Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in Central California, 31372-31378 [2018-14440]

Download as PDF 31372 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 SVWID study is to assess fish passage barriers, habitat conditions, water quality, and fish presence/absence. This research would benefit the affected species by better informing plans to improve drainage, minimize flooding, and restore salmon habitat. Further, this research would benefit listed species by providing data about the status of these species in agricultural drainage ditches and small streams that may not otherwise be studied. The SVWID proposes to capture fish using seine nets, minnow traps, and backpack electrofishing equipment. Captured fish would be held in aerated buckets, identified to species, measured to length, and released. The researchers do not intend to kill any listed fish, but some may die as an inadvertent result of the research. Permit 22127 The FWS is seeking a five-year research permit to annually take juvenile and adult PS Chinook salmon and PS steelhead throughout the Puyallup River watershed (Pierce and King Counties, Washington state). The purpose of the FWS study is to research ESA-listed bull trout life history diversity and gather information about their temporal and spatial use of the watershed at multiple life stages. Other target species include brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), cutthroat trout (O. clarkii), and non-migratory sculpin species (Shorthead, Torrent, and Riffle). PS Chinook salmon and PS steelhead would be incidentally during this study because their ranges overlap the target species. This research would benefit the listed species by providing fine scale information about their movement timing and upstream residency. Those data, in turn, would be used to inform management and recovery actions. The FWS proposes to capture fish using electro-fykes, backpack electrofishing equipment, gill nets, hook-and-line, and minnow traps. Bull trout would be anesthetized, PIT tagged, weighed, measured for length, tissue sampled (fin rays), and released. Other target species would be euthanized for otolith and fin ray analysis. All PS steelhead and PS Chinook salmon would be captured, handled, and immediately released. The researchers do not propose to kill any of the listed fish, but some may die as an unintended result of the activities. This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the ESA. NMFS will evaluate the applications, associated documents, and comments submitted to determine whether the applications meet the requirements of section 10(a) of the ESA and Federal regulations. The final permit decisions will not be made VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:43 Jul 03, 2018 Jkt 244001 until after the end of the 30-day comment period. NMFS will publish notice of its final action in the Federal Register. Dated: June 28, 2018. Angela Somma, Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2018–14341 Filed 7–3–18; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XG066 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in Central California National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue) to incidentally harass, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals during seabird research activities in central California. DATES: This Authorization is effective from July 7, 2018 through July 6, 2019. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rob Pauline, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. Electronic copies of the application and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-research-and-otheractivities. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) 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 PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival. The MMPA states that the term ‘‘take’’ means to harass, hunt, capture, kill or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. 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 January 4, 2018, NMFS received a request from Point Blue for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to seabird research monitoring conducted at three locations in central California. Point Blue’s request is for take of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), and Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) by Level B harassment only. Neither Point Blue nor NMFS expect serious injury or mortality to result from this activity and, therefore, an IHA is appropriate. NMFS previously issued eight IHAs to Point Blue for similar work from 2006 through 2017 (72 FR 71121; December 14, 2007, 73 FR 77011; December 18, 2008, 75 FR 8677; February 19, 2010, 77 FR 73989; December 7, 2012, 78 FR 66686; November 6, 2013, 80 FR 80321; December 24, 2015, 81 FR 34978; June E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1 31373 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices 1, 2016, 82 FR 31759; July 7, 2017). Point Blue complied with all the requirements (e.g., mitigation, monitoring, and reporting) of the previous IHAs and information regarding their monitoring results may be found in the Estimated Take section. The planned seabird research activities will occur on Southeast Farallon Island ˜ (SEFI), Ano Nuevo Island (ANI), and Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). Point Blue, along with partners Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge and PRNS, plan to conduct research activities that have been ongoing for thirty years. These partners are conducting this research under cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in consultation with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. We considered the IHA request for 2018–2019 activities as adequate and complete on February 28, 2018. Description of Activity Point Blue plans to monitor and census seabird colonies; observe seabird nesting habitat; restore nesting burrows; and resupply a field station annually in central California (i.e., SEFI, ANI, and PRNS). The purpose of the seabird research is to continue a 30-year monitoring program of the region’s seabird populations. Take by Level B harassment may occur due to incidental disturbance of pinnipeds by researchers during monitoring activities. A detailed description of the planned research project is provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). Since that time, no changes have been made to the planned research activities. Therefore, a detailed description is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for the description of the specific activity. Comments and Responses A notice of NMFS’s proposal to issue an IHA to the Point Blue was published in the Federal Register on May 7, 2018 (83 FR 20045). That notice described, in detail, Point Blue’s activities, the marine mammal species that may be affected, and the anticipated effects on marine mammals. During the 30-day public comment period, the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) provided comments as described below and concurred with NMFS’s findings and recommended the issuance of an IHA, subject to the inclusion of the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures. Comment: The Commission requested clarification of certain issues associated with NMFS’s notice that one-year renewals could be issued in certain limited circumstances and expressed concern that the process would bypass the public notice and comment requirements. The Commission also suggested that NMFS should discuss the possibility of renewals through a more general route, such as a rulemaking, instead of notice in a specific authorization. The Commission further recommended that if NMFS did not pursue a more general route, that the agency provide the Commission and the public with a legal analysis supporting our conclusion that this process is consistent with the requirements of section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. Response: The process of issuing a renewal IHA does not bypass the public notice and comment requirements of the MMPA. The notice of the proposed IHA expressly notifies the public that under certain, limited conditions an applicant could seek a renewal IHA for an additional year. The notice describes the conditions under which such a renewal request could be considered and expressly seeks public comment in the event such a renewal is sought. Importantly, such renewals would be limited to where the activities are identical or nearly identical to those analyzed in the proposed IHA, monitoring does not indicate impacts that were not previously analyzed and authorized, and the mitigation and monitoring requirements remain the same, all of which allow the public to comment on the appropriateness and effects of a renewal at the same time the public provides comments on the initial IHA. NMFS has, however, modified the language for future proposed IHAs to clarify that all IHAs, including renewal IHAs, are valid for no more than one year and that the agency would consider only one renewal for a project at this time. In addition, notice of issuance or denial of a renewal IHA would be published in the Federal Register, as are all IHAs. Last, NMFS will publish on our website a description of the renewal process before any renewal is issued utilizing the new process. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities A detailed description of the species likely to be affected by the research and monitoring project, including brief introductions to the species and relevant stocks as well as available information regarding population trends and threats, and information regarding local occurrence, were provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). Since that time, we are not aware of any changes in the status of these species and stocks; therefore, detailed descriptions are not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for these descriptions as well as to NMFS’s website (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/ population-assessments/marinemammals) for generalized species accounts. All species that could potentially occur in the planned survey areas are included in Table 1. Note that Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) and Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) have been known to occur at some seabird research sites. However, their occurrence is extremely rare. Therefore, Point Blue did not request take of these species. TABLE 1—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE VICINITY OF STUDY AREAS Species Scientific name ESA/ MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 Stock Stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 PBR Annual M/SI 3 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 Order Carnivora—Superfamily Pinnipedia Family Otariidae (eared seals and sea lions) California sea lion ..................... Zalophus californianus ........ Steller sea lion .......................... Family Phocidae (earless seals) Harbor seal ............................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:33 Jul 03, 2018 U.S. ...................................... –; N Eumetopias jubatus ............. Eastern U.S. ........................ D; Y Phoca vitulina richardii ........ California ............................. –; N Jkt 244001 PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 296,750 (n/a; 153,337; 2011). 41,638 (n/a; 41,638; 2015) .. 9,200 389 2,498 108 30,968 (0.157; 27,348; 2012). 1,641 43 E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1 31374 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices TABLE 1—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE VICINITY OF STUDY AREAS—Continued Species Northern elephant seal ............. ESA/ MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 Scientific name Stock Mirounga angustirostris ....... California breeding stock ..... –; N Stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 Annual M/SI 3 PBR 179,000 (n/a; 81,368; 2010) 4,882 8.8 1 Endangered Species Act (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. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock. 2 NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. 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 species’ (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 These values, found in NMFS’s SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases. Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat The effects of seabird researchers at the specified locations have the potential to result in harassment of marine mammals in the vicinity of the action area. The Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018) included a discussion of the effects of Level B harassment on marine mammals. Therefore, that information is not repeated here; please refer to the Federal Register notice for that information. No instances of serious injury or mortality are expected as a result of the specified activities. Estimated Take This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes authorized through this IHA, which will inform both NMFS’s consideration of ‘‘small numbers’’ and the negligible impact determination. Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these activities. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) of 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). Authorized takes are by Level B harassment only, in the form of disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals resulting from exposure to pedestrian researchers. Based on the nature of the activity, Level A harassment is neither anticipated nor authorized. As described previously, no mortality is anticipated or authorized for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated. NMFS bases these take estimates on historical data from five previous monitoring reports of the same activity to generate 95 percent confidence interval maximums (assuming normal distribution) using STATA, a general-purpose statistical computer software package. Results are shown in Table 2. Takes recorded in all previous monitoring reports were based on occurrences that are consistent with Levels 2 and 3 of the three-point-scale (See Table 4). For California sea lions and harbor seals, NMFS elected to use the values projected as shown in Table 2. However, since the projected take numbers for northern elephant seals and Steller sea lions were very close to recorded takes in 2017–2018, NMFS increased the take numbers for these species by 20 percent over the actual 2017–2018 take numbers shown in Table 2. This provides a buffer so Point Blue can continue their work if recorded takes for those two species exceeded take numbers generated by the STATA program. Authorized take numbers are shown in Table 3. TABLE 2—PAST REPORTED TAKE OBSERVATIONS AND ESTIMATED TAKE AUTHORIZED FOR 2018–2019 POINT BLUE ACTIVITIES ACCORDING TO STATISTICAL ANALYSIS Reported take observations from past seasons 1 Species IHA (2013–2014) California Sea Lions ................................. Northern Elephant Seals .......................... Harbor Seals ............................................ Steller Sea Lions (E–DPS) ...................... 1 Large IHA (2014–2015) 3,610 67 109 4 IHA (2015–2016) 2,254 30 141 12 4,646 97 259 6 IHA (2016) IHA (2017) 1 36,397 169 292 31 22,612 198 234 35 Authorized take 2018–2019 IHA 32,623 239 304 43 ˜ increase in California sea lions likely due to El Nino event. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 TABLE 3—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN Stock abundance Species Stock California sea lion ........................................... Northern elephant seal ................................... Harbor seal ..................................................... U.S ................................................................. California breeding stock ............................... California ........................................................ VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:33 Jul 03, 2018 Jkt 244001 PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 296,750 179,000 30,968 E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1 Total level B take 32,623 239 304 Percentage of stock or population 10.9 0.13 0.98 31375 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices TABLE 3—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN—Continued Stock abundance Species Stock Steller sea lion ................................................ Eastern U.S .................................................... amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 Mitigation Measures In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable 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 (latter not applicable for this action). NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to include information about the availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting such activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)). In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we carefully consider two primary factors: (1) the manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat. This considers the nature of the potential adverse impact being mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further considers the likelihood that the measure will be effective if implemented (probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if implemented as planned) the likelihood of effective implementation (probability implemented as planned); and (2) the practicability of the measures for applicant implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on operations,. Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat Point Blue has based the mitigation measures, which they will employ during the research, on the implementation of protocols used during previous Point Blue research activities under previous authorizations for these activities. Note that Point Blue VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:43 Jul 03, 2018 Jkt 244001 and NMFS have refined mitigation requirements over the years in an effort to reduce behavioral disturbance impacts to marine mammals. To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual stimuli associated with survey activities Point Blue will implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals: (1) Slow approach to beaches for boat landings to avoid stampede, provide animals opportunity to enter water, and avoid vessel strikes; (2) Observe a site from a distance, using binoculars if necessary, to detect any marine mammals prior to approach to determine if mitigation is required (i.e., site surveys will not be conducted if fur seals are present; if other pinnipeds are present, researchers will approach with caution, walking slowly, quietly, and close to the ground to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce flushing/stampeding of individuals); (3) Avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites by locating and taking a different access way. 