Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries Research, 6576-6649 [2019-02738]

Download as PDF 6576 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 219 [Docket No. 161109999–8999–01] RIN 0648–BG44 Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries Research National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS’ Office of Protected Resources has received a request from NMFS’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to fisheries research conducted in the Atlantic Ocean along the southeastern U.S. coast and select estuaries, the Gulf of Mexico and select estuaries, and the Caribbean Sea over the course of five years from the date of issuance. We have also received a request from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to fisheries research in Texas bay systems. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue regulations to the SEFSC and, separately, TPWD, to incidentally take marine mammals during the specified activities. NMFS will consider public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of the requested MMPA authorizations and agency responses will be summarized in the final notice of our decision. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than March 29, 2019. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2019–0016, by any of the following methods: • Electronic submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docket Detail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0016, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit written comments to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jaclyn Daly, 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: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Purpose and Need for Regulatory Action This proposed rule, to be issued under the authority of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), establishes a framework for authorizing the take of marine mammals incidental to fisheriesindependent research conducted by the SEFSC (in the Atlantic Ocean and associated estuaries, Gulf of Mexico and associated estuaries, and Caribbean Sea) and TPWD (in Texas bays and estuaries). SEFSC and TPWD fisheries research has the potential to take marine mammals due to possible physical interaction with fishing gear (e.g., trawls, gillnets, hook-and-line gear) andexposure to noise generated by SEFSC sonar devices (e.g., echosounders, side-scan sonar). The SEFSC submitted an application to NMFS requesting five-year regulations and a letter of authorization (LOA) to take multiple species and stocks of marine mammals in the three specified research areas (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean). The SEFSC has requested take, by mortality, serious injury, and Level A harassment, incidental to the use of various types of fisheries research gear and Level B harassment incidental to the use of PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 active acoustic survey sources. TPWD has requested take of dolphins from four stocks, by mortality or serious injury, incidental to gillnet fishing in Texas bays. For both applicants, the regulations would be valid from 2018 to 2023. Legal Authority for the Proposed Action Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(A)) directs 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 for up to five years if, after notice and public comment, the agency makes certain findings and issues regulations that set forth permissible methods of taking pursuant to that activity, as well as monitoring and reporting requirements. Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA and the implementing regulations at 50 CFR part 216, subpart I provide the legal basis for issuing this proposed rule containing five-year regulations and Letters of Authorization. As directed by this legal authority, this proposed rule contains mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. Summary of Major Provisions Within the Proposed Regulations Following is a summary of the major provisions for the SEFSC within the proposed rulemaking. The SEFSC is required to: • Delay setting or haul in gear if marine mammal interaction may occur. • Monitor prior to and during sets for signs of potential marine mammal interaction. • Implement the ‘‘move-on rule’’ mitigation strategy during select surveys (note: this measure does not apply to bottlenose dolphins). • Limit gear set times (varies based on gear type). • Haul gear immediately if marine mammals may interact with gear. • Utilize dedicated marine mammal observations during select surveys. • Prohibit chumming. • Continue investigation on the effectiveness of modifying lazy lines to reduce bottlenose dolphin entanglement risk. • Establish and convene the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Working Group to better understand bottlenose dolphin entanglement events and apply effective mitigation strategies. Following is a summary of the major provisions for the TPWD within the proposed rulemaking. The TPWD is required to: E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 • Set only new or fully repaired gill nets thereby eliminating holes. • Set gillnets with minimal slack and a short marker buoy attached to the deep end of the net. • Conduct dedicated marine mammal observations at least 15 minutes prior to setting nets and avoid setting nets if dolphins are observed at or approaching the sampling station. • Minimize soak time by utilizing the ‘‘last out/first in’’ strategy for gillnets set in grids where marine mammals have been encountered within the last 5 years. • Avoid fishing grids where dolphins have interacted with gear on more than one occasion or where multiple adjacent grids have had at least one dolphin encounter. • Modify gillnets to avoid more than a 4 inch (in.) gap between float/lead line and net when net is set. 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 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). 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 incidental harassment authorization) with respect to potential impacts on the human environment. Accordingly, NMFS is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) to consider the environmental impacts associated with the issuance of the proposed regulations to SEFSC and TPWD. NMFS’ Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for Fisheries and Ecosystem Research Conducted and Funded by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center was made available for public comment from April 20 through May 20, 2016 (81 FR 23276). NMFS is modifying the draft EA to include TPWD gillnet fishing. We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice as we complete the NEPA process, prior to making a final decision on the incidental take authorization request. Summary of Request On May 4, 2015, NMFS Office of Protected Resources (OPR) received an application from the SEFSC for a rulemaking and associated 5-year Letter of Authorization (LOA) to take marine mammals incidental to fisheries research activities conducted by the SEFSC and 18 cooperating research partners in the Atlantic Ocean Research Area (ARA), Gulf of Mexico Research Area (GOMRA), and Caribbean Research Area (CRA). The SEFSC submitted a revised draft in October 2015, followed by another revision on April 6, 2016, which we deemed adequate and complete. On April 22, 2016 (81 FR 23677), we published a notice of receipt of the SEFSC’s application in the Federal Register, requesting comments and information related to the SEFSC’s request for thirty days. We received joint comments from The Humane Society of the United States and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, which we considered in development of this proposed rule and are available on the internet at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental/research.htm. The SEFSC request is for the take of 15 species of marine mammals by PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6577 mortality, serious injury, and Level A harassment (hereafter referred as ‘‘M/SI’’ assuming worst case scenario) and 34 species of marine mammals by Level B harassment. On July 29, 2015, NMFS received an application from TPWD requesting authorization for take of marine mammals incidental to fisheryindependent monitoring activities in Texas. On January 6, 2017 (82 FR 1721), we published a notice of receipt of the TPWD’s application in the Federal Register, requesting comments and information related to the TPWD’s request for thirty days. We received comments from the Marine Mammal Commission and the Texas Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association which we considered in the development of this proposed rule and are available on the internet at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ incidental-take-authorizations-undermarine-mammal-protection-act. In response to comments, TPWD submitted a subsequent application on May 11, 2017, which we deemed adequate and complete. Description of the Specified Activity SEFSC Overview The SEFSC is the research arm of NMFS in the Southeast Region. The SEFSC plans, develops, and manages a multidisciplinary program of basic and applied research to generate the information necessary for the conservation and management of the region’s living marine resources, including the region’s marine and anadromous fish and invertebrate populations to ensure they remain at sustainable and healthy levels. The SEFSC collects a wide array of information necessary to evaluate the status of exploited fishery resources and the marine environment from fishery independent (i.e., non-commercial or recreational fishing) platforms. Surveys are conducted from NOAA-owned and operated vessels, NOAA chartered vessels, or research partner-owned or chartered vessels in the state and Federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean south of Virginia, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. All work will occur within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) except two surveys which may occur outside the EEZ. The SEFSC plans to administer, fund, or conduct 74 fishery-independent survey programs over the five-year period the proposed regulations would be effective (see Table 1–1 in the SEFSC’s application). The SEFSC works with 18 Federal, state, or academic partners to conduct these surveys (see E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6578 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Table 1–1 in SEFSC’s application for a list of cooperating research partners). Of the 74 surveys, only 38 involve gear and equipment with the potential to take marine mammals. Gear types include towed trawl nets fished at various levels in the water column, seine nets, traps, longline and other hook and line gear. Surveys using any type of seine net (e.g., gillnets), trawl net, or hook and line (e.g., longlines) have the potential for marine mammal interaction (e.g., entanglement, hooking) resulting in M/ SI harassment. In addition, the SEFSC conducts hydrographic, oceanographic, and meteorological sampling concurrent with many of these surveys which requires the use of active acoustic devices (e.g., side-scan sonar, echosounders). These active sonars result in elevated sound levels in the water column, resulting in the potential to behaviorally disturb marine mammals resulting in Level B harassment. Many SEFSC surveys only occur at certain times of the year to align with the target species and age class being researched (see Table 1–1 in SEFSC’s application); however, in general, the SEFSC conducts some type of sampling year round in various locations. Specific dates and duration of individual surveys are inherently uncertain because they are based on congressional funding levels, weather conditions, and ship contingencies. For example, some surveys are only conducted every two or three years or when funding is available. Timing of the surveys is a key element of their design. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions, as well as ship contingencies, often dictate survey schedules even for routinely-conducted surveys. In addition, cooperative research is designed to provide flexibility on a yearly basis in order to address issues as they arise. Some cooperative research projects last multiple years or may continue with modifications. Other projects only last one year and are not continued. Most cooperative research projects go through an annual competitive selection process to determine which projects should be funded based on proposals developed by many independent researchers and fishing industry participants. The exact location of survey effort also varies year to year (albeit in the same general area) because they are often based on randomized sampling designs. Yearround, in all research areas, there is one or more than one survey planned that has the potential to take marine mammals. TPWD Overview TPWD conducts a long-term standardized fishery-independent VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 monitoring program to assess the relative abundance and size of finfish and shellfish in ten Texas bay systems using gillnets set perpendicular to the shoreline. Gill nets are set overnight during each spring and fall season for a total of four weeks per year. Bottlenose dolphins have the potential to become entangled in gillnet gear which can result in M/SI harassment. Specified Geographic Region—SEFSC The SEFSC conducts research in three research areas: The Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to Florida and associated estuaries (ARA), the Gulf of Mexico and associated estuaries (GOMRA), and the Caribbean around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (CRA). Research surveys occur both inside and outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and sometimes span across multiple ecological, physical, and political boundaries (see Figure1–2 in the SEFSC’s application for map). With respect to gear, Appendix B in the SEFSC Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) includes a table and figures showing the spatial and temporal distribution of fishing gears used during SEFSC research. The three research areas fully or partially encompass four Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs): The Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf LME (NE LME), the Southeast U.S. Continental Shelf LME (SE LME), the Gulf of Mexico LME, (GOM LME), and the Caribbean Sea LME (CS LME). LMEs are large areas of coastal ocean space, generally include greater than 200,000 square kilometers (km2) of ocean surface area and are located in coastal waters where primary productivity is typically higher than in open ocean areas. LME physical boundaries are based on four ecological criteria: bathymetry, hydrography, productivity, and trophic relationships. NOAA has implemented a management approach designed to improve the longterm sustainability of LMEs and their resources by using practices that focus on ensuring the sustainability of the productive potential for ecosystem goods and services. Figure 2–1 in the SEFSC’s application shows the location and boundaries of the three research areas with respect to LME boundaries. We note here that, while the SEFSC specified geographical region extends outside of the U.S. EEZ, into the Mexican EEZ (not including Mexican territorial waters), the MMPA’s authority does not extend into foreign territorial waters. The following provides a brief introduction to the characteristics of each research area. Additional descriptive material PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 concerning the geology, oceanography, and physical environment influencing species distribution within each of the research areas can be found in Chapter 3 of the Draft PEA. Atlantic Research Area The ARA constitutes more than 530,000 square miles (mi2) from North Carolina to Florida. Three key features of the ARA include the NE LME (however SEFSC research is only conducted south of Virginia), SE LME, and Gulf Stream. The NE LME encompasses approximately 115,831 mi2, and is structurally complex, with marked temperature changes, winds, river runoff, estuarine exchanges, tides and complex circulation regimes. The Shelf-Slope Front is associated with a southward flow of cold, fresh water from the Labrador Sea. The Mid-Shelf Front follows the 50-m isobath (Ullman and Cornillon 1999). The Nantucket Shoals Front hugs the namesake bank/ shaols along 20–30-m isobaths. The Wilkinson Basin Front and Jordan Basin Front separate deep basins from Georges Bank and Browns Bank (Mavor and Bisagni 2001). The SE LME extends from the Straits of Florida to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean. It is characterized by a temperate climate and has a surface area of about 300,000 km2, of which 2.44 percent is protected. It contains 0.27 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 18 estuaries and river systems. These estuarine and river systems, such as the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound (the second largest estuary in the nation) contain nearshore and barrier islands, fresh and estuarine waters, and extensive coastal marshes that provide unique habitats for living marine resources, including marine mammals (Aquarone 2009). Adjacent to the SE LME is the warm, saline, northward flowing Gulf Stream which is bounded by two fronts; the inshore Gulf Stream Front and the offshore Gulf Stream Front (see Figure 2–2). The inshore Gulf Stream Front extends over the upper continental slope and shelf break, approximately aligned with the 50meter isobath (Atkinson and Menzel 1985), while the offshore Gulf Stream Front runs parallel to it approximately 100 kilometers offshore. The Gulf Stream forms a semi-permanent offshore deflection near a deepwater bank southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, called the ‘Charleston Bump’ at 31.5 degrees north. The Mid-Shelf Front is aligned approximately with the 35-to-40 meter isobaths. Other shelf fronts separate a mixture of water masses formed by wintertime cold air outbreaks, river discharge, tidal mixing and wind-induced coastal upwelling E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules (Pietrafesa et al. 1985, Belkin et al. 2009). amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Gulf of Mexico Research Area The GOMRA encompasses more than 800,000 mi2. The SEFSC conducts fisheries research in portions of the GOM LME, a deep marginal sea bordered by Cuba, Mexico, and the U.S. It is the largest semi-enclosed coastal sea of the western Atlantic, encompassing more than 1.5 million km2, of which 1.57 percent is protected, as well as 0.49 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 0.02 percent of the world’s sea mounts (Sea Around Us 2007). The continental shelf is very extensive, comprising about 30 percent of the total area and is topographically very diverse (Heileman and Rabalais 2009). Oceanic water enters this LME from the Yucatan channel and exits through the Straits of Florida, creating the Loop Current, a major oceanographic feature and part of the Gulf Stream System (Lohrenz et al. 1999) (see Figure 2–4). The LME is strongly influenced by freshwater input from rivers, particularly the MississippiAtchafalaya, which accounts for about two-thirds of the flows into the Gulf (Richards & McGowan 1989) while freshwater discharges from the Mississippi River estuary and rivers of the Florida Panhandle contribute to the development and maintenance of 6 major oceanic fronts. Similar to the ARA, the GOMRA includes forty-seven major estuaries, many of which support numerous recreational and commercial fisheries and are home to resident bottlenose dolphin stocks. Caribbean Research Area The CRA is the smallest of the SEFSC research areas (approximately 400,000 mi2) and includes portions of the CS LME. The CS LME is a tropic sea bounded by North America (South Florida), Central and South America, and the Antilles chain of islands. The LME has a surface area of about 3.3 million km2, of which 3.89 percent is protected (Heileman and Mahon 2009). It contains 7.09 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 1.35 percent of the world’s sea mounts. The average depth is 2,200 meters, with the Cayman Trench being the deepest part at 7,100 meters. Most of the Caribbean islands are influenced by the nutrient-poor North Equatorial Current that enters the VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Caribbean Sea through the passages between the Lesser Antilles islands. Run-off from two of the largest river systems in the world, the Amazon and the Orinoco, as well as numerous other large rivers, dominates the north coast of South America (Muller-Karger 1993). Unlike the ARA and GOMRA, the SEFSC does not conduct research in estuarine waters within the CRA. TPWD Specified Geographic Area TPWD conducts fisheries research using gillnets in ten Texas bay systems: Laguna Madre, Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Matagorda Bay, East Matagorda Bay, Cedar Lakes, West Bay, Galveston Bay, and Sabine Lake (see Figure 1 and 2 in TPWD’s application). These systems are wide and shallow with little tidal elevation change. Detailed Description of Activities SEFSC The Federal government has a trust responsibility to protect living marine resources in waters of the U.S., also referred to as Federal waters. These waters generally lie 3 to 200 nautical miles (nm) from the shoreline. Those waters 3–12 nm offshore comprise territorial waters and those 12-to-200 nm offshore comprise the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), except where other nations have adjacent territorial claims. NOAA also conducts research to foster resource protection in state waters (i.e., estuaries and oceanic waters with 3 nm of shore). The U.S. government has also entered into a number of international agreements and treaties related to the management of living marine resources in international waters outside of the U.S. EEZ (i.e., the high seas). To carry out its responsibilities over Federal and international waters, Congress has enacted several statutes authorizing certain Federal agencies to administer programs to manage and protect living marine resources. Among these Federal agencies, NOAA has the primary responsibility for protecting marine finfish and shellfish species and their habitats. Within NOAA, NMFS has been delegated primary responsibility for the science-based management, conservation, and protection of living marine resources. The SEFSC conducts multidisciplinary research programs to PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6579 provide management information to support national and regional programs of NMFS and to respond to the needs of Regional Fishery Management Councils (FMCs), interstate and international fishery commissions, Fishery Development Foundations, government agencies, and the general public. SEFSC develops the scientific information required for fishery resource conservation, fishery development and utilization, habitat conservation, and protection of marine mammals and endangered marine species. Research is pursued to address specific needs in population dynamics, fishery biology and economics, engineering and gear development, and protected species biology. Specifically, research includes monitoring fish stock recruitment, abundance, survival and biological rates, geographic distribution of species and stocks, ecosystem process changes, and marine ecological research. To carry out this research, the SEFSC proposes to administer or conduct 74 survey programs during the 5-year period the proposed regulations would be effective; however, only 44 surveys have the potential to take marine mammals from gear interaction or acoustic harassment. Surveys would be carried out by SEFSC scientists alone or in combination with Federal, state, or academic partners while some surveys would be carried out solely by cooperating research partners. Surveys not conducted by SEFSC staff are included here because they are funded or have received other support (e.g., gear) by the SEFSC. SEFSC scientists conduct fishery-independent research onboard NOAA-owned and operated vessels or chartered vessels while partners conduct research aboard NOAA, their own or chartered vessels. Table 1 provides a summary of annual projects including survey name, entity conducting the survey, location, gear type, and effort. The information presented here augments the more detailed table included in the SEFSC’s application. In the subsequent section, we describe relevant active acoustic devices, which are commonly used in SEFSC survey activities. Appendix A of the SEFSC’s application contains detailed descriptions, pictures, and diagrams of all research gear and vessels used by the SEFSC and partners under this proposed rulemaking. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6580 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA Survey name (research agency) Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) General area of operation Vessel used Gear used Number of stations Gulf of Mexico Research Area HMS—GOM Shark Pupping & Nursery Survey (GULFSPAN), (SEFSC, USM/GCRL, UWF, FSU/CML) 1 * UWF is inactive. IJA Coastal Finfish Gillnet Survey, (MDMR) 1. Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance Survey, (SEFSC) 1. Pelagic Longline Survey—GOM, (SEFSC) 1. Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey-GOM, (SEFSC) 1. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 SEAMAP—GOM Bottom Longline Survey, (ADCNR, USM–GCRL, LDWF, TPWD) 1. IJA Biloxi Bay Beam Trawl Survey, (MDMR) 1. IJA Inshore Finfish Trawl Survey, (MDMR) 1. SEFSC—FL Panhandle in St. Andrew Bay and St. Joseph Bay, 1–10 m depths. Annual Apr–Oct, 30 DAS, (approximately 4 days/ month), daytime operations only. USCG Class I: R/V Mokarran, R/V Pristis. Set gillnet ........................ SEFSC—16–20 sets/ month, up to 120 sets total. Mississippi Sound, 1–9 m depths. Annual Apr–Oct, 8 DAS (1/month), daytime operations only. Annual May–Sep, 10 DAS (2/month), daytime operations only. USCG Class I: Small vessel. Set gillnet ........................ 3 sets/month, 21 sets total. Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay, and Santa Rosa Sound, 1.5–6 m depths. Northwest FL state Annual ............................ waters, 0.7–7 m depths. (A) Apalachee Bay ......... (A) Jan–Dec, 12 DAS (1/ month). (B) Alligator Pt.-Anclote (B) June & July, 20 DAS, Keys. daytime operations only. USCG Class I: State vessel. Set gillnet ........................ 10 sets/month, 50 sets total. USCG Class I: R/V Naucrates. Set gillnet ........................ 74 sets/yr total. State waters of southwest FL within Pine Island Sound in the Charlotte Harbor estuary. Depth ranges 0.6– 4.6 m depth. Mississippi Sound and estuaries; 0.2–2 m depths. Ten Thousand Islands, FL backcountry region, including areas in Everglades National Park and Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge in 0.2–1.0 m depths. U.S. GOM ....................... Annual May–Sep, 15 DAS, daytime operations only. USCG Class I: State vessel. Set gillnet ........................ Annual, Jan–Dec, 24 DAS, daytime operations only. Annual, Mar–Nov, 56 DAS (6–7 DAS/trip), daytime operations only. USCG Class I: Small vessel. Sinking gillnet, shallow deployment. 8 sets/month, 96 sets total. USCG Class I: R/V Pristis. Set gillnet, shallow deployment. ~20 sets/month, 180– 200 sets total. Intermittent, Feb–May, 30 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). Annually, July–Sep, 60 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). Annually, Apr–May, June–July, Aug–Sep. AL—8 DAS, day operations only. MS—16 DAS, day operations only. LA—30 DAS, day operations only. TX—10 DAS, day operations only. USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II. Pelagic longline .............. CTD profiler .................... 100–125 sets. 100–125 casts. USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II, R/V Gordon Gunter;. USCG Small R/V: R/V Caretta, R/V Gandy. USCG Class III: R/V E.O. Wilson, R/V Alabama Discovery, R/V Defender I, R/V Tom McIlwain, RV Jim Franks, R/V Nueces, R/V SanJacinto. USCG R/V: R/V Blazing Seven (2011–2014). Bottom longline ............... CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. 175 sets 175 casts. Bottom longline ............... AL—32 sets. MS—40. LA—98. TX—20. AL—32 casts. LA—40. MS—40 casts. TX—20. Randomly selected sites from FL to Brownsville, TX between bottom depths 9–366 m. AL—MS Sound, Mobile Bay, and near Dauphin Island. MS—MS Sound, south of the MS Barrier Islands, Chandeleur, and Breton Sound, and the area east of the Chandeleur Islands. LA—LA waters west of the MS River. TX—near Aransas Pass and Bolivar Roads Ship Channel. MS state waters in Biloxi Bay, 1–5 ft depths. MS state waters from Bay St. Louis, to approximately 2 miles south Cat Island, 5–25 ft depths. TX state waters in GalIJA Open Bay Shellfish veston, Matagorda, Trawl Survey, (TPWD) 1. Aransas, and Corpus Christi Bays and the lower Laguna Madre, 3–30 ft depths. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 (A) 24 sets. Bottom longline. CTD Profiler ................ Water quality and chemistry (YSI instruments, Niskin bottles, turbidity meter). (B) 50 sets. 74 sets/yr total. (A) 24 total. (B) 50 total. 16 sets/month (within two designated 10 km 2 grids), 80 sets total. Annually, Jan–Dec, 25 DAS, day operations only. Annually, Jan–Dec, 12 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I: R/V Grav I, R/V Grav II, R/V Grav IV. USCG Class I: small vessel R/V Geoship. Modified beam trawl ....... 11 trawls/month, 132 trawls total. Otter trawl ....................... 72 trawls. Annually, Jan–Dec, 120 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I: small vessel. USCG Class II: R/V Trinity Bay, R/V Copano Bay, R/V RJ Kemp. Otter trawl ....................... 90 trawls/month, 1080 trawls total. PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Water quality and chemistry (YSI instruments, Niskin bottles, turbidity meter). E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6581 TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) Oceanic Deep-water Trawl—GOM, (SEFSC) 1. St. Andrew Bay Juvenile Reef Fish Trawl Survey, (SEFSC) 1. Small Pelagics Trawl Survey, (SEFSC) 1. SEAMAP–GOM Shrimp/ Groundfish Trawl Survey, (SEFSC, FFWCC, ADCNR, USM/GCRL, LDWF) 1. SEFSC BRD Evaluations, (SEFSC) 1. SEFSC–GOM TED Evaluations, (SEFSC) 1. SEFSC Skimmer Trawl TED Testing, (SEFSC) 1. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 SEFSC Small Turtle TED Testing and Gear Evaluations, (SEFSC) 1. IJA Biloxi Bay Seine Survey, (MDMR) 1. IJA Oyster Dredge Monitoring Survey, (MDMR). VerDate Sep<11>2014 Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) General area of operation U.S. GOM waters >500 m deep. St. Andrew Bay, FL, up to 2 m depths. U.S. GOM in depths of 50–500 m. U.S. GOM from FL to Mexico in depths of 30–360 ft. State and Federal nearshore and offshore waters off FL, AL, MS, and LA at depths of 10–35 m. Also Mississippi Sound at depths of 3–6 m. State and Federal nearshore and offshore waters off FL, AL, MS, and LA at depths of 10–35 m. Also Mississippi Sound at depths of 3–6 m. Conducted in Mississippi Sound, Chandeleur Sound, and Breton Sound at depths of 2– 6 m. State waters in St. Andrews Bay, FL and off Shell Island and/or Panama City Beach, FL at depths of 7–10 m. MS state waters in Biloxi Bay, 1–5 ft depths. MS state waters, at commercially important oyster reefs: Pass Christian Complex, Pass Marianne Reef, Telegraph Reef and St. Joe Reef, in 5–15 ft depths. 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Intermittent due to funding, 20 DAS, 24 hour operations. * conducted in 2009 & 2010 and in the future as funding allows. Annually, May–Nov, 28 DAS, day operations only, (one day/week). Annually, Oct–Nov, 40 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). Annually, summer (June & July) and fall (Oct– Nov), effort evenly divided between seasons unless noted; all surveys have 24 hour operations-set/haul anytime day or night. SEFSC—80 DAS ........... FL—20 DAS (summer only). AL—6 DAS ..................... MS—6 DAS .................... LA—5 DAS ..................... Annually, May & Aug (one week/month), 14 DAS, night operations only. Vessel used USCG R/V: R/V Gunter, R/V Pisces. Gear used High Speed Midwater Trawl, Aleutian Wing Trawl. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. USCG Class I: Boston Whaler. Benthic Trawl .................. USCG R/V: R/V Gordon Gunter, R/V Pisces. High-opening bottom trawl. USCG Class II: R/V Trinity Bay, R/V Copano Bay, R/V RJ Kemp. USCG Class III: R/V A.E. Verrill, R/V Alabama Discovery, R/V Sabine Lake, R/V Nueces, R/V San Jacinto, R/V San Antonio, R/V Matagorda Bay. USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II, R/V Tommy Munro, R/V Weatherbird II, R/ V Pelican, R/V Blazing Seven (2011–2014), R/ V Point Sur. USCG Class III: R/V Caretta. Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. ADCP .............................. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. Otter trawl ....................... CTD profiler and rosette water sampler TPWD uses YSI Datasonde 6600 v2–4. Western jib shrimp trawls Number of stations 60 trawls (2–3 per day). 60 casts. Tow speed: 0. Duration: 60–90 min. 13 trawls per week, 24 weeks, 312 trawls total. 150–200 trawls. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. 250 casts. Effort evenly divided between seasons unless noted. SEFSC—345 trawls (summer), 325 (fall). FL—160 (summer only). AL—16–24. MS—60. LA—32. SEFSC—395 casts (summer), 305 (fall). FL—200 (summer only). AL—20. MS—81. LA—39. 20 paired trawls each season, 40 paired trawls total. Annually, May, Aug, & Sep (one week/month), 21 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I & II: NOAA small boats. USCG Class III: R/V Caretta. Western jib shrimp trawls 30 paired trawls per season, 90 paired trawls total. Annually until 2016 (tentative depending on funding and need) May–Dec, 5–15 DAS/ month, 60 DAS total, 24 hour operations-set/ haul anytime day or night. Annually , 21 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class III: R/V Caretta. Skimmer trawls ............... 600 paired trawls. USCG Class III: R/V Caretta. Western jib shrimp trawls are utilized during TED evaluations. 100 paired trawls. USCG Class I & II: R/V Grav I, R/V Grav II, R/ V Grav IV, small vessel. USCG Class I: R/V Rookie. USCG Class II: R/V Silvership. Bag seine ....................... 11 sets/month, 132 sets total. Oyster dredge ................. 38 tows. Annually, Jan–Dec, 25 DAS, day operations only. Annually, Jan–Dec, 12 DAS, day operations only. PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6582 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) IJA Shoreline Shellfish Bag Seine Survey, (TPWD) 1. Marine Mammal and Ecosystem Assessment Survey-GOM, (SEFSC) 1. Northeast GOM MPA Survey, (SEFSC). *Currently Inactive ........... Panama City Laboratory Reef Fish (Trap/Video) Survey, (SEFSC). SEAMAP–GOM Finfish Vertical Line Survey, (ADCNR, LDWF, USM/ GCRL). amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 SEAMAP–GOM Plankton Survey, (ADCNR, LDWF, USM/GCRL). Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) General area of operation TX state waters in Galveston, Matagorda, Aransas, and Corpus Christi Bays and the lower Laguna Madre, 0–6 ft depths. Northern GOM ................ Madison-Swanson, Steamboat Lumps, and The Edges marine reserves on the West Florida Shelf. Penscecola, FL to Cedar Key, FL. State and Federal waters off Alabama at sampling depths from 60 to 500 ft and LA waters west of the Mississippi River across three depth strata (60–120 ft, 120–180 ft, and 180– 360 ft) and selected areas of Texas at three depth strata (33–66 ft, 66–132 ft, and 132– 495 ft). Stations are sampled during daylight hours. State and Federal waters off MS. Sampling depths 5–55 fathoms.. Stations are sampled during daylight hours. State and Federal waters off the coast of AL, MS, LA, and FL. SEAMAP–GOM Plankton Survey, (SEFSC). Coastal, shelf and open ocean waters of the GOM. SEAMAP–GOM Reef Fish Monitoring, (FFWCC). West FL shelf from 26°N to Dry Tortugas, FL. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Vessel used Gear used Annually, Jan–Dec, 120 DAS, day operations only. N/A .................................. Bag seine ....................... 100 sets/month, 1200 total. Every three years, June– Sep, 60 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). USCG R/V: R/V Gordon Gunter. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. 60 casts. 300 units. Annually, Feb–Mar, 60 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class III: R/V Caretta. Expendable bathythermographs. ADCP .............................. Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. Passive acoustic arrays 4-camera array ............... CTD Profiler .................... Continuous. 100—200 deployments 100—200 casts. Annually, May–Sep, 40 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class II: R/V Harold B, USCG Class III: R/V Caretta, R/V Defender, R/V Apalachee. 4-camera array ............... 200 deployments. 100 sets. AL: Annually, two intervals: spring (Apr/May) and summer (July– Sep), 9 DAS, day operations only. LA and TX: Annually, April–Oct. USCG Class III: R/V Escape, R/V Lady Ann, R/V Defender I. USCG R/V: R/V Blazing Seven (2011–2014), Poseidon, Trident R/V Sabine, San Jacinto, San Antonio, Nueces, Laguna. Chevron fish trap outfitted with one GoPro video camera. CTD profiler .................... Bandit gear ..................... Annually, Mar–Oct, 16 DAS (4 days/month), day operations only. USCG Class III: R/V Jim Franks. Bandit gear ..................... 15 stations/season—45 stations total, 3 sets per station, 135 sets total. AL: Annually, Aug–Sep, 2 DAS, day operations only. LA: Annually, June, Sep, 2 DAS, day operations only. MS: Annually, May and Sep, 4 DAS, 24 hour operations. Annually, Feb–Mar (winter), 30 DAS;. Apr–May (spring), 60 DAS;. Aug–Sep (fall), 36 DAS .. 24 hour operations (set/ haul anytime day or night). Annual, July–Sep, 50 DAS, daylight hours. USCG Class III: R/V A.E. Verrill, R/V Alabama Discovery, R/V Acadiana. USCG R/V: R/V Blazing Seven (2011–2014), R/ V Point Sur; R/V Defender. Bongo net ....................... USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II, R/V Gordon Gunter, R/V Pisces. Bongo net ....................... Neuston net .................... MOCNESS ..................... Methot juvenile fish net .. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. AL: 6 tows. LA: 9 tows. MS: 20 tows. AL: 6 tows. LA: 9 tows. MS/FL: 20 tows. AL: 6 casts. LA: 9 casts. MS/FL: 20 casts. 650 tows. 650 tows. 378 tows. 126 tows. 756 casts. USCG Class I & II: R/V No Frills, R/V Gulf Mariner, R/V Sonic, R/ V Johnson, chartered fishing vessels. USCG Small R/V: R/V Bellows, R/V Apalachee. USCG R/V: R/V Weatherbird. 2-camera array ............... Chevron fish trap ............ CTD profiler .................... PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Neuston net .................... CTD Profiler .................... E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Number of stations Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. 200 casts. AL: 120 sets per season, 240 sets total. LA: 100 sets total. TX: 165 sets total. 150 deployments. 300–450 sets. 300 casts. Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6583 TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) General area of operation Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) SEAMAP–GOM Reef Fish Survey, (SEFSC). Gulf-wide survey from Brownsville, TX to Key West, FL, in depths of 15–500 ft. Approximately 7.0% of this survey effort (458 stations) occurs within the Florida Garden Banks NMS. Annual, Apr–July, 60 DAS, 24 hour operations on large vessels (cameras, traps, bandit—daytime only), 12 hour operations on small vessels (daytime only). IJA Oyster Visual Monitoring Survey, (MDMR). MS state waters, 5–15 ft depths. Reef Fish Visual Census Survey—Dry Tortugas, Flower Gardens (SEFSC). Tortugas Ecological Reserve Survey, (SEFSC) *. *Currently inactive since 2015.. Dry Tortugas area in the GOM, <33m deep. Tortugas South Ecological Reserve, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Vessel used USCG Class III: R/V Caretta, R/V Gandy. USCG R/V: R/V Pisces, R/V Oregon II. USCG R/V: Southern Journey. NOAA Ship: Gordon Hunter. Gear used Number of stations 4-camera array ............... Chevron trap (discontinued use in 2013). CTD Profiler .................... Bandit Reels ................... Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. Simrad ME70 Multi-beam echosounder. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. SCUBA divers ................ 400–600 deployments. 50–100 sets. 300 stations (4 dives per station). 400–600 casts. 120 sets. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. ∼ 20 dives. Annually, Sep/Oct to Apr/ May of following year, 12 DAS, day operations only. Biannually, May–Sept, 25 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I & II: R/V Silvership, R/V Rookie. USCG Class II & III: Chartered dive vessel. SCUBA divers with meter sticks, 30 cm rule and digital camera. Biannually, summer (June or July), 6 days, day and night 12 hour operations. *Survey has been discontinued since 2015. USCG Class II & III: Chartered vessel. SCUBA divers, transect 16 stations, each station tape, clipboards/pencils. done 2–3 times. Atlantic Research Area ACFCMA American Eel Fyke Net Survey, (SCDNR). Goose Creek Reservoir or the Cooper River, near Charleston, SC, 1–7 ft depths. Annually, Feb–Apr, 32 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class A: John Boat—no motor, walk/ wade to work net. ACFCMA American Shad Drift Gillnet Survey, (SCDNR) 1. RecFIN Red Drum Trammel Net Survey, (SCDNR). Santee, Edisto, Waccamaw, Combahee Rivers, SC. Coastal estuaries and rivers of SC in depths of 6 ft or less along shoreline.. Chesapeake Bay and state and Federal waters off Virginia. Annual, Jan–Apr, (2–3 trips/week), 40 DAS, day operations only. Annually, Jan–Dec, 120– 144 DAS (14–18 days/ month), day operations only. Annually, May–Oct (5 days/month), 30 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I: R/V Bateau R/V McKee Craft. South Atlantic Bight (between 27°N and 34°N, but mostly off GA and SC). Sampling occurs in Federal waters. Depths from ∼ 500 to 860 ft. South Atlantic Bight (between 27°N and 34°N). HMS Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Virginia Bottom Longline Shark Survey, (VIMS) 1. MARMAP Reef Fish Long Bottom Longline Survey, (SCDNR) 1. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 MARMAP/SEAMAP–SA Reef Fish Survey, (SCDNR) 1. *Inactive 2012–2014 ........ Pelagic Longline SurveySA, (SEFSC) 1. (See also effort conducted in the GOMRA). Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey-SA, (SEFSC) 1. (See also effort conducted in the GOMRA). VerDate Sep<11>2014 Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL. Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL between bottom depths 9–183 m. 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Fyke net .......................... 