Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys Along the Oregon and California Coasts, 3727-3737 [2017-00397]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices Estimated Total Annual Burden Hours: 7,226. Estimated Total Annual Cost to Public: $13,841 in recordkeeping/ reporting costs. IV. Request for Comments Comments are invited on: (a) Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information shall have practical utility; (b) the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden (including hours and cost) of the proposed collection of information; (c) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (d) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, including through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology. Comments submitted in response to this notice will be summarized and/or included in the request for OMB approval of this information collection; they also will become a matter of public record. Dated: January 9, 2017. Sarah Brabson, NOAA PRA Clearance Officer. [FR Doc. 2017–00557 Filed 1–11–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF085 Marine Mammals; File Nos. 18059 and 19655 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of applications. AGENCY: Notice is hereby given that David Wiley, Ph.D., Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 175 Edward Foster Road, Scituate, MA 02066 and Adam Pack, Ph.D., University of Hawaii at Hilo, 200 West Kawili Street, Hilo, HI 96720, have applied in due form for permits to conduct scientific research on cetaceans. DATES: Written, telefaxed, or email comments must be received on or before February 13, 2017. ADDRESSES: The applications and related documents are available for review by selecting ‘‘Records Open for Public Comment’’ from the ‘‘Features’’ mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 box on the Applications and Permits for Protected Species (APPS) home page, https://apps.nmfs.noaa.gov, and then selecting File No. 18059 or 19655 from the list of available applications. These documents are also available upon written request or by appointment in the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone (301) 427–8401; fax (301) 713–0376. Written comments on these applications should be submitted to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, at the address listed above. Comments may also be submitted by facsimile to (301) 713–0376, or by email to NMFS.Pr1Comments@noaa.gov. Please include the File No. in the subject line of the email comment. Those individuals requesting a public hearing should submit a written request to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division at the address listed above. The request should set forth the specific reasons why a hearing on these applications would be appropriate. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sara Young or Amy Hapeman (File No. 18059), Carrie Hubard or Shasta McClenahan (File No. 19655), (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The subject permits are requested under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), the regulations governing the taking and importing of marine mammals (50 CFR part 216), the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), and the regulations governing the taking, importing, and exporting of endangered and threatened species (50 CFR 222–226). File No. 18059: The applicant requests a five-year scientific research permit to investigate the foraging ecology, habitat use, physiology, and acoustic and social behavior of humpback (Megaptera noveaeangliae), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), minke (B. acutorostrata), and sei (B. borealis) whales in the Gulf of Maine. Up to 130 adult and juvenile humpbacks, 90 fin, 60 minke, and 70 sei whales would be approached for suction cup tagging, prey mapping, obtaining biological samples including biopsies, and photo ID. Up to 10 humpback calves, 5 fin calves, and 4 sei calves would also be approached for tagging and blow sampling. Up to 690 humpback, 480 fin, 250 minke, and 370 sei whales would be incidentally harassed during this research. PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 3727 File No. 19655: The applicant proposes to study humpback whales and other cetacean species in the waters off the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska. Research methods include passive acoustics, photo-identification, photogrammetry, opportunistic collection of fecal and skin samples, and remote biopsy sampling. A subset of humpback whales would also receive suction cup tags. Other endangered species targeted for study include: Blue (B. musculus), bowhead (Balaena mysticetus), fin, North Pacific right (Eubalaena japonica), sei, and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and the Main Hawaiian Insular stock of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens). An additional 21 marine mammal species would also be studied. The objectives of the research are to continue the long-term population study of the behavior, biology, and communication systems of humpback whales and other cetaceans. Specific topics to be investigated include individual life histories, social roles, migration, habitat use, distribution, and evolution of humpback song. The permit would be valid for five years. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), an initial determination has been made that the activities proposed are categorically excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. Concurrent with the publication of this notice in the Federal Register, NMFS is forwarding copies of the applications to the Marine Mammal Commission and its Committee of Scientific Advisors. Dated: January 6, 2017. Julia Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–00472 Filed 1–11–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF084 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Surveys Along the Oregon and California Coasts National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. AGENCY: E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 3728 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices Background Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. ACTION: NMFS has received an application from the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Study of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring surveys. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to PISCO to incidentally take, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals during the specified activity. SUMMARY: Comments and information must be received no later than February 13, 2017. DATES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is ITP.Pauline@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION), or online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental/research.htm. PISCO’s 2016–17 monitoring report can also be found at this Web site. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES ADDRESSES: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Pauline, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking, other means of effecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘. . . an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: ‘‘any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment).’’ Summary of Request On September 23, 2016 NMFS received an application from PISCO for the taking of marine mammals incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring surveys along the Oregon and California coasts. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on October 9, 2016. NMFS has previously issued four IHAs for this ongoing project (77 FR 72327, December 5, 2012; 78 FR 79403, December 30, 2013; 79 FR 73048, December 9, 2014; 81 FR 7319, February 2, 2016). The research group at UC Santa Cruz operates in collaboration with two largescale marine research programs: PISCO and the Multi-agency Rocky Intertidal PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Network (MARINe). The research group at UC Santa Cruz (PISCO) is responsible for many of the ongoing rocky intertidal monitoring programs along the Pacific coast. Monitoring occurs at rocky intertidal sites, often large bedrock benches, from the high intertidal to the water’s edge. Long-term monitoring projects include Community Structure Monitoring, Intertidal Biodiversity Surveys, Marine Protected Area Baseline Monitoring, Intertidal Recruitment Monitoring, and Ocean Acidification. Research is conducted throughout the year along the California and Oregon coasts and will continue indefinitely. Most sites are sampled one to two times per year over a 4–6 hour period during a negative low tide series. This IHA, if issued, would be effective for a 12-month period. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Presence of survey personnel near pinniped haulout sites and unintentional approach of survey personnel towards hauled out pinnipeds. Take, by Level B harassment only, of individuals of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii), and northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) is anticipated to result from the specified activity. Description of the Specified Activity Overview PISCO proposes to continue rocky intertidal monitoring work that has been ongoing for 20 years. PISCO focuses on understanding the nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. west coast through a number of interdisciplinary collaborations. The program integrates long-term monitoring of ecological and oceanographic processes at dozens of sites with experimental work in the lab and field. A short description of project components is found below. Additional information can be found in PISCO’s application (see ADDRESSES). Dates and Duration PISCO’s research is conducted throughout the year. Most sites are sampled one to two times per year over a 1-day period (4–6 hours per site) during a negative low tide series. Due to the large number of research sites, scheduling constraints, the necessity for negative low tides and favorable weather/ocean conditions, exact survey dates are variable and difficult to predict. Some sampling may occur in all months. E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices Specified Geographic Region Sampling sites occur along the California and Oregon coasts. Community Structure Monitoring sites range from Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Oregon to Government Point located northwest of Santa Barbara, California. Biodiversity Survey sites extend from Ecola State Park south to Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego County, California. Exact locations of sampling sites can be found in Tables 1 and 2 of PISCO’s application. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES Detailed Description of Activities Community Structure Monitoring involves the use of permanent photoplot quadrats which target specific algal and invertebrate assemblages (e.g. mussels, rockweeds, barnacles). Each photoplot is photographed and scored for percent cover. The Community Structure Monitoring approach is based largely on surveys that quantify the percent cover and distribution of algae and invertebrates that constitute these communities. This approach allows researchers to quantify both the patterns of abundance of targeted species, as well as characterize changes in the communities in which they reside. Such information provides managers with insight into the causes and consequences of changes in species abundance. There are 47 Community Structure sites, each of which is surveyed over a 1-day period during a low tide series one to two times a year. Biodiversity Surveys are part of a long-term monitoring project and are conducted every 3–5 years across 140 established sites. Note that many, but not all, of the 47 Community Structure sites are also Biodiversity Survey sites. Thirty-eight of the Community Structure sites are utilized for Biodiversity Surveys, leaving nine sites that are only Biodiversity Survey locations. These Biodiversity Surveys involve point contact identification along permanent transects, mobile invertebrate quadrat counts, sea star band counts, and tidal height topographic measurements. Sixteen Biodiversity Survey sites will be visited as part of this proposed IHA including Point Arena, Saunders Reef, Del Mar Landing, Gerstle Cove, Chimney Rock, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Ano Nuevo, Diablo, Jajolla Caves, Sea Ridge, Point Sierra Nevada, Cayucos, Hazards, Stairs, Treasure Island, and Cabrillo Zone III. Four of the Biodiversity Survey sites are also Community Structure sites, leaving 12 sites that are only Biodiversity Survey sites. As such, a total of 59 sites would be visited under the proposed IHA. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 The intertidal zones where PISCO conducts intertidal monitoring are also areas where pinnipeds can be found hauled out on the shore at or adjacent to some research sites. Pinnipeds are likely to be observed at 17 out of the 59 survey sites. Accessing portions of the intertidal habitat at these locations may cause incidental Level B (behavioral) harassment of pinnipeds through some unavoidable approaches if pinnipeds are hauled out directly in the study plots or while biologists walk from one location to another. No motorized equipment is involved in conducting these surveys. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Several pinniped species can be found along the California and Oregon coasts. The three that are most likely to occur at some of the research sites are California sea lion, harbor seal, and northern elephant seal. PISCO researchers have seen very small numbers (i.e., five or fewer) of Steller sea lions at one of the sampling sites. However, these sightings are extremely rare. We refer the public to Carretta et al. (2016) for general information on these species, which are presented below this section. The publication is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/ species.htm. Additional information on the status, distribution, seasonal distribution, and life history can also be found in PISCO’s application. 3729 et al., 1994). The population began increasing in the early 1900s and progressively colonized southern and central California through the 1980s (Reeves et al., 2002). According to the 2015 Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, the minimum population size of the California stock is 81,368 individuals and the estimated population size is 179,000 (Carretta et al., 2016, Lowry et al., 2014). This species has grown at 3.8 percent annually since 1988 (Lowry et al., 2014). Northern elephant seals are not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are not a strategic species nor considered depleted under the MMPA. The most recent monitoring report (2016) recorded four takes of elephant seals. Thirty takes were authorized under the IHA. All were recorded at Piedras Blancas. California Sea Lions California sea lions are distributed along the west coast of North America from British Columbia to Baja California and throughout the Gulf of California. Breeding occurs on offshore islands along the west coast of Baja California and the Gulf of California as well as on the California Channel Islands. There are three recognized California sea lion stocks (U.S. stock, Western Baja stock, and the Gulf of California stock) with the U.S. stock ranging from the U.S./ Mexico border into Canada. Although there is some movement between stocks, U.S. rookeries are considered to be isolated from rookeries off of Baja Northern Elephant Seal California (Barlow et al., 1995). California sea lions were hunted for Northern elephant seals range widely several thousand years by indigenous throughout the eastern Pacific for most peoples and early hunters. In the early of the year to forage. They return to 1900s, sea lions were killed in an effort haul-out locations along the west coast to reduce competition with commercial of the continental United States fisheries. They were also hunted including the Channel Islands, the commercially from the 1920–1940s. central California coast, and islands off Following the passage of the Marine of Baja California to breed and molt. Breeding occurs from December through Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972, as well as limits on killing and early spring, with males returning to harassment in Mexico, the population haul-out locations earlier than females has rapidly increased (Reeves et al., to establish dominance hierarchies. 