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); (4) Cease or delay visits if the number of takes that have been granted are met, if a species for which takes were not granted is observed (e.g., northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals), or if pups are present (5) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer whales (Orcinus orca) are present. If Point Blue and/or its designees see pinniped predators in the area, they must not disturb the pinnipeds until the area is free of predators; (6) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual presence of pinnipeds; (7) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on SEFI in an observation blind, shielded from the view of hauled out pinnipeds; PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 41,638 Total level B take 43 Percentage of stock or population 0.10 (8) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest boxes on ANI if pinnipeds are within view; (9) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of SEFI (to reduce potential take) and coordinate research goals for ANI to minimize the number of trips to the island; and (10) Require beach landings on ANI only occur after any pinnipeds that might be present on the landing beach have entered the water. Based on our evaluation of the applicant’s measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has determined that the prescribed mitigation measures provide the means effecting the least practicable impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth, requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for authorizations 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 planned action area. Effective reporting is critical both to compliance as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the required monitoring. Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS should contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the following: • Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, density); • Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment (e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1 31376 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices noise); (2) affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas); • Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors; • How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) populations, species, or stocks; • Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of marine mammal habitat); and • Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness. Point Blue will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in California 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) tagbearing pinnipeds or carcasses, allowing transmittal of the information to appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of marine mammals for agency follow-up. Required monitoring protocols for Point Blue will include the following: (1) Record of date, time, and location (or closest point of ingress) of each visit to the research site; (2) Composition of the marine mammals sighted, such as species, gender and life history stage (e.g., adult, sub-adult, pup); (3) Information on the numbers (by species) of marine mammals observed during the activities; (4) Estimated number of marine mammals (by species) that may have been harassed during the activities; (5) Behavioral responses or modifications of behaviors that may be attributed to the specific activities and a description of the specific activities occurring during that time (e.g., pedestrian approach, vessel approach); and (6) Information on the weather, including the tidal state and horizontal visibility. Note that the lead biologist should serve as an observer to record incidental take. For consistency, any reactions by pinnipeds to researchers will be recorded according to a three-point scale shown in Table 4. Note that only observations of disturbance noted in Levels 2 and 3 should be recorded as takes. TABLE 4—LEVELS OF PINNIPED BEHAVIORAL DISTURBANCE Level Type of response Definition 1 ........... Alert .............................................................. 2 * ......... Movement .................................................... 2 ** ........ 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 in response to 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. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 * Only observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 are recorded as takes. This information will be incorporated into a monitoring report for NMFS. The monitoring report will cover the period from January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018. NMFS has requested that Point Blue submit annual monitoring report data on a calendar year schedule, regardless of the current IHA’s initiation or expiration dates. This will ensure that data from all consecutive months will be collected and, therefore, can be analyzed to estimate authorized take for future IHA’s regardless of the existing IHA’s issuance date. Point Blue will submit a draft monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources by April 1, 2019. A final report will be prepared and submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report from NMFS. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be considered to be the final report. This report must contain the informational elements described above, at minimum. Point Blue must also report observations of unusual pinniped behaviors, numbers, or distributions and tag-bearing carcasses to the NMFS West Coast Regional Office. VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:43 Jul 03, 2018 Jkt 244001 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, Point Blue will immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast 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 will not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with Point Blue to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Point Blue 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), Point Blue will immediately report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Point Blue 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), E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 Point Blue will report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. Point Blue will 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. Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination NMFS has defined negligible impact 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 (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 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 harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS’s implementing regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this analysis via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as reflected in the regulatory status of the species, population size and growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality, or ambient noise levels). For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the following factors, NMFS does not expect Point Blue’s specified activities to cause longterm behavioral disturbance that would negatively impact an individual animal’s fitness, or result in injury, serious injury, or mortality. Although Point Blue’s survey activities may disturb marine mammals, NMFS expects those impacts to occur to localized groups of animals at or near survey sites. Behavioral disturbance would be limited to short-term startle responses and localized behavioral VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:43 Jul 03, 2018 Jkt 244001 changes due to the short duration (ranging from <15 minutes for visits at most locations up to 2–5 hours from April–August at SEFI) of the research activities. At some locations, where resupply activities occur, visits will occur once every two weeks. Minor and brief responses including short-duration startle reactions, are not likely to constitute disruption of behavioral patterns, such as migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (though the potential exists). These short duration disturbances (in many cases animals will return in 30 minutes or less) will generally allow marine mammals to reoccupy haulouts relatively quickly; therefore, these disturbances would not be anticipated to result in long-term disruption of important behaviors. No surveys will occur at or near rookeries as researchers will have limited access to SEFI, ANI, and PRNS during the pupping season and will not approach sites should pups be observed. Furthermore, breeding animals tend to be concentrated in areas that researchers generally do not visit. Therefore, NMFS does not expect mother and pup separation or crushing of pups during stampedes. Level B behavioral harassment of pinnipeds may occur during the operation of small motorboats. However, exposure to boats and associated engine noise would be brief and would not occur on a frequent basis. Results from studies demonstrate that pinnipeds generally return to their sites and do not permanently abandon haul-out sites after exposure to motorboats. The chance of a vessel strike is very low due to small boat size and slow transit speeds. Researchers will delay ingress into the landing areas until after the pinnipeds enter the water and will cautiously operate vessels at slow speeds. In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily support our determination that the impacts resulting from this activity are not expected to adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival: • No serious injury or mortality is anticipated or authorized. • Only limited behavioral disturbance in the form of short-duration startle reactions is expected while mitigation requirements employed by researchers (e.g. move slowly, use hushed voices) should further decrease disturbance levels. • There is no activity near rookeries and researchers will avoid pups. • There is likely to be limited impact from boats due to their small size, maneuverability and the requirement to PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 31377 delay ingress until after hauled out pinnipeds have entered the water. 