1 station per day, 40 collections total. Thermometer .................. Drift gillnet ...................... 32 casts. 4–5 sets/trip, 120 sets total. USCG Class I: Florida Mullet Skiffs. Trammel net ................... USCG Class III: R/V Bay Eagle. Bottom longline ............... Hydrolab MS5 Sonde ..... 1000 sets/yr covering 225 stations/yr. Operates in 7–9 strata/ month. 50 sets. 50 casts. Annually 1996–2012 *, Aug–Oct, 10–20 DAS, day operations only. *Halted in 2012 but will resume annually if funding obtained. USCG Small R/V: R/V Lady Lisa. Bottom longline ............... CTD profiler .................... 60 sets. 60 casts. Annually, year-round but primarily Apr–Oct, 70– 120 DAS, day operations only. Bottom longline ............... Bandit reels .................... CTD profiler .................... Intermittent, Feb–May, 30 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). Annually, July–Sep, 60 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). USCG R/V: R/V Palmetto Chevron fish trap out600 sets. fitted with two cameras. PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4701 60 sets. ........................... 400 sets. ......................... 300 casts.. USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II. USCG Class III: R/V Caretta. USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II, R/V Gordon Gunter. Sfmt 4702 Pelagic Longline ............. CTD profiler .................... 100–125 sets. 100–125 casts. Bottom longline ............... 70 sets. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. Neuston and bongo effort if needed to augment SEAMAP plankton objectives. 70 casts. 0–20 tows. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6584 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) General area of operation Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) SEAMAP–SA Red Drum Bottom Longline Survey, (NCDEQ, SCDNR, GDNR) 1. NC: Pamlico Sound or in the nearshore waters of Ocracoke Inlet. SC: Estuaries out to 10 miles in Winyah Bay, Charleston Harbor, St. Helena Sound, and Port Royal Sound. GA: State and Federal waters off the coast of GA and NE FL, (∼32°05′N latitude to the north, 29°20′N latitude to the south, 80°30′W longitude to the east, and the coastline to the west.). Georgia state waters out to three nm, 10–35 ft depths. ACFCMA Ecological Monitoring Trawl Survey, (GDNR) 1. Creeks and rivers of ACFCMA Juvenile Stage three Georgia sound Trawl Survey, (GDNR) 1. systems (Ossabaw, Altamaha, and St. Andrew). Atlantic Striped Bass Tagging Bottom Trawl Survey, (USFWS) 1. Juvenile Sport Fish Trawl Monitoring in Florida Bay, (SEFSC) 1. Oceanic Deep-water Trawl Survey (SEFSC) 1. *Currently Inactive ........... SEAMAP–SA NC Pamlico Sound Trawl Survey, (NCDENR) 1. North of Cape Hatteras, NC, in state and Federal waters, 30–120 ft depths. Florida Bay, FL ............... Southeastern U.S. Atlantic waters >500 m deep. Pamlico Sound and the Pamlico, Pungo, and Neuse rivers in waters ≥6 ft deep. Vessel used Gear used Annually .......................... NC: mid-July to mid-Oct (2 days/week for 12 weeks), 24 DAS, 12 hour operations, beginning at dusk. SC: Aug–Dec, day operations only 36 DAS GA: Apr–Dec (6 days/ month), 54 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class II: 26 ft outboard. USCG Class III: R/V Marguerite, R/V Silver Crescent. Bottom longline ............... Annually, Jan–Dec (7 days/month), 84 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class III: R/V Anna. Otter trawl ....................... 42 trawls/month, 504 trawls total. YSI 85 (Dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature). Otter trawl ....................... 504 casts total. Annually, Dec–Jan (3 days/month), 36 DAS, day operations only. Annually, Jan–Feb, 14 DAS, 24 hour operations (set/haul anytime day or night). Annually, May–Nov, 35 DAS, day operations only. Intermittent due to funding, 20 DAS, 24 hour operations (trawls may be set and retrieved day or night), *conducted as funding allows. Annually, June & Sep, 20 DAS (10 days/month), day operations only. USCG Class I: 19 ft Cape Horn; 25 ft Parker. USCG R/V: R/V Oregon II, R/V Cape Hatteras, R/V Savannah. YSI (Dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature). YSI 85 (Dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature). 65 ft high-opening bottom trawls. High Speed Midwater Trawl, Aleutian Wing Trawl. 60 trawls (2–3 per day). CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. Otter trawl: paired mongoose-type Falcon bottom trawls. 60 casts. Ponar grab ...................... 54 casts each month, 108 total. 54 casts each month, 108 total. USCG Class III: R/V Carolina Coast. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 USCG Small R/V: R/V Lady Lisa. SEFSC–SA TED Evaluations, (SEFSC) 1. State and Federal waters off Georgia and eastern FL. USCG Class III: R/V Georgia Bulldog. In-Water Sea Turtle Research (SCDNR) 1. Winyah Bay, SC to St. Augustine, FL in water depths of 15–45 ft. Annually, Nov–Apr, 10 DAS, 24 hour operations-set/haul anytime day or night. Annually, mid-May through late Jul to early Aug, 24–30 DAS, day operations only. Frm 00010 Fmt 4701 200–350 trawls. USCG R/V: NOAA ships Annually, Apr–May (spring), July–Aug (summer), and Oct– Nov (fall), 60–65 DAS, day operations only. PO 00000 216 casts total. ¥500 trawls. Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL in nearshore oceanic waters of 15–30 ft depth. Jkt 247001 18 trawls/month, 216 trawls total. Otter trawl ....................... SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey, (SCDNR) 1. 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 NC: 75–100 sets total. SC: 360 sets. GA: 200–275 sets. NC: 75–100 casts. SC: 360 casts. GA: 200–275 casts. USCG Class I: R/V Batou. YSI 556 (Dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature). Secchi disk ..................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 Number of stations USCG Class III: R/V Georgia Bulldog. USCG Small R/V: R/V Lady Lisa. Sfmt 4702 Otter trawl: paired mongoose-type Falcon bottom trawls. 54 trawls each month, 108 trawls total. 54 casts each month, 108 total. 300–350 trawls total, evenly divided between seasons. SEABIRD electronic CTD Otter trawl: Mongoose shrimp trawls. 300–350 casts. 50 paired trawls. Paired flat net bottom trawls (NMFS Turtle Nets per Dickerson et al. 1995) with tickler chains. 400–450 trawls. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6585 TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) ACFCMA American Eel Pot Survey for Yellowphase Eels, (GADNR). Beaufort Bridgenet Plankton Survey, (SEFSC). Integrated Biscayne Bay Ecological Assessment and Monitoring Project (IBBEAM) Project, (SEFSC). Intraspecific Diversity in Pink Shrimp Survey, (SEFSC). *Currently inactive ........... Marine Mammal and Ecosystem Assessment Survey-SA, (SEFSC) 1. RecFIN Red Drum Electrofishing Survey, (SCDNR). St. Lucie Rod-and-Reel Fish Health Study, (SEFSC) 1. *Currently inactive ........... SEAMAP–SA Gag Ingress Study, (SCDNR). *Inactive since 2016 ........ Southeast Fishery Independent Survey (SEFIS) (SEFSC) 1. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 U.S. South Atlantic MPA Survey, (SEFSC) 1. VerDate Sep<11>2014 General area of operation Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) Georgia state waters in the Altamaha River System. Sampling is conducted during daylight hours. Depth ranges from 2 to 20 ft. Pivers Island Bridge, NOAA Beaufort facility, Beaufort, NC. Annually. Sampling monthly Nov–Apr. based on water temp. 36 DAS (6 days/ month), day operations only. Annually, Nov–May (some years monthly Jan–Dec), night operations only sampling occurs once per week, n + 4 tows per night. Twice annually, May–Oct (wet season) and Nov– Apr (dry season), 14 DAS, day operations only. Annually, June–Aug, 16 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I: 19 ft Cape Horn, 18 ft skiff. Eel traps/pots with float .. 30 stations (180 sets/ month; 30 traps set each of 6 days). None ............................... Plankton net ................... 125 tows. USCG Class II & III vessels. Human divers ................. Throw trap ...................... 100 dives 372 casts. USCG Class I: R/V Privateer. Miniature roller-frame trawl. Dip net ............................ Bag seine ....................... 40 trawls. Every three years, June– Sep, 60 DAS, 24 hour operations. USCG R/V: R/V Gordon Gunter. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. 60 casts. Expendable bathythermographs. Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. Passive acoustic arrays 18 ft elecrofishing boat ... 300 units. Western shoreline of Biscayne Bay, FL. Florida Bay, Whitewater Bay, Fakahatchee Bay, Biscayne Bay, Sanibel shrimp fishery, Tortugas shrimp fishery. Southeastern U.S. Atlantic. Coastal estuaries and rivers of SC in depths of 6 ft or less in low salinity waters (0–12 ppt). Nearshore reef, inlet, and estuary of St. Lucie River, FL inlet system (Jupiter or Ft. Pierce, FL). In the vicinity of Swansboro, NC; Wilmington, NC; Georgetown, SC; Charleston, SC; Beaufort, SC; Savannah, GA; and Brunswick, GA. Cape Hatteras, NC, to St. Lucie Inlet, FL. Fifteen survey stations occur within Gray’s Reef NMS. Jacksonville, FL to Cape Fear, NC on or near the continental shelf edge at depths between 80 and 600 m. 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Annually, Jan–Dec, 60– 72 DAS (5–6 days/ month), day operations only. Annually, Jan–Dec, weekly, 156 DAS, day operations only. Vessel used USCG Class I: Small vessels. Gear used Number of stations 40 samples. 40 sets. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. 360 stations per year (30 sites/month). USCG Class I: Small vessels. Rod and reel gear .......... 468 stations per year: 3/ day × 3 day/wk. Annually, Mar–June, 100 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I: Small vessels. Witham collectors ........... 15 sets (4 collectors at each set), 60 sets total. Annually, Apr–Oct, 30–80 DAS, 24 hour operations (cameras & traps-daytime operations, acoustics—anytime day or night). USCG R/V: R/V Nancy Foster, R/V Pisces, R/ V Savannah. Chevron fish trap outfitted with 2 high-definition video cameras. 1000 deployments. CTD profiler .................... Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. Multi-frequency singlebeam active acoustics. ROV Phantom S2 vehicle with tether attached to CTD cable. CTD profiler .................... 100–200 casts. Continuous. Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. Every other night for 6– 12 hrs. Every other night for 6– 12 hrs. Annually, May–Aug, 14 DAS, 24 hour operations (ROV daytime operations, acoustics— anytime day or night). PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4701 USCG R/V: R/V Pisces, R/V Nancy Foster, R/V Spree. Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Continuous. 10–40 deployments. 28 casts. 6586 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) FL/Dry Tortugas Coral Reef Benthic Survey, (SEFSC). Demographic Monitoring of Acropora Species, (SEFSC). Reef Fish Visual Census Survey—Florida Keys/ SE Florida Shelf, (SEFSC). General area of operation Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) Vessel used Survey area encompasses Federal and territorial waters from Dry Tortugas to Martin County, FL. Surveys occur within the Florida Keys NMS (150 stations). Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Quarterly-annually, May– Oct, 100 DAS. USCG Class I & II: small vessels. SCUBA divers with measuring devices, cameras, and hand tools. 300 dives. 3x per year, ∼35 DAS ..... USCG Class I ................. SCUBA divers ................ 30 fixed plots. Annually, May–Sep, 25 DAS, day operations only. USCG Class I: R/V Aldo Leopold. SCUBA divers with meter sticks, 30 cm rule and digital camera. 300 dives. Bongo net ....................... MOCNESS ..................... CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. Bandit Reels ................... 4-camera array ............... Chevron traps ................. CTD profiler .................... Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. CTD profiler and rosette water sampler. 75 tows 75 tows 75 casts. Expendable bathythermographs Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. Simrad ME70 Multi-Beam echosounder. EK60 Multi-frequency single-beam active acoustics. Passive acoustic arrays Camera array—two GoPro cameras and four lasers set on an aluminum frame. 300 units. USCG Class III: Two chartered vessels. Bottom longline ............... 45 sets/season, 180 sets total. USCG Class I & III: Three chartered vessels. Rod-and-reel gear .......... 120 stations (360 lines total). USCG Class I & II: Small vessel <28 ft. SCUBA divers with measuring devices and hand tools. SCUBA divers with meter sticks, 30 cm rule and digital camera. SCUBA divers, SCUBA gear and underwater scooters. 300 dives. Fifty-six modified Witham pueruli collectors. 6 stations along the west coast platform per depth and distance from the shoreline. Florida Keys NMS and SE Florida Shelf, <33 m deep. Gear used Number of stations Caribbean Research Area. Caribbean Plankton Recruitment Experiment, (SEFSC). Caribbean and Mexican waters. Caribbean Reef Fish Survey, (SEFSC) 1. PR and USVI, continental shelf waters. Marine Mammal and Ecosystem Assessment Survey-C, (SEFSC) 1. SEAMAP–C Reef Fish Survey (PR–DNER, USVI–DFW). *Began 2017 USVI and PR territorial and Federal waters at 15–300 ft depths. SEAMAP–C Lane Snapper Bottom Longline Survey, (PR–DNER) 1. East, west, and south coasts of PR in territorial and Federal waters at depths ranging from 15–300 ft. East, west, and south coasts of PR in territorial and Federal waters at depths ranging from 15–300 ft. Federal and territorial waters around PR, USVI, and Navassa. PR and USVI waters <100 ft deep. SEAMAP–C Yellowtail Snapper Rod-and-Reel Survey, (PR–DNER) 1. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 U.S. Caribbean Sea ....... Caribbean Coral Reef Benthic Survey, (SEFSC). Reef Fish Visual Census Survey—U.S. Caribbean, (SEFSC). SEAMAP–C Queen Conch Visual Survey, (PR–DNER, USVI– DFW). SEAMAP–C Spiny Lobster Post Larvae Settlement Surveys, (PR– DNER). VerDate Sep<11>2014 PR and USVI territorial waters in 10–90 ft depths, some sampling occurs in Federal waters. PR territorial waters in 6– 90 ft depths. 21:50 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Bi-annually, Feb or June, 15 DAS, 24 hour operations, anytime day or night. Every two years, Mar– June, 40 DAS, 24 hour operations. Every three years, June– Sep, 60 DAS, 24 hour operations-acoustics— anytime day or night. Annually, Jan–Dec, ........ (Day operations only) ..... PR: 70 DAS for each coast. USVI: ∼30 DAS. Annually beginning July 2015, (summer, winter, fall, spring), 120 DAS (30 days/season), night operations only. Annually beginning 2014, (4 sampling seasons), 120 DAS, night operations only. Annual to triennial, May– Oct, 30 DAS, day operations only. Annually, May–Sept, 25 DAS, day operations only. Annually, ......................... PR: July–Nov, 35 DAS ... USVI: June–Oct, 62 DAS, day operation only. Every four years ............. West cost of PR: Jan– Dec, 84 DAS. PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4701 USCG R/V: R/V Gordon Gunter, R/V Nancy Foster. USCG R/V: R/V Pisces, R/V Oregon II. USCG R/V: R/V Gordon Gunter. USCG Class I & III: ........ Three chartered vessels USCG Class I & II: Small vessel <24 ft. USCG Class I & III: Three chartered vessels. USCG Class I & III: Three chartered vessels. R/V Erdman. Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 300 sets. 150 deployments. 100 sets. 300 casts. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. 60 casts. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. Continuous. PR: 120 per coast total of 240. USVI: 72 per island, 144 total. 300 dives. PR: 100 dives. USVI: 62 dives. Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6587 TABLE 1—SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF FISHERIES AND ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED OR FUNDED BY THE SEFSC IN THE GOMRA, ARA, AND CRA—Continued Survey name (research agency) SEAMAP–C Spiny Lobster Artificial Habitat Survey, (PR–DNER, USVI–DFW). Season, frequency, yearly days at sea (DAS) General area of operation PR and USVI territorial waters in 6–90 ft depths. Annually, ......................... PR: Jan–Dec, 84 DAS ... USVI: Jan–Dec, 20 DAS, day operations only. Vessel used USCG Class I & III: Three chartered vessels. Gear used Juvenile lobster artificial shelters. SCUBA divers, SCUBA gear and underwater scooters. Number of stations 10 shelters, continuous deployment. PR: 60 dives. USVI: 20 dives. 1 These amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 surveys have the potential to take marine mammals through M/SI and/or Level B harassment. * Inactive projects are currently not conducted but could resume if funds became available. Gillnets—A gillnet is a wall of netting that hangs in the water column, typically made of monofilament or multifilament nylon. Mesh sizes are designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting, but not their body. The fish’s gills then get caught in the mesh as the fish tries to back out of the net. A variety of regulations and factors determine the mesh size, length, and height of commercial gillnets, including area fished and target species. Gillnets can be fished floating or sinking, and stationary or drifting. Set gillnets are attached to poles fixed in the substrate or an anchor system to prevent movement of the net (i.e., stationary) while drift gillnets are free-flowing but kept afloat at the proper depth using a system of weights and buoys attached to the headrope, footrope, or floatline. A trammel net is a type of gillnet. However, unlike single wall gillnets, which will catch a narrow range of fish sizes, a trammel net is a type of gillnet that will catch a wide variety of fish sizes. Essentially, a trammel net is three layers of netting tied together on a common floatline and common leadline. The two outer layers of netting (known as walls or brails) are constructed out of large mesh netting (12 in to 18 in square) with a twine size of #9 multifilament nylon or 0.81 millimeter (mm) to 0.90 mm monofilament. The light-weight or fine netting sandwiched between the two walls is usually small mesh multifilament or monofilament gill netting. Trammel nets have a large amount of lightweight gill netting hung in the nets, and fish will be caught by gilling or by tangling in the excess netting. Trammel nets are only used by the SCDNR in the ARA. The SCDNR sets trammel nets in depths of 6 ft or less along a shoreline. Scientists monitor the immediate area 15 minutes prior to deploying the gear. Before the net is set, while the net is being deployed, during the soak, and during haulback, the scientists monitor the net and waters around the net, maintaining a lookout for protected species. Survey protocol VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 calls for a short, 10 minute soak time before the net is hauled. A total of six survey programs (3 in GOMRA, 3 in ARA) utilize gillnets to accomplish the SEFSC’s research objectives (see Table 1–1 in SEFSC’s application). In total, 545 set gillnet deployments and 96 sinking gillnet deployments would be made in the GOMRA, primarily in bays, sounds, and estuaries. These surveys occur yearround and each set typically lasts up to 1 hour with the exception of the gillnets fished in shallow waters (0.2 to 1 m) for the Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance Survey which can last 1 to 4 hours. In the ARA, 120 drift gillnet sets would be deployed in rivers and estuaries for the American Shad Drift Gillnet Survey conducted by the SCDNR. Trawl nets—A trawl is a funnelshaped net towed behind a boat to capture fish. The codend (or bag) is the fine-meshed portion of the net most distant from the towing vessel where fish and other organisms larger than the mesh size are retained. In contrast to commercial fishery operations, which generally use larger mesh to capture marketable fish, research trawls often use smaller mesh to enable estimates of the size and age distributions of fish in a particular area. The body of a trawl net is generally constructed of relatively coarse mesh that functions to gather schooling fish so that they can be collected in the codend. The opening of the net, called the mouth, is extended horizontally by large panels of wide mesh called wings. The mouth of the net is held open by hydrodynamic force exerted on the trawl doors attached to the wings of the net. As the net is towed through the water, the force of the water spreads the trawl doors horizontally apart. The top of a net is called the headrope, and the bottom is called the footrope. The SEFSC uses several types of trawl nets: Aleutian Wing Trawl, otter trawls, semi-balloon shrimp trawl, mongoose trawl, western jib shrimp trawls, skimmer trawls, roller frame trawl, and modified beam trawl. Bottom trawls (e.g., shrimp trawls) are designed to PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 capture target species at or near the seafloor. Skimmer trawls are used at the surface. Contrary to skimmer trawls, bottom trawls are not usually visible after they are deployed because they operate at or near the sea floor and the optical properties of the water limit the ability to see the bottom from the surface. Pelagic trawls are designed to operate at various depths within the water column and are most commonly set at the surface or mid-water depths. The trawl gear may be constructed and rigged for various target species and to operate over different types of bottom surfaces. Trawls typically used in estuaries include semi-balloon shrimp trawls (fished near creeks and rivers of Georgia Sound) and miniature roller-frame trawls (fished at various South Florida estuaries). In coastal waters, the types of trawls (and operating depths) SEFSC and partners typically use include modified beam trawls (1–5 ft), otter trawls (3–360 ft), benthic trawls (up to 7 ft), western jib shrimp trawls (10–20 ft), and skimmer trawls (7–20 ft). Typical offshore trawls (and operating depths) include high speed midwater trawls (> 1,600 ft), Aleutian wing trawls (> 1,600 ft), and high-opening bottom trawls (160 to 1,600 ft). All trawls have a lazy line attached to the codend. The lazy line floats free during active trawling, and as the net is hauled back, it is retrieved with a boator grappling-hook to assist in guiding and emptying the trawl nets. Twisted, three-strand, polypropylene is the most commonly used type of rope for lazy lines due to cost, strength, handling, and low specific gravity (0.91), which allows it to float. Active acoustic devices (described later) incorporated into the research vessel and the trawl gear monitor the position and status of the net, speed of the tow, and other variables important to the research design. Gear details, schematics, and photos associated with each of these trawl net categories can be found in Table 1–1 of the SEFSC’s application and Appendix A of the SEFSC’s Draft PEA. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6588 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules For research purposes, the speed and duration of the tow and the characteristics of the net must be standardized to allow meaningful comparisons of data collected at different times and locations. Typically, tow speed ranges from 2–4 knots (kts) while duration can range from thirty seconds to 3 hours at target depth; however most trawls last less than 30 minutes. The shorter trawls (30 seconds to 30 minutes) occur in estuaries and coastal waters less than 500 meters in depth while the longer trawls (1–3 hours) are reserved for offshore, deepwater research. The only exceptions to this are the BRD Evaluation Survey designed to test various gear for the shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and the SEFSCSouth Atlantic (SA) Turtle Exclusion Device (TED) Evaluation Survey designed to test bycatch reduction devices and TEDs for commercial fishing vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. A total of 40 paired BRD Evaluation Survey trawls occur annually in May and August in state and Federal nearshore and offshore waters, including Mississippi Sound. Each trawl can last up to 2 hours. Fifty paired SEFSC–SA TED Evaluation Survey trawls occur annually from November through April in state and Federal waters off Georgia and Florida, and each trawl can last up to 4 hours. Bag seines—Bag seines used in the GOMRA during the Inter-jurisdictional Fisheries Act (IJA) Biloxi Bay Seine Survey and IJA Shoreline Shellfish Bag Seine Survey are 50–60 feet long with 6 ft deep lateral wings (1⁄2 in stretch nylon multifilament mesh) and 6 ft wide central bag. They are both fished by hand with the Biloxi Bay survey having a 20 minute soak time and the shoreline survey having a 2–3 minute soak time. Bag seines used in the Intraspecific Diversity Pink Shrimp Survey (also in the GOMRA) are 9 ft long and taper from 50 to 10 in at the closed codend. Bag seines and similar gear are not considered to pose any risk to protected species because of their small size, slow deployment speeds, and/or structural details of the gear and are therefore not subject to specific mitigation measures. However, the officer on watch and crew monitor for any unusual circumstances that may arise at a sampling site and use their professional judgment and discretion to avoid any potential risks to marine mammals during deployment of all research equipment. Plankton nets—SEFSC research activities include the use of several plankton sampling nets that employ very small mesh to sample plankton from various parts of the water column. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Plankton sampling nets usually consist of fine mesh attached to a weighted frame. The frame spreads the mouth of the net to cover a known surface area. 1. Bongo nets are used by the SEFSC during various plankton surveys conducted throughout the three research areas. Bongo nets are also used to collect additional data during shark and finfish surveys. Bongo nets consist of two cylindrical nets that come in various diameters and fine mesh sizes (Figure A–13). The bongo nets are towed through the water at an oblique angle to sample plankton over a range of depths. During each plankton tow, the bongo nets are deployed to a depth of approximately 210 m and are then retrieved at a controlled rate so that the volume of water sampled is uniform across the range of depths. In shallow areas, the sampling protocol is adjusted to prevent contact between the bongo nets and the seafloor. A collecting bucket, attached to the end of the net, is used to contain the plankton sample. When the net is retrieved, the collecting bucket can be detached and easily transported to a laboratory. Some bongo nets can be opened and closed using remote control to enable the collection of samples from particular depth ranges. A group of depth-specific bongo net samples can be used to establish the vertical distribution of zooplankton species in the water column at a site. Bongo nets are generally used to collect zooplankton for research purposes and are not used for commercial harvest. There are no documented takes of marine mammals incidental to SEFSC research using bongo nets. 2. Neuston net—Neuston nets are used to collect zooplankton that lives in the top few centimeters of the sea surface (the neuston layer). This specialized net has a rectangular mouth opening (usually 2 or 3 times as wide as deep, i.e. 60 cm by 20 cm). They are generally towed half submerged at 1–2 kts from the side of the vessel on a boom to avoid the ship’s wake. There are no documented takes of marine mammals incidental to SEFSC research using bongo nets. 3. Other small nets—The SEFSC also uses Methot juvenile fish nets, Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System (MOCNESS), and bag seines. A complete description of this gear and SEFSC operational protocols can be found in Appendix A of the SEFSC’s Draft PEA. There are no documented takes of marine mammals and NMFS incidental to research using this gear. Oyster Dredge—Oyster dredges are constructed from a metal frame with metal chain netting. Along the front PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 edge of the dredge is a long bar with teeth that are dragged on the seafloor to pick up oysters and deposit them into the chain mesh netting. The oyster dredge used for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resource Oyster surveys consists of a nine-tooth bar about 20 inches wide with teeth 4 in. long and spaced 2 in. apart. There are no documented takes of marine mammals incidental to SEFSC research using oyster dredges. Hook and Line Gear—A variety of SEFSC surveys use hook-and-line gears to sample fish either in the water column or in benthic environments. These gear types include baited hooks deployed on longlines as well as rodand-reel and bandit gear deployments. 1. Longline—Longlines are basically strings of baited hooks that are either anchored to the bottom, for targeting groundfish, or are free-floating, for targeting pelagic species and represent a passive fishing technique. Pelagic longlines, which notionally fish near the surface with the use of floats, may be deployed in such a way as to fish at different depths in the water column. For example, deep-set longlines targeting tuna may have a target depth of 400 m, while a shallow-set longline targeting swordfish is set at 30–90 m depth. We refer here to bottom and pelagic longlines. Any longline generally consists of a mainline from which leader lines (gangions) with baited hooks branch off at a specified interval and is left to passively fish, or soak, for a set period of time before the vessel returns to retrieve the gear. Longlines are marked by two or more floats that act as visual markers and may also carry radio beacons; aids to detection are of particular importance for pelagic longlines, which may drift a significant distance from the deployment location. Pelagic longlines are generally composed of various diameter monofilament line and are generally much longer, and with more hooks, than are bottom longlines. Bottom longlines may be of monofilament or multifilament natural or synthetic lines. Longline vessels fish with baited hooks attached to a mainline (or groundline). The length of the longline and the number of hooks depend on the species targeted, the size of the vessel, and the purpose of the fishing activity. Hooks are attached to the mainline by another thinner line called a gangion. The length of the gangion and the distance between gangions depends on the purpose of the fishing activity. Depending on the fishery, longline gear can be deployed on the seafloor (bottom longline), in which case weights are E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules attached to the mainline, or near the surface of the water (pelagic longline), in which case buoys are attached to the mainline to provide flotation and keep the baited hooks suspended in the water. Target species for pelagic longline surveys conducted by the SEFSC are pelagic sharks and finfish species. These pelagic longline protocols have a fivenautical mile mainline with 100 gangions. The time period between completing deployment and starting retrieval of the longline gear is referred to as the soak time. Soak time is an important parameter for calculating fishing effort and is typically three hours for SEFSC surveys. Short soak times can help reduce longline interactions with sea turtles and marine mammals. Bottom longlines used by the SEFSC to survey species in deeper water, including sablefish, have a onemile long monofilament mainline that is anchored on the seafloor with weights at the mid-point and ends. The line is marked at the surface by radar high flyers. 2. Bandit Reels—Bandit reels are heavy duty fishing reels that are used for deep sea fishing. These are used by the SEFSC to sample fish in the nearshore reef inlet and estuary of the St. Lucie River, Florida. The SEFSC uses a bandit reel with a vertical mainline and 10 gangions that is either deployed from the vessel and marked at the surface by a buoy or is fished while maintaining an attachment to the reel. The hook sizes used are 8/0, 11/0, or 15/ 0 circle hooks with 0 offset. Traps and pots—Traps and pots are submerged, three-dimensional devices, often baited, that permit organisms to enter the enclosure but make escape extremely difficult or impossible. Most traps are attached by a rope to a buoy on the surface of the water and may be deployed in series. The trap entrance can be regulated to control the maximum size of animal that can enter, and the size of the mesh in the body of the trap can regulate the minimum size that is retained. In general, the species caught depends on the type and characteristics of the pot or trap used. The SEFSC uses fyke nets and various types of small traps and cages. 1. Fyke nets—A fyke net is a fish trap that consists of cylindrical or coneshaped netting bags that are mounted on rings or other rigid structures and fixed on the bottom by anchors, ballast or stakes (Figure A–19). Fyke traps are often outfitted with wings and/or leaders to guide fish towards the entrance of the bags. The Fyke nets used by the SEFSC are constructed with VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 wings that are 18.8 x 9 feet and bag netting of 700 micron mesh. 2. Chevron traps, shrimp cages, eel traps and throw traps—Chevron fish traps are wire mesh fish cages that are used to sample fish populations (Figure A–23). The SEFSC uses several different chevron fish traps of various dimensions that are baited to attract target species. Shrimp cages come in various shapes and are constructed of 1inch PVC poles that were oriented vertically attached to two fiberglass hoops and wrapped in 2mm mesh netting. They work by being lowered from a vessel or shore onto the bottom of the sea floor where they are baited and left for a certain amount of time and then later retrieved. The SEFSC uses 16 x 20 x 11 inch eel traps with 1⁄2-inch metal mesh. The openings for the internal funnels are 2 x 3 inches and the trap is baited with horseshoe crabs and shrimp heads. Throw traps are small open ended boxes of aluminum with 1 m2 walls and a depth of 45 cm. Research using any of these traps or cages has little to no potential to result in marine mammal harassment. Conductivity, temperature, and depth profilers (CTD)—A CTD profiler measures these parameters and is the primary research tool for determining chemical and physical properties of seawater. A CTD profiler may be a fairly small device or it may be deployed with a variety of other oceanographic sensors and water sampling devices in a large (1 to 2 meter diameter) metal rosette wheel. The CTD profiler is lowered through the water column on a cable, and CTD data are collected either within the device or via a cable connecting to the ship. The data from a suite of samples collected at different depths are often called a depth profile, and are plotted with the value of the variable of interest on the x-axis and the water depth on the y-axis. Depth profiles for different variables can be compared in order to glean information about physical, chemical, and biological processes occurring in the water column. Remotely Operated Vehicle—The Super Phantom S2 (Figure A–26) is a powerful, versatile remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with high reliability and mobility. This light weight system can be deployed by two operators and is designed as an underwater platform which provides support services including color video, digital still photography, navigation instruments, laser scaling device, lights, position information of the ROV and support ship, vehicle heading, vehicle depth, and a powered tilt platform. The Mini ROV is used during the SEFSC Panama PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6589 City Reef Fish survey to help conduct line surveys and identify cryptic and rare fish species in the Gulf of Mexico. Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources—A wide range of active acoustic devices are used in SEFSC fisheries surveys for remotely sensing bathymetric, oceanographic, and biological features of the environment. Most of these sources involve relatively high frequency, directional, and brief repeated signals tuned to provide sufficient focus and resolution on specific objects. SEFSC active acoustic sources include various echosounders (e.g., multibeam systems), scientific sonar systems, positional sonars (e.g., net sounders for determining trawl position), and environmental sensors (e.g., current profilers). The SEFSC also uses passive listening sensors (i.e., remotely and passively detecting sound rather than producing it), which do not have the potential to impact marine mammals. Underwater acoustic sources typically used for scientific purposes operate by creating an oscillatory overpressure through rapid vibration of a surface, using either electromagnetic forces or the piezoelectric effect of some materials. A vibratory source based on the piezoelectric effect is commonly referred to as a transducer. Transducers are usually designed to excite an acoustic wave of a specific frequency, often in a highly directive beam, with the directional capability increasing with operating frequency. The main parameter characterizing directivity is the beam width, defined as the angle subtended by diametrically opposite ‘‘half power’’ (-3 dB) points of the main lobe. For different transducers at a single operating frequency, the beam width can vary from 180 ° (almost omnidirectional) to only a few degrees. Transducers are usually produced with either circular or rectangular active surfaces. For circular transducers, the beam width in the horizontal plane (assuming a downward pointing main beam) is equal in all directions, whereas rectangular transducers produce more complex beam patterns with variable beam width in the horizontal plane. In general, the more narrow the beam, the shorter distance to which the sound propagates. The types of active sources employed in fisheries acoustic research and monitoring may be considered in two broad categories here (Category 1 and Category 2), based largely on their respective operating frequency (i.e., within or outside the known audible range of marine species) and other output characteristics (e.g., signal duration, directivity). As described E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6590 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules below, these operating characteristics result in differing potential for acoustic impacts on marine mammals. Before identifying the active acoustic sources used by the SEFSC, we further describe scientific sonar sound source characteristics here relevant to our analysis. Specifically, we look at the following two ways to characterize sound: By its temporal (continuous or intermittent) and its pulse properties (i.e., impulsive or non-impulsive). Continuous sounds are those whose sound pressure level remains above that of the ambient sound, with negligibly small fluctuations in level (NIOSH, 1998; ANSI, 2005), while intermittent sounds are defined as sounds with interrupted levels of low or no sound (NIOSH, 1998). Sounds can also be characterized as either impulsive or non-impulsive. Impulsive sounds are typically transient, brief (< 1 sec), broadband, and consist of a high peak pressure with rapid rise time and rapid decay (ANSI, 1986; NIOSH, 1998). Impulsive sounds, by definition, are intermittent. Nonimpulsive sounds can be broadband, narrowband or tonal, brief or prolonged, and typically do not have a high peak sound pressure with rapid rise/decay time that impulsive sounds do (ANSI 1995; NIOSH 1998). Non-impulsive sounds can be intermittent or continuous. Scientific sonars, such as the ones used by the SEFSC, are characterized as intermittent and nonimpulsive. Discussion on the appropriate harassment threshold associated with these types of sources based on these characteristics can be found in the Estimated Take section. Category 1 active fisheries acoustic sources include those with high output frequencies (>180 kHz) that are outside the known functional hearing capability of any marine mammal. Example Category 1 sources include short range echosounders and acoustic Doppler current profilers). These sources also generally have short duration signals and highly directional beam patterns, meaning that any individual marine mammal would be unlikely to even detect a signal. While sounds that are above the functional hearing range of marine animals may be audible if sufficiently loud (e.g., M<hl, 1968), the relative output levels of the sources used by the SEFSC would only be detectable to marine mammals out to a few meters from the source. If detected, these sound levels are highly unlikely to be of sufficient intensity to result in behavioral harassment. Two recent studies (Deng et al., 2014; Hastie et al., 2014) demonstrate some behavioral VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 reaction by marine mammals to acoustic signals at frequencies above 180 kHz. These studies generally indicate only that sub-harmonics could be detectable by certain species at distances up to several hundred meters. However, this detectability is in reference to ambient noise, not any harassment threshold for assessing the potential for Level B incidental take for these sources. Source levels of the secondary peaks considered in these studies—those within the hearing range of some marine mammals—range from 135–166 dB, meaning that these sub-harmonics would either be below the threshold for behavioral harassment (160 dB) or would attenuate to such a level within a few meters. Beyond these important study details, these high-frequency (i.e., Category 1) sources and any energy they may produce below the primary frequency that could be audible to marine mammals would be dominated by a few primary sources that are operated near-continuously, and the potential range above threshold would be so small as to essentially discount them. Therefore, Category 1 sources are not expected to have any effect on marine mammals and are not considered further in this document. Category 2 acoustic sources, which would be present on many vessels operating under this rulemaking include a variety of single, dual, and multi-beam echosounders (many with a variety of modes), sources used to determine the orientation of trawl nets, and several current profilers with lower output frequencies than Category 1 sources. Category 2 active acoustic sources have moderate to high output frequencies (10 to 180 kHz) that are generally within the functional hearing range of marine mammals and therefore have the potential to cause behavioral harassment. However, while likely potentially audible to certain species, these sources have generally short ping durations and are typically highly directional (i.e., narrow beam width) to serve their intended purpose of mapping specific objects, depths, or environmental features. These characteristics reduce the likelihood and or spatial extent of an animal receiving or perceiving the signal. In addition, sources with relatively lower output frequencies coupled with higher output levels, can be operated in different output modes (e.g., energy can be distributed among multiple output beams) which may lessen the likelihood of perception by and potential impact on marine mammals. Category 2 active acoustic sources are unlikely to be audible to whales and most pinnipeds, whereas they may be PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 detected by odontocete cetaceans and high frequency specialists. Category 2 sources are described further in detail below because, unlike Category 1 sources, they have the potential to take a marine mammal by Level B (behavioral) harassment. The acoustic system used during a particular survey is optimized for surveying under specific environmental conditions (e.g., depth and bottom type). Lower frequencies of sound travel further in the water than in air but provide lower resolution (i.e., are less precise). Pulse width and power may also be adjusted in the field to accommodate a variety of environmental conditions. Signals with a relatively long pulse width travel further and are received more clearly by the transducer (i.e., good signal-to-noise ratio) but have a lower range resolution. Shorter pulses provide higher range resolution and can detect smaller and more closely spaced objects in the water. Similarly, higher power settings may decrease the utility of collected data. Power level is also adjusted according to bottom type, as some bottom types have a stronger return and require less power to produce data of sufficient quality. Power is typically set to the lowest level possible in order to receive a clear return with the best data. Survey vessels may be equipped with multiple acoustic systems; each system has different advantages that may be utilized depending on the specific survey area or purpose. In addition, many systems may be operated at one of two frequencies or at a range of frequencies. Characteristics of these sources are summarized in Table 2. 