2002). Declines is pup production did Molting occurs from late April to occur during the 1983–84, 1992–93, August, with juveniles and adult ˜ 1997–98, and 2003 El Nino events, but females returning earlier than adult ˜ production returned to pre- El Nino males (Reeves et al., 2002). Due to very levels within 2–5 years (Carretta et al., little movement between colonies in 2016). In 2013, NOAA declared an Mexico and those in California, the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) due to California population is considered to be a separate stock (Carretta et al., 2010). the elevated number of sea lion pup strandings in southern California. The This species was hunted by indigenous peoples for several thousand cause of this event is thought to be nutritional stress related to declines in years and by commercial sealers in the 1800s. By the late 1800s the species was prey availability. This UME has continued through 2016 (NMFS 2016). thought to be extinct, although several According to the 2015 Pacific Marine were seen on Guadalupe Island in the Mammal Stock Assessment, California 1880s and a few dozen to several hundred survived off of Mexico (Stewart sea lions have a minimum population PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 3730 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices size of 153,337 individuals and the population is estimated to number 296,750 (Carretta et al., 2016). This species is not listed under the ESA and is not a strategic species nor considered depleted under the MMPA. The number of California sea lions historically found at any one of PISCO’s study sites is variable, and often no California sea lions are observed during sampling. The most recent monitoring report (2016) reported 19 takes of this species. All takes occurred at Government Point. A total of 60 takes were authorized under the IHA. Pacific Harbor Seal Pacific harbor seals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The most recent census of the California stock of harbor seals occurred in 2012 during which 20,109 hauled-out harbor seals were counted. A 1999 census of the Oregon/Washington harbor seal stock found 16,165 individuals, of which 5,735 were in Oregon (Carretta et al., 2016). The population is estimated to number 30,968 individuals in California and 24,732 individuals in Oregon/ Washington (Carretta et al., 2016). At several sites harbor seals are often observed and have the potential to be disturbed by researchers accessing or sampling the site. The largest number of harbor seals occurs at Hopkins in Monterey, CA where often 20–30 adults and occasionally 10–15 pups are hauled-out on a small beach adjacent to the site. The animals inhabit near-shore coastal and estuarine areas from Baja California, Mexico, to the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Pacific harbor seals are divided into two subspecies: P. v. stejnegeri in the western North Pacific, near Japan, and P. v. richardii in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The latter subspecies, recognized as three separate stocks, inhabits the west coast of the continental U.S., including: The outer coastal waters of Oregon and Washington states; Washington state inland waters; and Alaska coastal and inland waters. In California, over 500 harbor seal haulout sites are widely distributed along the mainland and offshore islands, and include rocky shores, beaches and intertidal sandbars (Lowry et al., 2005). Harbor seals mate at sea, and females give birth during the spring and summer, although, the pupping season varies with latitude. Pups are nursed for an average of 24 days and are ready to swim minutes after being born. Harbor seal pupping takes place at many locations, and rookery size varies from a few pups to many hundreds of pups. Pupping generally occurs between March and June, and molting occurs between May and July. At several sites, harbor seals are often observed and have the potential to be disturbed by researchers accessing or sampling the site. The most recent monitoring report (2016) described a total of 44 takes of harbor seals. A total of 183 takes had been authorized under the IHA. Steller Sea Lion Steller sea lions range throughout the north Pacific from Japan to the Kamchatka Peninsula, along the Aleutian Islands, into the Gulf of Alaska, and down the west coast of North America to central California. Based on distribution, population dynamics, and genotypic data, the species occurring in United States waters has been divided into two stocks, the eastern U.S. stock (east of Cape Suckling, AK) and the western U.S. stock (west of Cape Sucking, AK) (Loughlin 1997). Breeding of the eastern stock occurs in rookeries in Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. This species was hunted by indigenous peoples for several thousand years throughout its range and as recently as the 1990s in the Aleutian Islands. Individuals from British Columbia to California were also killed in the early 1900s to reduce competition with commercial fisheries. The species dramatically declined from the 1970s to 1990s due to competition with commercial fishing and long-term environmental changes (Reeves et al., 2002). There has also been a continued decrease in population numbers along the southern and central California coast possibly due to a northward shift, and subsequent southern contraction in breeding locations (Pitcher et al., 2007). According to the 2015 Alaska Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, the minimum population size of the eastern U.S stock is 59,968 and the estimated population size is between 60,131 and 74,480 individuals (Muto et al., 2016). In 1990, due to accelerating declines across its range, the species was listed as threatened under the ESA. In 2013, the eastern U.S. stock was determined to be recovered and was delisted from the ESA (NMFS 2013) and is, therefore, no longer a strategic species under the MMPA. Past monitoring reports have not typically reported Steller sea lion observations. However, in 2009 five Steller sea lions were observed at the Cape Arago, OR site. TABLE 1—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE VICINITY OF STUDY AREAS ESA/MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 Scientific name Stock California sea lion ...... Steller sea lion ........... Harbor seal ................ Zalophus californianus Eumetopias jubatus ... Phoca vitulina richardii Northern elephant seal. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES Species Mirounga angustirostris. U.S. ............................ Eastern U.S. .............. California/Oregon/ Washington. California breeding stock. -; N ............................. D; Y ............................ -; N ............................. -; N ............................. Stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 296,750 (n/a; 153,337; 2011). 60,131–74,448 (n/a; 36,551; 2013). 30,968 (0.157; 27,348; 2012 [CA])/ 24,732 (n/a; n/a [OR/WA].3 179,000 (n/a; 81,368; 2010). 1 ESA status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. 2 CV is coefficient of variation; N min is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not applicable. For certain stocks of pinnipeds, abundance estimates are based upon observations of animals (often pups) ashore multiplied by some correction factor derived from knowledge of the specie’s (or similar species’) life history to arrive at a best abundance estimate; therefore, there is no associated CV. In these cases, the minimum abundance may represent actual counts of all animals ashore. 3 The most recent abundance estimate is >8 years old, there is no current estimate of abundance available for this stock. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) and Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are occasionally observed within the rage of the study areas. However, Guadalupe fur seals only known breeding colony is on Guadalupe Island, off the Mexican coast. Increasing numbers have been seen on California’s Channel Islands, and in recent years, several Guadalupe fur seals have stranded along the central California coast. Northern fur seals have recently re-established a rookery on the Farallon Islands. They rarely come ashore except during pupping and breeding times and are almost never seen on mainland beaches unless they are sick. Given that the likelihood of observing these two fur seal species is quite low, they are not considered further. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., personnel presence) have been observed to impact marine mammals. This discussion may also include reactions that we consider to rise to the level of a take and those that we do not consider to rise to the level of a take. This section is intended as a background of potential effects and does not consider either the specific manner in which this activity will be carried out or the mitigation that will be implemented, and how either of those will shape the anticipated impacts from this specific activity. The appearance of researchers may have the potential to cause Level B harassment of any pinnipeds hauled out at sampling sites. Although marine mammals are never deliberately approached by survey personnel, approach may be unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out in the immediate vicinity of the permanent study plots. Disturbance may result in reactions ranging from an animal simply becoming alert to the presence of researchers (e.g., turning the head, assuming a more upright posture) to flushing from the haul-out site into the water. NMFS does not consider the lesser reactions to constitute behavioral harassment, or Level B harassment takes, but rather assumes that pinnipeds that flee some distance or change the speed or direction of their movement in response to the presence of researchers are behaviorally harassed, and thus subject to Level B taking. Animals that respond to the presence of researchers VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 by becoming alert, but do not move or change the nature of locomotion as described, are not considered to have been subject to behavioral harassment (Table 2). Numerous studies have shown that human activity can flush harbor seals off haulout sites (Allen et al., 1985; Calambokidis et al., 1991; Suryan and Harvey, 1999). The Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi) has been shown to avoid beaches that have been disturbed often by humans (Kenyon 1972). And in one case, human disturbance appeared to cause Steller sea lions to desert a breeding area at Northeast Point on St. Paul Island, Alaska (Kenyon 1962). There are three ways in which disturbance, as described previously, could result in more than Level B harassment of marine mammals. All three are most likely to be consequences of stampeding, a potentially dangerous occurrence in which large numbers of animals succumb to mass panic and rush away from a stimulus. The three situations are (1) falling when entering the water at high-relief locations; (2) extended separation of mothers and pups; and (3) crushing of elephant seal pups by large males during a stampede. Because hauled-out animals may move towards the water when disturbed, there is the risk of injury if animals stampede towards shorelines with precipitous relief (e.g., cliffs). If disturbed, hauled-out animals in these situations may move toward the water without risk of encountering barriers or hazards that would otherwise prevent them from leaving the area. In these circumstances, the risk of injury, serious injury, or death to hauled-out animals is very low. Thus, research activity poses no risk that disturbed animals may fall and be injured or killed as a result of disturbance at high-relief locations. Furthermore, few pups are anticipated to be encountered during the proposed monitoring surveys. A small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal and California sea lion pups, however, have been observed during past years. Though elephant seal pups are occasionally present when researchers visit survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two species. Harbor seals are very precocious with only a short period of time in which separation of a mother from a pup could occur. Pups are also typically found on sand beaches, while study sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution used by researchers in PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 3731 approaching sites generally precludes the possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat The only habitat modification associated with the proposed activity is the placement of permanent bolts and other sampling equipment in the intertidal. Once a particular study has ended, the respective sampling equipment is removed. No trash or field gear is left at a site. Sampling activities are also not expected to result in any long-term modifications of haulout use or abandonment of haulouts since these sites are only visited 1–2 times per year, which minimizes repeated disturbances. During periods of low tide (e.g., when tides are 0.6 m (2 ft) or less and low enough for pinnipeds to haul-out), we would expect the pinnipeds to return to the haulout site within 60 minutes of the disturbance (Allen et al., 1985). The effects to pinnipeds appear at the most to displace the animals temporarily from their haul out sites, and we do not expect that the pinnipeds would permanently abandon a haul-out site during the conduct of rocky intertidal surveys. Thus, the proposed activity is not expected to have any habitat-related effects that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). Proposed Mitigation Measures PISCO proposes to implement several mitigation measures to reduce potential take by Level B (behavioral disturbance) harassment. Measures include the following: • When possible, researchers will observe a site from a distance with binoculars to detect any marine mammals prior to approaching the site. Researchers will approach a site with caution (slowly and quietly) to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce stampeding of individuals towards the water. E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 3732 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices • If possible to avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites, by locating and taking a different access way, researchers will do so. Researchers will keep a safe distance from and not approach any marine mammal while conducting research, unless it is absolutely necessary to flush a marine mammal in order to continue conducting research (i.e. if a site cannot be accessed or sampled due to the presence of pinnipeds). • Researches will monitor the offshore area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters. Note that PISCO has never observed an offshore predator while researchers were present at any of the survey sites. • Intentional flushing will be avoided if pups are present and nursing pups will not be disturbed. • To avoid take of Steller sea lions, any site where they are present will not be approached and will be sampled at a later date. Note that observation of sea lions at survey sites is extremely rare. • Researchers will promptly vacate sites at the conclusion of sampling. The methodologies and actions noted in this section will be utilized and included as mitigation measures in any issued IHA to ensure that impacts to marine mammals are mitigated to the lowest level practicable. The primary method of mitigating the risk of disturbance to pinnipeds, which will be in use at all times, is the selection of judicious routes of approach to study sites, avoiding close contact with pinnipeds hauled out on shore, and the use of extreme caution upon approach. Each visit to a given study site will last for approximately 4–6 hours, after which the site is vacated and can be reoccupied by any marine mammals that may have been disturbed by the presence of researchers. By arriving before low tide, worker presence will tend to encourage pinnipeds to move to other areas for the day before they haul out and settle onto rocks at low tide. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully reviewed PISCO’s proposed mitigation measures to ensure these measures would have the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure is VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; • The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and • The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed below: 1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). 2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only). 5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/ disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time. 6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation—an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation. Based on our evaluation of the applicant’s proposed measures, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must, where applicable, set forth ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.’’ The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. PISCO has described their long-standing monitoring actions in Section 13 of the Application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information received from the public during the public comment period. Monitoring measures proposed by the applicant or prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following general goals: 1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, abundance, distribution, and/or density of species. 2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are likely to be exposed to levels of disturbance that we associate with specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment; 3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond to stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse effects on individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may impact the population, species, or stock (specifically through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the following methods: D Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); D Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); D Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli; 4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; and 5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain mitigation and monitoring measures. E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices PISCO will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in California and Oregon by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag-bearing carcasses of pinnipeds, allowing transmittal of the information to appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of marine mammals for agency follow-up. Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to PISCO’s rocky intertidal monitoring will include observations made by the applicant. Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles when possible) of animals present before approaching, numbers of observed 3733 disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance behaviors during the monitoring surveys, including location, date, and time of the event. For consistency, any reactions by pinnipeds to researchers will be recorded according to a three point scale shown in Table 2. Note that only observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 should be recorded as takes. TABLE 2—LEVELS OF PINNIPED BEHAVIORAL DISTURBANCE Type of response Definition 1 ............. Alert ........................... 2 ............. Movement .................. 3 ............. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES Level Flush .......................... Seal head orientation or brief movement in response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped position, changing from a lying to a sitting position, or brief movement of less than twice the animal’s body length. Movements away from the source of disturbance, ranging from short withdrawals at least twice the animal’s body length to longer retreats over the beach, or if already moving a change of direction of greater than 90 degrees. All retreats (flushes) to the water. In addition, observations regarding the number and species of any marine mammals observed, either in the water or hauled-out, at or adjacent to a site, are recorded as part of field observations during research activities. Information regarding physical and biological conditions pertaining to a site, as well as the date and time that research was conducted are also noted. This information will be incorporated into a monitoring report for NMFS. If at any time the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, PISCO shall immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following information: (1) Time and date of the incident; (2) Description of the incident; (3) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (4) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (5) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (6) Fate of the animal(s); and (7) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. PISCO may not resume the activities until notified by NMFS. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), PISCO shall immediately report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in the paragraph above IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), PISCO shall report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. PISCO shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2016–2017 field season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new IHA will be requested. The report will include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 IHA. A final report must be submitted to the Director of the NMFS Office of Protected Resources and to the NMFS West Coast Regional Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be considered to be the final report. Monitoring Results From Previously Authorized Activities PISCO complied with the mitigation and monitoring that were required under the IHA issued in December 2014. In compliance with the IHA, PISCO submitted a report detailing the activities and marine mammal monitoring they conducted. The IHA required PISCO to conduct counts of pinnipeds present at study sites prior to approaching the sites and to record species counts and any observed reactions to the presence of the researchers. From December 17, 2014, through December 16, 2015, PISCO researchers conducted rocky intertidal sampling at numerous sites in California and Oregon (see Table 1 and 2 in PISCO’s 2014– 2015 monitoring report). During this time period, no injured, stranded, or dead pinnipeds were observed. Tables 7, 8, and 9 in PISCO’s monitoring report (see ADDRESSES) outline marine mammal observations and reactions. During this period there were 44 takes of harbor seals, 19 takes of California sea lions, and 4 takes of northern elephant seals. NMFS had authorized the take of 183 harbor seals, 60 California sea lions, and 30 Northern Elephant seals under the IHA. Based on the results from the monitoring report, we conclude that E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 3734 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES these results support our original findings that the mitigation measures set forth in the 2014–2015 IHA effected the least practicable impact on the species or stocks. There were no stampede events this year and most disturbances were Level 1 and 2 from the disturbance scale (Table 2)—meaning the animal did not fully flush but observed or moved slightly in response to researchers. Those that did fully flush to the water did so slowly. Most of these animals tended to observe researchers from the water and then re-haulout farther upcoast or downcoast of the site within approximately 30 minutes of the disturbance. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment). All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment, involving temporary changes in behavior. The proposed mitigation and monitoring measures are expected to minimize the possibility of injurious or lethal takes such that take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is considered remote. Animals hauled out close to the actual survey sites may be disturbed by the presence of researchers and may alter their behavior or attempt to move away from the researchers. As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been harassed if it moved greater than two times its body length in response to the researcher’s presence or if the animal was already moving and changed direction and/or speed, or if the animal flushed into the water. Animals that became alert without such movements were not considered harassed. For the purpose of this proposed IHA, only Oregon and California sites that are frequently sampled and have a marine mammal presence during sampling were included in calculating take estimates. Sites where only Biodiversity Surveys are conducted did not provide enough data to confidently estimate takes since they are sampled infrequently (once very 3–5 years). A small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal and California sea lion pup takes are VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 anticipated as pups may be present at several sites during spring and summer sampling. Take estimates are based on marine mammal observations from each site. Marine mammal observations are done as part of PISCO site observations, which include notes on physical and biological conditions at the site. The maximum number of marine mammals, by species, seen at any given time throughout the sampling day is recorded at the conclusion of sampling. A marine mammal is counted if it is seen on access ways to the site, at the site, or immediately up-coast or down-coast of the site. Marine mammals in the water immediately offshore are also recorded. Any other relevant information, including the location of a marine mammal relevant to the site, any unusual behavior, and the presence of pups is also noted. These observations formed the basis from which researchers with extensive knowledge and experience at each site estimated the actual number of marine mammals that may be subject to take. Take estimates for each species for which take would be authorized were based on the following equation: Take estimate per survey site = (number of expected animals per survey site * number of survey days per survey site) Individual species’ totals for each survey site were summed to arrive at a total estimated take. In most cases the number of takes is based on the maximum number of marine mammals that have been observed at a site throughout the history of the site (1–3 observation per year for 5–10 years or more) with additional input provided by the researchers with site-specific knowledge and experience. Section 6 in PISCO’s application outlines the number of visits per year for each sampling site and the potential number of pinnipeds anticipated to be encountered at each site. Tables 3, 4, 5 in PISCO’s application outlines the number of potential takes per site (see ADDRESSES). Harbor seals are expected to occur at 16 locations in numbers ranging from 5 to 30 per visit (Table 3 in PISCO’s application). It is anticipated that there will be 220 takes of adult harbor seals and 13 takes of weaned pups. Therefore, NMFS proposes to authorize the take of up to 233 harbor seals. California sea lions are expected to be present at five sites. Eighty-five adult and five pups are expected to be taken. Therefore, NMFS proposes to authorize the take of 90 California sea lions. Northern elephant seals are only expected to occur at one site this year, PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Piedras Blancs, which will experience two separate visits. Up to 20 adult and 40 pup takes are anticipated. Therefore, NMFS proposes to authorize the take of up to 60 northern elephant seals. PISCO researchers report that they have very rarely observed Stellers at any research sites and none have been observed over the last several years. Therefore, PISCO has not requested, and NMFS does not propose to authorize, take of any Steller sea lions. NMFS proposes to authorize the take, by Level B harassment only, of 203 harbor seals, 90 California sea lions, and 60 northern elephant seals. These numbers are considered to be maximum take estimates; therefore, actual take may be less if animals decide to haul out at a different location for the day or animals are out foraging at the time of the survey activities. Analysis and Preliminary Determinations Negligible Impact Analysis Negligible impact is ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival’’ (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through behavioral harassment, NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, feeding, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the species. To avoid repetition, the discussion of our analyses applies generally to the three species for which take is authorized, given that the anticipated effects of these surveys on marine mammals are expected to be relatively similar in nature. Where there are species-specific factors that have been considered, they are identified below. No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of PISCO’s rocky intertidal monitoring, and none are proposed to be authorized. The risk of marine mammal injury, serious injury, or mortality associated E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 3735 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices with rocky intertidal monitoring increases somewhat if disturbances occur during breeding season. These situations present increased potential for mothers and dependent pups to become separated and, if separated pairs do not quickly reunite, the risk of mortality to pups (through starvation) may increase. Separately, adult male elephant seals may trample elephant seal pups if disturbed, which could potentially result in the injury, serious injury, or mortality of the pups. The risk of either of these situations is greater in the event of a stampede; however, as described previously, stampede is not considered likely to occur. Very few pups are anticipated to be encountered during the proposed monitoring surveys. However, a small number of harbor seal, northern elephant seal and California sea lion pups have been observed at several of the proposed monitoring sites during past years. Harbor seals are very precocious with only a short period of time in which separation of a mother from a pup could occur. Though elephant seal pups are occasionally present when researchers visit survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is very low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence than the other two species. Further, pups are typically found on sand beaches, while study sites are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes the possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups. No research would occur where separation of mother and her nursing pup or crushing of pups can become a concern. Typically, even those reactions constituting Level B harassment would result at most in temporary, short-term disturbance. In any given study season, researchers will visit sites one to two times per year for a total of 4–6 hours per visit. Therefore, disturbance of pinnipeds resulting from the presence of researchers lasts only for short periods of time and is separated by significant amounts of time in which no disturbance occurs. Some of the pinniped species may use some of the sites during certain times of year to conduct pupping and/or breeding. However, some of these species prefer to use offshore islands for these activities. At the sites where pups may be present, PISCO has proposed to implement certain mitigation measures, such as no intentional flushing if dependent pups are present, which will avoid mother/pup separation and trampling of pups. Of the marine mammal species anticipated to occur in the proposed activity areas, none are listed under the ESA. Taking into account the mitigation measures that are planned, effects to marine mammals are generally expected to be restricted to short-term changes in behavior or temporary abandonment of haulout sites, Pinnipeds are not expected to permanently abandon any area that is surveyed by researchers, as is evidenced by continued presence of pinnipeds at the sites during annual monitoring counts. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from PISCO’s rocky intertidal monitoring program will not adversely affect annual rates of recruitment or survival and therefore will have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks. Small Numbers Table 3 presents the abundance of each species or stock, the proposed take estimates, and the percentage of the affected populations or stocks that may be taken by Level B harassment.The numbers of animals authorized to be taken would be considered small relative to the relevant stocks or populations (0.75–0.94 percent for harbor seals, and <0.01 percent for California sea lions and northern elephant seals). Because these are maximum estimates, actual take numbers are likely to be lower, as some animals may not be present on survey days. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. TABLE 3—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN FOR THE POTENTIALLY AFFECTED SPECIES DURING THE PROPOSED ROCKY INTERTIDAL MONITORING PROGRAM Species Total proposed level B take Abundance * Harbor seal ...................................................................................................................... 1 30,968 233 Percentage of stock or population <0.75–0.94 2 24,732 California sea lion ............................................................................................................ Northern elephant seal .................................................................................................... 296,750 179,000 90 60 <0.01 <0.01 mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES * Abundance estimates are taken from the 2015 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (Carretta et al., 2016). 1 California stock abundance estimate. 2 Oregon/Washington stock abundance estimate from 1999–Most recent surveys. Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not Endangered Species Act (ESA) VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 No species listed under the ESA are expected to be affected by these activities. Therefore, NMFS has PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 determined that a section 7 consultation under the ESA is not required. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) In 2012, we prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the potential effects to the human environment from conducting E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 3736 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES rocky intertidal surveys along the California and Oregon coasts and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an IHA for PISCO’s rocky intertidal surveys in accordance with section 6.01 of the NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). We will review activities and impacts from the 2012 EA to determine if the proposed activities fall within the scope of the EA. We will also review any public comments submitted concerning the 2012 EA. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to PISCO for conducting rocky intertidal monitoring research activities in California and Oregon between February 3, 2017 and February 2, 2018, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next. This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if issued). 1. This IHA is valid from February 3, 2017 through February 2, 2018. 2. This IHA is valid only for specified activities associated with rocky intertidal monitoring surveys at specific sites along the U.S. California and Oregon coasts. 3. General Conditions. a. A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of personnel operating under the authority of this authorization. b. The incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, is limited to the following species along the Oregon and California coasts: i. 203 harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii); ii. 90 California sea lion (Zalophus californianus); iii. 60 northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris); and c. The taking by injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or death of any of the species listed in condition 3(b) of the IHA or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. 4. Mitigation Measures: The holder of this IHA is required to implement the following mitigation measures: a. Researchers will observe a site from a distance with binoculars (if necessary) to detect any marine mammals prior to approaching the site. Researchers will VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 approach a site with caution (slowly and quietly) to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce stampeding of individuals towards the water. b. Researchers will avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites, by locating and taking a different access way if possible. c. Researchers will keep a safe distance from and not approach any marine mammal while conducting research, unless it is absolutely necessary to flush a marine mammal in order to continue conducting research (i.e. if a site cannot be accessed or sampled due to the presence of pinnipeds). d. Researches will monitor the offshore area for predators (such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters. e. Intentional flushing will be avoided if pups are present. Staff shall reschedule work at sites where pups are present, unless other means of accomplishing the work can be done without causing disturbance to mothers and dependent pups. f. Any site where Steller sea lions are present will not be approached and will be sampled at a later date. g. Personnel shall vacate the study area as soon as sampling of the site is completed. 5. Monitoring: The holder of this IHA is required to conduct monitoring of marine mammals present at study sites prior to approaching the sites. a. Information to be recorded shall include the following: i. Species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles); and ii. Numbers of disturbances, by species and age, according to a threepoint scale of intensity including: (1) seal head orientation or brief movement in response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped position, changing from a lying to a sitting position, or brief movement of less than twice the animal’s body length, ‘‘alert’’; (2) movements away from the source of disturbance, ranging from short withdrawals at least twice the animal’s body length to longer retreats over the beach, or if already moving a change of direction of greater than 90 degrees, ‘‘movement’’; and (3) all retreats (flushes) to the water, ‘‘flush’’. iii. Observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 are recorded as takes. PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 6. Reporting: The holder of this IHA is required to: a. Report observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds, or of tag-bearing carcasses, to NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). b. Submit a draft monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2015–2016 field season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new IHA will be requested. A final report shall be prepared and submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report from NMFS. This report must contain the informational elements described above, at minimum. c. Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: i. In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, PISCO shall immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following information: (1) Time and date of the incident; (2) Description of the incident; (3) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (4) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (5) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (6) Fate of the animal(s); and (7) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. PISCO may not resume the activities until notified by NMFS. ii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), PISCO shall immediately report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in 6(c)(i) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 8 / Thursday, January 12, 2017 / Notices incident. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. iii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), PISCO shall report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. PISCO shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. 7. This IHA may be modified, suspended or withdrawn if the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if NMFS determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals. Request for Public Comments NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for PISCO’s proposed rocky intertidal monitoring program. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on PISCO’s request for an MMPA authorization. Dated: January 5, 2017. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–00397 Filed 1–11–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF147 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of a public meeting. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES AGENCY: The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) will hold a four-day meeting to consider actions affecting the Gulf of Mexico SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:28 Jan 11, 2017 Jkt 241001 fisheries in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). DATES: The meeting will take place on Monday, January 30 through Thursday, February 2, 2017. ADDRESSES: The meeting will be held at the Astor Crowne Plaza hotel, located at 739 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA; telephone: (504) 962–0500. Council address: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, 2203 N. Lois Avenue, Suite 1100, Tampa, FL 33607; telephone: (813) 348–1630. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Douglas Gregory, Executive Director, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council; telephone: (813) 348–1630. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Agenda Monday, January 30, 2017; 8:30 a.m.– 5:30 p.m. The Administrative/Budget Committee will conduct a review of advisory panels; and discuss the Council’s future participation at Marine Resource Educational Program (MREP) Workshops. The Data Collection Management Committee will receive a presentation update on Collection Location Satellites’ (CLS) America Project. The Committee will review the Final Action—Modifications to Generic Charter Vessel and Headboat Reporting Requirements in the Gulf of Mexico; and review Final Action—South Atlantic Council’s modifications to Charter Vessel and Headboat Reporting Requirements. The Migratory Species Management Committee will receive an overview of the management of Highly Migratory Species (HMS); and receive a report from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Portugal. The Spiny Lobster Management Committee will discuss draft options for Framework Amendment 1. The Joint Coral/Habitat Protection & Restoration Committees will receive a presentation on the Biology of Corals; and review a revised scoping draft for Coral Amendment 7. The Shrimp Management Committee will review the public hearing draft for Shrimp Amendment 17B. Tuesday, January 31, 2017; 8:30 a.m.– 5:30 p.m. The Reef Fish Management Committee will receive an update on the SEDAR Gag Assessment; receive a summary from the Joint Ad Hoc Red Snapper Charter Vessel and Ad Hoc Reef Fish Headboat Advisory Panels (AP) meeting. The committee will review public hearing drafts for Amendment 44—Minimum Stock Size PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 3737 Threshold (MSST) for Reef Fish Stocks, Public Hearing Draft of Amendment 36A—Modifications to Commercial Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) programs, and Public Hearing Draft of Amendment 46—Gray Triggerfish Rebuilding Plan. The committee will review and discuss the Gulf Anglers Focus Group Report; receive a presentation and Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) report on the mechanism to carry over the unharvested Red Snapper Annual Catch Limit (ACL) to the following season; Preliminary 2016 Red Snapper For-Hire Landings Relative to ACL; receive a presentation on Amendment 36B— Commercial Reef Fish IFQ Modifications, and review Options Paper for Amendment 47—Modify Vermillion Snapper ACLs and Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) Proxy. Wednesday, February 1, 2017; 8 a.m.– 5:30 p.m. The Reef Fish Management Committee will review a draft Framework Action—Mutton Snapper ACL and Management Measures and Gag Commercial Size Limit and Standing and Reef Fish SSC Summary. Under Other Business the committee will discuss the 2017 recreational fishing season for greater amberjack. The Mackerel Committee will review Final Action—CMP Amendment 29— Allocation Sharing and Accountability Measures for Gulf King Mackerel; review of CMP AP meeting and public hearing comments; and review SSC discussion of updated Gulf King Mackerel. The Full Council will convene midmorning (approximately 10:45 a.m.) with a Call to Order, Announcements, Introductions; Adoption of Agenda and Approval of Minutes; and review of Exempt Fishing Permit (EFPs) Applications, if any. The Council will receive presentations on revisions to National Standard 1 Guidelines, Law Enforcement Report on Fiscal 2016 Maritime Boundary Line Activities, and Commercial Fishing Vessel Classification Standards. After lunch, the Council will receive a presentation from the Louisiana Law Enforcement Agency. The Council will receive public testimony from 2:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. on the following agenda testimony items: Final Action on Generic Amendment to Require Electronic Reporting For-Hire Vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, Final Action on Coastal Migratory Pelagics Amendment 29: King Mackerel Allocation Sharing and Recreational Accountability Measures; and on Final Action—South Atlantic E:\FR\FM\12JAN1.SGM 12JAN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 8 (Thursday, January 12, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 3727-3737]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-00397]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XF084