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 required monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from the planned activity will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. Small Numbers As noted above, only small numbers of incidental take may be authorized under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for specified activities other than military readiness activities. The MMPA does not define small numbers and so, in practice, where estimated numbers are available, NMFS compares the number of individuals taken to the most appropriate estimation of abundance of the relevant species or stock in our determination of whether an authorization is limited to small numbers of marine mammals. Additionally, other qualitative factors may be considered in the analysis, such as the temporal or spatial scale of the activities. As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that four marine mammal stocks could potentially be affected by Level B harassment under the authorization. For each stock, these numbers are small relative to the population size. As shown previously in Table 3, these incidental harassment numbers represent approximately 10.9 percent of the U.S. stock of California sea lion, 0.98 percent of the California stock of Pacific harbor seal, 0.13 percent of the California breeding stock of northern elephant seal, and 0.10 percent of the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lion. Note that the number of individual marine mammals taken is assumed to be less than the take estimate (number of exposures) since we assume that the same animals may be behaviorally harassed over multiple days. Based on the analysis contained herein of the planned activity (including mitigation and monitoring measures) and the anticipated take of marine mammals, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the population size of the affected species or stocks. Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination There are no relevant subsistence uses of the affected marine mammal stocks or species implicated by this action. E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1 31378 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 129 / Thursday, July 5, 2018 / Notices 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. National Environmental Policy Act To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216–6A, NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an IHA) with respect to potential impacts on the human environment. This action is consistent with categories of activities identified in Categorical Exclusion B4 (IHAs with no anticipated serious injury or mortality) of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216–6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has determined that the issuance of the IHA qualifies to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review. Endangered Species Act (ESA) No incidental take of ESA-listed species is authorized or expected to result from this activity. Therefore, NMFS has determined that formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this action. Authorization As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to Point Blue for the potential harassment of small numbers of marine mammals incidental to seabird research activities in central California, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: June 29, 2018. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2018–14440 Filed 7–3–18; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with NOTICES1 Patent and Trademark Office USPTO Websites Customer Satisfaction Surveys ACTION: Proposed collection; comment request. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), as required SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:43 Jul 03, 2018 Jkt 244001 by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, invites comments on a proposed new information collection. DATES: Written comments must be submitted on or before September 4, 2018. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods: • Email: InformationCollection@ uspto.gov. Include ‘‘0651—New: Generic Clearance comment’’ in the subject line of the message. • Federal Rulemaking Portal: https:// www.regulations.gov. • Mail: Marcie Lovett, Director, Records and Information Governance Division, Office of the Chief Information Officer, United States Patent and Trademark Office, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313–1450. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Requests for additional information should be directed to Marcie Lovett, Director, Records and Information Governance Division, Office of the Chief Information Officer, United States Patent and Trademark Office, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313–1450; by telephone at 571–272–8123; or by email to Marcie.Lovett@uspto.gov with ‘‘Generic Clearance’’ in the subject line. Additional information about this collection can be found at https:// www.reginfo.gov under ‘‘Information Collection Review.’’ SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: I. Abstract This proposed information collection covers information gathered on the USPTO Websites Customer Satisfaction Surveys. These surveys provide a means to consistently assess, benchmark, and improve customer satisfaction with USPTO websites. The agency has partnered with ForeSee Results, Inc. to conduct this information collection. ForeSee Results’ methodology (Customer Experience Analytics or CXA) is a derivative of the widely used American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). This methodology combines survey data and a patented econometric model to precisely measure the customer satisfaction of website users, identify specific areas for improvement, and determine the impact of those improvements on customer satisfaction. The ultimate purpose of the surveys covered in this collection is to improve the quality of goods and services available to customers of the USPTO. The USPTO Websites Customer Satisfaction Surveys will be completed subject to the Privacy Act of 1974, Public Law 93–579, December 31, 1974 (5 U.S.C. 522a). The agency information collection will be used solely for the PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 purpose of the surveys. The contractor will not be authorized to release any USPTO information obtained through surveys without first obtaining permission from USPTO. In no case will any new system of records containing privacy information be developed by the USPTO or the contractor collecting the data. In addition, USPTO provides ForeSee only information sufficient to randomly select website visitors as potential survey respondents. The information collected in the surveys will enable USPTO to determine customer satisfaction metrics among various visitor sub-groups. This information collection will assist USPTO in improving customer service and addressing areas of concern in a targeted manner. This survey does not ask any questions of a sensitive nature or regarding sensitive topics. There is no other agency or organization able to provide the information that is accessible through the surveying approach used in this information collection. II. Method of Collection Customers will respond to the surveys electronically, as hosted on USPTO websites. III. Data OMB Number: 0651—New. IC Instruments and Forms: The individual instruments in this collection, as well as their associated forms, are listed in the table below. Type of Review: New collection. Affected Public: Individuals and households; businesses or other forprofits; and not-for-profit institutions. Estimated Number of Respondents: 100,000 responses per year. Estimated Time per Response: Approximately 8 minutes (0.133 hours) per response. Estimated Total Annual Respondent Burden Hours: 13,333.33 hours. Estimated Total Annual Respondent (Hourly) Cost Burden: $2,716,133.33. The USPTO expects that attorneys, paralegals and pro se applicants will complete these applications. The professional hourly rate for attorneys is $438, and the hourly rates for paralegals and pro se applicants are $145 and $28.14, respectively. The combination of these respondent types brings the average respondent rate to $203.71. The sources for these rates are the 2017 Report of the Economic Survey of the American Intellectual Property Association (AIPLA), the 2016 National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report of the National Association of the Legal Assistants (NALA), and the mean rate for office and administrative E:\FR\FM\05JYN1.SGM 05JYN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 129 (Thursday, July 5, 2018)]
[Notices]
[Pages 31372-31378]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-14440]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XG066