1. Multi-Frequency Narrow Beam Scientific Echosounders (Simrad EK60)—Echosounders and sonars work by transmitting acoustic pulses into the water that travel through the water column, reflect off the seafloor, and return to the receiver. Water depth is measured by multiplying the time elapsed by the speed of sound in water (assuming accurate sound speed measurement for the entire signal path), while the returning signal itself carries information allowing ‘‘visualization’’ of the seafloor. Multi-frequency split-beam sensors are deployed from SEFSC survey vessels to acoustically map the distributions and estimate the abundances and biomasses of many types of fish; characterize their biotic and abiotic environments; investigate ecological linkages; and gather information about their schooling behavior, migration patterns, and avoidance reactions to the survey vessel. The use of multiple frequencies allows coverage of a broad range of marine E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules acoustic survey activity, ranging from studies of small plankton to large fish schools in a variety of environments from shallow coastal waters to deep ocean basins. Simultaneous use of several discrete echosounder frequencies facilitates accurate estimates of the size of individual fish and can also be used for species identification based on differences in frequencydependent acoustic backscattering between species. The SEFSC uses devices that transmit and receive at six frequencies from 18 to 333 kHz. 2. Multibeam Echosounder and Sonars (Simrad ME70, MS70, SX90)— Multi-beam echosounders and sonars work by transmitting acoustic pulses into the water then measuring the time required for the pulses to reflect and return to the receiver and the angle of the reflected signal. However, the use of multiple acoustic ‘‘beams’’ allows coverage of a greater area compared to single beam sonar. The sensor arrays for multibeam echosounders and sonars are usually mounted on the keel of the vessel and have the ability to look horizontally in the water column as well as straight down. Multibeam echosounders and sonars are used for mapping seafloor bathymetry, estimating fish biomass, characterizing fish schools, and studying fish behavior. The multi-beam echosounders used by the SEFSC emit frequencies in the 70– 120 kHz range. 3. Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)—An ADCP is a type of sonar used for measuring water current velocities simultaneously at a range of depths. It can be mounted to a mooring or to the bottom of a boat. The ADCP works by transmitting ‘‘pings’’ of sound at a constant frequency into the water. As the sound waves travel, they ricochet off particles suspended in the moving water and reflect back to the instrument (WHOI 2011). Sound waves bounced back from a particle moving away from the profiler have a slightly lowered frequency when they return and particles moving toward the instrument send back higher frequency waves. The difference in frequency between the waves the profiler sends out and the 6591 waves it receives is called the Doppler shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the particle and the water around it are moving. Sound waves that hit particles far from the profiler take longer to come back than waves that strike close by. By measuring the time it takes for the waves to return to the sensor and the Doppler shift, the profiler can measure current speed at many different depths with each series of pings (WHOI 2011). 4. Trawl Monitoring Systems (Simrad ITI)—Trawl monitoring systems allow continuous monitoring of net dimensions during towing to assess consistency, maintain quality control, and provide swept area for biomass calculations. Transponders are typically located in various positions on the trawl or cables connecting the trawl to the ship. Data are monitored in real time to make adjustments in ship speed or depth of trawl to meet survey protocols. This system operates in the 27- 33 kHz range, below the functional hearing range of all marine mammals. TABLE 2—OPERATING CHARACTERISTICS OF SEFSC ACTIVE ACOUSTIC SOURCES Active acoustic system Simrad EK60 narrow beam echosounder ........... Simrad ME70 multibeam echosounder ............... Teledyne RD Instruments ADCP, Ocean Surveyor ................................................................ Simrad EQ50 ....................................................... Simrad ITI Trawl Monitoring System .................. Effective exposure area: Sea surface to 200 m depth (km2) Effective exposure area: Sea surface to 160 dB threshold depth (km2) 11 ° @18 kHz, 7 ° @38 kHz 0.0142 0.1411 205 140 ° 0.0201 0.0201 223.6 210 <200 N/A 16 @50kHz, 7 @200kHz 40 ° × 100 ° 0.0086 0.0075 0.0032 0.0187 0.008 0.0032 Operating frequencies (kHz) Maximum source level (dB re: 1μPa @1 m) 18, 38, 70, 120, 200*, 333* 70–120 224 75 50, 200* 27–33 Nominal beamwidth amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 * Devices working at this frequency is outside of known marine mammal hearing range and is not considered to have the potential to result in marine mammal harassment. SEFSC Vessels Used for Survey Activities all vessels over 65 ft used during fisheries research. The SEFSC and its research partners use a variety of different types and sizes of vessels to meet their needs and objectives. Vessels may be owned and operated by NMFS, owned and operated by the cooperative partners, or chartered. Vessels vary in size, including, small fishing vessels (U.S. Coast Guard [USCG] Class A—up to 16 ft. and Class I—16 to <26 ft.), medium vessels (USCG Class II—26 to <40 ft. and Class III—40 to 65 ft.), USCG Small Research Vessel (R/V) (>65 ft. and <300 gross tons) and USCG Research Vessel (R/V) (>65 ft. and >300 gross tons). Several Motor Vessels (M/V) >65 feet and USCG Research Vessels are also chartered and used by partner agencies. Please see Appendix A of the SEFSC’s Draft PEA for detailed information on TPWD Gillnet Research VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 TPWD conducts a long-term standardized fishery-independent monitoring program to assess the relative abundance and size of finfish and shellfish in Texas bays. TPWD is mandated by the Texas Legislature to conduct continuous research and study the supply, economic value, environment, and breeding habits of the various species of finfish, shrimp and oysters under Parks and Wildlife Code sections 66.217, 76.302 and 77.004. Results from this program are primarily used by the agency to manage Texas’ marine finfish and shellfish resources. Data are also available for use by other agencies (e.g., USFWS, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Texas Water Development Board, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), universities, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. The current sampling protocol began in the spring of 1983 for seven of the ten bay systems; the remaining three bay systems were gradually added. The number of gill net sets was standardized in 1985. The monitoring program utilizes a stratified random sample design, with each bay system as an independent stratum. Gill net sample locations are randomly selected from grids (1 minute latitude by 1 minute longitude), with each selected grid further subdivided into 144 5-second gridlets. Sample sites are then randomly selected from gridlets containing less than 15.2 m of shoreline. TPWD utilizes gill nets to conduct fishery-independent modeling on relative abundance, diversity, and age E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6592 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules and size distributions of adult and subadult finfish in Texas waters. Samples collected also provide data for genetic, life history and age and growth analyses. Statistically, gill nets provide for the lowest variability and the best fishery-independent measure of adult and subadult finfish abundance with a low coefficient of variation for most species requiring a low sample size. Standardized sampling methods have low operational bias allowing comparison between and among bay systems and years. Gill nets are typically set in shallow open bay systems with little to no tidal movement. In this type of system, long gill net soak times are needed to catch a statistically-significant number of fish. The average number of fish caught in the overnight gill net sets is 90 fish per gill net which equates to 1 fish per 27 ft2 or 6.7 ± 0.07 fish per hour (CPUE) of all species per hour. CPUE for two important recreational species, red drum and spotted seatrout, is 0.97 ± .02 and 0.68 ± .01 respectively. Each gillnet is 183 m (600 ft) long, 1.2 m (3 ft) deep, and comprised of four 45 m (150 ft) long panels. Each panel is a different sized mesh: 7.6 cm (3 in.), 10.2 cm (4 in.), 12.7 cm (5 in.), and 15.2 cm (6 in.) to capture different sized fish. Each panel is sewn to the next panel; therefore, there are no gaps between panels. Currently, the float line and net mesh are tied together at 8 in. intervals. This results in a 6–8 in gap between the float line and the mesh when the net is set. TPWD will modify this design so that the float line and net mesh are tied together at 4 in. intervals. This will reduce the gap to approximately one to two inches. This gear modification would also be done for the lead line to reduce gaps between the lead line and net mesh. Reducing gaps between the lines and mesh are designed to minimize the potential of a dolphin getting its pectoral fins or flukes caught in these gaps. Gill nets are set perpendicular to the shoreline with the smaller mesh end (3″ mesh panel) of the net anchored to the shoreline and the progressively larger mesh (up to 6″ mesh panel) extending baywards for 600 ft. All gill net are set in water depths ranging from 0.0–1.1 m on the shallow end of the net and from 0.1–4.6 m (0.33 to 15 ft) on the deep end of the net. However, 86 percent of gill net sets occur at a deep-end depth of 1.5 m (4 ft) or less. Where depths are greater than 4 ft, the top of the gillnet will be submerged because it is only 3 ft high. A marker bouy is typically attached to the float line at the intersection of each mesh panel (150 ft) with sufficant length line to reach the surface. When setting VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 the net, TPWD pulls it as taut as possible with one person pulling on the net while the anchor is set. Gill nets are set overnight during each spring and fall season. The spring season begins with the second full week in April and extends for ten weeks. The fall season begins with the second full week in September and extends for ten weeks. Nets are set within one hour before sunset and retrieved within 4 hours after the following sunrise. Soak times vary from approximately 12–14 hours. Gill nets are set overnight to eliminate day-use disturbances (boaters running the shoreline) that can alter normal fish behavior and movement patterns, reduce the amount of disturbance by and to anglers and boaters (user conflicts), and increase boater safety (reduced likelihood of striking nets). TPWD sets two to three nets on two separate nights for each of the 10 bay systems where they fish which are separated by at least 1 km and usually miles apart. No more than one gill net is set in the same grid on the same night, nor set more than two times in the same grid in a season. Fishing effort is evenly distributed between spring and fall season. Up to 90 sets per area could occur each year the proposed regulations would be valid. This sampling rate proposed for the next five years is identical to past sampling efforts. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Sections 3 and 4 of the SEFSC’s application summarize available information regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, and behavior and life history, of the potentially affected species. Additional information regarding population trends and threats may be found in NMFS’ Stock Assessment Reports (SAR; https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessment-reportsregion) and more general information about these species (e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found on NMFS’ website (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/find-species). Additional species and stock information can be found in NMFS’ Draft PEA (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/node/23111). In some cases, species are treated as guilds. In general ecological terms, a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community. However, for purposes of stock assessment or abundance prediction, certain species may be treated together as a guild because they are difficult to distinguish PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 visually and many observations are ambiguous. For example, NMFS’ Atlantic SARs assess Mesoplodon spp. and Kogia spp. as guilds. Here, we consider pilot whales, beaked whales (excluding the northern bottlenose whale), and Kogia spp. as guilds. That is, where not otherwise specified, references to ‘‘pilot whales’’ includes both the long-finned and short-finned pilot whale, ‘‘beaked whales’’ includes the Cuvier’s, Blainville’s, Gervais, Sowerby’s, and True’s beaked whales, and ‘‘Kogia spp.’’ includes both the dwarf and pygmy sperm whale. Table 3a lists all species (n = 33) with expected potential for occurrence in ARA, GOMRA, and CRA and summarizes information related to the population or stock, including regulatory status under the MMPA and ESA and potential biological removal (PBR), where known. PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population (as described in NMFS’ SARs). The use of PBR in this analysis is described in later detail in the Negligible Impact Analyses and Determination section. Excluding bottlenose dolphins, species with potential occurrence in the ARA and GOMRA constitute 56 managed stocks under the MMPA. Bottlenose dolphins contribute an additional 17 stocks in the ARA (1 offshore, 5 coastal, and 11 estuarine), 36 stocks in the GOMRA (1 offshore, 1 continental shelf, 3 coastal, and 31 bays, sounds, and estuaries (BSE)), and 1 stock in the CRA for a total of 54 bottlenose dolphin stocks. In total, 110 stocks have the potential to occur in the SEFSC research area. Species that could occur in a given research area but are not expected to have the potential for interaction with SEFSC research gear or that are not likely to be harassed by SEFSC’s use of active acoustic devices are listed here but omitted from further analysis. These include extralimital species, which are species that do not normally occur in a given area but for which there are one or more occurrence records that are considered beyond the normal range of the species. Extralimital or rarely sighted species within the SEFSC’s ARA include the North Atlantic bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), Bryde’s whale (B. edeni), Atlantic whitesided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus), white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), Sowerby’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens), harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus), and hooded seal (Cystophora cristata). E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6593 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Extralimital or rarely sighted species in the GOMRA include the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), blue whale, fin whale (B. physalus), sei whale, minke whale (B. acutorostrata), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), and Sowerby’s beaked whale. In the CRA, extralimital or rarely sighted species include blue whale, fin whale, sei whale, Bryde’s whale, minke whale, harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), gray seal (Halichoerus grypus), harp seal, and hooded seal. In addition, Caribbean manatees (Trichechus manatus) may be found in all three research areas. However, manatees are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are not considered further in this document. Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. NMFS’ stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend beyond U.S. waters. For some species, survey abundance (as compared to stock or species abundance) is the total number of individuals estimated within the survey area, which may or may not align completely with a stock’s geographic range as defined in the SARs. These surveys may also extend beyond U.S. waters. To provide a background for how estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks are identified, we provide the following excerpt from the Bottlenose Dolphin Stock Structure Research Plan for the Central Northern Gulf of Mexico (NMFS, 2007) which more specifically describes the stock structure of bottlenose dolphins within the bays, sounds, and estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico: The distinct stock status for each of the 31 inshore areas of contiguous, enclosed, or semi-enclosed bodies of waters is community-based. That is, stock delineation is based on the finding, through photoidentification (photo-ID) studies, of relatively discrete dolphin ‘‘communities’’ in the few GOM areas that have been studied (Waring et al. 2007). This finding was then generalized to all enclosed inshore GOM waters where bottlenose dolphins exist. A ‘‘community’’ consists of resident dolphins that regularly share large portions of their ranges, and interact with each other to a much greater extent than with dolphins in adjacent waters. The term emphasizes geographic, and social relationships of dolphins. Bottlenose dolphin communities do not necessarily constitute closed demographic populations, as individuals from adjacent communities may interbreed. All values presented in Table 3a and 3b are the most recent available at the time of publication and are available in the most recent SAR for that stock, including draft 2018 SARs (Hayes et al., 2018) available at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/draftmarine-mammal-stock-assessmentreports) . TABLE 3a—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE ATLANTIC, GULF OF MEXICO, AND CARIBBEAN RESEARCH AREAS DURING FISHERY RESEARCH Research area Common name Scientific name MMPA stock ARA GOM CRA ESA status (L/NL), MMPA strategic (Y/N) 1 Stock abundance (CV, Nmin) 2 Annual M/ SI 4 PBR 3 Order Cetartiodactyla—Cetacea—Suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales) Family Balaenopteridae (rorquals): North Atlantic right whale. Humpback whale Eubalaena glacialis .... Western North Atlantic X .......... .......... ........... X X X Western North Atlantic X .......... Western North Atlantic Canadian East Coast X X .......... X Bryde’s whale ...... Megaptera novaeangliae. Balaenoptera musculus. Balaenoptera physalis Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Balaenoptera edeni .... Maine 5 .......... Sei whale ............ Balaenoptera borealis Northern Gulf of Mexico. Nova Scotia ............... X Blue whale .......... Fin whale ............. Minke whale ........ Gulf of L, Y 451 (0, 445) ............... 0.9 5.56 NL, Y 896 (0, 896 ) .............. 14.6 9.8 .......... L, Y unk (unk, 440, 2010) 0.9 unk .......... X L, Y NL, N 1,618 (0.33, 1,234) .... 2,591 (0.81, 1,425) .... 2.5 14 2.65 7.5 X .......... NL,6 Y 33 (1.07, 16) .............. 0.03 0.7 .......... .......... L, Y 357 (0.52, 236) .......... 0.5 0.6 Order Cetartiodactyla—Cetacea—Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales) amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Family Physeteridae: Sperm whale ....... Family Kogiidae: Pygmy sperm whale. Dwarf sperm whale. Family Ziphiidae (beaked whales): Cuvier’s beaked whale. VerDate Sep<11>2014 Physeter macrocephalus. North Atlantic ............. X .......... .......... L, Y 2,288 (0.28,1,815) ..... 3.6 0.8 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. .......... X .......... L, Y 763 (0.38, 560) .......... 1.1 0 .......... .......... X L, Y unk ............................. unk unk Kogia breviceps ......... Western North Atlantic X .......... X NL, N 3,785 (0.47, 2,598) 7 .. 21 3.5 .......... X .......... NL, N 186 (1.04, 90) 8 .......... 0.9 0.3 K. sima ....................... Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic X .......... X NL, N 3,785 (0.47, 2,598) 7 .. 21 3.5 Northern Gulf of Mexico. .......... X .......... NL, N 186 (1.04, 90) 8 .......... 0.9 0 Western North Atlantic X .......... .......... NL, N 6,532 (0.32, 5,021) .... 50 0.4 Ziphius cavirostris ...... 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6594 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 3a—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE ATLANTIC, GULF OF MEXICO, AND CARIBBEAN RESEARCH AREAS DURING FISHERY RESEARCH—Continued Research area Common name Blainville’s beaked whale. Gervais’ beaked whale. Sowerby’s beaked whale. True’s beaked whale. Family Delphinidae (dolphins): Melon-headed whales. Mesoplodon densirostris. Mesoplodon europaeus. Mesoplodon bidens .... Mesoplodon mirus ..... Peponocephala electra. Risso’s dolphin .... Grampus griseus ....... Short-finned pilot whales. Globicephala macrorhynchus. MMPA stock Stock abundance (CV, Nmin) 2 Annual M/ SI 4 PBR 3 ARA GOM CRA Northern Gulf of Mexico. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Western North Atlantic .......... X .......... NL, N 74 (1.04, 36) .............. 0.4 0 .......... .......... X NL, N Unk ............................. unk unk X .......... X NL, N 7,092 (0.54, .. 46 0.2 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic .......... X .......... NL, N 149 (0.91, 77) ............ 0.8 0 X .......... X NL, N 7,092 (0.54, .. 46 0 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic .......... X .......... NL, N 149 (0.91, 77) ............ 0.8 0 Western North Atlantic X .......... X .......... X NL, N 4,632) 9 4,632) 9 7,092 (0.54, 4,632) 9 .. 46 0 4,632) 9 0 X NL, N 7,092 (0.54, .. 46 Western North Atlantic X .......... X NL, N unk ............................. unk 0 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic .......... X .......... NL, N 2,235 (0.75, 1,274) .... 13 0 X .......... .......... X X .......... NL, N NL, N 18,250 (0.46, 12,619) 2,442 (0.57, 1,563) .... 126 16 49.9 7.9 X .......... .......... NL, N 28,924 (0.24, 23,637) 236 168 .......... X .......... NL, N 2,415 (0.66, 1,456) .... 15 0.5 .......... .......... X NL, N unk ............................. unk unk X .......... .......... NL, N 5,636 (0.63, 3,464) .... 35 27 Long-finned pilot whales. Globicephala melas ... Northern Gulf of Mexico. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Western North Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus ..... See table 3b. Common dolphin Atlantic spotted dolphin. Delphinus delphis ...... Stenella frontalis ........ Western North Atlantic Western North Atlantic X X .......... .......... .......... .......... NL, N NL, N 70,184 (0.28, 55,690) 44,715 (0.43, 31,610) 557 316 406 0 .......... X .......... NL, N unk ............................. unk 42 .......... .......... X NL, N unk ............................. unk unk Stenella attenuata ...... Northern Gulf of Mexico. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Western North Atlantic X .......... X NL, N 3,333 (0.91, 1,733) .... 17 0 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic Gulf of Mexico ............ Western North Atlantic .......... X .......... 50,880 (0.27, 40,699) 407 4.4 X .......... .......... X X .......... NL, N NL, N 54,807 (0.3, 42,804) .. 1,849 (0.77, 1,041) .... 428 10 0 0 X .......... X .......... X .......... X .......... X NL, N NL, N NL, N unk ............................. unk ............................. 136 (1.0, 67) .............. unk undet 0.7 0 0 0 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic Northern Gulf of Mexico. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Western North Atlantic Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic .......... X .......... NL, N 624 (0.99, 311) .......... 2.5 0.8 X .......... .......... X X .......... NL, N NL, N unk ............................. 129 (1.0, 64) .............. undet 0.6 0 0 X .......... .......... X .......... .......... NL, N NL, N unk ............................. 11,441 (0.83, 6,221) .. unk 62 0 0 .......... .......... X NL, N unk ............................. unk unk X .......... .......... X X .......... NL, N NL, N unk ............................. 28 (1.02, 14) .............. unk 0.1 0 0 X .......... X NL, N unk ............................. unk 0 Northern Gulf of Mexico. Western North Atlantic Northern Gulf of Mexico. .......... X .......... NL, N 152 (1.02, 75) ............ 0.8 0 X .......... .......... X X .......... NL, N NL, N 442 (1.06, 212) .......... unk ............................. 2.1 undet unk 0 Pantropical spotted dolphin. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Scientific name ESA status (L/NL), MMPA strategic (Y/N) 1 Striped dolphin .... Stenella coeruleoalba Fraser’s dolphin .. Lagenodelphis hosei .. Rough-toothed dolphin. Steno bredanensis ..... Clymene dolphin Stenella clymene ....... Spinner dolphin ... Stenella longirostris ... Killer whale .......... Orcinus orca .............. Pygmy killer whale. Feresa attenuata ........ False killer whale Pseudorca crassidens Family Phocoenidae (porpoises): VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6595 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 3a—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE ATLANTIC, GULF OF MEXICO, AND CARIBBEAN RESEARCH AREAS DURING FISHERY RESEARCH—Continued Research area Common name Harbor porpoise .. Scientific name Phocoena phocoena vomerina. MMPA stock Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy. ARA GOM CRA X .......... .......... ESA status (L/NL), MMPA strategic (Y/N) 1 Stock abundance (CV, Nmin) 2 NL, N 79,833 (0.32, 61,415) 706 255 75,834 (0.15, 66,884) 27,131 (0.19, 23,158) 2,006 1,389 345 5,688 Annual M/ SI 4 PBR 3 Order Carnivora—Superfamily Pinnipedia Family Phocidae (earless seals): Harbor seal ......... Gray seal ............. Phoca vitulina richardii Halichoerus grypus .... Western North Atlantic Western North Atlantic X X .......... .......... .......... .......... NL, N NL, N 1 Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). NL indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA and is not 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 at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. CV is coefficient of variation; N min is the minimum estimate of stock abundance.). 3 PBR indicates Potential Biological Removal as referenced from NMFS 2017 SARs. PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population. It is the product of minimum population size, one-half the maximum net productivity rate and a recovery factor for endangered, depleted, threatened stocks, or stocks of unknown status relative to OSP. 4 These values, found in NMFS’ SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial fisheries, subsistence hunting, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value. All M/SI values are as presented in the 2016 SARs. 5 Humpback whales present off the southeastern U.S. are thought to be predominantly from the Gulf of Maine stock; however, could include animals from Canadian stocks (e.g., Nova Scotia) (NMFS, 2017). Here we provide estimates for the Gulf of Maine stock only as a conservative value. 6 The Bryde’s whale is proposed for listing under the ESA (81 FR 88639, December 8, 2016). NMFS decision is pending. 7 This estimate includes both dwarf and pygmy sperm whales in the N. Atlantic stock. 8 This estimate includes both dwarf and pygmy sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico stock. 9 This estimate includes all species of Mesoplodon in the N.Atlantic stock. TABLE 3b—BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE ATLANTIC, GULF OF MEXICO, AND CARIBBEAN RESEARCH AREAS DURING FISHERY RESEARCH Stock MMPA status Stock abundance (CV, Nmin) 1 PBR Annual M/SI ATLANTIC RESEARCH AREA Western North Atlantic, Offshore .................................. Northern Migratory Coastal .......................................... Southern Migratory Coastal .......................................... South Carolina & Georgia Coastal ............................... Northern Florida Coastal .............................................. Central Florida Coastal ................................................. Northern North Carolina Estuarine System .................. Southern North Carolina Estuarine System ................. Northern South Carolina Estuarine System ................. Charleston Estuarine System ....................................... Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine System. Central Georgia Estuarine System ............................... Southern Georgia Estuarine System ............................ Jacksonville Estuarine System ..................................... Biscayne Bay ................................................................ Florida Bay .................................................................... Not Strategic ..................... Depleted ........................... Depleted ........................... Depleted ........................... Depleted ........................... Depleted ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... 77,532 (0.40, 56,053) 6,639 (0.41, 4,759) 3,751 (0.06, 2,353) 6,027 (0.34, 4,569) 877 (0.0.49, 595) 1,218 (0.71, 2,851) 823 (0.06, 782) unk unk unk unk 561 48 23 46 6 9.1 7.8 Undet Undet Undet undet 39.4 6.1–13.2 0–14.3 1.4–1.6 0.6 0.4 0.8–18.2 0.4–0.6 0.2 unk 1.4 Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Not Strategic ..................... 192 (0.04, 185) 194 (0.05, 185) unk unk unk 1.9 1.9 undet undet undet unk unk 1.2 unk unk 5,806 (0.39, 4,230) 51,192 (0.1, 46,926) 20,161 (0.17, 17,491) 7,185 (0.21, 6,004) 12,388 (0.13, 11,110) 42 469 175 60 111 6.5 0.8 0.6 0.4 1.6 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 GULF OF MEXICO RESEARCH AREA Oceanic ......................................................................... Continental Shelf .......................................................... Western Coastal ........................................................... Northern Coastal ........................................................... Eastern Coastal ............................................................ Not Not Not Not Not Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic ..................... ..................... ..................... ..................... ..................... Northern Gulf of Mexico Bay, Sound, and Estuary 2 3 Laguna Madre .............................................................. Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay .................................. Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espirtu Santo Bay. Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay ......... West Bay ...................................................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... 80 (1.57, unk) 58 (0.61, unk) 55 (0.82, unk) undet undet undet 0.4 0 0.2 Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... 61 (0.45, unk) 48 (0.03, 46) undet 0.5 0.4 0.2 Frm 00021 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6596 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 3b—BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE ATLANTIC, GULF OF MEXICO, AND CARIBBEAN RESEARCH AREAS DURING FISHERY RESEARCH—Continued Stock MMPA status Galveston Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay .......................... Sabine Lake .................................................................. Calcasieu Lake ............................................................. Vermillion Bay, West Cote Blanche Bay, Atchafalaya Bay. Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier Bay .................................... Barataria Bay ................................................................ Mississippi River Delta ................................................. Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau ......... Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay ......................................... Perdido Bay .................................................................. Pensacola Bay, East Bay ............................................. Choctawhatchee Bay .................................................... St. Andrews Bay ........................................................... St. Joseph Bay ............................................................. St. Vincent Sound, Apalachicola Bay, St. Georges Sound. Apalachee Bay ............................................................. Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee Bay, Crystal Bay .... St. Joseph Sound, Clearwater Harbor ......................... Tampa Bay ................................................................... Sarasota Bay, Little Sarasota Bay ............................... Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor, Gasparilla Sound, Lemon Bay. Caloosahatchee River .................................................. Estero Bay .................................................................... Chokoloskee Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, Gullivan Bay. Whitewater Bay ............................................................. Florida Keys (Bahia Honda to Key West) .................... Stock abundance (CV, Nmin) 1 PBR Annual M/SI Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... 152 (0.43, unk) 0 (-,-) 0 (-,-) 0 (-,-) undet undet undet undet 0.4 0.2 0.2 0 Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... 3,870 (0.15, 3426) 2306 (0.09, 2,138) 332 (0.93, 170) 3,046 (0.06, 2,896) 122 (0.34, unk) 0 (-,-) 33 ( 179 (0.04, unk) 124 (0.57, unk) 152 (0.08, unk) 439 (0.14,-) 27 17 1.4 23 undet undet undet undet undet undet undet 0.2 160 0.2 310 1 0.6 unk 0.4 0.2 unk 0 Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic Strategic ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... 491 (0.39, unk) unk unk unk 158 (0.27, 126) 826 (0.09, -) undet undet undet undet 1.3 undet 0 0 0.4 0.6 0.6 1.6 Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... 0 (-,-) unk unk undet undet undet 0.4 0.2 0 Strategic ........................... Strategic ........................... unk unk undet undet 0 0 unk undet unk CARRIBEAN RESEARCH AREA Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands ............................. Strategic ........................... 1 CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance). for these 25 stocks are included in the report: Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus truncatus), Northern Gulf of Mexico Bay, Sound, and Estuary Stocks. 3 The total annual human-caused mortality and serious injury for these stocks of common bottlenose dolphins is unknown because these stocks may interact with unobserved fisheries. Also, for Gulf of Mexico BSE stocks, mortality estimates for the shrimp trawl fishery are calculated at the state level and have not been included within mortality estimates for individual BSE stocks. Therefore, minimum counts of human-caused mortality and serious injury for these stocks are presented. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 2 Details Take reduction planning—Incidental take of marine mammals in commercial fisheries has been and continues to be a serious issue in the Southeast region. In compliance with section 118 of the MMPA, NMFS has developed and implemented several Take Reduction Plans (TRPs) to reduce serious injuries and mortality of strategic marine mammal stocks that interact with certain commercial fisheries. Strategic stocks are those species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, those species listed as depleted under the MMPA, and those species with human-caused mortality that exceeds the PBR for the species. The immediate goal of TRPs is to reduce serious injury and mortality for each species below PBR within six months of the TRP’s implementation. The longterm goal is to reduce incidental serious injury and mortality of marine mammals from commercial fishing operations to VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 insignificant levels approaching a zero serious injury and mortality rate, taking into account the economics of the fishery, the availability of existing technology, and existing state or regional fishery management plans. TRPs relevant to the fisheries research areas in this rule include the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP), the Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Plan (BDTRP), and the Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan (PLTRP). The ALWTRP was developed to reduce serious injury and mortality of North Atlantic right, humpback, fin, and minke whales from Northeast/MidAtlantic lobster trap/pot, Atlantic blue crab trap/pot, Atlantic mixed species trap/pot, Northeast sink gillnet, Northeast anchored float gillnet, Northeast drift gillnet, Mid-Atlantic gillnet, Southeastern U.S. Atlantic shark gillnet, and Southeastern Atlantic gillnet fisheries (NMFS 2010c). Gear PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 requirements vary by geographic area and date. Universal gear modification requirements and restrictions apply to all traps/pots and anchored gillnets, including: no floating buoy line at the surface; no wet storage of gear (all gear must be hauled out of the water at least once every 30 days); fishermen are encouraged, but not required, to maintain knot-free buoy lines; and all groundlines must be made of sinking line. Additional gear modification requirements and restrictions vary by location, date, and gear type. Additional requirements may include the use of weak links, and gear marking and configuration specifications. Detailed requirements may be found in the regional guides to gillnet and pot/trap gear fisheries available at http:// www.nero.noaa.gov/Protected/ whaletrp/. The SEFSC MARMAP/ SEAMAP–SA Reef Fish Survey (carried out by the SCDNR) and SEFIS (carried E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules out by the SEFSC) surveys meet the requirements necessary to implement TRP regulations; both surveys abide by all ALWTRP requirements. In 2006, NMFS implemented the BDTRP to reduce the serious injury and mortality of Western North Atlantic coastal bottlenose dolphins incidental to 13 Category I and II U.S. commercial fisheries. In addition to multiple nonregulatory provisions for research and education, the BDTRP requires modifications of fishing practices or gear for small, medium, and large-mesh gillnet fisheries from New York to Florida, and Virginia pound nets in Virginia state waters (50 CFR 229.35). The BDTRP also established seasonal closures for certain gillnet commercial fisheries in state waters. The following general requirements are contained with BDTRP: Spatial/temporal gillnet restrictions, gear proximity (fishermen must stay within a set distance of gear), gear modifications for gillnets and Virginia pound nets, non-regulatory gear modifications for crab pots, and other non-regulatory conservation measures (71 FR 24776, April 26, 2006; 77 FR 45268, July 31, 2012; and 80 FR 6925, February 9, 2015). Due to substantial differences between SEFSC research fishing practices (e.g., smaller gear size, reduced set time, spatial and temporal differences) and scientific survey methods versus commercial fishing practices, the SEFSC and research partners do not have any surveys that meet the requirements necessary to implement BDTRP regulations. However, the SEFSC would abide by the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements included in this proposed rule. The Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan (PLTRP) addresses incidental serious injury and mortality of longfinned and short-finned pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins in commercial pelagic longline fishing gear in the Atlantic. Regulatory measures include limiting mainline length to 20 nm or less within the Mid-Atlantic Bight and posting an informational placard on careful handling and release of marine mammals in the wheelhouse and on working decks of the vessel (NMFS 2009). Currently, the SEFSC uses gear that is only 5 nm long and per the PLTRP, uses the Pelagic Longline Marine Mammal Handling and Release Guidelines for any pelagic longline sets made within the Atlantic EEZ. Unusual Mortality Events (UME)— The marine mammal UME program was established in 1991. A UME is defined under the MMPA as a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant dieoff of any marine mammal population; VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 and demands immediate response. From 1991 to present, there have been 62 formally recognized UMEs in the U.S., involving a variety of species and dozens to hundreds of individual marine mammals per event. Twentyseven of these UMEs have occurred within SEFSC fisheries research operating areas (we note 7 of these UMEs were for manatees managed by the USFWS). For the GOMRA, Litz et al. (2014) provides a review of historical UMEs in the Gulf of Mexico from 1990 through 2009. For more information on UMEs, please visit the internet at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/ events.html. From 2010 through 2014, NMFS declared a multi-year, multi-cetacean UME in response to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The species and temporal and spatial boundaries included all cetaceans stranded in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana from March 2010 through July 2014 and all cetaceans other than bottlenose dolphins stranded in the Florida Panhandle (Franklin County through Escambia County) from March 2010 through July 2014. The UME involved 1,141 cetacean strandings in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (5 percent stranded alive and 95 percent stranded dead). The Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees’ 2016 Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (PDARP) and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) quantified injuries to marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico that were exposed to the oil spill, including bottlenose dolphins in four bay, sound, and estuary areas: Barataria Bay, the Mississippi River Delta, Mississippi Sound, and Mobile Bay (NRDA Trustees, 2016; DWH MMIQT, 2015). Both stocks are estimated to have been reduced significantly in population size from the DWH oil spill (DWH MMIQT 2015; Schwacke et al. 2017). According to the PDARP, 24 percent of the Mississippi Sound stock had adverse health effects from DWH oil spill. Of the pregnant females studied in Barataria Bay and Mississippi Sound between 2010 and 2014, 19.2 percent gave birth to a viable calf. In contrast, dolphin populations in Florida and South Carolina have a pregnancy success rate of 64.7 percent (DWH MMIQT, 2015). Dolphin and whale species living farther offshore were also affected. Many of these species are highly susceptible to population changes because of their low initial population numbers. Thus, it is unclear how PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6597 effectively these populations can recover from lower estimated injuries. For example, Deepwater Horizon oil exposure resulted in up to an estimated 7-percent decline in the population of endangered sperm whales, which will require 21 years to recover. For Bryde’s whales, 48 percent of the population was impacted by Deepwater Horizon oil, resulting in up to an estimated 22percent decline in population that will require 69 years to recover. For both nearshore and offshore populations, injuries were most severe in the years immediately following the spill. Health assessments on bottlenose dolphins in BBES and MS Sound have shown that there has been some improvement post spill, but that there are still persistent injuries (Smith et al. 2017). Biologically Important Areas In 2015, NOAA’s Cetacean Density and Distribution Mapping Working Group identified Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) for 24 cetacean species, stocks, or populations in seven regions (US East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast, Hawaiian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, and Arctic) within U.S. waters through an expert elicitation process. BIAs are reproductive areas, feeding areas, migratory corridors, and areas in which small and resident populations are concentrated. BIAs are region-, species, and time-specific. A description of the types of BIAs found within the SEFSC’s fishery research areas follows: Reproductive Areas: Areas and months within which a particular species or population selectively mates, gives birth, or is found with neonates or other sensitive age classes. Feeding Areas: Areas and months within which a particular species or population selectively feeds. These may either be found consistently in space and time, or may be associated with ephemeral features that are less predictable but can be delineated and are generally located within a larger identifiable area. Migratory Corridors: Areas and months within which a substantial portion of a species or population is known to migrate; the corridor is typically delimited on one or both sides by land or ice. Small and Resident Population: Areas and months within which small and resident populations occupying a limited geographic extent exist. The delineation of BIAs does not have direct or immediate regulatory consequences. Rather, the BIA assessment is intended to provide the best available science to help inform regulatory and management decisions E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6598 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules under existing authorities about some, though not all, important cetacean areas in order to minimize the impacts of anthropogenic activities on cetaceans and to achieve conservation and protection goals. In addition, the BIAs and associated information may be used to identify information gaps and prioritize future research and modeling efforts to better understand cetaceans, their habitat, and ecosystems. Table 4 provides a list of BIA’s found within the SEFSC’s fisheries research areas. TABLE 4—BIOLOGICALLY IMPORTANT AREAS WITHIN THE ARA AND GOMRA BIA name Species BIA type Time of year Size (km2) ATLANTIC RESEARCH AREA Eastern Atlantic ...................... N. Atlantic right whale ............ Migration ................................ 269,448 Reproduction .......................... Small and resident ................. North: March–April; South: November–December. Mid-Nov–April ........................ July–October .......................... Southeast Atlantic—Calving ... Northern North Carolina Estuarine System—Inland & Coastal. Northern North Carolina Estuarine System—Coastal. Southern North Carolina Estuarine System. Prince Inlet, SC; Charleston Harbor; North Edisto River. St. Helena Sound, SC to Ossabaw Sound, GA. Southern Georgia, GA ........... Jacksonville, FL ...................... Indian River Lagoon Estuarine System. Biscayne Bay, FL ................... N. Atlantic right whale ............ Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. July–March ............................. 534 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. July–October .......................... 783 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. 152 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. 676 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. 411 195 776 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. 614 43,783 8,199 GULF OF MEXICO Florida Bay, FL ....................... Lemon Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, FL. Sarasota Bay and Little Sarasota Bay, FL. Tampa Bay, FL ...................... St. Vincent Sound and Apalachicola Bay, FL. St. Joseph Bay, FL ................ Mississippi Sound, MS ........... Caminada Bay and Barataria Bay, LA. Galveston Bay, TX ................. San Luis Pass, TX ................. Matagorda Bay and Espiritu Santo Bay, TX. Aransas Pass, TX .................. Eastern Gulf of Mexico .......... Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. 1,527 892 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. 117 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. 899 262 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. 371 1,335 253 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bottlenose dolphin ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. Year-round ............................. 1,222 143 740 Bottlenose dolphin ................. Bryde’s whale ........................ Small and resident ................. Small and resident ................. Year-round ............................. Year round ............................. 273 23,559 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Marine Mammal Hearing Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2016) described generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 dB threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with the exception for lower limits for lowfrequency cetaceans where the lower bound was deemed to be biologically PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 implausible and the lower bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. The functional groups and the associated frequencies are indicated below (note that these frequency ranges correspond to the range for the composite group, with the entire range not necessarily reflecting the capabilities of every species within that group): • Low-frequency cetaceans (mysticetes): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 35 kHz. • Mid-frequency cetaceans (larger toothed whales, beaked whales, and most delphinids): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 • High-frequency cetaceans (porpoises, river dolphins, and members of the genera Kogia and Cephalorhynchus; including two members of the genus Lagenorhynchus, on the basis of recent echolocation data and genetic data): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 275 Hz and 160 kHz. • Pinnipeds in water; Phocidae (true seals): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 50 Hz to 86 kHz. • Pinnipeds in water; Otariidae (eared seals): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between 60 Hz and 39 kHz. The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et al. (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have consistently demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range (Hemila¨ et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth and Holt, 2013). For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency ranges, please see NMFS (2016) for a review of available information. Thirty three marine mammal species (31 cetacean and 2 pinniped (both phocid) species) have the reasonable potential to cooccur with the proposed survey activities (Table 3a). Of the cetacean species that may be present, six are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all mysticete species), 24 are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all delphinid and ziphiid species and the sperm whale), and 1 is classified as high-frequency cetaceans (i.e., harbor porpoise and Kogia spp.). Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and their habitat. The ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section later in this document includes a quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are expected to be taken by this activity. The ‘‘Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination’’ section considers the content of this section, the ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section, and the ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ section, to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these activities on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and how those impacts on individuals are likely to impact marine mammal species or stocks. In the following discussion, we consider potential effects to marine mammals from ship strike, gear VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 interaction (e.g., entanglement in nets and trawls, accidental hooking) and exposure to active acoustic fisheries research sources. We also include, where relevant, knowns takes of marine mammals incidental to previous SEFSC research. These data come from NMFS’ Protected Species Incidental Take (PSIT) database, a formal incidental take reporting system that documents incidental takes of protected species by all NMFS Science Centers and partners; NMFS requires this reporting to be completed within 48 hours of the occurrence. The PSIT generates automated messages to NMFS staff, alerting them to the event and to the fact that updated information describing the circumstances of the event has been entered into the database. Ship Strike Vessel collisions with marine mammals, or ship strikes, can result in death or serious injury of the animal. Wounds resulting from ship strike may include massive trauma, hemorrhaging, broken bones, or propeller lacerations (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001). An animal at the surface may be struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal may hit the bottom of a vessel, or an animal just below the surface may be cut by a vessel’s propeller. Ship strikes may kill an animal; however, more superficial strikes may result in injury. Ship strikes generally involve commercial shipping, which is much more common in both space and time than is research activity. Jensen and Silber (2004) summarized ship strikes of large whales worldwide from 1975–2003 and found that most collisions occurred in the open ocean and involved large vessels (e.g., commercial shipping). Commercial fishing vessels were responsible for three percent of recorded collisions, while only one such incident (0.75 percent) was reported for a research vessel during that time period. The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and speed of the vessel, with the probability of death or serious injury increasing as vessel speed increases (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007; Conn and Silber, 2013). Impact forces increase with speed, as does the probability of a strike at a given distance (Silber et al., 2010; Gende et al., 2011). Pace and Silber (2005) found the predicted probability of serious injury or death increased from 45 to 75 percent as vessel speed increased from 10 to 14 kn, and exceeded ninety percent at 17 kn. Higher speeds during collisions result in greater force of impact and appear to increase the chance of severe injuries or death PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6599 through increased likelihood of collision by pulling whales toward the vessel (Clyne, 1999; Knowlton et al., 1995). In a separate study, Vanderlaan and Taggart (2007) analyzed the probability of lethal mortality of large whales at a given speed, showing that the greatest rate of change in the probability of a lethal injury to a large whale as a function of vessel speed occurs between 8.6 and 15 kn. The chances of a lethal injury decline from approximately eighty percent at 15 kn to approximately twenty percent at 8.6 kn. At speeds below 11.8 kn, the chances of lethal injury drop below fifty percent, while the probability asymptotically increases toward one hundred percent above 15 kn. In an effort to reduce the number and severity of strikes of the endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), NMFS implemented speed restrictions in 2008 (73 FR 60173; October 10, 2008). These restrictions require that vessels greater than or equal to 65 ft (19.8 m) in length travel at less than or equal to 10 kn near key port entrances and in certain areas of right whale aggregation along the U.S. eastern seaboard. Conn and Silber (2013) estimated that these restrictions reduced total ship strike mortality risk levels by eighty to ninety percent. For vessels used in SEFSC-related research activities, transit speeds average 10 kn (but vary from 6–14 kn), while vessel speed during active sampling is typically only 2–4 kn. At sampling speeds, both the possibility of striking a marine mammal and the possibility of a strike resulting in serious injury or mortality are discountable. At average transit speed, the probability of serious injury or mortality resulting from a strike is less than fifty percent. However, it is possible for ship strikes to occur while traveling at slow speeds. For example, a NOAA-chartered survey vessel traveling at low speed (5.5 kn) while conducting multi-beam mapping surveys off the central California coast struck and killed a blue whale in 2009. The State of California determined the whale had suddenly and unexpectedly surfaced beneath the hull, with the result that the propeller severed the whale’s vertebrae, and that this was an unavoidable event. This strike represents the only such incident in approximately 540,000 hours of similar coastal mapping activity (p = 1.9 × 10¥6; 95% CI = 0– 5.5 x 10¥6; NMFS, 2013). The NOAA vessel Gordon Gunter was conducting a marine mammal survey cruise off the coast of Savannah, Georgia in July 2011, when a group of Atlantic spotted dolphin began bow riding. The animals E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6600 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules eventually broke off and a dead calf was seen in the ship’s wake with a large gash that was attributed to the propeller. This is the only documented ship strike by the SEFSC since 2002. In summary, we anticipate that vessel collisions involving SEFSC research vessels, while not impossible, represent unlikely, unpredictable events. Other than the 2009 and 2011 events, no other ship strikes have been reported from any fisheries research activities nationally. Given the relatively slow speeds of research vessels, the presence of bridge crew watching for obstacles at all times (including marine mammals), the presence of marine mammal observers on some surveys, and the small number of research cruises, we believe that the possibility of ship strike is discountable. Further, the implementation of the North Atlantic ship strike rule protocols will greatly reduce the potential for interactions with North Atlantic right whales. As such, no incidental take resulting from ship strike is anticipated nor is proposed to be authorized; therefore, this potential effect of research will not be discussed further. Gear Interaction The types of research gear used by the SEFSC were described previously under ‘‘Detailed Description of Activity.’’ Here, we broadly categorize these gears into those which we believe may result in marine mammal interaction and those which we consider to have an extremely unlikely potential to result in marine mammal interaction. Gears with the potential for marine mammal interaction include trawl nets (e.g., bottom trawls, skimmer trawls), gillnets, and hook and line gear (i.e., longlines). Gears such as fyke nets, eel traps, ROVs, etc. do not have the potential for marine mammal interaction either due to small size of gear and fishing methods, and therefore do not have the potential for injury or harassment. Entanglement in Nets, Trawls, or Longlines—Gillnets, trawl nets, and longlines deployed by the SEFSC are similar to gear used in various commercial fisheries which have a history of taking marine mammals. Read et al. (2006) estimated marine mammal bycatch in U.S. fisheries from 1990–99 and derived an estimate of global marine mammal bycatch by expanding U.S. bycatch estimates using data on fleet composition from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Most U.S. bycatch for both cetaceans (84 percent) and pinnipeds (98 percent) occurred in gillnets. However, global marine mammal bycatch in trawl nets and longlines is likely substantial given that total global bycatch is thought to number in the hundreds of thousands of individuals (Read et al., 2006). In addition, global bycatch via longline has likely increased, as longlines have become the most common method of capturing swordfish and tuna since the United Nations banned the use of high seas driftnets over 2.5 km long in 1991 (high seas driftnets were previously often 40–60 km long) (Read, 2008; FAO, 2001). Gear interactions can result in injury or death for the animal(s) involved and/ or damage to fishing gear. Coastal animals, including various pinnipeds, bottlenose dolphins, and harbor porpoises, are perhaps the most vulnerable to these interactions and set or passive fishing gear (e.g., gillnets, traps) are the most likely to be interacted with (e.g., Beverton, 1985; Barlow et al., 1994; Read et al., 2006; Byrd et al., 2014; Lewison et al., 2014). Although interactions are less common for use of trawl nets and longlines, they do occur with sufficient frequency to necessitate the establishment of required mitigation measures for multiple U.S. fisheries using both types of gear (NMFS, 2014). It is likely that no species of marine mammal can be definitively excluded from the potential for interaction with fishing gear (e.g., Northridge, 1984); however, the extent of interactions is likely dependent on the biology, ecology, and behavior of the species involved and the type, location, and nature of the fishery. As described above, since 2002, NMFS Science Centers have been documenting and recording all fishery research related incidental takes of marine mammals in PSIT database. There is also a documented take on record from 2001. We present all takes documented by the SEFSC in Table 5. TABLE 5—SEFSC RESEARCH GEAR INTERACTIONS WITH MARINE MAMMALS SINCE 2001 Survey name (lead organization) Species taken (stock) Gear type # Released alive 2 # Killed 1 Date taken Total taken amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 ATLANTIC RESEARCH AREA SEFSC In-Water Sea Turtle Research (SCDNR 3). SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey_ Spring (SCDNR). SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey_ Summer (SCDNR). In-Water Sea Turtle Trawl Survey (SCDNR). SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey_ Fall (SCDNR). SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey_ Summer (SCDNR). RecFIN Red Drum Trammel Net Survey (SCDNR). In-Water Sea Turtle Trawl Survey (SCDNR). Bottlenose dolphin (South Carolina/ Georgia coastal). Bottlenose dolphin (Northern Florida coastal). Bottlenose dolphin (South Carolina/ Georgia coastal). Bottlenose dolphin (South Carolina/ Georgia coastal). Bottlenose dolphin (southern migratory). Bottlenose dolphin (South Carolina/ Georgia coastal). Bottlenose dolphin (Charleston Estuarine System). Bottlenose dolphin (unk) .................... Bottom trawl ......... 20 July 2016 ......... 1 0 1 Bottom trawl ......... 11 April 2014 ........ 1 0 1 Bottom trawl ......... 2 Aug 2012 ........... 1 0 1 Bottom trawl ......... 11 July 2012 ......... 0 1 1 Bottom trawl ......... 5 October 2006 .... 1 0 1 Bottom trawl ......... 28 July 2006 ......... 1 0 1 Trammel net ......... 22 August 2002 .... 2 0 2 Bottom Trawl ........ 2001 3 ................... 0 1 1 ARA TOTAL ................................. ............................................................ ............................... ............................... 7 2 9 GULF OF MEXICO RESEARCH AREA Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery GULFSPAN (SEFSC). Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery GULFSPAN (USA/DISL 2). Skimmer Trawl TED Testing (SEFSC) Skimmer Trawl TED Testing (SEFSC) VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Bottlenose dolphin (Sarasota Bay) .... Gillnet ................... 03 July 2018 ......... 0 1 1 Bottlenose dolphin (northern Gulf of Mexico). Bottlenose dolphin (MS Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau). Bottlenose dolphin (MS Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau). Gillnet ................... 15 July 2016 ......... 1 0 1 Skimmer trawl ...... 1 October 2014 .... 1 0 1 Skimmer trawl ...... 23 October 2013 .. 0 1 1 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6601 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 5—SEFSC RESEARCH GEAR INTERACTIONS WITH MARINE MAMMALS SINCE 2001—Continued # Released alive 2 Survey name (lead organization) Species taken (stock) Gear type Date taken SEAMAP–GOM Bottom Longline Survey (ADCNR 3). Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery GULFSPAN (USA/DISL). Bottlenose dolphin (Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay). Bottlenose dolphin (MS Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau). Bottom longline .... 6 August 2013 ...... 0 1 (SI) 1 Gillnet ................... 18 April 2011 ........ 1 0 1 GOMRA TOTAL .......................... ............................................................ ............................... ............................... 3 3 6 TOTAL ALL AREAS 3 ........... ............................................................ ............................... ............................... 10 5 15 # Killed 1 Total taken 1 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 If there was question over an animal’s fate after it was released (e.g., it was struggling to breath/swim), it was considered ‘‘killed’’. Serious injury determinations were not previously made for animals released alive but are now part of standard protocols for released animals and will be reported in stock assessment reports. 2 Animals released alive but were considered seriously injured as marked as SI. 3 This take occurred prior to development of the PSIT database but we include it here because it is documented. 4There have been no SEFSC fishery research-related takes of marine mammals in the CRA. Gillnets—According to the PSIT database, there are five documented takes of marine mammals (2 ARA, 3 GOMRA) incidental to SEFSC gillnet fishery research since 2002. On August 22, 2002, two bottlenose dolphins belonging to the Charleston Estuarine System stock became entangled in a trammel net (a type of gillnet) during the RecFIN Red Drum Trammel Net survey. One animal died before biologists could untangle it. The second animal was disentangled and released but it was listless; and, when freed, it sank and no subsequent resurface or breath was observed. Both animals were documented as a mortality. On April 18, 2013, a single bottlenose dolphin calf became entangled during the Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery (GULFSPAN) survey. On July 15, 2016, the lead line of a gillnet used for the same survey became wrapped around the fluke of an adult bottlenose dolphin. Both animals were considered part of the Northern Gulf of Mexico coastal stock and documented as taken by mortality. Most recently, on July 3, 3018, a dolphin from the Sarasota Bay stock was entangled in a GULFSPAN survey gillnet. Researchers were attending the net when the dolphin became entangled and were able to respond immediately. All gear was removed from the animal, no injuries were observed, and the dolphin was observed breathing multiple times after release. TPWD also has a history of taking bottlenose dolphins during gillnet fisheries research. In 35 years of TPWD gill net sampling (1983–2017), and with over 26,067 gillnet sets, there have been 32 to 35 dolphin entangled in the net (range is due to possible double counting incidents or two animals being entangled at the same time but logged as one incident during early years of reporting). According to the incident reports submitted to NMFS, 7 encounters (comprising eight animals) resulted in mortality, 2 were serious VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 injury, 14 animals were released alive, and the condition of 10 animals was recorded as unknown. Commercial gillnet fisheries are also implicated in taking marine mammals. In the ARA, the mid-Atlantic gillnet fishery has the highest documented level of mortality of coastal morphotype common bottlenose dolphins. The sink gillnet gear in North Carolina is the largest component in terms of fishing effort and observed takes (Waring et al. 2015). The SEFSC does not use sink gillnets in the ARA. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) has operated systematic coverage of the fall (September-December) flounder gillnet fishery (greater 5 in. mesh) in Pamlico Sound. In May 2010, NCDMF expanded the observer coverage to include gillnet effort using nets greater than 4 in. mesh in most internal state waters and throughout the year, with a goal of 7–10 percent coverage. No bycatch of bottlenose dolphins has been recorded by state observers, although stranding data continue to indicate interactions with this fishery occur. One gillnet take has also occurred in commercial fishing off a Florida’s east coast in March 2015 (eastern coastal stock); the animal was released alive but considered seriously injured. In the GOMRA, no marine mammal mortalities associated with commercial gillnet fisheries have been reported or observed despite observer coverage on commercial fishing vessels in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana since 2012 (Waring et al. 2016). Trawl nets—As described previously, trawl nets are towed nets (i.e., active fishing) consisting of a cone-shaped net with a codend or bag for collecting the fish and can be designed to fish at the bottom, surface, or any other depth in the water column. Trawls are categorized as bottom, skimmer or midwater trawls based on where they are towed in the water column. Trawl nets have the potential to capture or entangle marine mammals. The likelihood of an PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 animal being caught in a skimmer trawl is less than a bottom trawl because the gear can be observed directly; the SEFSC research permit 20339 authorizing research on sea turtles contains monitoring and mitigation measures related to marine mammals during skimmer trawling. Globally, at least seventeen cetacean species are known to feed in association with trawlers and individuals of at least 25 species are documented to have been killed by trawl nets, including several large whales, porpoises, and a variety of delphinids (Young and Iudicello, 2007; Karpouzli and Leaper, 2004; Hall et al., 2000; Fertl and Leatherwood, 1997; Northridge, 1991; Song et al., 2010). Fertl and Leatherwood (1997) provide a comprehensive overview of marine mammal-trawl interactions, including foraging behavior and considerations regarding entanglement risks. Capture or entanglement may occur whenever marine mammals are swimming near the gear, intentionally (e.g., foraging) or unintentionally (e.g., migrating), and any animal captured in a net is at significant risk of drowning unless quickly freed. Animals can also be captured or entangled in netting or tow lines (also called lazy lines) other than the main body of the net; animals may become entangled around the head, body, flukes, pectoral fins, or dorsal fin. Interaction that does not result in the immediate death of the animal by drowning can cause injury (i.e., Level A harassment) or serious injury. Constricting lines wrapped around the animal can immobilize the animal or injure by cutting into or through blubber, muscles and bone (i.e., penetrating injuries) or constricting blood flow to or severing appendages. Immobilization of the animal can cause internal injuries from prolonged stress and/or severe struggling and/or impede the animal’s ability to feed (resulting in starvation or reduced fitness) (Andersen et al., 2008). E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6602 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules As described in the Description of Specific Activity section, all trawls have lazy lines. For otter trawls, conventional lazy lines are attached at their forward end to the top/back edge of the inside trawl door closest to the vessel and at their aft end to either a ‘‘choker strap’’ that consists of a line looped around the forward portion of the codend or a ring in the ‘‘elephant ear,’’ which is a triangle of reinforced webbing sewn to the codend. Both ‘‘choker straps’’ and ‘‘elephant ears’’ act as lifting straps to bring the codend onboard the vessel. The length of the lazy line is dependent on trawl size with conventional lazy lines having sufficient length to allow the codend of the trawl to be hauled to the side of the vessel after trawls have been retrieved. The lazy line is routed through a block and wound around a capstan to lift the codend to the side of the boat where the catch can be easily emptied on deck. During active commercial trawling, the lazy line is long enough to form a 10–12 ft loop behind the codend. When traditional polypropylene rope is used, this loop floats even with or slightly above and behind the codend. It is in this loop section where many lazy line dolphin interactions have been observed. Lazy lines are most commonly made from polypropylene. Because polypropylene is manufactured in a manner that produces soft lay rope, it is limber and can be dropped in a pile. This property lends to the potential risk of half hitching around bottlenose dolphin flukes when they interact with the line. In addition, polypropylene rope does not absorb water or lose strength when wet and becomes prickly to the touch as it ages, which may contribute to bottlenose dolphin rubbing behavior. When interacting with lazy lines, bottlenose dolphins are often observed rubbing, corkscrewing, or biting the aft portion of the line ahead of the point of attachment on the trawl (Greenman 2012). Although reasons for these behaviors are poorly understood, this type of interaction poses an entanglement threat. When corkscrewing on the lazy line, animals run the risk of the line wrapping around their fluke in a half-hitch preventing escapement. Soldevilla et al. (2016) provided bottlenose dolphin bycatch estimates for the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) shrimp otter trawl fishery for 2012– 2014. The study found interactions with lazy lines represented the most common mode of entanglement observed. The SEFSC Harvesting Systems Unit (HSU) has conducted limited research examining the potential use of lazy lines constructed of alternative materials. In VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 2007, the HSU conducted preliminary diver assisted trials with polydac and polyester hard lay ropes as a replacement for traditional polypropylene. Polydac rope is a blend of polyester and polypropylene. Compared to polypropylene, polydac rope has similar properties including negligible water absorption and ultraviolet (UV) light resistance. However, polydac may be constructed with a harder lay than traditional polypropylene rope, which prevents it from knotting easily. Divers found the polydac and polyester lines to be significantly stiffer and less pliable underwater than the conventional polypropylene lines. When towed, divers noted that the polypropylene rope was positively buoyant and arced upward, while polydac and polyester ropes were negatively buoyant and arced downward. The 2007 diver evaluations were followed by sea trial evaluations of five different types of rope made from polypropylene, polyethylene, or nylon as lazy lines in a standard twin-rigged shrimp trawl configuration (Hataway 2008). The study utilized a DualFrequency Identification Sonar (DIDSON) to image bottlenose dolphins interacting with the lazy lines. Dolphin behaviors observed during the study included; rubbing, sliding down, and pulling the lazy line. No statistical analyses were conducted, but researchers noted that no differences in the frequency or types of interactions observed were apparent between line types. In the estuary and coastal waters, dolphins are attracted to and are consistently present during fishery research trawls. Dolphins are known to attend operating nets in order to either benefit from disturbance of the bottom or to prey on discards or fish within the net. Researchers have also identified that holes in trawl nets from dolphins are typically located in net pockets where fish congregate. Pelagic trawls have the potential to capture cetaceans because the nets may be towed at faster speeds. These trawls are more likely to target species that are important prey for marine mammals (e.g., squid, mackerel), and the likelihood of working in deeper waters means that a more diverse assemblage of species could potentially be present (Hall et al., 2000). According to the PSIT database, there are nine documented takes of marine mammals (7 ARA, 2 GOMRA) incidental to SEFSC trawl-based fishery research since 2002; all are bottlenose dolphins. In the ARA, all animals were taken in a bottom trawl while skimmer trawls were implicated in takes in the GOMRA. PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Six of the animals were dead upon net retrieval and two animals were released alive and determined not be serious injury. In 2001, a dolphin was caught in a bottom trawl during SCDNR’s sea turtle research survey. Information regarding this take are sparse (date and location are unknown) but the animal was released alive. On July 28, 2006, and again later that year on October 5, bottlenose dolphins belonging to South Carolina/Georgia coastal and southern migratory coastal stock, respectively, was found dead in a bottom trawl net used during the fall Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) SA Coastal Trawl survey. Both animals were taken back to partner labs for necropsy. On July 11, 2012, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the South Carolina/Georgia coastal stock was also caught in a bottom trawl net during the In-Water Sea Turtle Research survey. The net was immediately retrieved and the animal was released alive, breathing without difficulty and swiftly swimming away. On August 2, 2012 a bottlenose dolphin also belonging to the South Carolina/Georgia coastal stock was captured in the trawl net during the summer SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl survey. The animal was dead upon net retrieval. Most recently, on July 20, 2016, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the South Carolina/Georgia coastal stock was taken in a bottom trawl during the In-Water Sea Turtle Research survey. Upon net retrieval, a suspected juvenile bottlenose dolphin, approximately 6 feet in length, was observed in the starboard codend of the trawl net. Although the animal was released alive, it was listless and not actively swimming when returned to the water. Therefore, the event was documented as a take by mortality. In the GOMRA, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the Mississippi Sound, Lake Borge, Bay Boudreau stock was captured in a skimmer trawl on October 23, 2013, during the SEFSC Skimmer Trawl TED Testing survey. The animal was observed breathing at the surface in the trawl upon retrieval of tailbag. To free the animal, the researchers redeployed the bag and slowed the vessel, allowing the animal to swim away unharmed. On October 1, 2014, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the same stock was taken during the same survey. The animal was dead upon net retrieval. In November 2010, NMFS elevated the Southeast Atlantic shrimp trawl fishery from a Category II to Category III fishing. From May through December 2010, Greenman et al. (2013) investigated interactions between the South Carolina shrimping fleet and E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules bottlenose dolphins. Methods included fishery-independent (SCNDR fisheries research surveys) and fishery-dependent onboard observations, a shrimper survey, and stranding record research. The authors found that of the 385 tows observed, dolphins were present 45 percent of the time (173 tows). Of these tows, dolphins were present 12 percent of the time at set-out and 44 percent of the time during haul back. According to the shrimper survey, most fishermen report dolphins rubbing bodies on the net or biting or tugging on nets or lines. However, 39 of the 44 fishermen surveyed reported a dolphin has never become entangled in the net while 38 of the 44 fishermen reported a dolphin has never become entangled in the lazy line. Hook and Line—Marine mammals may be hooked or entangled in longline gear, with interactions potentially resulting in death due to drowning, strangulation, severing of carotid arteries or the esophagus, infection, an inability to evade predators, or starvation due to an inability to catch prey (Hofmeyr et al., 2002), although it is more likely that animals will survive being hooked if they are able to reach the surface to breathe. Injuries, which may include serious injury, include lacerations and puncture wounds. Animals may attempt to depredate either bait or catch, with subsequent hooking, or may become accidentally entangled. As described for trawls, entanglement can lead to constricting lines wrapped around the animals and/ or immobilization, and even if entangling materials are removed the wounds caused may continue to weaken the animal or allow further infection (Hofmeyr et al., 2002). Large whales may become entangled in a longline and then break free with a portion of gear trailing, resulting in alteration of swimming energetics due to drag and ultimate loss of fitness and potential mortality (Andersen et al., 2008). Weight of the gear can cause entangling lines to further constrict and further injure the animal. Hooking injuries and ingested gear are most common in small cetaceans and pinnipeds but have been observed in large cetaceans (e.g., sperm whales). The severity of the injury depends on the species, whether ingested gear includes hooks, whether the gear works its way into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, whether the gear penetrates the GI lining, and the location of the hooking (e.g., embedded in the animal’s stomach or other internal body parts) (Andersen et al., 2008). Bottom longlines pose less of a threat to marine mammals due to their deployment on the ocean bottom but VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 can still result in entanglement in buoy lines or hooking as the line is either deployed or retrieved. The rate of interaction between longline fisheries and marine mammals depends on the degree of overlap between longline effort and species distribution, hook style and size, type of bait and target catch, and fishing practices (such as setting/hauling during the day or at night). Rod and reel gear carry less potential for marine mammal interaction, but the use of baited hooks in the presence of inquisitive marine mammals carries some risk. However, the small amount of hook and line operations in relation to longline operations and the lack of extended, unattended soak times mean that use of rod and reel is much less likely to result in marine mammal interactions for pelagic species. However, bottlenose dolphins are known to interact with commercial and recreational rod and reel fishermen. The SEFSC rod and reel fishing would implement various mitigation measures including consistent monitoring and pulling lines from water should marine mammals, especially bottlenose dolphins, be at risk of interaction. Therefore, we find a reduced potential for interaction from SEFSC rod and reel surveys than compared to commercial and recreational fishing. Many species of cetaceans and pinnipeds are documented to have been killed by longlines, including several large whales, porpoises, a variety of delphinids, seals, and sea lions (Perez, 2006; Young and Iudicello, 2007; Northridge, 1984, 1991; Wickens, 1995). Generally, direct interaction between longlines and marine mammals (both cetaceans and pinnipeds) has been recorded wherever longline fishing and animals co-occur. A lack of recorded interactions where animals are known to be present may indicate simply that longlining is absent or an insignificant component of fisheries in that region or that interactions were not observed, recorded, or reported. In evaluating risk relative to a specific fishery (or research survey), one must consider the length of the line and number of hooks deployed as well as frequency, timing, and location of deployment. These considerations inform determinations of whether interaction with marine mammals is likely. As with other gear and fishing practice comparisons to those involved in commercial fisheries, the longlines used by the SEFSC are shorter and are not set as long. According to the PSIT database, one bottlenose