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

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

[[Page 3728]]


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

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

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

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than February 
13, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, 
Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email 
comments is ITP.Pauline@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email 
comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments 
sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-
megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential 
business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the 
references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the 
address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION), or online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. PISCO's 2016-17 monitoring report can 
also be found at this Web site. Documents cited in this notice may also 
be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the 
aforementioned address.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

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

Summary of Request

    On September 23, 2016 NMFS received an application from PISCO for 
the taking of marine mammals incidental to rocky intertidal monitoring 
surveys along the Oregon and California coasts. NMFS determined that 
the application was adequate and complete on October 9, 2016. NMFS has 
previously issued four IHAs for this ongoing project (77 FR 72327, 
December 5, 2012; 78 FR 79403, December 30, 2013; 79 FR 73048, December 
9, 2014; 81 FR 7319, February 2, 2016).
    The research group at UC Santa Cruz operates in collaboration with 
two large-scale marine research programs: PISCO and the Multi-agency 
Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe). The research group at UC Santa Cruz 
(PISCO) is responsible for many of the ongoing rocky intertidal 
monitoring programs along the Pacific coast. Monitoring occurs at rocky 
intertidal sites, often large bedrock benches, from the high intertidal 
to the water's edge. Long-term monitoring projects include Community 
Structure Monitoring, Intertidal Biodiversity Surveys, Marine Protected 
Area Baseline Monitoring, Intertidal Recruitment Monitoring, and Ocean 
Acidification. Research is conducted throughout the year along the 
California and Oregon coasts and will continue indefinitely. Most sites 
are sampled one to two times per year over a 4-6 hour period during a 
negative low tide series. This IHA, if issued, would be effective for a 
12-month period. The following specific aspects of the proposed 
activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Presence 
of survey personnel near pinniped haulout sites and unintentional 
approach of survey personnel towards hauled out pinnipeds. Take, by 
Level B harassment only, of individuals of California sea lions 
(Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii), and 
northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) is anticipated to 
result from the specified activity.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

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

Dates and Duration

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

[[Page 3729]]

Specified Geographic Region

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

Detailed Description of Activities

    Community Structure Monitoring involves the use of permanent 
photoplot quadrats which target specific algal and invertebrate 
assemblages (e.g. mussels, rockweeds, barnacles). Each photoplot is 
photographed and scored for percent cover. The Community Structure 
Monitoring approach is based largely on surveys that quantify the 
percent cover and distribution of algae and invertebrates that 
constitute these communities. This approach allows researchers to 
quantify both the patterns of abundance of targeted species, as well as 
characterize changes in the communities in which they reside. Such 
information provides managers with insight into the causes and 
consequences of changes in species abundance. There are 47 Community 
Structure sites, each of which is surveyed over a 1-day period during a 
low tide series one to two times a year.
    Biodiversity Surveys are part of a long-term monitoring project and 
are conducted every 3-5 years across 140 established sites. Note that 
many, but not all, of the 47 Community Structure sites are also 
Biodiversity Survey sites. Thirty-eight of the Community Structure 
sites are utilized for Biodiversity Surveys, leaving nine sites that 
are only Biodiversity Survey locations. These Biodiversity Surveys 
involve point contact identification along permanent transects, mobile 
invertebrate quadrat counts, sea star band counts, and tidal height 
topographic measurements.
    Sixteen Biodiversity Survey sites will be visited as part of this 
proposed IHA including Point Arena, Saunders Reef, Del Mar Landing, 
Gerstle Cove, Chimney Rock, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Ano Nuevo, 
Diablo, Jajolla Caves, Sea Ridge, Point Sierra Nevada, Cayucos, 
Hazards, Stairs, Treasure Island, and Cabrillo Zone III. Four of the 
Biodiversity Survey sites are also Community Structure sites, leaving 
12 sites that are only Biodiversity Survey sites. As such, a total of 
59 sites would be visited under the proposed IHA.
    The intertidal zones where PISCO conducts intertidal monitoring are 
also areas where pinnipeds can be found hauled out on the shore at or 
adjacent to some research sites. Pinnipeds are likely to be observed at 
17 out of the 59 survey sites. Accessing portions of the intertidal 
habitat at these locations may cause incidental Level B (behavioral) 
harassment of pinnipeds through some unavoidable approaches if 
pinnipeds are hauled out directly in the study plots or while 
biologists walk from one location to another. No motorized equipment is 
involved in conducting these surveys.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Several pinniped species can be found along the California and 
Oregon coasts. The three that are most likely to occur at some of the 
research sites are California sea lion, harbor seal, and northern 
elephant seal. PISCO researchers have seen very small numbers (i.e., 
five or fewer) of Steller sea lions at one of the sampling sites. 
However, these sightings are extremely rare.
    We refer the public to Carretta et al. (2016) for general 
information on these species, which are presented below this section. 
The publication is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/species.htm. Additional information on the status, distribution, 
seasonal distribution, and life history can also be found in PISCO's 
application.

Northern Elephant Seal

    Northern elephant seals range widely throughout the eastern Pacific 
for most of the year to forage. They return to haul-out locations along 
the west coast of the continental United States including the Channel 
Islands, the central California coast, and islands off of Baja 
California to breed and molt. Breeding occurs from December through 
early spring, with males returning to haul-out locations earlier than 
females to establish dominance hierarchies. Molting occurs from late 
April to August, with juveniles and adult females returning earlier 
than adult males (Reeves et al., 2002). Due to very little movement 
between colonies in Mexico and those in California, the California 
population is considered to be a separate stock (Carretta et al., 
2010).
    This species was hunted by indigenous peoples for several thousand 
years and by commercial sealers in the 1800s. By the late 1800s the 
species was thought to be extinct, although several were seen on 
Guadalupe Island in the 1880s and a few dozen to several hundred 
survived off of Mexico (Stewart et al., 1994). The population began 
increasing in the early 1900s and progressively colonized southern and 
central California through the 1980s (Reeves et al., 2002).
    According to the 2015 Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, the 
minimum population size of the California stock is 81,368 individuals 
and the estimated population size is 179,000 (Carretta et al., 2016, 
Lowry et al., 2014). This species has grown at 3.8 percent annually 
since 1988 (Lowry et al., 2014). Northern elephant seals are not listed 
under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are not a strategic species 
nor considered depleted under the MMPA. The most recent monitoring 
report (2016) recorded four takes of elephant seals. Thirty takes were 
authorized under the IHA. All were recorded at Piedras Blancas.