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in 
Central California

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

ACTION: Notice; Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization.

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

SUMMARY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given 
that NMFS has issued an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to 
Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue) to incidentally harass, by 
Level B harassment only, marine mammals during seabird research 
activities in central California.

DATES: This Authorization is effective from July 7, 2018 through July 
6, 2019.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rob Pauline, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the application 
and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in 
this document, may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities. In case of problems 
accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above.

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 (as delegated to NMFS) to allow, upon 
request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers 
of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity 
(other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region 
if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if 
the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed 
authorization is provided to the public for review.
    An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS 
finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings 
are set forth.
    NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as an 
impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably 
expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the 
species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival.
    The MMPA states that the term ``take'' means to harass, hunt, 
capture, kill or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine 
mammal.
    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 January 4, 2018, NMFS received a request from Point Blue for an 
IHA to take marine mammals incidental to seabird research monitoring 
conducted at three locations in central California. Point Blue's 
request is for take of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), 
harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), northern elephant seals (Mirounga 
angustirostris), and Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) by Level B 
harassment only. Neither Point Blue nor NMFS expect serious injury or 
mortality to result from this activity and, therefore, an IHA is 
appropriate.
    NMFS previously issued eight IHAs to Point Blue for similar work 
from 2006 through 2017 (72 FR 71121; December 14, 2007, 73 FR 77011; 
December 18, 2008, 75 FR 8677; February 19, 2010, 77 FR 73989; December 
7, 2012, 78 FR 66686; November 6, 2013, 80 FR 80321; December 24, 2015, 
81 FR 34978; June

[[Page 31373]]

1, 2016, 82 FR 31759; July 7, 2017). Point Blue complied with all the 
requirements (e.g., mitigation, monitoring, and reporting) of the 
previous IHAs and information regarding their monitoring results may be 
found in the Estimated Take section. The planned seabird research 
activities will occur on Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI), A[ntilde]o 
Nuevo Island (ANI), and Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). Point 
Blue, along with partners Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge and PRNS, plan to 
conduct research activities that have been ongoing for thirty years. 
These partners are conducting this research under cooperative 
agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 
consultation with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. 
We considered the IHA request for 2018-2019 activities as adequate and 
complete on February 28, 2018.

Description of Activity

    Point Blue plans to monitor and census seabird colonies; observe 
seabird nesting habitat; restore nesting burrows; and resupply a field 
station annually in central California (i.e., SEFI, ANI, and PRNS). The 
purpose of the seabird research is to continue a 30-year monitoring 
program of the region's seabird populations. Take by Level B harassment 
may occur due to incidental disturbance of pinnipeds by researchers 
during monitoring activities. A detailed description of the planned 
research project is provided in the Federal Register notice for the 
proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). Since that time, no changes 
have been made to the planned research activities. Therefore, a 
detailed description is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal 
Register notice for the description of the specific activity.