dolphin belonging to the Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay stock was PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6603 taken incidental to longline fisheries research. On August 6, 2013, while retrieving bottom longline gear during the SEAMAP–GOM Bottom Longline survey, a dolphin was caught by a circle hook during a longline research survey. After less than 60 seconds, the animal broke free from the gear and swam away vigorously, but the hook and approximately 2 m of trailing line remained attached to the animal. As such, the incident was documented as a serious injury. While a lack of repeated historical interaction does not in and of itself indicate that future interactions are unlikely, we believe that the historical record, considered in context with the frequency and timing of these activities, as well as mitigation measures employed indicate that future marine mammal interactions with these gears would be uncommon but not totally unexpected. Other research gear—All other gear used in SEFSC fisheries research (e.g., a variety of plankton nets, eel and chevron traps, CTDs, ROVs) do not have the expected potential for marine mammal interactions and are not known to have been involved in any marine mammal interaction. Specifically, we consider very small nets (e.g., bongo and nueston nets), CTDs, ROVs, and vertically deployed or towed imaging systems to be no-impact gear types. Unlike trawl nets, gillents, and hook and line gear, which are used in both scientific research and commercial fishing applications, the gear and equipment discussed here are not considered similar or analogous to any commercial fishing gear and are not designed to capture any commercially salable species, or to collect any sort of sample in large quantities. They do not have the potential to take marine mammals primarily because of their design, size, or how they are deployed. For example, CTDs are typically deployed in a vertical cast on a cable and have no loose lines or other entanglement hazards. A bongo net is typically deployed on a cable, whereas neuston nets (these may be plankton nets or small trawls) are often deployed in the upper one meter of the water column; either net type has very small size (e.g., two bongo nets of 0.5 m2 each or a neuston net of approximately 2 m2) and no trailing lines. Due to lack of potential to result in harassment to marine mammals, these other gear types are not considered further in this document. Potential Effects of Underwater Sound—Anthropogenic sounds cover a broad range of frequencies and sound levels and can have a range of highly variable impacts on marine life, from E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6604 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules none or minor to potentially severe responses, depending on received levels, duration of exposure, behavioral context, and various other factors. The potential effects of underwater sound from active acoustic sources can potentially result in one or more of the following: Temporary or permanent hearing impairment, non-auditory physical or physiological effects, behavioral disturbance, stress, and masking (Richardson et al., 1995; Gordon et al., 2004; Nowacek et al., 2007; Southall et al., 2007; Go¨tz et al., 2009). The degree of effect is intrinsically related to the signal characteristics, received level, distance from the source, duration of the sound exposure, and context in which the signal is received. When considering the potential for a marine mammal to be harassed by a sound-generating source, we consider multiple signal characteristics, including, but not limited to, sound type (e.g., impulsive vs. non-impulsive; continuous vs. intermittent), frequency (expressed as hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), and source levels (expressed as decibels (dB)). A sound pressure level (SPL) in dB is described as the ratio between a measured pressure and a reference pressure (for underwater sound, this is 1 microPascal [mPa]). Typically SPLs are expressed as root mean square (rms) values which is the quadratic mean sound pressure over the duration of an impulse or sound exposure levels (SEL; represented as dB re 1 mPa2-s) which represents the total energy contained within a pulse, and considers both intensity and duration of exposure. The SEFSC would not use acoustic sources with spectral characteristics resembling non-impulsive, continuous noise (e.g., drilling). For impulsive sounds, peak sound pressure levels (PK) also provide an indication of potential harassment. We also consider other source characteristics when assessing potential effects such as directionality and beam width of fishery sonar equipment such as the ones involved here. As described above, category 1 sources (those operating above 180kHz), are determined to have essentially no probability of being detected by or resulting in any potential adverse impacts on marine species. This conclusion is based on the fact that operating frequencies are above the known hearing capabilities of any marine species (as described above). Although sounds that are above the functional hearing range of marine animals may be audible if sufficiently loud (e.g., see M<hl, 1968), the relative VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 output levels of these sources and the levels that would likely be required for animals to detect them would be on the order of a few meters. The probability for injury or disturbance from these sources is discountable; therefore, no take is proposed to be authorized by Category 1 sources. Auditory Thresholds Shifts NMFS defines threshold shift (TS) as ‘‘a change, usually an increase, in the threshold of audibility at a specified frequency or portion of an individual’s hearing range above a previously established reference level’’ (NMFS, 2016). Threshold shift can be permanent (PTS) or temporary (TTS). As described in NMFS (2016), there are numerous factors to consider when examining the consequence of TS, including, but not limited to, the signal temporal pattern (e.g., impulsive or non-impulsive), likelihood an individual would be exposed for a long enough duration or to a high enough level to induce a TS, the magnitude of the TS, time to recovery (seconds to minutes or hours to days), the frequency range of the exposure (i.e., spectral content), the hearing and vocalization frequency range of the exposed species relative to the signal’s frequency spectrum (i.e., how animal uses sound within the frequency band of the signal; e.g., Kastelein et al. 2014b), and their overlap (e.g., spatial, temporal, and spectral). Permanent Threshold Shift NMFS defines PTS as ‘‘a permanent, irreversible increase in the threshold of audibility at a specified frequency or portion of an individual’s hearing range above a previously established reference level’’ (NMFS, 2016). It is the permanent elevation in hearing threshold resulting from irreparable damage to structures of the inner ear (e.g., sensory hair cells, cochlea) or central auditory system (ANSI, 1995; Ketten 2000). Available data from humans and other terrestrial mammals indicate that a measured 40 dB threshold shift approximates PTS onset (see Ward et al. 1958; Ward et al. 1959; Kryter et al. 1966; Miller 1974; Henderson et al. 2008). Unlike TTS, NMFS considers PTS auditory injury and therefore constitutes Level A harassment, as defined in the MMPA. With the exception of a single study unintentionally inducing PTS in a harbor seal (Kastak et al., 2008), there are no empirical data measuring PTS in marine mammals largely due to the fact that, for various ethical reasons, experiments involving anthropogenic noise exposure at levels inducing PTS are not typically pursued or authorized (NMFS, 2016). As described in the PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 SWFSC and NWFSC proposed rules for incidental take of marine mammals incidental to fisheries research and the SEFSC’s application, the potential for PTS is extremely low given the high frequency and directionality of the active acoustic sources used during fisheries research. Because the frequency ranges of all sources are outside the hearing range of baleen whales (with the exception of the 18 kHz mode of the Simrad EK60), we do not anticipate PTS to occur for mysticetes. Any potential PTS for midfrequency and high-frequency cetaceans is also very low given the cone of highest received levels is centered under the ship because, while echosounders may transmit at high sound pressure levels, the very short duration of their pulses and their high spatial selectivity make them unlikely to cause damage to marine mammal auditory systems (Lurton and DeRuiter, 2011). Natural avoidance responses by animals to the proximity of the vessel at these extremely close ranges would likely further reduce their probability of being exposed to these levels. Temporary Threshold Shift NMFS defines TTS as ‘‘a temporary, reversible increase in the threshold of audibility at a specified frequency or portion of an individual’s hearing range above a previously established reference level’’ (NMFS, 2016). A TTS of 6 dB is considered the minimum threshold shift clearly larger than any day-to-day or session-to-session variation in a subject’s normal hearing ability (Schlundt et al., 2000; Finneran et al., 2000; Finneran et al. 2002, as reviewed in Southall et al., 2007 for a review)). TTS can last from minutes or hours to days (i.e., there is recovery), occur in specific frequency ranges (i.e., an animal might only have a temporary loss of hearing sensitivity between the frequencies of 1 and 10 kHz)), and can be of varying amounts (for example, an animal’s hearing sensitivity might be temporarily reduced by only 6 dB or reduced by 30 dB). Currently, TTS measurements exist for only four species of cetaceans (bottlenose dolphins, belugas, harbor porpoises, and Yangtze finless porpoise) and three species of pinnipeds (Northern elephant seal, harbor seal, and California sea lion). These TTS measurements are from a limited number of individuals within these species. Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules serious (similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that takes place during a time when the animal is traveling through the open ocean, where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts. We note that reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging has been observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall et al., 2007), so we can infer that strategies exist for coping with this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost. As described previously (see Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources), the SEFSC proposes to use various active acoustic sources, including echosounders (e.g., multibeam systems), scientific sonar systems, positional sonars (e.g., net sounders for determining trawl position), and environmental sensors (e.g., current profilers). These acoustic sources are not as powerful as many typically investigated acoustic sources (e.g., seismic airguns, low- and midfrequency active sonar used for military purposes) which produce signals that are either much lower frequency and/or higher total energy (considering output sound levels and signal duration) than the high-frequency mapping and fishfinding systems used by the SEFSC. There has been relatively little attention given to the potential impacts of highfrequency sonar systems on marine life, largely because their combination of high output frequency and relatively low output power means that such systems are less likely to impact many marine species. However, some marine mammals do hear and produce sounds within the frequency range used by these sources and ambient noise is much lower at high frequencies, increasing the probability of signal detection relative to other sounds in the environment. As noted above, relatively high levels of sound are likely required to cause TTS in marine mammals. However, there may be increased sensitivity to TTS for certain species generally (harbor porpoise; Lucke et al., 2009) or specifically at higher sound exposure frequencies, which correspond to a species’ best hearing range (20 kHz vs. 3 kHz for bottlenose dolphins; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010). Based on VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 discussion provided by Southall et al. (2007), Lurton and DeRuiter (2011) modeled the potential impacts of conventional echosounders on marine mammals, estimating TTS onset at typical distances of 10–100 m for the kinds of sources considered here. Kremser et al. (2005) modeled the potential for TTS in blue, sperm, and beaked whales (please see Kremser et al. (2005) for discussion of assumptions regarding TTS onset in these species) from a multibeam echosounder, finding similarly that TTS would likely only occur at very close ranges to the hull of the vessel. The authors estimated ship movement at 12 kn (faster than SEFSC vessels would typically move), which would result in an underestimate of the potential for TTS to occur. But the modeled system (Hydrosweep) operates at lower frequencies and with a wider beam pattern than do typical SEFSC systems, which would result in a likely more significant overestimate of TTS potential. The results of both studies emphasize that these effects would very likely only occur in the cone ensonified below the ship and that animal responses to the vessel (sound or physical presence) at these extremely close ranges would very likely influence their probability of being exposed to these levels. At the same distances, but to the side of the vessel, animals would not be exposed to these levels, greatly decreasing the potential for an animal to be exposed to the most intense signals. For example, Kremser et al. (2005) note that SPLs outside the vertical lobe, or beam, decrease rapidly with distance, such that SPLs within the horizontal lobes are about 20 dB less than the value found in the center of the beam. For certain species (i.e., odontocete cetaceans and especially harbor porpoises), these ranges may be somewhat greater based on more recent data (Lucke et al., 2009; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010) but are likely still on the order of hundreds of meters. In addition, potential behavioral responses further reduce the already low likelihood that an animal may approach close enough for any type of hearing loss to occur. Various other studies have evaluated the environmental risk posed by use of specific scientific sonar systems. Burkhardt et al. (2007) considered the Simrad EK60, which is used by the SEFSC, and concluded that direct injury (i.e., sound energy causes direct tissue damage) and indirect injury (i.e., selfdamaging behavior as response to acoustic exposure) would be unlikely given source and operational use (i.e., vessel movement) characteristics, and PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6605 that any behavioral responses would be unlikely to be significant. Similarly, Boebel et al. (2006) considered the Hydrosweep system in relation to the risk for direct or indirect injury, concluding that (1) risk of TTS (please see Boebel et al. (2006) for assumptions regarding TTS onset) would be less than two percent of the risk of ship strike and (2) risk of behaviorally-induced damage would be essentially nil due to differences in source characteristics between scientific sonars and sources typically associated with stranding events (e.g., mid-frequency active sonar, but see discussion of the 2008 Madagascar stranding event below). It should be noted that the risk of direct injury may be greater when a vessel operates sources while on station (i.e., stationary), as there is a greater chance for an animal to receive the signal when the vessel is not moving. Boebel et al. (2005) report the results of a workshop in which a structured, qualitative risk analysis of a range of acoustic technology was undertaken, specific to use of such technology in the Antarctic. The authors assessed a singlebeam echosounder commonly used for collecting bathymetric data (12 kHz, 232 dB, 10° beam width), an array of singlebeam echosounders used for mapping krill (38, 70, 120, and 200 kHz; 230 dB; 7° beam width), and a multibeam echosounder (30 kHz, 236 dB, 150° x 1° swath width). For each source, the authors produced a matrix displaying the severity of potential consequences (on a six-point scale) against the likelihood of occurrence for a given degree of severity. For the former two systems, the authors determined on the basis of the volume of water potentially affected by the system and comparisons between its output and available TTS data that the chance of TTS only exists in a small volume immediately under the transducers, and that consequences of level four and above were inconceivable, whereas level one consequences (‘‘Individuals show no response, or only a temporary (minutes) behavior change’’) would be expected in almost all instances. Some minor displacement of animals in the immediate vicinity of the ship may occur. For the multibeam echosounder, Boebel et al. (2005) note that the high output and broad width of the swath abeam of the vessel makes displacement of animals more likely. However, the fore and aft beamwidth is small and the pulse length very short, so the risk of ensonification above TTS levels is still considered quite small and the likelihood of auditory or other injuries low. In general, the authors reached the E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6606 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules same conclusions described for the single-beam systems but note that more severe impacts—including fatalities resulting from herding of sensitive species in narrow sea ways—are at least possible (i.e., may occur in exceptional circumstances). However, the probability of herding remains low not just because of the rarity of the necessary confluence of species, bathymetry, and likely other factors, but because the restricted beam shape makes it unlikely that an animal would be exposed more than briefly during the passage of the vessel (Boebel et al., 2005). More recently, Lurton (2016) conducted a modeling exercise and concluded similarly that likely potential for acoustic injury from these types of systems is negligible, but that behavioral response cannot be ruled out. Characteristics of the sound sources used by SEFSC reduce the likelihood of effects to marine mammals, as well as the intensity of effect assuming that an animal perceives the signal. Intermittent exposures—as would occur due to the brief, transient signals produced by these sources—require a higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than would continuous exposures of the same duration (i.e., intermittent exposure results in lower levels of TTS) (Mooney et al., 2009a; Finneran et al., 2010). In addition, animals recover from intermittent exposures faster in comparison to continuous exposures of the same duration (Finneran et al., 2010). Although echosounder pulses are, in general, emitted rapidly, they are not dissimilar to odontocete echolocation click trains. Research indicates that marine mammals generally have extremely fine auditory temporal resolution and can detect each signal separately (e.g., Au et al., 1988; Dolphin et al., 1995; Supin and Popov, 1995; Mooney et al., 2009b), especially for species with echolocation capabilities. Therefore, it is likely that marine mammals would indeed perceive echosounder signals as being intermittent. We conclude that, on the basis of available information on hearing and potential auditory effects in marine mammals, high-frequency cetacean species would be the most likely to potentially incur temporary hearing loss from a vessel operating high-frequency fishery research sonar sources, and the potential for PTS to occur for any species is so unlikely as to be discountable. Even for high-frequency cetacean species, individuals would have to make a very close approach and also remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order to receive multiple exposures at relatively VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 high levels, as would be necessary to cause TTS. Additionally, given that behavioral responses typically include the temporary avoidance that might be expected (see below), the potential for auditory effects considered physiological damage (injury) is considered extremely low in relation to realistic operations of these devices. Given the fact that fisheries research survey vessels are moving, the likelihood that animals may avoid the vessel to some extent based on either its physical presence or due to aversive sound (vessel or active acoustic sources), and the intermittent nature of many of these sources, the potential for TTS is probably low for high-frequency cetaceans and very low to zero for other species. Behavioral Effects on Marine Mammals Category 2 active acoustic sources are likely to be audible to some marine mammal species. Among the marine mammals, most of these sources are unlikely to be audible to whales and most pinnipeds, whereas they may be detected by odontocete cetaceans (and particularly high frequency specialists such as harbor porpoise). Richardson et al. (1995) described zones of increasing intensity of effect that might be expected to occur, in relation to distance from a source and assuming that the signal is within an animal’s hearing range. First is the area within which the acoustic signal would be audible (potentially perceived) to the animal but not strong enough to elicit any overt behavioral or physiological response. The next zone corresponds with the area where the signal is audible to the animal and of sufficient intensity to elicit behavioral or physiological responses. Third is a zone within which, for signals of high intensity, the received level is sufficient to potentially cause discomfort or tissue damage to auditory or other systems. Overlaying these zones to a certain extent is the area within which masking (i.e., when a sound interferes with or masks the ability of an animal to detect a signal of interest that is above the absolute hearing threshold) may occur; the masking zone may be highly variable in size. Behavioral disturbance may include a variety of effects, including subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief avoidance of an area or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous changes in similar behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or potentially severe reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment of high-quality habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-specific PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 and any reactions depend on numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, experience, current activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, time of day), as well as the interplay between factors (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok et al., 2003; Southall et al., 2007; Weilgart, 2007; Archer et al., 2010). Behavioral reactions can vary not only among individuals but also within an individual, depending on previous experience with a sound source, context, and numerous other factors (Ellison et al., 2012), and can vary depending on characteristics associated with the sound source (e.g., whether it is moving or stationary, number of sources, distance from the source). Habituation can occur when an animal’s response to a stimulus wanes with repeated exposure, usually in the absence of unpleasant associated events (Wartzok et al., 2003). Animals are most likely to habituate to sounds that are predictable and unvarying. It is important to note that habituation is appropriately considered as a ‘‘progressive reduction in response to stimuli that are perceived as neither aversive nor beneficial,’’ rather than as, more generally, moderation in response to human disturbance (Bejder et al., 2009). The opposite process is sensitization, when an unpleasant experience leads to subsequent responses, often in the form of avoidance, at a lower level of exposure. As noted, behavioral state may affect the type of response. For example, animals that are resting may show greater behavioral change in response to disturbing sound levels than animals that are highly motivated to remain in an area for feeding (Richardson et al., 1995; NRC, 2003; Wartzok et al., 2003). Controlled experiments with captive marine mammals have showed pronounced behavioral reactions, including avoidance of loud sound sources (Ridgway et al., 1997; Finneran et al., 2003). Observed responses of wild marine mammals to loud pulsed sound sources (typically seismic airguns or acoustic harassment devices) have been varied but often consist of avoidance behavior or other behavioral changes suggesting discomfort (Morton and Symonds, 2002; see also Richardson et al., 1995; Nowacek et al., 2007). Available studies show wide variation in response to underwater sound; therefore, it is difficult to predict specifically how any given sound in a particular instance might affect marine mammals perceiving the signal. If a marine mammal does react briefly to an underwater sound by changing its behavior or moving a small distance, the E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules impacts of the change are unlikely to be significant to the individual, let alone the stock or population. However, if a sound source displaces marine mammals from an important feeding or breeding area for a prolonged period, impacts on individuals and populations could be significant (e.g., Lusseau and Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007; NRC, 2005). However, there are broad categories of potential response, which we describe in greater detail here, that include alteration of dive behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, effects to breathing, interference with or alteration of vocalization, avoidance, and flight. Changes in dive behavior can vary widely and may consist of increased or decreased dive times and surface intervals as well as changes in the rates of ascent and descent during a dive (e.g., Frankel and Clark, 2000; Costa et al., 2003; Ng and Leung, 2003; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Goldbogen et al., 2013a, b). Variations in dive behavior may reflect interruptions in biologically significant activities (e.g., foraging) or they may be of little biological significance. The impact of an alteration to dive behavior resulting from an acoustic exposure depends on what the animal is doing at the time of the exposure and the type and magnitude of the response. Disruption of feeding behavior can be difficult to correlate with anthropogenic sound exposure, so it is usually inferred by observed displacement from known foraging areas, the appearance of secondary indicators (e.g., bubble nets or sediment plumes), or changes in dive behavior. As for other types of behavioral response, the frequency, duration, and temporal pattern of signal presentation, as well as differences in species sensitivity, are likely contributing factors to differences in response in any given circumstance (e.g., Croll et al., 2001; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Madsen et al., 2006; Yazvenko et al., 2007). A determination of whether foraging disruptions incur fitness consequences would require information on or estimates of the energetic requirements of the affected individuals and the relationship between prey availability, foraging effort and success, and the life history stage of the animal. Variations in respiration naturally vary with different behaviors and alterations to breathing rate as a function of acoustic exposure can be expected to co-occur with other behavioral reactions, such as a flight response or an alteration in diving. However, respiration rates in and of themselves may be representative of annoyance or an acute stress response. Various studies have shown that VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 respiration rates may either be unaffected or could increase, depending on the species and signal characteristics, again highlighting the importance in understanding species differences in the tolerance of underwater noise when determining the potential for impacts resulting from anthropogenic sound exposure (e.g., Kastelein et al., 2001, 2005b, 2006; Gailey et al., 2007). Marine mammals vocalize for different purposes and across multiple modes, such as whistling, echolocation click production, calling, and singing. Changes in vocalization behavior in response to anthropogenic noise can occur for any of these modes and may result from a need to compete with an increase in background noise or may reflect increased vigilance or a startle response. For example, in the presence of potentially masking signals, humpback whales and killer whales have been observed to increase the length of their songs (Miller et al., 2000; Fristrup et al., 2003; Foote et al., 2004), while right whales have been observed to shift the frequency content of their calls upward while reducing the rate of calling in areas of increased anthropogenic noise (Parks et al., 2007b). In some cases, animals may cease sound production during production of aversive signals (Bowles et al., 1994). Avoidance is the displacement of an individual from an area or migration path as a result of the presence of a sound or other stressors, and is one of the most obvious manifestations of disturbance in marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). For example, gray whales are known to change direction—deflecting from customary migratory paths—in order to avoid noise from seismic surveys (Malme et al., 1984). Avoidance may be short-term, with animals returning to the area once the noise has ceased (e.g., Bowles et al., 1994; Goold, 1996; Morton and Symonds, 2002; Gailey et al., 2007). Longer-term displacement is possible, however, which may lead to changes in abundance or distribution patterns of the affected species in the affected region if habituation to the presence of the sound does not occur (e.g., Blackwell et al., 2004; Bejder et al., 2006; Teilmann et al., 2006). A flight response is a dramatic change in normal movement to a directed and rapid movement away from the perceived location of a sound source. The flight response differs from other avoidance responses in the intensity of the response (e.g., directed movement, rate of travel). Relatively little information on flight responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6607 signals exist, although observations of flight responses to the presence of predators have occurred (Connor and Heithaus, 1996). The result of a flight response could range from brief, temporary exertion and displacement from the area where the signal provokes flight to, in extreme cases, marine mammal strandings (Evans and England, 2001). However, it should be noted that response to a perceived predator does not necessarily invoke flight (Ford and Reeves, 2008), and whether individuals are solitary or in groups may influence the response. Behavioral disturbance can also impact marine mammals in more subtle ways. Increased vigilance may result in costs related to diversion of focus and attention (i.e., when a response consists of increased vigilance, it may come at the cost of decreased attention to other critical behaviors such as foraging or resting). These effects have generally not been demonstrated for marine mammals, but studies involving fish and terrestrial animals have shown that increased vigilance may substantially reduce feeding rates (e.g., Beauchamp and Livoreil, 1997; Fritz et al., 2002; Purser and Radford, 2011). In addition, chronic disturbance can cause population declines through reduction of fitness (e.g., decline in body condition) and subsequent reduction in reproductive success, survival, or both (e.g., Harrington and Veitch, 1992; Daan et al., 1996; Bradshaw et al., 1998). However, Ridgway et al. (2006) reported that increased vigilance in bottlenose dolphins exposed to sound over a fiveday period did not cause any sleep deprivation or stress effects. Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Disruption of such functions resulting from reactions to stressors such as sound exposure are more likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than one day and not recurring on subsequent days is not considered particularly severe unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et al., 2007). Note that there is a difference between multi-day substantive behavioral reactions and multi-day anthropogenic activities. For example, just because an activity lasts for multiple days does not necessarily mean that individual animals are either exposed to activity-related stressors for multiple days or, further, exposed in a manner resulting in sustained multi-day substantive behavioral responses. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6608 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Few experiments have been conducted to explicitly test for potential effects of echosounders on the behavior of wild cetaceans. Quick et al. (2017) describe an experimental approach to assess potential changes in short-finned pilot whale behavior during exposure to an echosounder (Simrad EK60 operated at 38 kHz, which is commonly used by SESC). In 2011, digital acoustic recording tags (DTAG) were attached to pilot whales off of North Carolina, with five of the nine tagged whales exposed to signals from the echosounder over a period of eight days and four treated as control animals. DTAGS record both received levels of noise as well as orientation of the animal. Results did not show an overt response to the echosounder or a change to foraging behavior of tagged whales, but the whales did increase heading variance during exposure. The authors suggest that this response was not a directed avoidance response but was more likely a vigilance response, with animals maintaining awareness of the location of the echosounder through increased changes in heading variance (Quick et al., 2017). Visual observations of behavior did not indicate any dramatic response, unusual behaviors, or changes in heading, and cessation of biologically important behavior such as feeding was not observed. These less overt responses to sound exposure are difficult to detect by visual observation, but may have important consequences if the exposure does interfere with biologically important behavior. We considered behavioral data from these species when assessing the potential for take (see Estimated Take section). There are few studies that obtained detailed beaked whale behavioral data in response to echosounders (e.g., Quick et al. (2016), Cholewiak et al. (2017)) as more effort has been focused on mid-frequency active sonar (e.g., Cox et al. (2006), Tyack et al. (2006, 2011). In 2013, passive acoustic monitoring of beaked whales in the Atlantic Ocean occurred during and in absence of prey studies using an EK60 echosounder (Cholewiak et al., 2017). There was a significant reduction of acoustic detections during echosounder use; indicating beaked whales may have moved out of the detection range, initiated directed movement away from the ship, the animals remained in the area but temporarily suspend foraging activity. The authors also noted that due to some potential outliers in the data, the analysis may not be sensitive enough to fully evaluate the relationship between beaked whale sightings and VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 echosounder use. Beaked whales have also not consistently been observed to elicit behaviors across species or source type. For example, Cuvier’s beaked whales have strongly avoided playbacks of mid-frequency active sonar at distances of 10 km but reacted much less severely to naval sonar operating 118 km away, despite similar RLs (DeRuiter et al. 2013). Based on the available data, NMFS anticipates beaked whales and harbor porpoise are more likely to respond in a manner that may rise to the level of take to SEFSC acoustic sources. However, the method by which take is quantified in this proposed rule is conservative (e.g., simplified, conservative Level B harassment area to the 160dB isopleth, conservative amount of time surveys may occur) and adequately accounts for the number of individuals which may be taken. We also note harbor porpoise occur as far south as North Carolina in the ARA during winter months (January through March) and do not inhabit the GOMRA or CRA. Therefore, the potential for harassment from scientific sonar used by the SEFSC is unlikely outside of the January through March timeframe off of North Carolina constituting a very small subset of space and time when considering all three research areas and research effort. More information on take estimate methodology is found in the Estimated Take section. Stress responses—An animal’s perception of a threat may be sufficient to trigger stress responses consisting of some combination of behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses (e.g., Seyle, 1950; Moberg, 2000). In many cases, an animal’s first and sometimes most economical (in terms of energetic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor. Autonomic nervous system responses to stress typically involve changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity. These responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have a significant long-term effect on an animal’s fitness. Neuroendocrine stress responses often involve the hypothalamus-pituitaryadrenal system. Virtually all neuroendocrine functions that are affected by stress—including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior—are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction, altered metabolism, reduced immune competence, and behavioral disturbance (e.g., Moberg, 1987; Blecha, 2000). PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Increases in the circulation of glucocorticoids are also equated with stress (Romano et al., 2004). The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and ‘‘distress’’ is the cost of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose serious fitness consequences. However, when an animal does not have sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress response, energy resources must be diverted from other functions. This state of distress will last until the animal replenishes its energetic reserves sufficient to restore normal function. Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal behavior, and the costs of stress responses are well-studied through controlled experiments and for both laboratory and free-ranging animals (e.g., Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005). Stress responses due to exposure to anthropogenic sounds or other stressors and their effects on marine mammals have also been reviewed (Fair and Becker, 2000; Romano et al., 2002b) and, more rarely, studied in wild populations (e.g., Romano et al., 2002a). For example, Rolland et al. (2012) found that noise reduction from reduced ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy was associated with decreased stress in North Atlantic right whales. These and other studies lead to a reasonable expectation that some marine mammals will experience physiological stress responses upon exposure to acoustic stressors and that it is possible that some of these would be classified as ‘‘distress.’’ In addition, any animal experiencing TTS would likely also experience stress responses (NRC, 2003). Auditory masking—Sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or interfering with, an animal’s ability to detect, recognize, or discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, predator avoidance, navigation) (Richardson et al., 1995; Erbe et al., 2016). Masking occurs when the receipt of a sound is interfered with by another coincident sound at similar frequencies and at similar or higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is natural (e.g., snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or anthropogenic (e.g., shipping, sonar, E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules seismic exploration) in origin. The ability of a noise source to mask biologically important sounds depends on the characteristics of both the noise source and the signal of interest (e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, temporal variability, direction), in relation to each other and to an animal’s hearing abilities (e.g., sensitivity, frequency range, critical ratios, frequency discrimination, directional discrimination, age or TTS hearing loss), and existing ambient noise and propagation conditions. Under certain circumstances, marine mammals experiencing significant masking could also be impaired from maximizing their performance fitness in survival and reproduction. Therefore, when the coincident (masking) sound is man-made, it may be considered harassment when disrupting or altering critical behaviors. It is important to distinguish TTS and PTS, which persist after the sound exposure, from masking, which occurs during the sound exposure. Because masking (without resulting in TS) is not associated with abnormal physiological function, it is not considered a physiological effect, but rather a potential behavioral effect. The frequency range of the potentially masking sound is important in determining any potential behavioral impacts. For example, low-frequency signals may have less effect on highfrequency echolocation sounds produced by odontocetes but are more likely to affect detection of mysticete communication calls and other potentially important natural sounds such as those produced by surf and some prey species. The masking of communication signals by anthropogenic noise may be considered as a reduction in the communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al., 2009) and may result in energetic or other costs as animals change their vocalization behavior (e.g., Miller et al., 2000; Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007b; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt et al., 2009). Masking can be reduced in situations where the signal and noise come from different directions (Richardson et al., 1995), through amplitude modulation of the signal, or through other compensatory behaviors (Houser and Moore, 2014). Masking can be tested directly in captive species (e.g., Erbe, 2008), but in wild populations it must be either modeled or inferred from evidence of masking compensation. There are few studies addressing real-world masking sounds likely to be experienced by marine mammals in the wild (e.g., Branstetter et al., 2013). VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Masking affects both senders and receivers of acoustic signals and can potentially have long-term chronic effects on marine mammals at the population level as well as at the individual level. Low-frequency ambient sound levels have increased by as much as 20 dB (more than three times in terms of SPL) in the world’s ocean from pre-industrial periods, with most of the increase from distant commercial shipping (Hildebrand, 2009). All anthropogenic sound sources, but especially chronic and lower-frequency signals (e.g., from vessel traffic), contribute to elevated ambient sound levels, thus intensifying masking. We have also considered the potential for severe behavioral responses such as stranding and associated indirect injury or mortality from SEFSC acoustic survey equipment, on the basis of a 2008 mass stranding of approximately one hundred melon-headed whales in a Madagascar lagoon system. An investigation of the event indicated that use of a highfrequency mapping system (12-kHz multibeam echosounder; it is important to note that all SEFSC sources operate at higher frequencies (see Table 1)) was the most plausible and likely initial behavioral trigger of the event, while providing the caveat that there is no unequivocal and easily identifiable single cause (Southall et al., 2013). The panel’s conclusion was based on (1) very close temporal and spatial association and directed movement of the survey with the stranding event; (2) the unusual nature of such an event coupled with previously documented apparent behavioral sensitivity of the species to other sound types (Southall et al., 2006; Brownell et al., 2009); and (3) the fact that all other possible factors considered were determined to be unlikely causes. Specifically, regarding survey patterns prior to the event and in relation to bathymetry, the vessel transited in a north-south direction on the shelf break parallel to the shore, ensonifying large areas of deep-water habitat prior to operating intermittently in a concentrated area offshore from the stranding site. This may have trapped the animals between the sound source and the shore, thus driving them towards the lagoon system. The investigatory panel systematically excluded or deemed highly unlikely nearly all potential reasons for these animals leaving their typical pelagic habitat for an area extremely atypical for the species (i.e., a shallow lagoon system). Notably, this was the first time that such a system has been associated with a stranding event. The panel also noted several site- and situation-specific secondary factors that PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6609 may have contributed to the avoidance responses that led to the eventual entrapment and mortality of the whales. Specifically, shoreward-directed surface currents and elevated chlorophyll levels in the area preceding the event may have played a role (Southall et al., 2013). The report also notes that prior use of a similar system in the general area may have sensitized the animals and also concluded that, for odontocete cetaceans that hear well in higher frequency ranges where ambient noise is typically quite low, high-power active sonars operating in this range may be more easily audible and have potential effects over larger areas than low frequency systems that have more typically been considered in terms of anthropogenic noise impacts. It is, however, important to note that the relatively lower output frequency, higher output power, and complex nature of the system implicated in this event, in context of the other factors noted here, likely produced a fairly unusual set of circumstances that indicate that such events would likely remain rare and are not necessarily relevant to use of lower-power, higherfrequency systems more commonly used for scientific applications. The risk of similar events recurring may be very low, given the extensive use of active acoustic systems used for scientific and navigational purposes worldwide on a daily basis and the lack of direct evidence of such responses previously reported. Characteristics of the sound sources predominantly used by SEFSC further reduce the likelihood of effects to marine mammals, as well as the intensity of effect assuming that an animal perceives the signal. Intermittent exposures—as would occur due to the brief, transient signals produced by these sources—require a higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than would continuous exposures of the same duration (i.e., intermittent exposure results in lower levels of TTS) (Mooney et al., 2009a; Finneran et al., 2010). In addition, intermittent exposures recover faster in comparison with continuous exposures of the same duration (Finneran et al., 2010). Although echosounder pulses are, in general, emitted rapidly, they are not dissimilar to odontocete echolocation click trains. Research indicates that marine mammals generally have extremely fine auditory temporal resolution and can detect each signal separately (e.g., Au et al., 1988; Dolphin et al., 1995; Supin and Popov, 1995; Mooney et al., 2009b), especially for species with echolocation capabilities. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6610 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Therefore, it is likely that marine mammals would indeed perceive echosounder signals as being intermittent. We conclude here that, on the basis of available information on hearing and potential auditory effects in marine mammals, the potential for threshold shift from exposure to fishery research sonar is low to discountable. Highfrequency cetacean species would be the most likely to potentially incur some minimal amount of temporary hearing loss from a vessel operating highfrequency sonar sources, and the potential for PTS to occur for any species is so unlikely as to be discountable. Even for high-frequency cetacean species, individuals would have to make a very close approach and also remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order to receive multiple exposures at relatively high levels, as would be necessary to cause TTS. Additionally, given that behavioral responses typically include the temporary avoidance that might be expected (see below), the potential for auditory effects considered physiological damage (injury) is considered extremely low in relation to realistic operations of these devices. Given the fact that fisheries research survey vessels are moving, the likelihood that animals may avoid the vessel to some extent based on either its physical presence or due to aversive sound (vessel or active acoustic sources), and the intermittent nature of many of these sources, the potential for TTS is probably low for high-frequency cetaceans and very low to zero for other species. Based on the source operating characteristics, most of these sources may be detected by odontocete cetaceans (and particularly highfrequency specialists such as porpoises) but are unlikely to be audible to mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans) and some pinnipeds. While low-frequency cetaceans and pinnipeds have been observed to respond behaviorally to low- and mid-frequency sounds (e.g., Frankel, 2005), there is little evidence of behavioral responses in these species to high-frequency sound exposure (e.g., Jacobs and Terhune, 2002; Kastelein et al., 2006). If a marine mammal does perceive a signal from a SEFSC active acoustic source, it is likely that the response would be, at most, behavioral in nature. Behavioral reactions of free-ranging marine mammals to scientific sonars are likely to vary by species and circumstance. For example, Watkins et al. (1985) note that sperm whales did not appear to be disturbed by or even aware of signals VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 from scientific sonars and pingers (36– 60 kHz) despite being very close to the transducers. But Gerrodette and Pettis (2005) report that when a 38-kHz echosounder and ADCP were on (1) the average size of detected schools of spotted dolphins and pilot whales was decreased; (2) perpendicular sighting distances increased for spotted and spinner dolphins; and (3) sighting rates decreased for beaked whales. As described above, behavioral responses of marine mammals are extremely variable, depending on multiple exposure factors, with the most common type of observed response being behavioral avoidance of areas around aversive sound sources. Certain odontocete cetaceans (particularly harbor porpoises and beaked whales) are known to avoid high-frequency sound sources in both field and laboratory settings (e.g., Kastelein et al., 2000, 2005b, 2008a, b; Culik et al., 2001; Johnston, 2002; Olesiuk et al., 2002; Carretta et al., 2008). There is some additional, low probability for masking to occur for high-frequency specialists, but similar factors (directional beam pattern, transient signal, moving vessel) mean that the significance of any potential masking is probably inconsequential. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat Effects to prey—In addition to direct, or operational, interactions between fishing gear and marine mammals, indirect (i.e., biological or ecological) interactions occur as well, in which marine mammals and fisheries both utilize the same resource, potentially resulting in competition that may be mutually disadvantageous (e.g., Northridge, 1984; Beddington et al., 1985; Wickens, 1995). Marine mammal prey varies by species, season, and location and, for some, is not well documented. There is some overlap in prey of marine mammals and the species sampled and removed during SEFSC research surveys, with primary prey of concern being zooplankton, estuarine fishes, and invertebrates. The majority of fish affected by SEFSCaffiliated research projects are caught and killed during these six annual surveys: SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey, SEAMAP–GOM Shrimp/ Groundfish (Summer/Fall) Trawl, Small Pelagics Trawl Survey, Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey, SEAMAP–GOM Shrimp/Groundfish (Summer/Fall) Trawl Survey, and the MARMAP Reef Fish Long Bottom Longline Survey. The species caught in greatest abundance in the ARA are the great northern tilefish, Atlantic bumper, PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 banded drum and star drum. In the GOMRA, the species caught in greatest abundance is the Atlantic croaker followed by the longspine porgy and Rough scad. In the CRA, the horse-eye jack and yellowtail snapper comprise the greatest catch. However, in all research areas, the total amount of these species taken in research surveys is very small relative to their overall biomass in the area (See Section 4.2.3 of the SEFSC EA for more information on fish catch during research surveys). Tables 4.2–8 through 4.2–12 in the SEFSC’s Draft EA indicate that, while mortality to fish species is a direct effect of the SEFSC Atlantic Research Area surveys, there are likely no measurable population changes occurring as a result of these research activities because they represent such a small percentage of allowable quota in commercial and recreational fisheries, which are just fractions of the total populations for these species. In addition to the small total biomass taken, some of the size classes of fish targeted in research surveys are very small, and these small size classes are not known to be prey of marine mammals. Research catches are also distributed over a wide area because of the random sampling design covering large sample areas. Fish removals by research are therefore highly localized and unlikely to affect the spatial concentrations and availability of prey for any marine mammal species. The overall effect of research catches on marine mammals through competition for prey may therefore be considered insignificant for all species. Acoustic habitat—Acoustic habitat is the soundscape—which encompasses all of the sound present in a particular location and time, as a whole—when considered from the perspective of the animals experiencing it. Animals produce sound for, or listen for sounds produced by, conspecifics (communication during feeding, mating, and other social activities), other animals (finding prey or avoiding predators), and the physical environment (finding suitable habitats, navigating). Together, sounds made by animals and the geophysical environment (e.g., produced by earthquakes, lightning, wind, rain, waves) make up the natural contributions to the total acoustics of a place. These acoustic conditions, termed acoustic habitat, are one attribute of an animal’s total habitat. Soundscapes are also defined by, and acoustic habitat influenced by, the total contribution of anthropogenic sound. This may include incidental emissions from sources such as vessel traffic, or E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules may be intentionally introduced to the marine environment for data acquisition purposes (as in the SEFSC’s use of active acoustic sources). Anthropogenic noise varies widely in its frequency content, duration, and loudness, and these characteristics greatly influence the potential habitat-mediated effects to marine mammals (please see also the previous discussion on masking under ‘‘Acoustic Effects’’), which may range from local effects for brief periods of time to chronic effects over large areas and for long durations. Depending on the extent of effects to habitat, animals may alter their communications signals (thereby potentially expending additional energy) or miss acoustic cues (either conspecific or adventitious). For more detail on these concepts see, e.g., Barber et al., 2010; Pijanowski et al., 2011; Francis and Barber, 2013; Lillis et al., 2014. As described above (‘‘Acoustic Effects’’), the signals emitted by SEFSC active acoustic sources are of higher frequencies, short duration with high directionality, and transient. These factors mean that the signals will likely attenuate rapidly (not travel over great distances), may not be perceived or affect perception even when animals are in the vicinity, and would not be considered chronic in any given location. SEFSC use of these sources is widely dispersed in both space and time. In conjunction with the prior factors, this means that it is highly unlikely that SEFSC use of these sources would, on their own, have any appreciable effect on acoustic habitat. Physical habitat—The SEFSC conducts some bottom trawling, which may physically damage seafloor habitat. Physical damage may include furrowing and smoothing of the seafloor as well as the displacement of rocks and boulders, and such damage can increase with multiple contacts in the same area (Morgan and Chuenpagdee, 2003; Stevenson et al., 2004). Damage to seafloor habitat may also harm infauna and epifauna (i.e., animals that live in or on the seafloor or on structures on the seafloor), including corals. In general, physical damage to the seafloor would be expected to recover within eighteen months through the action of water currents and natural sedimentation, with the exception of rocks and boulders which may be permanently displaced (Stevenson et al., 2004). Relatively small areas would be impacted by SEFSC bottom trawling and, because such surveys are conducted in the same areas but not in the exact same locations, they are expected to cause single rather than repeated disturbances in any given area. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 SEFSC activities would not be expected to have any other impacts on physical habitat. As described in the preceding, the potential for SEFSC research to affect the availability of prey to marine mammals or to meaningfully impact the quality of physical or acoustic habitat is considered to be insignificant for all species. Effects to habitat will not be discussed further in this document. Estimated Take This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes proposed for authorization through this IHA, which will inform both NMFS’ consideration of whether the number of takes is ‘‘small’’ and the negligible impact determination. When discussing take, we consider three manners of take: Mortality, serious injury, and harassment. Serious injury is defined as an injury that could lead to mortality while injury refers to injury that does not lead to mortality. 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). As previously described, the SEFSC has a history of take of marine mammals incidental to fisheries research. The degree of take resulting from gear interaction can range from mortality, serious injury, Level A harassment (injury), or released unharmed with no observable injury. However, given that we cannot predict the degree of take, we conservatively assume that any interaction may result in mortality or serious injury and have issued take as such. In the case of the Mississippi Sound stock, we have also authorized a single take from Level A harassment (injury) only. The amount of research conducted in Mississippi Sound using gear with the potential for marine mammal interaction increases the potential for interaction above other estuarine systems. However, there is evidence that, even without the proposed prescribed mitigation and monitoring measures, take may not result in mortality or serious injury (e.g., the October 13, 2013 skimmer trawl take which did not result in serious injury or mortality). The proposed mitigation and monitoring measures described in this proposed rulemaking are designed to PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6611 further reduce risk of take and degree of take. Estimated Take Due to Gear Interaction Given the complex stock structure of bottlenose dolphins throughout the ARA and GOMRA as well as the vulnerability of this species to be taken incidental to fishery research, we have partitioned this section into two categories to present requested and proposed take in an organized manner. Below we present our analysis informing the proposed take of estuarine and coastal bottlenose dolphins followed by pelagic marine mammals which includes all relevant nonbottlenose dolphin species and open ocean stocks of bottlenose dolphins. Estuarine and Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin Take—SEFSC In order to estimate the number of potential bottlenose dolphin takes in estuarine and coastal waters, we considered the SEFSC’s and TPWD’s record of such past incidents and other sources of take (e.g., commercial fisheries and non-SEFSC or TPWD affiliated research). We consulted the SARs, marine mammal experts at the SEFSC, and information emerging from the BDTRT to identify these other sources of mortality. We then assessed the similarities and differences between fishery research and commercial fisheries gear and fishing practices. Finally, we evaluated means of affecting the least practicable adverse impact on bottlenose dolphins through the proposed mitigation and additional mitigation developed during the proposed rulemaking process. In total, since 2001 and over the course of thousands of hours of research effort, 15 marine mammals (all bottlenose dolphins) have been entangled in SEFSC-affiliated research gear. All takes occurred between April through October; however, this is likely a result of research effort concentrated during this time period and there does not appear to be any trend in increased vulnerability throughout the year. In the ARA, the SEFSC has nine documented takes of bottlenose dolphins (in 8 instances) from fishing gear (Table 5) and 1 take of an Atlantic spotted dolphin. The Atlantic spotted dolphin take was a calf struck by a propeller during a marine mammal research cruise. Given the anomalous nature of the incident and proposed mitigation measures, NMFS is not proposing to authorize take by ship strike. Therefore, this take is not discussed further. Of the eight gearrelated takes, two animals were taken at once in a trammel net by the SCDNR in E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6612 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 2002. However, the SCDNR has since changed fishing methods and implemented monitoring and mitigation measures essentially eliminating the potential for take during this survey. No other trammel net-related takes have occurred since these changes were implemented. Therefore, we believe the potential for a take in SCDNR trammel nets is discountable. The remaining six gear-related takes have been a result of interaction with bottom trawl gear during SEAMAP and TED research surveys resulting in an average 0.38 takes per year (6 takes/16 years). To further assess the potential for take in any given year, we considered where takes have occurred and the possible stock origin from which an animal was taken. The July 2006 take occurred offshore of Fripp Island, SC; the October 2006 take occurred off Oak Island, NC; the July 2012 take occurred off Little Tybee Island, GA; the August 2012 take occurred off Pawley’s Island, SC; the April 2014 take occurred just off the coast of Florida between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach; and the July 2016 take occurred off Sea Island, Georgia which is nestled between Little St. Simon’s Island and St. Simon’s Island. Therefore, the dolphins taken could have originated from any of the five coastal stocks (the Northern Migratory and Southern Migratory stock, South Carolina/Georgia Coastal stock, Northern Florida Coastal stock and a Central Florida stock), although they were assigned to the stock based on the location where the take occurred. Taking the average rate of 0.38 animals/ five stocks equates to an average taking of 0.08 animals per stock per year. This average would be even less if one considers an estuarine stock may be the stock of origin. According to the SEFSC’s application, three trawl surveys and 2 bottom longline surveys conducted by the SEFSC or research partner overlap spatially with the NNCES stock (Table 1). These are the Atlantic Striped Bass Tagging Bottom Trawl Survey (USFWS), SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey (SCDNR), SEAMAP–SA North Carolina Pamlico Sound Trawl Survey (NCDENR), Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey (SEFSC), and the SEAMAP–SA Red Drum Bottom Longline Survey (NCDNR). No gillnet surveys would take place in waters overlapping with this stock. Based on data in the PSIT database, no dolphins VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 from the NNCES stock have been taken from SEFSC or partner fishery research surveys, including those described above which have taken place for many years. Despite the lack of historical take, we further investigated the potential for future interaction. Based on commercial fishery and SEFSC fishery survey bycatch rates of marine mammals, we would expect the trawl surveys to be more likely to take a dolphin than the bottom longline surveys. An evaluation of each survey type occurring is provided below to more thoroughly evaluate the potential for taking a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the NNCES stock. The Atlantic Striped Bass Bottom Trawl Survey (conducted by the USFWS) is limited to two weeks (200– 350 trawls) during January and February in coastal waters north of Cape Hatteras ranging from 30 to 120 ft in depth. The USFWS uses dual 65-ft trawl nets with 3.75 in. stretch nylon multifilament mesh codend. Tow speed is 3 kts and tow time does not exceed 30 minutes at depth. Trawl operations are conducted day and night from the R/V Oregon II, R/V Oregon, or R/V Savannah (please refer to the EA for detailed vessel descriptions). The winter operations of this survey overlaps in time with when some animals move out of Pamlico Sound and into coastal waters. However, photo-ID studies, available tag data and stable isotope data indicate that the portion of the stock that moves out of Pamlico Sound into coastal waters remain south of Cape Hatteras during cold water months (Waring et al. 2016). The USFWS has historically conducted surveys north of Cape Hatteras. However, the survey is currently inactive due to funding constraints. If funding becomes available, they may undertake this survey. However, the spatial and temporal specifications described above greatly reduce the likelihood of a take from the NNCES stock. In addition, given the short duration of the survey (2 weeks) and short tow time durations (up to 30 minutes), the chance of marine mammal interaction is limited. This logic is supported by the lack of take from this survey. At this time, for the reasons described above, we believe the likelihood of an animal from the NNCES stock being taken during Atlantic Striped Bass Bottom Trawl Survey is unlikely. PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 The SEAMAP–SA Pamlico Sound Trawl Survey (NCDENR) is conducted to support stock assessments and management of finfish, shrimp, and crab species in Pamlico Sound and its bays and rivers. The otter trawl survey takes place for 10 days in June and 10 days in September during daylight hours. Up to 54 trawls are completed each month (total = 108 trawls) aboard the R/V Carolina Coast. The general area of operation is Pamlico Sound and the Pamlico, Pungo, and Neuse rivers in waters greater than or equal to 6 ft. Despite spatial and temporal overall with the NNCES stock, this survey has no record of interacting with a marine mammal. Given the lack of historical interaction, limited number of tows, and implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, we do not believe there is reasonable likelihood of take from this survey. The SEAMAP–SA Coastal Trawl Survey (SCDNR) operates 300–350 trawls annually from Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL in nearshore oceanic waters of 15–30 ft depth. Its goal is collect long-term fishery independent data on ecologically, commercially, and recreationally important fishes and invertebrates, including shrimp and blue crab. Tow time is approximately 20 minutes. This survey is not associated with sea turtle research surveys, which have longer tow times. SCDNR uses the R/V Lady Lisa outfitted with an otter trawl comprised of paired mongoose-type Falcon bottom trawls. All takes of dolphins have occurred in coastal waters (none from estuarine waters), and all assigned takes have been from coastal stocks. However, because estuarine stocks may venture into coastal waters, there is a small possibility takes from this survey could have been from the SNCES (n=1), Northern South Carolina Estuarine System (n=1), Northern Georgia/ Southern South Carolina Estuarine System (n= 2), and Southern Georgia Estuarine System (n=1) (Table 6). This is the only survey which may potentially overlap with the NNCES and SNCES stock but does so in coastal waters where coastal stocks overlap in time and space. It is most likely a take from this survey would be from a coastal stock. Therefore, we are not proposing to authorize take from the NNCES or SNCES stock. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6613 TABLE 6—POSSIBLE STOCK ORIGIN OF BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS TAKEN IN THE ARA Possible Stocks Date Location Taken 2001 ....................... July 2006 ............... Unknown ............................................... Off Fripp Island, GA .............................. October 2006 ......... Off Oak Island, NC ............................... July 2012 ............... Off Little Tybee Island, GA ................... August 2012 .......... Off Pawley’s Island, SC ........................ April 2014 .............. Off the coast of Florida between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Off Sea Island, Georgia ........................ amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 July 2016 ............... The only survey overlapping with the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) stock is the St. Lucie Rod-and-Reel Fish Health Study. There are no documented instances of the SEFSC taking a dolphin from this survey. Therefore, we believe the likelihood of take is low and mitigation measures (e.g. quickly reeling in line if dolphins are likely to interact with gear) would be effective at further reducing take potential to discountable. In consideration of this, we are not proposing to issue take of the IRL stock. In summary, we are not proposing to authorize requested take in the ARA for the NNCES, SNCES, and Indian River Lagoon stocks due to low to discountable potential for take. For all other estuarine stocks for which take was requested (n=7), we are proposing to authorize the requested 1 take over 5 years by M/SI (Table 7). We are proposing to issue the requested 3 M/SI takes per stock of each of the coastal stocks and the offshore stock in the ARA over 5 years (Table 7). In the GOMRA, the SEFSC is requesting to take one dolphin from each of the 21 estuarine stocks, three dolphins from the Mississippi Sound stock, and three dolphins per year from the coastal stocks (Table 7). Similar to the ARA, NMFS examined the SEFSC’s request and assessed authorizing take based on fishing effort and stock spatial and temporal parameters, the potential for take based on fishing practices (e.g., gear description, tow/soak times). In addition, the SEFSC has provided supplemental information indicating some surveys are discontinued or currently inactive and are not likely to VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Coastal Estuarine. Unknown ............................................... W.N. Atlantic South Carolina-Georgia Coastal. Southern Migratory ............................... Unknown. Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine System. Southern North Carolina Estuarine System. Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine System. Northern South Carolina Estuarine System. W.N. Atlantic Central Florida Coastal. W.N. Atlantic South Carolina-Georgia Coastal. W.N. Atlantic South Carolina-Georgia Coastal. W.N. Atlantic Northern Florida Coastal W.N. Atlantic South Carolina-Georgia Coastal. take place during the proposed 5-year regulations. When examining the survey gear used and fishing methods, we determined that the IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey (conducted by TPWD) has a very low potential to take dolphins. This survey has no documented dolphin/gear interactions despite high fishing effort (90 trawls for month/1080 trawls per year). This is likely because TPWD uses a very small (20 ft wide) otter shrimp trawl which is towed for only 10 minutes in 3–30 ft of water. The nets can be retrieved within one to two minutes. The IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey is the only survey conducted by the SEFSC that overlaps with the following BSE bottlenose dolphin stocks: Laguna Madre; Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay; Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espirtu Santo Bay; Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay; West Bay, and Galveston Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay. TPWD has no documented take of dolphins from the IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey despite years of research effort. Due to the discountable potential for take from the IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey, we are not proposing to authorize take of these Texas bottlenose dolphin stocks to the SEFSC. Another stock with a discountable potential for take is the Barataria Bay stock. This stock’s habitat includes Caminada Bay, Barataria Bay east to Bastian Bay, Bay Coquette, and Gulf coastal waters extending 1 km from the shoreline. The SEFSC has committed to avoiding conducting fisheries independent monitoring in these waters. PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Southern Georgia Estuarine System. Hence, we find the potential for take from the Barataria Bay stock is discountable and we are not proposing to authorize the requested take. On December 22, 2017, the SEFSC indicated the Gulfspan shark survey conducted by University of West Florida (UWF) is considered inactive as of 2017 and would not likely take place over the course of the proposed regulations due to staffing changes. This is the only survey overlapping with the Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay stocks. Therefore, we find the potential for take from these stocks is discountable and we are not proposing to authorize the requested take. There are nine surveys in the GOMRA overlapping with the Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau stock (MS Sound stock): Four trawl, three gillnet, and two hook and line. While there are four documented takes from this stock since 2011 (from gillnet and trawl surveys), there are none prior to that year. The SEFSC requested three M/SI takes from the MS Sound stock due to the amount of fishing effort in this waterbody. However, we find two takes are warranted over the life of the 5-year regulations given the lack of take prior to 2011 and implementation of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures. Further, previous takes indicate there is potential that a marine mammal may not die or be seriously injured in fishing gear but be injured. Therefore, we are proposing to authorize one take by M/SI and one take by Level A harassment for the Mississippi Sound stock over the 5-year regulations (Table 7). E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6614 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 7—SEFSC TOTAL REQUESTED AND PROPOSED TAKE OF BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ARA, GOMRA, AND CRA OVER THE LIFE OF THE PROPOSED 5-YEAR REGULATIONS Total requested take (M/SI ) Stock Northern North Carolina Estuarine System Stock ................................................................................... Southern North Carolina Estuarine System Stock .................................................................................. Northern South Carolina Estuarine Stock ............................................................................................... Charleston Estuarine System Stock ........................................................................................................ Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine System Stock .................................................... Central Georgia Estuarine System .......................................................................................................... Southern Georgia Estuarine System Stock ............................................................................................. Jacksonville Estuarine System Stock ...................................................................................................... Indian River Lagoon Estuarine System Stock ......................................................................................... Biscayne Bay Stock ................................................................................................................................. Florida Bay Stock .................................................................................................................................... Western North Atlantic South Carolina/Georgia Coastal Stock .............................................................. Western North Atlantic Northern Florida Coastal Stock .......................................................................... Western North Atlantic Central Florida Coastal Stock ............................................................................ Western North Atlantic Northern Migratory Coastal Stock ...................................................................... Western North Atlantic Southern Migratory Coastal Stock ..................................................................... Western North Atlantic Offshore Stock ................................................................................................... Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands Stock ............................................................................................... Laguna Madre .......................................................................................................................................... Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay ............................................................................................................. Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espirtu Santo Bay .................................... Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay .................................................................................... West Bay ................................................................................................................................................. Galveston Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay ..................................................................................................... Sabine Lake ............................................................................................................................................. Calcasieu Lake ........................................................................................................................................ Atchalfalaya Bay, Vermilion Bay, West Cote Blanche Bay ..................................................................... Terrabonne Bay, Timbalier Bay ............................................................................................................... Barataria Bay Estuarine System ............................................................................................................. Mississippi River Delta ............................................................................................................................ Mississippi Sound, Lake Bornge, Bay Boudreau .................................................................................... Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay .................................................................................................................... Perdido Bay ............................................................................................................................................. Pensacola Bay, East Bay ........................................................................................................................ Choctwhatchee Bay ................................................................................................................................. St. Andrew Bay ........................................................................................................................................ St. Joseph Bay ........................................................................................................................................ St. Vincent Sound, Apalachiola Bay, St. George Sound ........................................................................ Apalachee Bay ......................................................................................................................................... Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee Bay, Crystal Bay ............................................................................... St. Joseph Sound, Clearwater Harbor .................................................................................................... Tampa Bay .............................................................................................................................................. Sarasota Bay, Little Sarasota Bay .......................................................................................................... Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor, Gasparilla Sound, Lemon Bay .................................................... Caloosahatchee River ............................................................................................................................. Estero Bay ............................................................................................................................................... Chokoloskee Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, Gullivan Bay ........................................................................ Whitewater Bay ........................................................................................................................................ Florida Keys-Bahia Honda to Key West .................................................................................................. Northern Gulf of Mexico Western Coastal Stock .................................................................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico Northern Coastal Stock .................................................................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico Eastern Coastal Stock ..................................................................................... 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 3 3 3 3 3 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 3 3 3 Total proposed take (M/SI ) 10 10 1 1 1 1 1 1 10 0 1 3 3 3 3 3 3 1 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 0 0 1 20 1 3 1 M/SI, 1 Level A 1 20 20 20 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 3 3 3 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 1 Surveys overlapping these stocks have a low to discountable potential to take marine mammals due to temporal and spatial overlap with stock, fishing methods, and/or gear types. The SEFSC has no history of taking individuals from these stocks. 2 No surveys are proposed that overlap with these stocks. 