California Sea Lions

    California sea lions are distributed along the west coast of North 
America from British Columbia to Baja California and throughout the 
Gulf of California. Breeding occurs on offshore islands along the west 
coast of Baja California and the Gulf of California as well as on the 
California Channel Islands. There are three recognized California sea 
lion stocks (U.S. stock, Western Baja stock, and the Gulf of California 
stock) with the U.S. stock ranging from the U.S./Mexico border into 
Canada. Although there is some movement between stocks, U.S. rookeries 
are considered to be isolated from rookeries off of Baja California 
(Barlow et al., 1995).
    California sea lions were hunted for several thousand years by 
indigenous peoples and early hunters. In the early 1900s, sea lions 
were killed in an effort to reduce competition with commercial 
fisheries. They were also hunted commercially from the 1920-1940s. 
Following the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 
1972, as well as limits on killing and harassment in Mexico, the 
population has rapidly increased (Reeves et al., 2002). Declines is pup 
production did occur during the 1983-84, 1992-93, 1997-98, and 2003 El 
Ni[ntilde]o events, but production returned to pre- El Ni[ntilde]o 
levels within 2-5 years (Carretta et al., 2016). In 2013, NOAA declared 
an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) due to the elevated number of sea lion 
pup strandings in southern California. The cause of this event is 
thought to be nutritional stress related to declines in prey 
availability. This UME has continued through 2016 (NMFS 2016). 
According to the 2015 Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, 
California sea lions have a minimum population

[[Page 3730]]

size of 153,337 individuals and the population is estimated to number 
296,750 (Carretta et al., 2016). This species is not listed under the 
ESA and is not a strategic species nor considered depleted under the 
MMPA.
    The number of California sea lions historically found at any one of 
PISCO's study sites is variable, and often no California sea lions are 
observed during sampling. The most recent monitoring report (2016) 
reported 19 takes of this species. All takes occurred at Government 
Point. A total of 60 takes were authorized under the IHA.

Pacific Harbor Seal

    Pacific harbor seals are not listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA, nor are they categorized as depleted under the MMPA. The 
most recent census of the California stock of harbor seals occurred in 
2012 during which 20,109 hauled-out harbor seals were counted. A 1999 
census of the Oregon/Washington harbor seal stock found 16,165 
individuals, of which 5,735 were in Oregon (Carretta et al., 2016). The 
population is estimated to number 30,968 individuals in California and 
24,732 individuals in Oregon/Washington (Carretta et al., 2016). At 
several sites harbor seals are often observed and have the potential to 
be disturbed by researchers accessing or sampling the site. The largest 
number of harbor seals occurs at Hopkins in Monterey, CA where often 
20-30 adults and occasionally 10-15 pups are hauled-out on a small 
beach adjacent to the site.
    The animals inhabit near-shore coastal and estuarine areas from 
Baja California, Mexico, to the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. Pacific 
harbor seals are divided into two subspecies: P. v. stejnegeri in the 
western North Pacific, near Japan, and P. v. richardii in the northeast 
Pacific Ocean. The latter subspecies, recognized as three separate 
stocks, inhabits the west coast of the continental U.S., including: The 
outer coastal waters of Oregon and Washington states; Washington state 
inland waters; and Alaska coastal and inland waters.
    In California, over 500 harbor seal haulout sites are widely 
distributed along the mainland and offshore islands, and include rocky 
shores, beaches and intertidal sandbars (Lowry et al., 2005). Harbor 
seals mate at sea, and females give birth during the spring and summer, 
although, the pupping season varies with latitude. Pups are nursed for 
an average of 24 days and are ready to swim minutes after being born. 
Harbor seal pupping takes place at many locations, and rookery size 
varies from a few pups to many hundreds of pups. Pupping generally 
occurs between March and June, and molting occurs between May and July.
    At several sites, harbor seals are often observed and have the 
potential to be disturbed by researchers accessing or sampling the 
site. The most recent monitoring report (2016) described a total of 44 
takes of harbor seals. A total of 183 takes had been authorized under 
the IHA.

Steller Sea Lion

    Steller sea lions range throughout the north Pacific from Japan to 
the Kamchatka Peninsula, along the Aleutian Islands, into the Gulf of 
Alaska, and down the west coast of North America to central California. 
Based on distribution, population dynamics, and genotypic data, the 
species occurring in United States waters has been divided into two 
stocks, the eastern U.S. stock (east of Cape Suckling, AK) and the 
western U.S. stock (west of Cape Sucking, AK) (Loughlin 1997). Breeding 
of the eastern stock occurs in rookeries in Alaska, British Columbia, 
Oregon, and California.
    This species was hunted by indigenous peoples for several thousand 
years throughout its range and as recently as the 1990s in the Aleutian 
Islands. Individuals from British Columbia to California were also 
killed in the early 1900s to reduce competition with commercial 
fisheries. The species dramatically declined from the 1970s to 1990s 
due to competition with commercial fishing and long-term environmental 
changes (Reeves et al., 2002). There has also been a continued decrease 
in population numbers along the southern and central California coast 
possibly due to a northward shift, and subsequent southern contraction 
in breeding locations (Pitcher et al., 2007).
    According to the 2015 Alaska Marine Mammal Stock Assessment, the 
minimum population size of the eastern U.S stock is 59,968 and the 
estimated population size is between 60,131 and 74,480 individuals 
(Muto et al., 2016). In 1990, due to accelerating declines across its 
range, the species was listed as threatened under the ESA. In 2013, the 
eastern U.S. stock was determined to be recovered and was delisted from 
the ESA (NMFS 2013) and is, therefore, no longer a strategic species 
under the MMPA.
    Past monitoring reports have not typically reported Steller sea 
lion observations. However, in 2009 five Steller sea lions were 
observed at the Cape Arago, OR site.

                   Table 1--Marine Mammals Potentially Present in the Vicinity of Study Areas
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                        ESA/MMPA status;   Stock abundance (CV,
            Species               Scientific name         Stock         strategic  (Y/N)     Nmin, most recent
                                                                              \1\          abundance survey) \2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
California sea lion............  Zalophus           U.S..............  -; N.............  296,750 (n/a; 153,337;
                                  californianus.                                           2011).
Steller sea lion...............  Eumetopias         Eastern U.S......  D; Y.............  60,131-74,448 (n/a;
                                  jubatus.                                                 36,551; 2013).
Harbor seal....................  Phoca vitulina     California/Oregon/ -; N.............  30,968 (0.157; 27,348;
                                  richardii.         Washington.                           2012 [CA])/
                                                                                          24,732 (n/a; n/a [OR/
                                                                                           WA].\3\
Northern elephant seal.........  Mirounga           California         -; N.............  179,000 (n/a; 81,368;
                                  angustirostris.    breeding stock.                       2010).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ ESA status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species
  is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA.
\2\ CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not
  applicable. For certain stocks of pinnipeds, abundance estimates are based upon observations of animals (often
  pups) ashore multiplied by some correction factor derived from knowledge of the specie's (or similar species')
  life history to arrive at a best abundance estimate; therefore, there is no associated CV. In these cases, the
  minimum abundance may represent actual counts of all animals ashore.
\3\ The most recent abundance estimate is >8 years old, there is no current estimate of abundance available for
  this stock.


[[Page 3731]]

Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area

    Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) and Northern fur 
seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are occasionally observed within the rage 
of the study areas. However, Guadalupe fur seals only known breeding 
colony is on Guadalupe Island, off the Mexican coast. Increasing 
numbers have been seen on California's Channel Islands, and in recent 
years, several Guadalupe fur seals have stranded along the central 
California coast. Northern fur seals have recently re-established a 
rookery on the Farallon Islands. They rarely come ashore except during 
pupping and breeding times and are almost never seen on mainland 
beaches unless they are sick. Given that the likelihood of observing 
these two fur seal species is quite low, they are not considered 
further.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the 
types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., 
personnel presence) have been observed to impact marine mammals. This 
discussion may also include reactions that we consider to rise to the 
level of a take and those that we do not consider to rise to the level 
of a take. This section is intended as a background of potential 
effects and does not consider either the specific manner in which this 
activity will be carried out or the mitigation that will be 
implemented, and how either of those will shape the anticipated impacts 
from this specific activity.
    The appearance of researchers may have the potential to cause Level 
B harassment of any pinnipeds hauled out at sampling sites. Although 
marine mammals are never deliberately approached by survey personnel, 
approach may be unavoidable if pinnipeds are hauled out in the 
immediate vicinity of the permanent study plots. Disturbance may result 
in reactions ranging from an animal simply becoming alert to the 
presence of researchers (e.g., turning the head, assuming a more 
upright posture) to flushing from the haul-out site into the water. 
NMFS does not consider the lesser reactions to constitute behavioral 
harassment, or Level B harassment takes, but rather assumes that 
pinnipeds that flee some distance or change the speed or direction of 
their movement in response to the presence of researchers are 
behaviorally harassed, and thus subject to Level B taking. Animals that 
respond to the presence of researchers by becoming alert, but do not 
move or change the nature of locomotion as described, are not 
considered to have been subject to behavioral harassment (Table 2).
    Numerous studies have shown that human activity can flush harbor 
seals off haulout sites (Allen et al., 1985; Calambokidis et al., 1991; 
Suryan and Harvey, 1999). The Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus 
schauinslandi) has been shown to avoid beaches that have been disturbed 
often by humans (Kenyon 1972). And in one case, human disturbance 
appeared to cause Steller sea lions to desert a breeding area at 
Northeast Point on St. Paul Island, Alaska (Kenyon 1962).
    There are three ways in which disturbance, as described previously, 
could result in more than Level B harassment of marine mammals. All 
three are most likely to be consequences of stampeding, a potentially 
dangerous occurrence in which large numbers of animals succumb to mass 
panic and rush away from a stimulus. The three situations are (1) 
falling when entering the water at high-relief locations; (2) extended 
separation of mothers and pups; and (3) crushing of elephant seal pups 
by large males during a stampede.
    Because hauled-out animals may move towards the water when 
disturbed, there is the risk of injury if animals stampede towards 
shorelines with precipitous relief (e.g., cliffs). If disturbed, 
hauled-out animals in these situations may move toward the water 
without risk of encountering barriers or hazards that would otherwise 
prevent them from leaving the area. In these circumstances, the risk of 
injury, serious injury, or death to hauled-out animals is very low. 
Thus, research activity poses no risk that disturbed animals may fall 
and be injured or killed as a result of disturbance at high-relief 
locations.
    Furthermore, few pups are anticipated to be encountered during the 
proposed monitoring surveys. A small number of harbor seal, northern 
elephant seal and California sea lion pups, however, have been observed 
during past years. Though elephant seal pups are occasionally present 
when researchers visit survey sites, risk of pup mortalities is very 
low because elephant seals are far less reactive to researcher presence 
than the other two species. Harbor seals are very precocious with only 
a short period of time in which separation of a mother from a pup could 
occur. Pups are also typically found on sand beaches, while study sites 
are located in the rocky intertidal zone, meaning that there is 
typically a buffer between researchers and pups. Finally, the caution 
used by researchers in approaching sites generally precludes the 
possibility of behavior, such as stampeding, that could result in 
extended separation of mothers and dependent pups or trampling of pups.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

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

Proposed Mitigation

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

Proposed Mitigation Measures

    PISCO proposes to implement several mitigation measures to reduce 
potential take by Level B (behavioral disturbance) harassment. Measures 
include the following:
     When possible, researchers will observe a site from a 
distance with binoculars to detect any marine mammals prior to 
approaching the site. Researchers will approach a site with caution 
(slowly and quietly) to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and 
to reduce stampeding of individuals towards the water.