Comments and Responses

    A notice of NMFS's proposal to issue an IHA to the Point Blue was 
published in the Federal Register on May 7, 2018 (83 FR 20045). That 
notice described, in detail, Point Blue's activities, the marine mammal 
species that may be affected, and the anticipated effects on marine 
mammals. During the 30-day public comment period, the Marine Mammal 
Commission (Commission) provided comments as described below and 
concurred with NMFS's findings and recommended the issuance of an IHA, 
subject to the inclusion of the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
measures.
    Comment: The Commission requested clarification of certain issues 
associated with NMFS's notice that one-year renewals could be issued in 
certain limited circumstances and expressed concern that the process 
would bypass the public notice and comment requirements. The Commission 
also suggested that NMFS should discuss the possibility of renewals 
through a more general route, such as a rulemaking, instead of notice 
in a specific authorization. The Commission further recommended that if 
NMFS did not pursue a more general route, that the agency provide the 
Commission and the public with a legal analysis supporting our 
conclusion that this process is consistent with the requirements of 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA.
    Response: The process of issuing a renewal IHA does not bypass the 
public notice and comment requirements of the MMPA. The notice of the 
proposed IHA expressly notifies the public that under certain, limited 
conditions an applicant could seek a renewal IHA for an additional 
year. The notice describes the conditions under which such a renewal 
request could be considered and expressly seeks public comment in the 
event such a renewal is sought. Importantly, such renewals would be 
limited to where the activities are identical or nearly identical to 
those analyzed in the proposed IHA, monitoring does not indicate 
impacts that were not previously analyzed and authorized, and the 
mitigation and monitoring requirements remain the same, all of which 
allow the public to comment on the appropriateness and effects of a 
renewal at the same time the public provides comments on the initial 
IHA. NMFS has, however, modified the language for future proposed IHAs 
to clarify that all IHAs, including renewal IHAs, are valid for no more 
than one year and that the agency would consider only one renewal for a 
project at this time. In addition, notice of issuance or denial of a 
renewal IHA would be published in the Federal Register, as are all 
IHAs. Last, NMFS will publish on our website a description of the 
renewal process before any renewal is issued utilizing the new process.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities

    A detailed description of the species likely to be affected by the 
research and monitoring project, including brief introductions to the 
species and relevant stocks as well as available information regarding 
population trends and threats, and information regarding local 
occurrence, were provided in the Federal Register notice for the 
proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). Since that time, we are not 
aware of any changes in the status of these species and stocks; 
therefore, detailed descriptions are not provided here. Please refer to 
that Federal Register notice for these descriptions as well as to 
NMFS's website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/population-assessments/marine-mammals) for generalized species accounts. All 
species that could potentially occur in the planned survey areas are 
included in Table 1. Note that Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) 
and Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi) have been known to 
occur at some seabird research sites. However, their occurrence is 
extremely rare. Therefore, Point Blue did not request take of these 
species.

                                       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       PBR     Annual M/
                                                                                                \1\          abundance survey) \2\               SI \3\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Order Carnivora--Superfamily Pinnipedia
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Family Otariidae (eared seals and sea lions)
    California sea lion.............  Zalophus californianus.  U.S....................  -; N                296,750 (n/a; 153,337;      9,200        389
                                                                                                             2011).
    Steller sea lion................  Eumetopias jubatus.....  Eastern U.S............  D; Y                41,638 (n/a; 41,638;        2,498        108
                                                                                                             2015).
Family Phocidae (earless seals)
    Harbor seal.....................  Phoca vitulina           California.............  -; N                30,968 (0.157; 27,348;      1,641         43
                                       richardii.                                                            2012).

[[Page 31374]]

 
    Northern elephant seal..........  Mirounga angustirostris  California breeding      -; N                179,000 (n/a; 81,368;       4,882        8.8
                                                                stock.                                       2010).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Endangered Species Act (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. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality
  exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed
  under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock.
\2\ NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. 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 species' (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\ These values, found in NMFS's SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g.,
  commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV
  associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases.

Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their 
Habitat

    The effects of seabird researchers at the specified locations have 
the potential to result in harassment of marine mammals in the vicinity 
of the action area. The Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA 
(83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018) included a discussion of the effects of 
Level B harassment on marine mammals. Therefore, that information is 
not repeated here; please refer to the Federal Register notice for that 
information. No instances of serious injury or mortality are expected 
as a result of the specified activities.

Estimated Take

    This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes 
authorized through this IHA, which will inform both NMFS's 
consideration of ``small numbers'' and the negligible impact 
determination.
    Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these 
activities. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent 
here, section 3(18) of 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).
    Authorized takes are by Level B harassment only, in the form of 
disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals 
resulting from exposure to pedestrian researchers. Based on the nature 
of the activity, Level A harassment is neither anticipated nor 
authorized.
    As described previously, no mortality is anticipated or authorized 
for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated. NMFS 
bases these take estimates on historical data from five previous 
monitoring reports of the same activity to generate 95 percent 
confidence interval maximums (assuming normal distribution) using 
STATA, a general-purpose statistical computer software package. Results 
are shown in Table 2. Takes recorded in all previous monitoring reports 
were based on occurrences that are consistent with Levels 2 and 3 of 
the three-point-scale (See Table 4). For California sea lions and 
harbor seals, NMFS elected to use the values projected as shown in 
Table 2. However, since the projected take numbers for northern 
elephant seals and Steller sea lions were very close to recorded takes 
in 2017-2018, NMFS increased the take numbers for these species by 20 
percent over the actual 2017-2018 take numbers shown in Table 2. This 
provides a buffer so Point Blue can continue their work if recorded 
takes for those two species exceeded take numbers generated by the 
STATA program. Authorized take numbers are shown in Table 3.

      Table 2--Past Reported Take Observations and Estimated Take Authorized for 2018-2019 Point Blue Activities According to Statistical Analysis
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                         Reported take observations from past seasons \1\                   Authorized
                         Species                         -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- take 2018-2019
                                                            IHA (2013-      IHA (2014-      IHA (2015-      IHA (2016)      IHA (2017)          IHA
---------------------------------------------------------------2014)-----------2015)-----------2016)----------------------------------------------------
California Sea Lions....................................           3,610           2,254           4,646      \1\ 36,397          22,612          32,623
Northern Elephant Seals.................................              67              30              97             169             198             239
Harbor Seals............................................             109             141             259             292             234             304
Steller Sea Lions (E-DPS)...............................               4              12               6              31              35              43
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Large increase in California sea lions likely due to El Ni[ntilde]o event.