3 The SEFSC has the potential to take one marine mammal by M/SI and one marine mammal by Level A harassment (injury) only for the Mississippi Sound stock. Estuarine Bottlenose Dolphin Take— TPWD During gillnet surveys, the TPWD may incidentally take bottlenose dolphins. TPWD conducts research in seven major bays, sounds, and estuaries in Texas. There is no history of take in three of those waterbodies (Sabine Lake, West VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Bay, and Galveston Bay), therefore, TPWD has not requested, and we are not proposing, to authorize take from these stocks as the potential for take from these stocks is discountable. Historical take from TPWD’s gillnet surveys is random in time and space making it difficult to predict where and PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 how often future takes could occur. TPWD has taken 32–35 bottlenose dolphins during the 35 years of gillnet fishing (exact number is not clear due to potential errors in early reporting and record keeping). In 18 of the 35 years (52 percent) there were zero dolphins taken (see Table 3 in TPWD’s E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules application). However, the long term average equates to approximately one animal per year (32–34 dolphins in 35 years) To cover the life of the 5-yr regulations, this would equate to five takes. However, TPWD would remove grids meeting ‘‘hot spot’’ criteria and remove potential sources of entanglement (e.g., the gap between the float line and the net). Therefore, we are proposing to issue one M/SI take from each of the previously taken stocks over the life of the proposed regulations for a total of four takes over the life of the regulations. We also consider that the regulations would be conditioned with mitigation measures designed to reduce the risk of take (e.g., new gear modification, removal of sampling areas deemed dolphin ‘‘hot spots’’). Therefore, NMFS is proposing to issue one take by M/SI from the following stocks of bottlenose stocks: (1) Laguna Madre; (2) Corpus Christi Bay, Nueces Bay; (3) Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espiritu Santa Bay; and (4) MatagordaBay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay. In total, four M/SI takes (one from each stock) would be authorized over the life of the proposed regulations. Pelagic Marine Mammals Take—SEFSC Since systematic record keep began in 2002, the SEFSC and affiliated research partners have taken no marine mammals species other than bottlenose dolphins due to gear interaction. However, NMFS has assessed other sources of M/SI for these species (e.g., commercial fishing) to inform the potential for incidental takes of marine mammals in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA under this proposed rule. These species have not been taken historically by SEFSC research activities but inhabit the same areas and show similar types of behaviors and vulnerabilities to such gear used in other contexts. To more comprehensively identify where vulnerability and potential exists for take between SEFSC research and other species of marine mammals, we compared with similar commercial fisheries by way of the 2017 List of Fisheries (LOF) and the record of interactions from non-SEFSC affiliated research. NMFS LOF classifies U.S. commercial fisheries into one of three categories according to the level of incidental marine mammal M/SI that is known to have occured on an annual basis over 6615 the most recent five-year period (generally) for which data has been analyzed: Category I, frequent incidental M/SI; Category II, occasional incidental M/SI; and Category III, remote likelihood of or no known incidental M/ SI. In accordance with the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1387(e)) and 50 CFR 229.6, any vessel owner or operator, or gear owner or operator (in the case of non-vessel fisheries), participating in a fishery listed on the LOF must report to NMFS all incidental mortalities and injuries of marine mammals that occur during commercial fishing operations, regardless of the category in which the fishery is placed. The LOF for 2016 was based on, among other things, stranding data; fisher self-reports; and SARs, primarily the 2014 SARs, which are generally based on data from 2008– 2012. Table 8 indicates which species (other than bottlenose dolphins) have been known to interact with commercial fishing gear in the three research areas based on the 2016 LOF (81 FR 20550; April 8, 2016). More information on the 2016 LOF can be found at http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/interactions/ fisheries/lof.html. TABLE 8—GEAR TYPES IMPLICATED FOR INTERACTION WITH MARINE MAMMALS IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN, GULF OF MEXICO, AND CARIBBEAN COMMERCIAL FISHERIES Fishery by Gear Type 1 Species amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 N. Atlantic right whale ...................................................................................... Humpback whale ............................................................................................. Fin whale ......................................................................................................... Minke whale ..................................................................................................... Risso’s dolphin ................................................................................................. Cuvier’s beaked whale .................................................................................... Gervais beaked whale ..................................................................................... Beaked whale (Mesoplodon spp) .................................................................... False killer whale ............................................................................................. Killer whale ...................................................................................................... Pygmy sperm whale ........................................................................................ Sperm Whale ................................................................................................... Long-finned pilot whale .................................................................................... Short-finned pilot whale ................................................................................... White-sided dolphin ......................................................................................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ................................................................................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ............................................................................. Common dolphin .............................................................................................. Harbor porpoise ............................................................................................... Harbor seal ...................................................................................................... Gray seal ......................................................................................................... Gillnet Fisheries Trawl Fisheries Trap/Pot Longline Y Y Y Y Y ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ Y ........................ Y ........................ Y Y Y Y ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ Y Y ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ Y ........................ Y Y ........................ Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ Y ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y ........................ Y Y Y ........................ ........................ ........................ 1 Only fisheries with gear types used by the SEFSC during the course of the proposed regulations are included here. For example, purse seine and aquaculture fisheries are also known to interact with marine mammals in the specified geographic region; however, the SEFSC would not use those gears during their research. In addition to examining known interaction, we also considered a number of activity-related factors (e.g., gear size, set duration, etc.) and speciesspecific factors (e.g., species-specific VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 knowledge regarding animal behavior, overall abundance in the geographic region, density relative to SEFSC survey effort, feeding ecology, propensity to travel in groups commonly associated PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 with other species historically taken) to determine whether a species may have a similar vulnerability to certain types of gear as historically taken species. For example, despite known take in E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6616 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules commercial trap/pot fisheries, here we rule out the potential for traps/pots to take marine mammals incidental to SEFSC research for a number of reasons. Commercial fisheries often involve hundreds of unattended traps that are located on a semi-permanent basis, usually with long, loose float lines, in shallow waters close to shore. In contrast, SEFSC research gear is fished in deeper waters, and typically only one pot is fished at a time and monitored continuously for short soak times (e.g., one hour). These differences in fishing practices, along with the fact no marine mammals have been taken in a SEFSC trap/pot, negate the potential for take to a level NMFS does not believe warrants authorization of take, and there is no historical documentation of take from this gear incidental to SEFSC surveys. Therefore, we do not expect take incidental to SEFSC research activities using trap/pot gear. It is well documented that multiple marine mammal species are taken in commercial longline fisheries (Table 8). We used this information to help make an informed decision on the probability of specific cetacean and large whale interactions with longline gear and other hook-and-line gear while taking into account many other factors affecting the vulnerability of a species to be taken in SEFSC research surveys (e.g., relative survey effort, survey location, similarity in gear type, animal behavior, prior history of SEFSC interactions with longline gear etc.). First we examined species known to be taken in longline fisheries but for which the SEFSC has not requested take. For example, the SEFSC is not requesting take of large whales in longline gear. Although large whale species could become entangled in longline gear, the probability of interaction with SEFSC longline gear is extremely low considering a far lower level of survey effort relative to that of commercial fisheries, much shorter set durations, shorter line lengths, and monitoring and mitigation measures implemented by the SEFSC (e.g., the move-on rule). Although data on commercial fishing efforts comparable to the known SEFSC research protocols (net size, tow duration and speed, and total number of tows) are not publically available, based on the amount of fish caught by commercial fisheries versus SEFSC fisheries research, the ‘‘footprint’’ of research effort compared to commercial fisheries is very small (see Section 9 in the SEFSC’s application). As such, the SEFSC has not requested, nor is NMFS proposing, to authorize take of large whales (i.e., mysticetes) incidental to longline research. There are situations with hook-and-line (e.g., longline) fisheries research gear when a caught animal cannot be identified to species with certainty. This might occur when a hooked or entangled dolphin frees itself before being identified or when concerns over crew safety, weather, or sea state conditions necessitate quickly releasing the animal before identification is possible. The top priority for live animals is to release them as quickly and safely as possible. The SEFSC ship’s crew and research personnel make concerted efforts to identify animals incidentally caught in research gear whenever crew and vessel safety are not jeopardized. With respect to trawling, both commercial fisheries and non-SEFSC affiliated research trawls in the Gulf of Mexico have taken pelagic marine mammals. For example, a mid-water research trawl conducted to monitor the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took 3 pantropical spotted dolphins in one trawl in 2012. Additionally, an Atlantic spotted dolphin was taken in nonSEFSC research bottom trawl in 2014. Known takes in commercial trawl fisheries in the ARA and GOMRA include a range of marine mammal species (Table 8). NMFS examined the similarities between species known to be taken in commercial and non-SEFSC research trawls with those species that overlap in time and space with SEFSC research trawls in the open ocean. Because some species exhibit similar behavior, distribution, abundance, and vulnerability to research trawl gear to these species, NMFS proposes to authorize take of eight species of pelagic cetaceans and two pinniped species in the ARA and nine species of cetaceans in the GOMRA (Table 9). In addition, NMFS provides allowance of one take of an unidentified species in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA over the life of these proposed regulations to account for any animal that cannot be identified to a species level. Takes would occur incidental to trawl and hook and line (including longline) research in the ARA and GOMRA. However, because the SEFSC does not use trawl gear in the CRA, take is proposed incidental to hook and line gear in the Caribbean (see Tables 6.4- 6.6 in SEFSC’s application for more detail). We are proposing to authorize the amount of take requested by the SEFSC’s for these stocks listed in Table 9. TABLE 9—PROPOSED TOTAL TAKE, BY SPECIES AND STOCK, OF PELAGIC MARINE MAMMALS IN THE ARA AND GOMRA INCIDENTAL TO TRAWL AND HOOK AND LINE RESEARCH AND, IN THE CRA, INCIDENTAL TO HOOK AND LINE RESEARCH ACTIVITIES OVER THE 5 YEAR REGULATIONS Stock Risso’s dolphin ........................................................................... Western North Atlantic. N. Gulf of Mexico. N. Gulf of Mexico ....................................................................... Western North Atlantic ............................................................... N. Gulf of Mexico ........................................................................ Western North Atlantic ............................................................... Western North Atlantic ............................................................... Western North Atlantic ............................................................... N. Gulf of Mexico ........................................................................ Western North Atlantic ............................................................... N. Gulf of Mexico ........................................................................ Western North Atlantic ............................................................... N. Gulf of Mexico ........................................................................ N. Gulf of Mexico ........................................................................ N. Gulf of Mexico ....................................................................... Western North Atlantic Oceanic ................................................. N. Gulf of Mexico Oceanic ......................................................... N. Gulf of Mexico Continental Shelf ........................................... Melon headed whale .................................................................. Short-finned pilot whale .............................................................. Long-finned pilot whale .............................................................. Short-beaked common dolphin .................................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin .............................................................. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Total Proposed M&SI Take Species Pantropical spotted dolphin ........................................................ Striped dolphin ............................................................................ Spinner dolphin ........................................................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ............................................................... Bottlenose dolphin ...................................................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 3 1 1 1 4 4 4 1 4 3 3 3 1 4 4 4 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6617 TABLE 9—PROPOSED TOTAL TAKE, BY SPECIES AND STOCK, OF PELAGIC MARINE MAMMALS IN THE ARA AND GOMRA INCIDENTAL TO TRAWL AND HOOK AND LINE RESEARCH AND, IN THE CRA, INCIDENTAL TO HOOK AND LINE RESEARCH ACTIVITIES OVER THE 5 YEAR REGULATIONS—Continued Species Harbor porpoise .......................................................................... Undetermined delphinid .............................................................. Harbor seal ................................................................................. Gray seal .................................................................................... amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Estimated Take Due to Acoustic Harassment As described previously (‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals’’), we believe that SEFSC use of active acoustic sources has, at most, the potential to cause Level B harassment of marine mammals. In order to attempt to quantify the potential for Level B harassment to occur, NMFS (including the SEFSC and acoustics experts from other parts of NMFS) developed an analytical framework considering characteristics of the active acoustic systems described previously under Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources, their expected patterns of use, and characteristics of the marine mammal species that may interact with them. This quantitative assessment benefits from its simplicity and consistency with current NMFS acoustic guidance regarding Level B harassment but we caution that, based on a number of deliberately precautionary assumptions, the resulting take estimates may be seen as an overestimate of the potential for behavioral harassment to occur as a result of the operation of these systems. Additional details on the approach used and the assumptions made that result in these estimates are described below. Acoustic Thresholds Using the best available science, NMFS has developed acoustic thresholds that identify the received level of underwater sound above which exposed marine mammals would be reasonably expected to be behaviorally harassed (equated to Level B harassment) or to incur PTS of some degree (Level A harassment). We note NMFS has begun efforts to update its behavioral thresholds, considering all available data, and is formulating a strategy for updating those thresholds for all types of sound sources considered in incidental take authorizations. It is NMFS intention to conduct both internal and external review of any new thresholds prior to VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Total Proposed M&SI Take Stock Puerto Rico/USVI ....................................................................... Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy ....................................................... Western North Atlantic ............................................................... N. Gulf of Mexico ........................................................................ Western North Atlantic ............................................................... Western North Atlantic ............................................................... finalizing. In the interim, we apply the traditional thresholds. Level B Harassment for non-explosive sources—Though significantly driven by received level, the onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise exposure is also informed to varying degrees by other factors related to the source (e.g., frequency, predictability, duty cycle), the environment (e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, experience, demography, behavioral context) and can be difficult to predict (Southall et al., 2007, Ellison et al., 2011). Based on what the best available science indicates and the practical need to use a threshold based on a factor that is both predictable and measurable for most activities, NMFS uses a generalized acoustic threshold based on received level to estimate the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS predicts that marine mammals are likely to be behaviorally harassed in a manner we consider Level B harassment when exposed to underwater anthropogenic noise above received levels of 120 dB re 1 mPa (rms) for continuous (e.g. vibratory piledriving, drilling) and above 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) for non-explosive impulsive (e.g., seismic airguns) or intermittent (e.g., scientific sonar) sources. Neither threshold is used for military sonar due to the unique source characteristics. The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) has previously suggested NMFS apply the 120 dB continuous threshold to scientific sonar such as the ones proposed by the SEFSC. NMFS has responded to this comment in multiple Federal Register notices of issuance for other NMFS science centers. However, we provide more clarification here on why the 160 dB threshold is appropriate when estimating take from acoustic sources used during SEFSC research activities. NMFS historically has referred to the 160 dB threshold as the impulsive threshold, and the 120 dB threshold as the continuous threshold, which in and of itself is conflicting as one is referring to pulse characteristics PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 1 1 1 1 1 1 and the other is referring to the temporal component. A more accurate term for the impulsive threshold is the intermittent threshold. This distinction is important because, when assessing the potential for hearing loss (PTS or TTS) or non-auditory injury (e.g., lung injury), the spectral characteristics of source (impulsive vs. non-impulsive) is critical to assessing the potential for such impacts. However, for behavior, the temporal component is more appropriate to consider. Gomez et al. (2016) conducted a systematic literature review (370 papers) and analysis (79 studies, 195 data cases) to better assess probability and severity of behavioral responses in marine mammals exposed to anthropogenic sound. They found a significant relationship between source type and behavioral response when sources were split into broad categories that reflected whether sources were continuous, sonar, or seismic (the latter two of which are intermittent sources). Moreover, while Gomez et al (2017) acknowledges acoustically sensitive species (beaked whales and harbor porpoise), the authors do not recommend an alternative method for categorizing sound sources for these species when assessing behavioral impacts from noise exposure. To apply the continuous 120 dB threshold to all species based on data from known acoustically sensitive species (one species of which is the harbor porpoise which is likely to be rarely encountered in the ARA and do not inhabit the GOMRA or CRA) is not warranted as it would be unnecessarily conservative for non-sensitive species. Qualitatively considered in our effects analysis below is that beaked whales and harbor porpoise are more acoustically sensitive than other cetacean species, and thus are more likely to demonstrate overt changes in behavior when exposed to such sources. Further, in absence of very sophisticated acoustic modeling, our propagation rates are also conservative. Therefore, the distance to the 160 dB threshold is E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6618 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules likely much closer to the source than calculated. In summary, the SEFSC’s proposed activity includes the use of intermittent sources (scientific sonar). Therefore, the 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) threshold is applicable when quantitatively estimating take by behavioral harassment incidental to SEFSC scientific sonar for all marine mammal species. Level A harassment for non-explosive sources—NMFS’ Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing (Technical Guidance, 2018) identifies dual criteria to assess auditory injury (Level A harassment) to five different marine mammal groups (based on hearing sensitivity) as a result of exposure to noise from two different types of sources (impulsive or nonimpulsive). However, as described in greater detail in the Potential Effects section, given the highly direction, e.g.,narrow beam widths, NMFS does not anticipate animals would be exposed to noise levels resulting in PTS. Therefore, the Level A criteria do not apply here and are not discussed further; NMFS is proposing take by Level B harassment only. The operating frequencies of active acoustic systems used by the SEFSC sources range from 18–333 kHz (see Table 2). These frequencies are within the very upper hearing range limits of baleen whales (7 Hz to 35 kHz). The Simrad EK60 may operate at frequency of 18 kHz which is the only frequency that might be detectable by baleen whales. However, the beam pattern is extremely narrow (11 degrees) at that frequency. The Simrad ME70 echosounder, EQ50, and Teledyne RD ADCP operate at 50–200 kHz which are all outside of baleen whale hearing capabilities. Therefore, we would not expect any exposures to these signals to result in behavioral harassment. The Simrad EK60 lowest operating frequency (18 kHz) is within baleen whale hearing capabilities. The assessment paradigm for active acoustic sources used in SEFSC fisheries research mirrors approaches by other NMFS Science Centers applying for regulations. It is relatively straightforward and has a number of key simple and conservative assumptions. NMFS’ current acoustic guidance requires in most cases that we assume Level B harassment occurs when a marine mammal receives an acoustic signal at or above a simple step-function threshold. For use of these active acoustic systems used during SEFSC research, NMFS uses the threshold is 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) as the best available science indicates the temporal characteristics of a source are most influential in determining behavioral impacts (Gomez et al., 2016), and it is NMFS long standing practice to apply the 160 dB threshold to intermittent sources. Estimating the number of exposures at the specified received level requires several determinations, each of which is described sequentially below: (1) A detailed characterization of the acoustic characteristics of the effective sound source or sources in operation; (2) The operational areas exposed to levels at or above those associated with Level B harassment when these sources are in operation; (3) A method for quantifying the resulting sound fields around these sources; and (4) An estimate of the average density for marine mammal species in each area of operation. Quantifying the spatial and temporal dimension of the sound exposure footprint (or ‘‘swath width’’) of the active acoustic devices in operation on moving vessels and their relationship to the average density of marine mammals enables a quantitative estimate of the number of individuals for which sound levels exceed the relevant threshold for each area. The number of potential incidents of Level B harassment is ultimately estimated as the product of the volume of water ensonified at 160 dB rms or higher and the volumetric density of animals determined from simple assumptions about their vertical stratification in the water column. Specifically, reasonable assumptions based on what is known about diving behavior across different marine mammal species were made to segregate those that predominately remain in the upper 200 m of the water column versus those that regularly dive deeper during foraging and transit. Methods for estimating each of these calculations are described in greater detail in the following sections, along with the simplifying assumptions made, and followed by the take estimates. Sound source characteristics—An initial characterization of the general source parameters for the primary active acoustic sources operated by the SEFSC was conducted, enabling a full assessment of all sound sources used by the SEFSC and delineation of Category 1 and Category 2 sources, the latter of which were carried forward for analysis here. This auditing of the active acoustic sources also enabled a determination of the predominant sources that, when operated, would have sound footprints exceeding those from any other simultaneously used sources. These sources were effectively those used directly in acoustic propagation modeling to estimate the zones within which the 160 dB rms received level would occur. Many of these sources can be operated in different modes and with different output parameters. In modeling their potential impact areas, those features among those given previously in Table 2 (e.g., lowest operating frequency) that would lead to the most precautionary estimate of maximum received level ranges (i.e., largest ensonified area) were used. The effective beam patterns took into account the normal modes in which these sources are typically operated. While these signals are brief and intermittent, a conservative assumption was taken in ignoring the temporal pattern of transmitted pulses in calculating Level B harassment events. Operating characteristics of each of the predominant sound sources were used in the calculation of effective linekilometers and area of exposure for each source in each survey (Table 10). amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 TABLE 10—EFFECTIVE EXPOSURE AREAS FOR PREDOMINANT ACOUSTIC SOURCES ACROSS TWO DEPTH STRATA Active acoustic system Effective exposure area: Sea surface to 200 m depth (km2) Effective exposure area: Sea surface to depth at which 160-dB threshold is reached (km2) Simrad EK60 narrow beam echosounder ........................................................... Simrad ME70 multibeam echosounder ............................................................... Simrad FS70 trawl sonar ..................................................................................... Simrad SX90 narrow beam sonar 1 ..................................................................... Teledyne RD Instruments ADCP, Ocean Surveyor ............................................ 0.0142 0.0201 0.008 0.0654 0.0086 0.1411 0.0201 0.008 0.1634 0.0187 VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6619 TABLE 10—EFFECTIVE EXPOSURE AREAS FOR PREDOMINANT ACOUSTIC SOURCES ACROSS TWO DEPTH STRATA— Continued Active acoustic system Effective exposure area: Sea surface to 200 m depth (km2) Effective exposure area: Sea surface to depth at which 160-dB threshold is reached (km2) Simrad ITI trawl monitoring system ..................................................................... 0.0032 0.0032 1 Exposure amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 area varies greatly depending on the tilt angle setting of the SX90. To approximate the varied usage this system might receive, the exposure area for each depth strata was averaged by assuming equal usage at tilt angles of 5, 20, 45, and 80 degrees. Calculating effective line-kilometers— As described below, based on the operating parameters for each source type, an estimated volume of water ensonified at or above the 160 dB rms threshold was calculated. In all cases where multiple sources are operated simultaneously, the one with the largest estimated acoustic footprint was considered to be the effective source. Two depth zones were defined for each research area: A Continental Shelf Region defined by having bathymetry 0– 200 m and an Offshore Region with bathymetry >200 m. Effective line distance and volume insonified was calculated for each depth stratum (0– 200 m and > 200 m), where appropriate (i.e. in the Continental Shelf region, where depth is <200 m, only the exposure area for the 0–200 m depth stratum was calculated). In some cases, this resulted in different sources being predominant in each depth stratum for all line km when multiple sources were in operation. This was accounted for in estimating overall exposures for species that utilize both depth strata (deep divers). For each ecosystem area, the total number of line km that would be surveyed was determined, as was the relative percentage of surveyed linear km associated with each source. The total line km for each vessel, the effective portions associated with each of the dominant sound types, and the effective total km for operation for each sound type is given in Tables 6–8a and 6–8b in SEFSC’s application. In summary, line transect kms range from 1149 to 3352 in the ARA and 16,797 to 30,146 km with sources operating 20– 100 percent of the time depending on the source. Calculating volume of water ensonified—The cross-sectional area of water ensonified to a 160 dB rms received level was calculated using a simple spherical spreading model of sound propagation loss (20 log R) such that there would be 60 dB of attenuation over 1,000 m. The spherical spreading model accounted for the frequency dependent absorption coefficient and the highly directional beam pattern of VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 most of these sound sources. For absorption coefficients, the most commonly used formulas given by Francios and Garrison (1982) were used. The lowest frequency was used for systems that are operated over a range of frequencies. The vertical extent of this area is calculated for two depth strata (surface to 200 m, and for deep water operations > 200 m, surface to range at which the on-axis received level reaches 160 dB RMS). This was applied differentially based on the typical vertical stratification of marine mammals (see Tables 6–9 and 6–10 in SEFSC’s application). For each of the three predominant sound sources, the volume of water ensonified is estimated as the crosssectional area (in square kilometers) of sound at or above 160 dB rms multiplied by the total distance traveled by the ship (see Table 6a and 6b in SEFSC’s application). Where different sources operating simultaneously would be predominant in each different depth strata (e.g., ME70 and EK60 operating simultaneously may be predominant in the shallow stratum and deep stratum, respectively), the resulting crosssectional area calculated took this into account. Specifically, for shallow-diving species this cross-sectional area was determined for whichever was predominant in the shallow stratum, whereas for deeper-diving species, this area was calculated from the combined effects of the predominant source in the shallow stratum and the (sometimes different) source predominating in the deep stratum. This creates an effective total volume characterizing the area ensonified when each predominant source is operated and accounts for the fact that deeper-diving species may encounter a complex sound field in different portions of the water column. Marine mammal densities—One of the primary limitations to traditional estimates of behavioral harassment from acoustic exposure is the assumption that animals are uniformly distributed in time and space across very large geographical areas, such as those being considered here. There is ample PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 evidence that this is in fact not the case, and marine species are highly heterogeneous in terms of their spatial distribution, largely as a result of species-typical utilization of heterogeneous ecosystem features. Some more sophisticated modeling efforts have attempted to include speciestypical behavioral patterns and diving parameters in movement models that more adequately assess the spatial and temporal aspects of distribution and thus exposure to sound (e.g., Navy, 2013). While simulated movement models were not used to mimic individual diving or aggregation parameters in the determination of animal density in this estimation, the vertical stratification of marine mammals based on known or reasonably assumed diving behavior was integrated into the density estimates used. The marine mammal abundance estimates used for the ARA and GOM were obtained from Stock Assessment Reports for the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem areas (Waring et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), and the best scientific information available to SEFSC staff. We note abundances for cetacean stocks in western North Atlantic U.S. waters are the combined estimates from surveys conducted by the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) from central Virginia to the lower Bay of Fundy and surveys conducted by the SEFSC from central Virginia to central Florida. The SEFSC primary area of research is south of central Virginia. Therefore, densities are based on abundance estimates from central Virginia to central Florida and are reported in the stock assessment report for each stock. For example, the fin whale abundance estimate for the stock is 1,618. However, most of those animals occur in the northeast with only about 23 individuals in the southeast where SEFSC would occur. Therefore, an abundance estimate of 23 was used to estimate density. Density estimates in areas where a species is known to occur, but where published density data is absent were calculated based on values published for the species in adjacent E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6620 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules regions by analogy and SEFSC expertise. For example, in the CRA there are records of marine mammal species occurrence (e.g., Mignucci-Giannoni 1998, Roden and Mullin 2000), However, area specific abundance estimates are unavailable so the density estimates for the GOMRA were used as proxies where appropriate to estimate acoustic take in the CRA. There are a number of caveats associated with these estimates: (1) They are often calculated using visual sighting data collected during one season rather than throughout the year. The time of year when data were collected and from which densities were estimated may not always overlap with the timing of SEFSC fisheries surveys (detailed previously in ‘‘Detailed Description of Activities’’). (2) The densities used for purposes of estimating acoustic exposures do not take into account the patchy distributions of marine mammals in an ecosystem, at least on the moderate to fine scales over which they are known to occur. Instead, animals are considered evenly distributed throughout the assessed area, and seasonal movement patterns are not taken into account. In addition, and to account for at least some coarse differences in marine mammal diving behavior and the effect this has on their likely exposure to these kinds of often highly directional sound sources, a volumetric density of marine mammals of each species was determined. This value is estimated as the abundance averaged over the twodimensional geographic area of the surveys and the vertical range of typical habitat for the population. Habitat ranges were categorized in two generalized depth strata (0–200 m and 0 to greater than 200 m) based on gross differences between known generally surface-associated and typically deepdiving marine mammals (e.g., Reynolds and Rommel, 1999; Perrin et al., 2009). Animals in the shallow-diving stratum were assumed, on the basis of empirical measurements of diving with monitoring tags and reasonable assumptions of behavior based on other indicators, to spend a large majority of their lives (i.e., greater than 75 percent) at depths shallower than 200 m. Their volumetric density and thus exposure to sound is therefore limited by this depth boundary. In contrast, species in the deeper-diving stratum were assumed to regularly dive deeper than 200 m and spend significant time at these greater depths. Their volumetric density and thus potential exposure to sound at or above the 160 dB rms threshold is extended from the surface to the depth at which this received level condition occurs (i.e., corresponding to the 0 to greater than 200 m depth stratum). The volumetric densities are estimates of the three-dimensional distribution of animals in their typical depth strata. For shallow-diving species the volumetric density is the area density divided by 0.2 km (i.e., 200 m). For deeper diving species, the volumetric density is the area density divided by a nominal value of 0.5 km (i.e., 500 m). The twodimensional and resulting threedimensional (volumetric) densities for each species in each ecosystem area are provided in Table 11. TABLE 11—ABUNDANCES AND VOLUMETRIC DENSITIES CALCULATED FOR EACH SPECIES IN SEFSC RESEARCH AREAS USED IN TAKE ESTIMATION Typical dive depth strata Species 1 0–200 m Offshore area 3 density (#/km2) Continental shelf area volumetric density (#/km3) Offshore area volumetric density (#/km3) >200 m Continental shelf area 2 density (#/km2) .......... X X .......... X .......... X .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 0.39209 .................... .................... .................... 0.25006 0.00005 0.00148 0.00426 0.00094 0.00673 0.00650 0.03610 0.00637 0.03812 0.00709 0.01686 0.00058 0.10802 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 1.96043 .................... .................... .................... 1.25028 0.00025 0.00296 0.00852 0.00470 0.01346 0.03248 0.07219 0.03184 0.19062 0.03546 0.08431 0.00288 0.54010 .......... X X .......... .......... X .......... .......... X .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 0.09971 .................... .................... 0.00401 .................... .................... 0.29462 0.00011 0.00438 0.01857 0.00080 0.00086 0.00925 0.00487 0.00523 0.00463 unk 0.09412 0.00735 0.00664 0.00907 0.01888 0.02347 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 0.49854 .................... .................... 0.02006 .................... .................... 1.47311 0.00054 0.00876 0.00101 0.00400 0.00432 0.00081 0.02434 0.02613 0.00925 Unk 0.47062 0.03677 0.03322 0.04537 0.09439 0.11735 X X .......... na na na 0.00438 0.01857 0.00000 na na na 0.008761 0.00101 0 Abundance Atlantic Research Area 4 Fin whale ..................................................... Sperm whale ............................................... Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales 5 ...................... False killer whale ........................................ Beaked whales 5 .......................................... Risso’s dolphin ............................................ Short-finned pilot whale .............................. Short-beaked common dolphin ................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ............................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ......................... Striped dolphin ............................................ Rough-toothed dolphin ................................ Bottlenose dolphin ....................................... 23 ................................................................ 695 .............................................................. 2,002 ........................................................... 442 .............................................................. 3,163 ........................................................... 3,053 ........................................................... 16,964 ......................................................... 2,993 ........................................................... 17,917 ......................................................... 3,333 ........................................................... 7,925 ........................................................... 271 .............................................................. 50,766 (offshore), 31,212 (cont. shelf) ....... X .......... .......... X .......... X .......... X X X X X X amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Gulf of Mexico Research Area Bryde’s whale .............................................. Sperm whale ............................................... Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales 5 ...................... Pygmy killer whale ...................................... False killer whale ........................................ Beaked whales 5 6 ........................................ Melon-headed whale ................................... Risso’s dolphin ............................................ Short-finned pilot whale .............................. Atlantic spotted dolphin 7 ............................. Pantropical spotted dolphin ......................... Striped dolphin ............................................ Rough-toothed dolphin ................................ Clymene dolphin 8 ....................................... Spinner dolphin ........................................... Bottlenose dolphin ....................................... 33 ................................................................ 763 .............................................................. 184 .............................................................. 