[[Page 3732]]

     If possible to avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites, 
by locating and taking a different access way, researchers will do so. 
Researchers will keep a safe distance from and not approach any marine 
mammal while conducting research, unless it is absolutely necessary to 
flush a marine mammal in order to continue conducting research (i.e. if 
a site cannot be accessed or sampled due to the presence of pinnipeds).
     Researches will monitor the offshore area for predators 
(such as killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of 
pinnipeds when predators are observed in nearshore waters. Note that 
PISCO has never observed an offshore predator while researchers were 
present at any of the survey sites.
     Intentional flushing will be avoided if pups are present 
and nursing pups will not be disturbed.
     To avoid take of Steller sea lions, any site where they 
are present will not be approached and will be sampled at a later date. 
Note that observation of sea lions at survey sites is extremely rare.
     Researchers will promptly vacate sites at the conclusion 
of sampling.
    The methodologies and actions noted in this section will be 
utilized and included as mitigation measures in any issued IHA to 
ensure that impacts to marine mammals are mitigated to the lowest level 
practicable. The primary method of mitigating the risk of disturbance 
to pinnipeds, which will be in use at all times, is the selection of 
judicious routes of approach to study sites, avoiding close contact 
with pinnipeds hauled out on shore, and the use of extreme caution upon 
approach. Each visit to a given study site will last for approximately 
4-6 hours, after which the site is vacated and can be re-occupied by 
any marine mammals that may have been disturbed by the presence of 
researchers. By arriving before low tide, worker presence will tend to 
encourage pinnipeds to move to other areas for the day before they haul 
out and settle onto rocks at low tide.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully reviewed PISCO's proposed mitigation measures to 
ensure these measures would have the least practicable impact on the 
affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our 
evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the 
following factors in relation to one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals;
     The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
     The practicability of the measure for applicant 
implementation.
    Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to 
accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on 
current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of 
the general goals listed below:
    1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals 
wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal).
    2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or 
number at biologically important time or location) exposed to 
activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal 
may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).
    3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed 
to activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this 
goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).
    4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number 
or number at biologically important time or location) to activities 
expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may 
contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes 
only).
    5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal 
habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that 
block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, 
permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/disturbance 
of habitat during a biologically important time.
    6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation--an increase in 
the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more 
effective implementation of the mitigation.
    Based on our evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, NMFS 
has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures 
provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine 
mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention 
to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must, where applicable, set forth 
``requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such 
taking.'' The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) 
indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of 
accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result 
in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or 
impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be 
present in the proposed action area. PISCO has described their long-
standing monitoring actions in Section 13 of the Application. The plan 
may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information 
received from the public during the public comment period.
    Monitoring measures proposed by the applicant or prescribed by NMFS 
should accomplish one or more of the following general goals:
    1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of 
marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, 
abundance, distribution, and/or density of species.
    2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are 
likely to be exposed to levels of disturbance that we associate with 
specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment;
    3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond 
to stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse 
effects on individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may 
impact the population, species, or stock (specifically through effects 
on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the 
following methods:
    [ssquf] Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared 
to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
    [ssquf] Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli 
compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
    [ssquf] Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas 
with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli;
    4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; and
    5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain 
mitigation and monitoring measures.

[[Page 3733]]

    PISCO will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in California 
and Oregon by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, 
or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up 
research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag-bearing 
carcasses of pinnipeds, allowing transmittal of the information to 
appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of 
marine mammals for agency follow-up.
    Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to PISCO's rocky 
intertidal monitoring will include observations made by the applicant. 
Information recorded will include species counts (with numbers of pups/
juveniles when possible) of animals present before approaching, numbers 
of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance behaviors 
during the monitoring surveys, including location, date, and time of 
the event. For consistency, any reactions by pinnipeds to researchers 
will be recorded according to a three point scale shown in Table 2. 
Note that only observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 should be 
recorded as takes.

           Table 2--Levels of Pinniped Behavioral Disturbance
------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Level              Type of response               Definition
------------------------------------------------------------------------
1...............  Alert........................  Seal head orientation
                                                  or brief movement in
                                                  response to
                                                  disturbance, which may
                                                  include turning head
                                                  towards the
                                                  disturbance, craning
                                                  head and neck while
                                                  holding the body rigid
                                                  in a u-shaped
                                                  position, changing
                                                  from a lying to a
                                                  sitting position, or
                                                  brief movement of less
                                                  than twice the
                                                  animal's body length.
2...............  Movement.....................  Movements away from the
                                                  source of disturbance,
                                                  ranging from short
                                                  withdrawals at least
                                                  twice the animal's
                                                  body length to longer
                                                  retreats over the
                                                  beach, or if already
                                                  moving a change of
                                                  direction of greater
                                                  than 90 degrees.
3...............  Flush........................  All retreats (flushes)
                                                  to the water.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In addition, observations regarding the number and species of any 
marine mammals observed, either in the water or hauled-out, at or 
adjacent to a site, are recorded as part of field observations during 
research activities. Information regarding physical and biological 
conditions pertaining to a site, as well as the date and time that 
research was conducted are also noted. This information will be 
incorporated into a monitoring report for NMFS.
    If at any time the specified activity clearly causes the take of a 
marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an injury 
(Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, PISCO shall 
immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following 
information:
    (1) Time and date of the incident;
    (2) Description of the incident;
    (3) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
    (4) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours 
preceding the incident;
    (5) Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
    (6) Fate of the animal(s); and
    (7) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s).
    Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with PISCO to 
determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of 
further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. PISCO may not 
resume the activities until notified by NMFS.
    In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered 
and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death is unknown 
and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state 
of decomposition), PISCO shall immediately report the incident to the 
Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same 
information identified in the paragraph above IHA. Activities may 
continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS 
will work with PISCO to determine whether additional mitigation 
measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate.
    In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered 
and it is determined that the injury or death is not associated with or 
related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously 
wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or 
scavenger damage), PISCO shall report the incident to the Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional Stranding 
Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. PISCO shall 
provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the 
stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while NMFS 
reviews the circumstances of the incident.
    A draft final report must be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected 
Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2016-2017 field 
season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new 
IHA will be requested. The report will include a summary of the 
information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth 
in the IHA. A final report must be submitted to the Director of the 
NMFS Office of Protected Resources and to the NMFS West Coast Regional 
Administrator within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the 
draft final report. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft 
final report will be considered to be the final report.

Monitoring Results From Previously Authorized Activities

    PISCO complied with the mitigation and monitoring that were 
required under the IHA issued in December 2014. In compliance with the 
IHA, PISCO submitted a report detailing the activities and marine 
mammal monitoring they conducted. The IHA required PISCO to conduct 
counts of pinnipeds present at study sites prior to approaching the 
sites and to record species counts and any observed reactions to the 
presence of the researchers.
    From December 17, 2014, through December 16, 2015, PISCO 
researchers conducted rocky intertidal sampling at numerous sites in 
California and Oregon (see Table 1 and 2 in PISCO's 2014-2015 
monitoring report). During this time period, no injured, stranded, or 
dead pinnipeds were observed. Tables 7, 8, and 9 in PISCO's monitoring 
report (see ADDRESSES) outline marine mammal observations and 
reactions. During this period there were 44 takes of harbor seals, 19 
takes of California sea lions, and 4 takes of northern elephant seals. 
NMFS had authorized the take of 183 harbor seals, 60 California sea 
lions, and 30 Northern Elephant seals under the IHA.
    Based on the results from the monitoring report, we conclude that