   Table 3--Population Abundance Estimates, Total Level B Take, and Percentage of Population That May Be Taken
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Percentage of
                Species                           Stock                Stock       Total level B     stock or
                                                                     abundance         take         population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
California sea lion...................  U.S.....................         296,750          32,623            10.9
Northern elephant seal................  California breeding              179,000             239            0.13
                                         stock.
Harbor seal...........................  California..............          30,968             304            0.98

[[Page 31375]]

 
Steller sea lion......................  Eastern U.S.............          41,638              43            0.10
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mitigation Measures

    In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, 
NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such 
activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable 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 (latter not applicable for this action). NMFS 
regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to 
include information about the availability and feasibility (economic 
and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting such 
activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 
216.104(a)(11)).
    In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to 
ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and 
their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we 
carefully consider two primary factors:
    (1) the manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful 
implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to 
marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat. 
This considers the nature of the potential adverse impact being 
mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further considers the 
likelihood that the measure will be effective if implemented 
(probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if implemented as 
planned) the likelihood of effective implementation (probability 
implemented as planned); and
    (2) the practicability of the measures for applicant 
implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on 
operations,.

Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

    Point Blue has based the mitigation measures, which they will 
employ during the research, on the implementation of protocols used 
during previous Point Blue research activities under previous 
authorizations for these activities. Note that Point Blue and NMFS have 
refined mitigation requirements over the years in an effort to reduce 
behavioral disturbance impacts to marine mammals.
    To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual 
stimuli associated with survey activities Point Blue will implement the 
following mitigation measures for marine mammals:
    (1) Slow approach to beaches for boat landings to avoid stampede, 
provide animals opportunity to enter water, and avoid vessel strikes;
    (2) Observe a site from a distance, using binoculars if necessary, 
to detect any marine mammals prior to approach to determine if 
mitigation is required (i.e., site surveys will not be conducted if fur 
seals are present; if other pinnipeds are present, researchers will 
approach with caution, walking slowly, quietly, and close to the ground 
to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce flushing/
stampeding of individuals);
    (3) Avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites by locating and 
taking a different access way. 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);
    (4) Cease or delay visits if the number of takes that have been 
granted are met, if a species for which takes were not granted is 
observed (e.g., northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals), or if pups 
are present
    (5) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out 
pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer 
whales (Orcinus orca) are present. If Point Blue and/or its designees 
see pinniped predators in the area, they must not disturb the pinnipeds 
until the area is free of predators;
    (6) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual 
presence of pinnipeds;
    (7) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on SEFI in an 
observation blind, shielded from the view of hauled out pinnipeds;
    (8) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest boxes on ANI if pinnipeds 
are within view;
    (9) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of SEFI (to 
reduce potential take) and coordinate research goals for ANI to 
minimize the number of trips to the island; and
    (10) Require beach landings on ANI only occur after any pinnipeds 
that might be present on the landing beach have entered the water.
    Based on our evaluation of the applicant's measures, as well as 
other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has determined that the 
prescribed mitigation measures provide the means effecting the least 
practicable impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, 
paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of 
similar significance.

Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth, requirements pertaining to 
the monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for 
authorizations 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 
planned action area. Effective reporting is critical both to compliance 
as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the required 
monitoring.
    Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS should 
contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the following:
     Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area 
in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, 
density);
     Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure 
to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or 
chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment 
(e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient

[[Page 31376]]

noise); (2) affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) 
co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) 
biological or behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or 
feeding areas);
     Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or 
physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), 
other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors;
     How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) 
Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) 
populations, species, or stocks;
     Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey 
species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of 
marine mammal habitat); and
     Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness.
    Point Blue will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in 
California 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 
pinnipeds or carcasses, allowing transmittal of the information to 
appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of 
marine mammals for agency follow-up.
    Required monitoring protocols for Point Blue will include the 
following:
    (1) Record of date, time, and location (or closest point of 
ingress) of each visit to the research site;
    (2) Composition of the marine mammals sighted, such as species, 
gender and life history stage (e.g., adult, sub-adult, pup);
    (3) Information on the numbers (by species) of marine mammals 
observed during the activities;
    (4) Estimated number of marine mammals (by species) that may have 
been harassed during the activities;
    (5) Behavioral responses or modifications of behaviors that may be 
attributed to the specific activities and a description of the specific 
activities occurring during that time (e.g., pedestrian approach, 
vessel approach); and
    (6) Information on the weather, including the tidal state and 
horizontal visibility.
    Note that the lead biologist should serve as an observer to record 
incidental take. For consistency, any reactions by pinnipeds to 
researchers will be recorded according to a three-point scale shown in 
Table 4. Note that only observations of disturbance noted in Levels 2 
and 3 should be recorded as takes.

           Table 4--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 in response to
                                              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.
2 **..............  Flush..................  All retreats (flushes) to
                                              the water.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Only observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 are recorded as takes.

    This information will be incorporated into a monitoring report for 
NMFS. The monitoring report will cover the period from January 1, 2018 
through December 31, 2018. NMFS has requested that Point Blue submit 
annual monitoring report data on a calendar year schedule, regardless 
of the current IHA's initiation or expiration dates. This will ensure 
that data from all consecutive months will be collected and, therefore, 
can be analyzed to estimate authorized take for future IHA's regardless 
of the existing IHA's issuance date. Point Blue will submit a draft 
monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources by April 1, 
2019. A final report will be prepared and submitted within 30 days 
following resolution of any comments on the draft report from NMFS. If 
no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be 
considered to be the final report. This report must contain the 
informational elements described above, at minimum.
    Point Blue must also report observations of unusual pinniped 
behaviors, numbers, or distributions and tag-bearing carcasses to the 
NMFS West Coast Regional Office.
    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, Point Blue will 
immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast 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 will not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with Point Blue to 
determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of 
further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Point Blue 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), Point Blue will immediately report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same 
information identified in the paragraph above. Activities may continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work 
with Point Blue 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),

[[Page 31377]]

Point Blue will report the incident to the Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, 
NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. Point Blue will 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.

Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination

    NMFS has defined negligible impact 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 (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 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 harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the 
likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context 
of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, 
migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness 
of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of 
estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population 
status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS's implementing 
regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other 
past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this 
analysis via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as 
reflected in the regulatory status of the species, population size and 
growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality, or 
ambient noise levels).
    For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the 
following factors, NMFS does not expect Point Blue's specified 
activities to cause long-term behavioral disturbance that would 
negatively impact an individual animal's fitness, or result in injury, 
serious injury, or mortality. Although Point Blue's survey activities 
may disturb marine mammals, NMFS expects those impacts to occur to 
localized groups of animals at or near survey sites. Behavioral 
disturbance would be limited to short-term startle responses and 
localized behavioral changes due to the short duration (ranging from 
<15 minutes for visits at most locations up to 2-5 hours from April-
August at SEFI) of the research activities. At some locations, where 
resupply activities occur, visits will occur once every two weeks. 
Minor and brief responses including short-duration startle reactions, 
are not likely to constitute disruption of behavioral patterns, such as 
migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (though the 
potential exists). These short duration disturbances (in many cases 
animals will return in 30 minutes or less) will generally allow marine 
mammals to reoccupy haulouts relatively quickly; therefore, these 
disturbances would not be anticipated to result in long-term disruption 
of important behaviors. No surveys will occur at or near rookeries as 
researchers will have limited access to SEFI, ANI, and PRNS during the 
pupping season and will not approach sites should pups be observed. 
Furthermore, breeding animals tend to be concentrated in areas that 
researchers generally do not visit. Therefore, NMFS does not expect 
mother and pup separation or crushing of pups during stampedes.
    Level B behavioral harassment of pinnipeds may occur during the 
operation of small motorboats. However, exposure to boats and 
associated engine noise would be brief and would not occur on a 
frequent basis. Results from studies demonstrate that pinnipeds 
generally return to their sites and do not permanently abandon haul-out 
sites after exposure to motorboats. The chance of a vessel strike is 
very low due to small boat size and slow transit speeds. Researchers 
will delay ingress into the landing areas until after the pinnipeds 
enter the water and will cautiously operate vessels at slow speeds.
    In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily 
support our determination that the impacts resulting from this activity 
are not expected to adversely affect the species or stock through 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival:
     No serious injury or mortality is anticipated or 
authorized.
     Only limited behavioral disturbance in the form of short-
duration startle reactions is expected while mitigation requirements 
employed by researchers (e.g. move slowly, use hushed voices) should 
further decrease disturbance levels.
     There is no activity near rookeries and researchers will 
avoid pups.
     There is likely to be limited impact from boats due to 
their small size, maneuverability and the requirement to delay ingress 
until after hauled out pinnipeds have entered the water.
    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 required monitoring and 
mitigation measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from 
the planned activity will have a negligible impact on all affected 
marine mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    As noted above, only small numbers of incidental take may be 
authorized under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for specified 
activities other than military readiness activities. The MMPA does not 
define small numbers and so, in practice, where estimated numbers are 
available, NMFS compares the number of individuals taken to the most 
appropriate estimation of abundance of the relevant species or stock in 
our determination of whether an authorization is limited to small 
numbers of marine mammals. Additionally, other qualitative factors may 
be considered in the analysis, such as the temporal or spatial scale of 
the activities.
    As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that four marine mammal 
stocks could potentially be affected by Level B harassment under the 
authorization. For each stock, these numbers are small relative to the 
population size. As shown previously in Table 3, these incidental 
harassment numbers represent approximately 10.9 percent of the U.S. 
stock of California sea lion, 0.98 percent of the California stock of 
Pacific harbor seal, 0.13 percent of the California breeding stock of 
northern elephant seal, and 0.10 percent of the eastern distinct 
population segment of Steller sea lion. Note that the number of 
individual marine mammals taken is assumed to be less than the take 
estimate (number of exposures) since we assume that the same animals 
may be behaviorally harassed over multiple days.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the planned activity 
(including mitigation and monitoring measures) and the anticipated take 
of marine mammals, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will 
be taken relative to the population size of the affected species or 
stocks.

Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination

    There are no relevant subsistence uses of the affected marine 
mammal stocks or species implicated by this action.

[[Page 31378]]

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.

National Environmental Policy Act

    To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 
42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6A, 
NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an IHA) 
with respect to potential impacts on the human environment.
    This action is consistent with categories of activities identified 
in Categorical Exclusion B4 (IHAs with no anticipated serious injury or 
mortality) of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216-
6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for 
significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for 
which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would 
preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has determined 
that the issuance of the IHA qualifies to be categorically excluded 
from further NEPA review.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    No incidental take of ESA-listed species is authorized or expected 
to result from this activity. Therefore, NMFS has determined that 
formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this 
action.

Authorization

    As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to 
Point Blue for the potential harassment of small numbers of marine 
mammals incidental to seabird research activities in central 
California, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring 
and reporting requirements are incorporated.

    Dated: June 29, 2018.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2018-14440 Filed 7-3-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P