  Enumeration of threatened marine and anadromous species.

* * * * *
    (e) * * *

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                           Species \1\
-----------------------------------------------------------------    Citation(s) for      Critical
                                                  Description of         listing          habitat     ESA Rules
         Common  name          Scientific  name   listed entity     determination(s)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Fishes
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
Guitarfish, blackchin........  Rhinobatos        Entire species.  [Federal Register              NA           NA
                                cemiculus.                         citation and date
                                                                   when published as a
                                                                   final rule].
Guitarfish, common...........  Rhinobatos        Entire species.  [Federal Register              NA           NA
                                rhinobatos.                        citation and date
                                                                   when published as a
                                                                   final rule].
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Species includes taxonomic species, subspecies, distinct population segments (DPSs) (for a policy statement,
  see 61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), and evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) (for a policy statement, see 56
  FR 58612, November 20, 1991).

* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2016-22450 Filed 9-16-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P