[[Page 3734]]

these results support our original findings that the mitigation 
measures set forth in the 2014-2015 IHA effected the least practicable 
impact on the species or stocks. There were no stampede events this 
year and most disturbances were Level 1 and 2 from the disturbance 
scale (Table 2)--meaning the animal did not fully flush but observed or 
moved slightly in response to researchers. Those that did fully flush 
to the water did so slowly. Most of these animals tended to observe 
researchers from the water and then re-haulout farther upcoast or 
downcoast of the site within approximately 30 minutes of the 
disturbance.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering (Level B harassment).
    All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment, involving 
temporary changes in behavior. The proposed mitigation and monitoring 
measures are expected to minimize the possibility of injurious or 
lethal takes such that take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is 
considered remote. Animals hauled out close to the actual survey sites 
may be disturbed by the presence of researchers and may alter their 
behavior or attempt to move away from the researchers.
    As discussed earlier, NMFS considers an animal to have been 
harassed if it moved greater than two times its body length in response 
to the researcher's presence or if the animal was already moving and 
changed direction and/or speed, or if the animal flushed into the 
water. Animals that became alert without such movements were not 
considered harassed.
    For the purpose of this proposed IHA, only Oregon and California 
sites that are frequently sampled and have a marine mammal presence 
during sampling were included in calculating take estimates. Sites 
where only Biodiversity Surveys are conducted did not provide enough 
data to confidently estimate takes since they are sampled infrequently 
(once very 3-5 years). A small number of harbor seal, northern elephant 
seal and California sea lion pup takes are anticipated as pups may be 
present at several sites during spring and summer sampling.
    Take estimates are based on marine mammal observations from each 
site. Marine mammal observations are done as part of PISCO site 
observations, which include notes on physical and biological conditions 
at the site. The maximum number of marine mammals, by species, seen at 
any given time throughout the sampling day is recorded at the 
conclusion of sampling. A marine mammal is counted if it is seen on 
access ways to the site, at the site, or immediately up-coast or down-
coast of the site. Marine mammals in the water immediately offshore are 
also recorded. Any other relevant information, including the location 
of a marine mammal relevant to the site, any unusual behavior, and the 
presence of pups is also noted.
    These observations formed the basis from which researchers with 
extensive knowledge and experience at each site estimated the actual 
number of marine mammals that may be subject to take. Take estimates 
for each species for which take would be authorized were based on the 
following equation:
    Take estimate per survey site = (number of expected animals per 
survey site * number of survey days per survey site)
    Individual species' totals for each survey site were summed to 
arrive at a total estimated take. In most cases the number of takes is 
based on the maximum number of marine mammals that have been observed 
at a site throughout the history of the site (1-3 observation per year 
for 5-10 years or more) with additional input provided by the 
researchers with site-specific knowledge and experience. Section 6 in 
PISCO's application outlines the number of visits per year for each 
sampling site and the potential number of pinnipeds anticipated to be 
encountered at each site. Tables 3, 4, 5 in PISCO's application 
outlines the number of potential takes per site (see ADDRESSES).
    Harbor seals are expected to occur at 16 locations in numbers 
ranging from 5 to 30 per visit (Table 3 in PISCO's application). It is 
anticipated that there will be 220 takes of adult harbor seals and 13 
takes of weaned pups. Therefore, NMFS proposes to authorize the take of 
up to 233 harbor seals.
    California sea lions are expected to be present at five sites. 
Eighty-five adult and five pups are expected to be taken. Therefore, 
NMFS proposes to authorize the take of 90 California sea lions.
    Northern elephant seals are only expected to occur at one site this 
year, Piedras Blancs, which will experience two separate visits. Up to 
20 adult and 40 pup takes are anticipated. Therefore, NMFS proposes to 
authorize the take of up to 60 northern elephant seals.
    PISCO researchers report that they have very rarely observed 
Stellers at any research sites and none have been observed over the 
last several years. Therefore, PISCO has not requested, and NMFS does 
not propose to authorize, take of any Steller sea lions.
    NMFS proposes to authorize the take, by Level B harassment only, of 
203 harbor seals, 90 California sea lions, and 60 northern elephant 
seals. These numbers are considered to be maximum take estimates; 
therefore, actual take may be less if animals decide to haul out at a 
different location for the day or animals are out foraging at the time 
of the survey activities.

Analysis and Preliminary Determinations

Negligible Impact Analysis

    Negligible impact is ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably 
likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on 
annual rates of recruitment or survival'' (50 CFR 216.103). A 
negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-
level effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, 
alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact 
determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of 
marine mammals that might be ``taken'' through behavioral harassment, 
NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any 
responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any 
responses (critical reproductive time or location, feeding, migration, 
etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment 
takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the 
status of the species.
    To avoid repetition, the discussion of our analyses applies 
generally to the three species for which take is authorized, given that 
the anticipated effects of these surveys on marine mammals are expected 
to be relatively similar in nature. Where there are species-specific 
factors that have been considered, they are identified below.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
PISCO's rocky intertidal monitoring, and none are proposed to be 
authorized. The risk of marine mammal injury, serious injury, or 
mortality associated

[[Page 3735]]

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

Small Numbers

    Table 3 presents the abundance of each species or stock, the 
proposed take estimates, and the percentage of the affected populations 
or stocks that may be taken by Level B harassment.The numbers of 
animals authorized to be taken would be considered small relative to 
the relevant stocks or populations (0.75-0.94 percent for harbor seals, 
and <0.01 percent for California sea lions and northern elephant 
seals). Because these are maximum estimates, actual take numbers are 
likely to be lower, as some animals may not be present on survey days.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring 
measures, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals 
will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or 
stocks.

 Table 3--Population Abundance Estimates, Total Proposed Level B Take, and Percentage of Population That May Be
       Taken for the Potentially Affected Species During the Proposed Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Total proposed
                 Species                      Abundance *      level B take    Percentage of stock or population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor seal..............................        \1\ 30,968               233  <0.75-0.94
                                                 \2\ 24,732
California sea lion......................           296,750                90  <0.01
Northern elephant seal...................           179,000                60  <0.01
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Abundance estimates are taken from the 2015 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (Carretta et al.,
  2016).
\1\ California stock abundance estimate.
\2\ Oregon/Washington stock abundance estimate from 1999-Most recent surveys.

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

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

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    No species listed under the ESA are expected to be affected by 
these activities. Therefore, NMFS has determined that a section 7 
consultation under the ESA is not required.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    In 2012, we prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the 
potential effects to the human environment from conducting

[[Page 3736]]

rocky intertidal surveys along the California and Oregon coasts and 
issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an 
IHA for PISCO's rocky intertidal surveys in accordance with section 
6.01 of the NOAA Administrative Order 216-6 (Environmental Review 
Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 
20, 1999). We will review activities and impacts from the 2012 EA to 
determine if the proposed activities fall within the scope of the EA. 
We will also review any public comments submitted concerning the 2012 
EA.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to PISCO for conducting rocky intertidal monitoring 
research activities in California and Oregon between February 3, 2017 
and February 2, 2018, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, 
monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed 
IHA language is provided next.
    This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording 
contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if 
issued).
    1. This IHA is valid from February 3, 2017 through February 2, 
2018.
    2. This IHA is valid only for specified activities associated with 
rocky intertidal monitoring surveys at specific sites along the U.S. 
California and Oregon coasts.
    3. General Conditions.
    a. A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of personnel 
operating under the authority of this authorization.
    b. The incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B harassment 
only, is limited to the following species along the Oregon and 
California coasts:
    i. 203 harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii);
    ii. 90 California sea lion (Zalophus californianus);
    iii. 60 northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris); and
    c. The taking by injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or 
death of any of the species listed in condition 3(b) of the IHA or any 
taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may 
result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA.
    4. Mitigation Measures: The holder of this IHA is required to 
implement the following mitigation measures:
    a. Researchers will observe a site from a distance with binoculars 
(if necessary) to detect any marine mammals prior to approaching the 
site. Researchers will approach a site with caution (slowly and 
quietly) to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce 
stampeding of individuals towards the water.
    b. Researchers will avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites, by 
locating and taking a different access way if possible.
    c. Researchers will keep a safe distance from and not approach any 
marine mammal while conducting research, unless it is absolutely 
necessary to flush a marine mammal in order to continue conducting 
research (i.e. if a site cannot be accessed or sampled due to the 
presence of pinnipeds).
    d. Researches will monitor the offshore area for predators (such as 
killer whales and white sharks) and avoid flushing of pinnipeds when 
predators are observed in nearshore waters.
    e. Intentional flushing will be avoided if pups are present. Staff 
shall reschedule work at sites where pups are present, unless other 
means of accomplishing the work can be done without causing disturbance 
to mothers and dependent pups.
    f. Any site where Steller sea lions are present will not be 
approached and will be sampled at a later date.
    g. Personnel shall vacate the study area as soon as sampling of the 
site is completed.
    5. Monitoring: The holder of this IHA is required to conduct 
monitoring of marine mammals present at study sites prior to 
approaching the sites.
    a. Information to be recorded shall include the following:
    i. Species counts (with numbers of pups/juveniles); and
    ii. Numbers of disturbances, by species and age, according to a 
three-point scale of intensity including:
    (1) seal head orientation or brief movement in response to 
disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, 
craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped 
position, changing from a lying to a sitting position, or brief 
movement of less than twice the animal's body length, ``alert'';
    (2) movements away from the source of disturbance, ranging from 
short withdrawals at least twice the animal's body length to longer 
retreats over the beach, or if already moving a change of direction of 
greater than 90 degrees, ``movement''; and
    (3) all retreats (flushes) to the water, ``flush''.
    iii. Observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 are recorded as 
takes.
    6. Reporting: The holder of this IHA is required to:
    a. Report observations of unusual behaviors, numbers, or 
distributions of pinnipeds, or of tag-bearing carcasses, to NMFS 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC).
    b. Submit a draft monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected 
Resources within 60 days after the conclusion of the 2015-2016 field 
season or 60 days prior to the start of the next field season if a new 
IHA will be requested. A final report shall be prepared and submitted 
within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report 
from NMFS. This report must contain the informational elements 
described above, at minimum.
    c. Reporting injured or dead marine mammals:
    i. In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take 
of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an 
injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, PISCO shall 
immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following 
information:
    (1) Time and date of the incident;
    (2) Description of the incident;
    (3) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
    (4) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours 
preceding the incident;
    (5) Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
    (6) Fate of the animal(s); and
    (7) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s).
    Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with PISCO to 
determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of 
further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. PISCO may not 
resume the activities until notified by NMFS.
    ii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is 
discovered and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death 
is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a 
moderate state of decomposition), PISCO shall immediately report the 
incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest 
Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same 
information identified in 6(c)(i) of this IHA. Activities may continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the

[[Page 3737]]

incident. NMFS will work with PISCO to determine whether additional 
mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate.
    iii. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is 
discovered and it is determined that the injury or death is not 
associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA 
(e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced 
decomposition, or scavenger damage), PISCO shall report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Southwest Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. PISCO 
shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of 
the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while 
NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident.
    7. This IHA may be modified, suspended or withdrawn if the holder 
fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if NMFS 
determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible 
impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals.

Request for Public Comments

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

    Dated: January 5, 2017.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-00397 Filed 1-11-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P