152 .............................................................. Unk .............................................................. 149 .............................................................. 2,235 ........................................................... 2,442 ........................................................... 2,415 ........................................................... 37,611 ......................................................... 50,880 ......................................................... 1,849 ........................................................... 624 .............................................................. 129 .............................................................. 11,441 ......................................................... 5,806 (oceanic) 51,192 (cont. shelf) ........... X .......... .......... X X .......... X X .......... X X X X X X X Caribbean Research Area 9 Sperm whale ............................................... Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales 5 6 .................... Killer whale .................................................. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 763 .............................................................. 186 .............................................................. 184 .............................................................. Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4701 .......... .......... X Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6621 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 11—ABUNDANCES AND VOLUMETRIC DENSITIES CALCULATED FOR EACH SPECIES IN SEFSC RESEARCH AREAS USED IN TAKE ESTIMATION—Continued Typical dive depth strata Species 1 Abundance Pygmy killer whale ...................................... False killer whale ........................................ Beaked whales 5 6 ........................................ Melon-headed whale ................................... Risso’s dolphin ............................................ Short-finned pilot whale .............................. Pantropical spotted dolphin ......................... Striped dolphin ............................................ Fraser’s dolphin ........................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ................................ Clymene dolphin ......................................... Spinner dolphin ........................................... Bottlenose dolphin ....................................... 152 .............................................................. Unk .............................................................. 149 .............................................................. 2,235 ........................................................... 2,442 ........................................................... 2,415 ........................................................... 50,880 ......................................................... 1,849 ........................................................... ...................................................................... 624 .............................................................. 129 .............................................................. 11,441 ......................................................... 5,806 (oceanic), 51,192 (cont. shelf) .......... 0–200 m >200 m X X .......... X X .......... X X X X X X X .......... .......... X .......... .......... X .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... Continental shelf area volumetric density (#/km3) Offshore area 3 density (#/km2) Continental shelf area 2 density (#/km2) na na na na na na na na na na na na na 0.00080 0.00086 0.00925 0.00487 0.00523 0.00463 0.09412 0.00735 0.00000 0.00664 0.00907 0.01888 0.02347 na na na na na na na na na na na na na Offshore area volumetric density (#/km3) 0.003998 0.004324 0.00081 0.024343 0.026132 0.009255 0.470615 0.036771 0 0.03322 0.045365 0.094389 0.117349 1 Those species known to occur in the ARA and GOMRA with unknown volumetric densities have been omitted from this table. Those omitted include: for the ARA—North Atlantic right whale, minke whale, humpback whale, melon-headed whale, pygmy killer whale, long-finned pilot whale, Fraser’s dolphin, spinner dolphin, Clymene dolphin, harbor porpoise, gray seal, and harbor seal; for the GOMRA—killer whale and Fraser’s dolphin. This does not mean they were all omitted for take as proxy species provided in this table were used to estimate take, where applicable. 2 Continental shelf area means 0–200 m bottom depth 3 Offshore area means 200 m bottom depth. 4 Abundances for cetacean stocks in western North Atlantic U.S. waters are the combined estimates from surveys conducted by the NEFSC from central Virginia to the lower Bay of Fundy and surveys conducted by the SEFSC from central Virginia to central Florida. The SEFSC primary area of research is south of central Virginia. Therefore, acoustic take estimates are based on abundance estimates from central Virginia to central Florida and are reported in the stock assessment report for each stock. However, these acoustic takes are compared to the abundance for the entire stock. 5 Density estimates are based on the estimates of dwarf and pygmy sperm whale SAR abundances and the combined abundance estimates of all beaked whales (Mesoplodon spp. + Cuvier’s beaked whale). These groups are cryptic and difficult to routinely identify to species in the field. 6 Data from acoustic moorings in the Gulf of Mexico suggest that both beaked whales and dwarf/pygmy sperm whales are much more abundant than visual surveys suggest. Therefore, acoustic take estimates for these groups were based on abundance estimates extrapolated from acoustic mooring data (DWH–NRDAT 2016). 7 The most reasonable estimate Atlantic spotted dolphin abundance is in the Gulf of Mexico is based on ship surveys of continental shelf waters conducted from 2000–2001. In the Gulf of Mexico the continental shelf is the Atlantic spotted dolphin’s primary habitat. Ship surveys have not been conducted in shelf waters since 2001. 8 Three previous abundance estimates for the Clymene dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico were based surveys conducted over several years and estimates ranged from 5,000 to over 17,000 dolphins. The current estimate is based on one survey in 2009 from the 200 m isobaths to the EEZ and is probably negatively biased. 9 Estimates for the CRA are based on proxy values taken from the GOMRA where available and appropriate. Species omitted due to lack of data were humpback whale, minke whale, Bryde’s whale, and Atlantic spotted dolphin. Using area of ensonification and volumetric density to estimate exposures—Estimates of potential incidents of Level B harassment (i.e., potential exposure to levels of sound at or exceeding the 160 dB rms threshold) are then calculated by using (1) the combined results from output characteristics of each source and identification of the predominant sources in terms of acoustic output; (2) their relative annual usage patterns for each operational area; (3) a sourcespecific determination made of the area of water associated with received sounds at either the extent of a depth boundary or the 160 dB rms received sound level; and (4) determination of a volumetric density of marine mammal species in each area. Estimates of Level B harassment by acoustic sources are the product of the volume of water ensonified at 160 dB rms or higher for the predominant sound source for each portion of the total line-kilometers for which it is used and the volumetric density of animals for each species. However, in order to estimate the additional volume of ensonified water in the deep stratum, the SEFSC first subtracted the cross-sectional ensonified area of the shallow stratum (which is already accounted for) from that of the deep stratum. Source- and stratumspecific exposure estimates are the product of these ensonified volumes and the species-specific volumetric densities (Table 12). The general take estimate equation for each source in each depth statrum is density * (ensonified volume * linear kms). If there are multiple sources of take in both depth stata, individual take estimates were summed. To illustrate, we use the ME70 and the pantropical spotted dolphin, which are found only in the 0–200 m depth stratum, as an example: (1) ME70 ensonified volume (0–200 m) = 0.0201 km2 (2) Total Linear kms = 1,794 km (no pantropical spotted dolphins are found on the shelf so those trackline distances are not included here) (3) Pantropical spotted dolphin density (0– 200 m) = 0.47062 dolphins/km3 (4) Estimated exposures to sound ≥160 dB rms = 0.47062 pantropical spotted dolphin/ km3 * (0.0201 km2 * 1,794 km) = 16.9 (rounded up) = 17 estimated pantropical spotted dolphin exposures to SPLs ≥ 160 dB rms resulting from use of the ME70. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 TABLE 12—ESTIMATED SOURCE-, STRATUM-, AND SPECIES-SPECIFIC ANNUAL ESTIMATES OF LEVEL B HARASSMENT Estimated Level B Harassment (#s of animals) in 0–200 m dive depth stratum Species EK60 ME70 EQ50 Estimated Level B Harassment in >200 m dive depth stratum EK60 EQ50 Total calculated take Atlantic Continental Shelf Bottlenose dolphin ................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 67.00 PO 00000 Frm 00047 21.43 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 21.43 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 0.00 27FEP2 0.00 110 6622 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 12—ESTIMATED SOURCE-, STRATUM-, AND SPECIES-SPECIFIC ANNUAL ESTIMATES OF LEVEL B HARASSMENT— Continued Estimated Level B Harassment (#s of animals) in 0–200 m dive depth stratum Species EK60 ME70 EQ50 Estimated Level B Harassment in >200 m dive depth stratum EK60 EQ50 Total calculated take Atlantic Offshore Fin whale .................................................. Sperm whale ............................................ Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales ..................... False killer whale ..................................... Beaked whales ......................................... Risso’s dolphin ......................................... Short-finned pilot whale ........................... Short-beaked common dolphin ................ Atlantic spotted dolphin ............................ Pantropical spotted dolphin ..................... Striped dolphin ......................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ............................. Bottlenose dolphin ................................... 0.02 0.18 0.52 0.29 0.83 2.00 4.43 1.96 11.71 2.18 5.18 0.18 33.18 0.00 0.02 0.06 0.03 0.09 0.21 0.48 0.21 1.26 0.23 0.56 0.02 3.57 0.00 0.01 0.02 0.01 0.03 0.08 0.17 0.07 0.45 0.08 0.20 0.01 1.27 0.00 1.75 5.03 0.00 7.95 0.00 42.65 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 1 2 6 1 9 3 48 3 14 3 6 1 39 22.75 37.84 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.88 198 329 0.01 0.06 0.01 0.03 0.06 0.01 0.41 0.55 0.18 6.31 0.49 0.11 0.02 2.08 1.57 0.00 15.04 3.66 0.00 0.00 2.93 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.06 0.01 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 1 17 5 1 2 4 13 18 4 203 16 4 1 67 51 0.00 0.01 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.01 0.02 0.01 0.23 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.07 0.06 1.66 3.66 0.00 0.00 2.93 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 2 5 1 1 4 2 2 1 22 2 1 1 8 6 Gulf of Mexico Continental Shelf Atlantic spotted dolphin ............................ Bottlenose dolphin ................................... 161.80 269.16 12.95 21.55 Gulf of Mexico Offshore Bryde’s whale ........................................... Sperm whale ............................................ Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales ..................... Pygmy killer whale ................................... False killer whale ..................................... Beaked whales ......................................... Melon-headed whale ................................ Risso’s dolphin ......................................... Short-finned pilot whale ........................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ..................... Striped dolphin ......................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ............................. Clymene dolphin ...................................... Spinner dolphin ........................................ Bottlenose dolphin ................................... 0.23 1.58 0.38 0.79 1.63 0.31 11.55 15.78 4.99 179.45 14.02 3.23 0.67 59.13 44.75 0.02 00.15 0.04 0.07 0.15 0.03 1.09 1.49 0.47 16.97 1.33 0.30 0.06 5.59 4.23 Caribbean Offshore amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Sperm whale ............................................ Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales ..................... Pygmy killer whale ................................... False killer whale ..................................... Beaked whales ......................................... Melon-headed whale ................................ Risso’s dolphin ......................................... Short-finned pilot whale ........................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ..................... Striped dolphin ......................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ............................. Clymene dolphin ...................................... Spinner dolphin ........................................ Bottlenose dolphin ................................... 0.18 0.38 0.09 0.19 0.31 1.34 1.83 0.58 20.80 1.63 1.47 0.08 6.85 5.19 In some cases, the calculated Level B take estimates resulted in low numbers of animals which are known to be 0.01 0.04 0.00 0.00 0.03 0.03 0.04 0.01 0.50 0.04 0.04 0.05 0.16 0.12 gregarious or travel in group sizes larger than the calculated take estimate. In those cases, we have adjusted the requested take in the application to reflect those groups sizes (see proposed take column in Table 13). TABLE 13—CALCULATED AND PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE ESTIMATES Calculated take Common name MMPA stock Fin whale ......................................................... Western North Atlantic ................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM Avg. group size 1 1 27FEP2 Proposed take 2 4 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules 6623 TABLE 13—CALCULATED AND PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE ESTIMATES—Continued Calculated take Common name MMPA stock Blue whale ...................................................... Bryde’s whale .................................................. Sperm whale ................................................... Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. North Atlantic .................................................. Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands .............. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Northern Gulf of Mexico (CRA) ...................... Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico (GOMRA) ................ Northern Gulf of Mexico (CRA) ...................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Island ................ Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands .............. Western North Atlantic ................................... Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands .............. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Western North Atlantic (offshore) .................. Western North Atlantic (coastal/continental shelf). Northern Gulf of Mexico (coastal) .................. Northern Gulf of Mexico (continental shelf) ... Northern Gulf of Mexico (oceanic) ................. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands .............. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands .............. Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Western North Atlantic ................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico ................................. Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy ........................... Pygmy/dwarf sperm whale 1 ........................... Beaked whale 2 ............................................... Melon-headed whales ..................................... Risso’s dolphin ................................................ Short-finned pilot whales ................................ Common dolphin ............................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ................................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ............................ Striped dolphin ................................................ Bottlenose dolphin .......................................... Rough-toothed dolphin .................................... Clymene dolphin ............................................. Spinner dolphin ............................................... Pygmy killer whale .......................................... False killer whale ............................................ Harbor porpoise .............................................. Avg. group size 1 Proposed take N/A 1 2 17 4 6 5 5 9 4 4 13 3 18 2 48 6 1 3 14 198 unk 4 203 6 16 39 110 2 2 2.1 2.6 unk 1.9 2 2 2.3 2 2 99.6 15.4 10.2 10.2 16.6 24.9 unk 267.2 37 22 unk 77.5 71.3 74.6 46.1 11.8 10 4 4 4 17 4 10 6 6 9 4 4 100 15 10 10 48 25 20 268 37 198 50 78 203 75 46 39 110 2 329 10 10 20.6 unk 8 14.1 110 89.5 unk 151.5 unk 18.5 unk 27.6 38 2 350 329 51 6 1 4 20 1 unk 16 n/a 1 1 n/a n/a 350 100 50 10 20 100 100 100 200 50 20 20 20 16 1 Groups sizes based on Fulling et al., 2003; Garrison et al., 2011; Mullin et al., 2003; and Mullin et al., 2004. note the SEFSC’s application did not request take, by Level B harassment, of bottlenose dolphins belonging to coastal stocks; however, because surveys occur using scientific sonar in waters where coastal dolphins may occur, we are proposing to issue the same amount of Level B take as requested for the continental shelf stock. 3 The American Cetacean Society reports average group size of harbor porpoise range from 6 to 10 individuals. We propose an average group size of 8 for the ARA which is likely conservative given the low density of animals off North Carolina. Given the short and confined spatio-temporal scale of SEFSC surveys in North Carolina during winter months, we assume two groups per year could be encountered. 2 We amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization under Section 101(a)(5)(A or 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. NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to include VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 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: PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 (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 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6624 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 applicant implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on operations, and, in the case of a military readiness activity, personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity. SEFSC Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat The SEFSC has invested significant time and effort in identifying technologies, practices, and equipment to minimize the impact of the proposed activities on marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. The mitigation measures discussed here have been determined to be both effective and practicable and, in some cases, have already been implemented by the SEFSC. In addition, the SEFSC is actively conducting research to determine if gear modifications are effective at reducing take from certain types of gear; any potentially effective and practicable gear modification mitigation measures will be discussed as research results are available as part of the adaptive management strategy included in this rule. As for other parts of this rule, all references to the SEFSC, unless otherwise noted, include requirements for all partner institutions identified in the SEFSC’s application. Coordination and communication— When SEFSC survey effort is conducted aboard NOAA-owned vessels, there are both vessel officers and crew and a scientific party. Vessel officers and crew are not composed of SEFSC staff, but are employees of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), which is responsible for the management and operation of NOAA fleet ships and aircraft and is composed of uniformed officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps as well as civilians. The ship’s officers and crew provide mission support and assistance to embarked scientists, and the vessel’s Commanding Officer (CO) has ultimate responsibility for vessel and passenger safety and, therefore, decision authority. When SEFSC-funded surveys are conducted aboard cooperative platforms (i.e., non-NOAA vessels), ultimate responsibility and decision authority again rests with non-SEFSC personnel (i.e., vessel’s master or captain). Decision authority includes the implementation of mitigation measures (e.g., whether to stop deployment of trawl gear upon observation of marine mammals). The scientific party involved in any SEFSC survey effort is composed, in part or whole, of SEFSC staff and is led by a Chief Scientist (CS). Therefore, because the SEFSC—not OMAO or any other entity that may have authority VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 over survey platforms used by the SEFSC—is the applicant to whom any incidental take authorization issued under the authority of these proposed regulations would be issued, we require that the SEFSC take all necessary measures to coordinate and communicate in advance of each specific survey with OMAO, and other relevant parties, to ensure that all mitigation measures and monitoring requirements described herein, as well as the specific manner of implementation and relevant eventcontingent decision-making processes, are clearly understood and agreed-upon. This may involve description of all required measures when submitting cruise instructions to OMAO or when completing contracts with external entities. The SEFSC will coordinate and conduct briefings at the outset of each survey and as necessary between ship’s crew (CO/master or designee(s), as appropriate) and scientific party in order to explain responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, and operational procedures. SEFSC will also coordinate as necessary on a daily basis during survey cruises with OMAO personnel or other relevant personnel on non-NOAA platforms to ensure that requirements, procedures, and decisionmaking processes are understood and properly implemented. The CS will be responsible for coordination with the Officer on Deck (OOD; or equivalent on non-NOAA platforms) to ensure that requirements, procedures, and decisionmaking processes are understood and properly implemented. For fisheries research being conducted by partner entities, it remains the SEFSC’s responsibility to ensure those partners are communicating and coordinating with the SEFSC, receiving all necessary marine mammal mitigation and monitoring training, and implementing all required mitigation and monitoring in a manner compliant with the proposed rule and LOA. The SEFSC will incorporate specific language into its contracts that specifies training requirements, operating procedures, and reporting requirements for protected species that will be required for all surveys conducted by research partners, including those conducted on chartered vessels. To facilitate this requirement, SEFSC would be required to hold at least one training per year with at least one representative from each partner institution (preferably chief scientists of the fishery independent surveys discussed in this rule) to review the proposed mitigation, monitoring and PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 reporting requirements. The SEFSC would also provide consistent, timely support throughout the year to address any questions or concerns researchers may have regarding these measures. SEFSC would also be required to establish and maintain cooperating partner working group(s) to identify circumstances of a take should it occur and any action necessary to avoid future take. Each working group shall consist of at least one SEFSC representative knowledgeable of the mitigation, monitoring and reporting requirements contained within these regulations, one or more research institution or SEFSC representative(s) (preferably researcher(s) aboard vessel when take or risk of take occurred), one or more staff from NMFS Southeast Regional Office Protected Resources Division, and one or more staff from NMFS Office of Protected Resources. At the onset of these regulations, SEFSC shall maintain the recently established SCDNR working group to identify actions necessary to reduce the amount of take from SCDNR trawling. Other working groups shall be established if a partner takes more than one marine mammal within 5 years to identify circumstances of marine mammal take and necessary action to avoid future take. Each working group shall meet at least once annually. The SEFSC will maintain a centralized repository for all working group findings to facilitate sharing and coordination. While at sea, best professional judgement is used to determine if a marine mammal is at risk of entanglement/hooking and if and what type of actions should be taken to decrease risk of interaction. To improve judgement consistency across the region, the SEFSC will initiate a process for SEFSC and partner institution FPCs, SWLs, scientists, and vessel captains and crew to communicate with each other about their experiences with protected species interactions during research work with the goal of improving decision-making regarding avoidance of adverse interactions. The SEFSC will host at least one training annually (may be combined with other training requirements) to inform decision-makers of various circumstances that may arise during surveys, necessary action, and follow-up coordination and reporting of instances of take or possible take. The intent of this new training program would be to draw on the collective experience of people who have been making those decisions, provide a forum for the exchange of information about what went right and what went wrong, and try to determine if there are any rules- E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 of-thumb or key factors to consider that would help in future decisions regarding avoidance practices. The SEFSC would coordinate not only among its staff and vessel captains and crew but also with those from other fisheries science centers, research partners, the Southeast Regional Office, and other institutions with similar experience. The SEFSC will coordinate with the local Southeast Regional Stranding Coordinator and the NMFS Stranding Coordinator for any unusual protected species behavior and any stranding, beached live/dead, or floating protected species that are encountered during field research activities. If a large whale is alive and entangled in fishing gear, the vessel will immediately call the U.S. Coast Guard at VHF Ch. 16 and/or the appropriate Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Network for instructions. All entanglements (live or dead) and vessel strikes must be reported immediately to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1–877–433–8299. General Fishing Gear Measures The following measures describe mitigation application to all SEFSC surveys while measures specific to gear types follow. SEFSC will take all necessary measures to avoid marine mammal interaction with fishing gear used during fishery research surveys. This includes implementing the moveon rule (when applicable), which means delaying setting gear when marine mammals are observed at or approaching the sampling site and are deemed to be at-risk of becoming entangled or hooked on any type of fishing gear, and immediately pulling gear from the water when marine mammals are deemed to be at-risk of becoming entangled or hooked on any type of fishing gear. SEFSC will, at all times, monitor for any unusual circumstances that may arise at a sampling site and use best professional judgment to avoid any potential risks to marine mammals during use of all research equipment. In some cases, marine mammals may be attracted to the vessel during fishing. To avoid increased risk of interaction, the SEFSC will conduct fishery research sampling as soon as practicable upon arriving at a sampling station and prior to conducting environmental sampling. If fishing operations have been suspended because of the presence of marine mammals, SEFSC may resume fishing operations when interaction with marine mammals is deemed unlikely. SEFSC may use best professional judgment in making this VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 determination. SEFSC shall coordinate with all research partners, at least once annually, to ensure mitigation, monitoring and reporting requirements, procedures and decision-making processes contained within the proposed regulations and LOA are understood. All vessels must comply with applicable and relevant take reduction plans, including any required soak time limits and gear length restrictions. Trawl Mitigation Measures The SEFSC and research partners use a variety of bottom trawl gears for different research purposes. These trawl types include various shrimp trawls (otter, western jib, mongoose, Falcon), high-opening bottom trawls, and flat net bottom trawls (see Table 1–1 and Appendix A in the DPEA). The SEFSC and its research partners also use modified beam trawls and benthic trawls pulled by hand that are not considered to pose a risk to protected species due to their small size and very short tow durations. Therefore, these smaller, hand pulled trawls are not subject to the mitigation measures provided here. The following mitigation measures apply for trawl surveys: • Limit tow times to 30 minutes (except for sea turtle research trawls); • open codend close to deck/sorting table during haul back to avoid damage to animals that may be caught in gear and empty gear as quickly as possible after retrieval haul back; • delay gear deployment if marine mammals are believed to be at-risk of interaction; • retrieve gear immediately if marine mammals is believed to be entangled or at-risk of entanglement; • implement marine mammal mitigation measures included in the NMFS ESA Scientific Research permit under which a survey may be operating; • dedicated marine mammal observations shall occur at least 15 minutes to beginning of net deployment; this watch may include approach to the sampling station; • at least one scientist will monitor for marine mammals while the trawl is deployed and upon haul-back; • minimize ‘‘pocketing’’ in areas of the net where dolphin depredation evidence is commonly observed; and • continue investigation into gear modifications (e.g., stiffening lazy lines) and e.g., the effectiveness of gear modification. In 2008, standard tow durations for fishery bottom trawl surveys were reduced from 55 minutes to 30 minutes or less at target depth (excluding PO 00000 Frm 00051 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6625 deployment and retrieval time). These short tow durations decrease the opportunity for curious marine mammals to find the vessel and investigate. Tow times are less than the 55 minute tow time restriction required for commercial shrimp trawlers not using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) (50 CFR 223.206). The resulting tow distances are typically one to two nm or less, depending on the survey and trawl speed. Short tow times reduce the likelihood of entangling protected species. The move-on rule will be applied to all oceanic deep water trawls if sightings occur anywhere around vessel (within 2 nm) during a 30 minute pregear deployment monitoring timeframe. Vessels will move away if animals appear at risk or trawling will be delayed until marine mammals have not been sighted for 30 min or otherwise determined to no longer be at risk. If animals are still at risk after moving or 30 minutes have lapsed, the vessel will move again or the station will be skipped. Bottom trawl surveys conducted for purposes of researching gears designed to reduce sea turtle interaction (e.g., turtle exclusion device (TED) testing) and develop finfish bycatch mitigation measures for commercial trawl fisheries may have tow times of up to four hours. These exceptions to the short tow duration protocols are necessary to meet research objectives. TEDs are used in nets that are towed in excess of 55 minutes as required by 50 CFR 223.206. When research objectives prevent the installation of TEDs, tow time limits will match those set by commercial fishing regulations such as the skimmer trawl fishery which has a 55 min tow time limit. This research is covered under the authority of the ESA and the regulations governing the taking, importing, and exporting of endangered and threatened species (50 CFR parts 222–226). The SEFSC began using skimmer trawls in their TED testing in 2012. Mitigation measures in Scientific Research permit 20339, issued May 23, 2017, include: • Trawling must not be initiated when marine mammals (except dolphins or porpoises) are observed within the vicinity of the research and the marine mammals must be allowed to either leave or pass through the area safely before trawling is initiated; • Researchers must make every effort to prevent interactions with marine mammals and researchers must be aware of the presence and location of these animals at all times as they conduct trawling activities; E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6626 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules • During skimmer trawl surveys, a minimum of two staff, one on each side (port/starboard) of the vessel, must inspect the gear every five minutes to monitor for the presence of marine mammals, • Prior to retrieving the skimmer trawl tail bags, the vessel must be slowed from the active towing speed to 0.5–1.0 kn; • If a marine mammal enters the net, becomes entangled or dies, researchers must (a) stop trawling activities and immediately free the animal, (b) notify the appropriate NMFS Regional Stranding Coordinator as soon as possible and (c) report the incident (permitted activities will be suspended until the Permits Division has granted approval to continue research); and • Video monitoring of the TED must be used when trawling around Duck, North Carolina, to reduce take of Atlantic sturgeon (although this requirement is not geared toward marine mammals, the camera feed can be used to observe marine mammals to inform decisions regarding implementing mitigation). The SEFSC also holds an ESAresearch permit to assess sea turtle abundance, stock identification, life history, and impacts of human activities; determine sea turtle movements, fine-scale habitat characteristics and selection, and delineation of foraging and nursery areas; and examine how sea turtle distributions correlate with temporal trends and environmental data (Scientific Research Permit 16733–04). That research permit includes a number of marine mammal conditions that must be followed and are incorporated into this proposed rule by reference: • Trawl tow times must not exceed 30 minutes (bottom time) except in cases when the net is continuously monitored with a real-time video camera or multibeam sonar system; • Haul back must begin once a sea turtle or marine mammal enters the net regardless of time limits; • Seine net pulls must not exceed 45 minutes as part of a 2-hour deployment; • Nets must not be put in the water and trawls must not be initiated when marine mammals are observed within the vicinity of the research; • Marine mammals must be allowed to either leave or pass through the area safely before net setting or trawling is initiated; • Researchers must make every effort to prevent interactions with marine mammals; • Researchers must be aware of the presence and location of these animals at all times as they conduct activities; VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 • During skimmer trawl surveys, a minimum of two staff, one on each side (port/starboard) of the vessel, must inspect the gear every five minutes to monitor for the presence of marine mammals; • Prior to retrieving the skimmer trawl tail bags, the vessel must be slowed from the active towing speed to 0.5–1.0 kn; • Should marine mammals enter the research area after the seine or tangle nets have been set, the lead line must be raised and dropped in an attempt to make marine mammals in the vicinity aware of the net; • If marine mammals remain within the vicinity of the research area, tangle or seine nets must be removed; and • If a marine mammal enters the trawl net, becomes entangled or captured, researchers must stop activities and immediately free the animal, notify the NMFS Southeast Regional Stranding Coordinator as soon as possible, report the incident within 2 weeks and, in addition to the written report, the Permit Holder must contact the Permits Division. Other mitigation measures are included in research permit 16733–04 that are designed for sea turtles but also have benefits to minimizing entanglement of marine mammals. These include: • Highly visible buoys must be attached to the float line of each net and spaced at intervals of 10 yards or less; Nets must be checked at intervals of less than 30 minutes, and more frequently whenever turtles or other organisms are observed in the net. If water temperatures are ≤10 °C or ≥30 °C, nets must be checked at less than 20-minute intervals (‘‘net checking’’ is defined as a complete and thorough visual check of the net either by snorkeling the net in clear water or by pulling up on the top line such that the full depth of the net is viewed along the entire length); The float line of all nets must be observed at all times for movements that indicate an animal has encountered the net (when this occurs the net must be immediately checked). During diver assisted gear evaluations (SEFSC Small Turtle TED Testing and Gear Evaluations), dive teams are deployed on the trawls while they are being towed. During this research, divers actively monitor the gear for protected species interactions and use emergency signal floats to notify the vessel if an interaction occurs. When the signal float is deployed the vessel terminates the tow and slows the gear down to a minimal forward speed of less than 0.5 knots, which allows divers to assist the protected species escape. PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Live feed video or sonar monitoring of the trawl may be used in lieu of tow time limits. This mitigation measure is also used in addition to TEDs during some projects. Video or sonar feeds are monitored for the duration of the tow. If a TED is not installed in the trawl and a protected species is observed in the trawl then the tow is immediately terminated. If a TED is installed and a marine mammal is observed to have difficulty escaping through the TED opening, or the individual is lost from the video or sonar feed then the tow is immediately terminated. For all trawl types, the lazy line is a source of entanglement. In particular, dolphins like to rub the line. Loose lines are prone to create a half-hitch around their tail. Therefore, to mitigate this type of interaction, the SEFSC Harvesting Systems Unit (HSU) has conducted limited research examining the potential use of lazy lines constructed of alternative materials designed to reduce marine mammal entanglement with respect to material, thickness, and stiffness. Polyester rope, also known as Dacron, may be a suitable alternative to traditionally used polypropylene. Polyester rope is UV and abrasion resistant and has less elasticity than nylon, but does not lose strength when wet. Polyester, like polypropylene, does not absorb water, but has a higher specific gravity (1.38), which causes it to sink. Polyester can be constructed using a process that results in a medium or hard lay rope that that is stiff, avoids hockling (a twist in the line which gets caught in a block) and is self-coiling when loaded or unloaded off a capstan or gear hauler. The high specific gravity of this type of rope may pose a snagging or hang-up hazard when used as a lazy line in trawl operations. However, the smooth feel of the rope compared to polypropylene may reduce the attractiveness of the line to the rubbing behavior of bottlenose dolphin. In 2007, the HSU conducted preliminary NOAA diver assisted trials with High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) rope as a replacement for traditional polypropylene. Compared to polypropylene, HDPE polyethylene has similar properties including negligible water absorption, UV resistance, and low specific gravity, which allows it to float. However, HDPE polyethylene may be constructed with a harder lay than traditional polypropylene rope. Divers found that half-hitching the line was more difficult than traditional polypropylene line. However, operational trials were not conducted to examine performance and usability E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules aboard the vessel during extended fishing operations. Another alternative may be replacement of the lazy line with 3⁄8 in. stainless steel cable or replacement of the aft portion of the lazy line with 3⁄8 in. stainless steel cable. Replacement of the entire lazy line with cable would require block replacement and the use of dedicated winches for hauling the gear. Replacing the aft portion of the lazy line, where bottlenose dolphins typically interact with the line, would not require any changes as long as the rope to cable connection is able to smoothly pass through existing blocks. However, each of these changes would result in sinking and potential snagging or hang-up hazards. These modifications are also not without consequences. Lazy line modifications may require vessel equipment changes (e.g., blocks on research vessels) or may change the effectiveness of the catch, precluding comparison of new data to long-term data sets. In 2017, the HSU conducted a follow-up study, funded by NMFS Office of Science and Technology, to further investigate gear modification and the potential effectiveness at reducing dolphin entanglement. The following summarizes HSU’s 2017 research efforts on shrimp trawl gear modification which was carried out to inform development of this proposed rule (the fully report can be found at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/node/ 23111). Gearhart and Hathaway (2018) provide the following summary of research methods and findings: From June 9–22, 2017, HSU conducted gear evaluations in Panama City, Florida, with various lazy lines and configurations. In addition to traditional polypropylene, three types of 3 strand rope were examined; Samson Ultra-Blue Medium Hard Lay (MHL); Samson SSR 100 MHL; and Samson XLR. Vertical and horizontal profiles of each rope type were measured with and without a ‘‘sugar line’’ attached in a twin-rigged trawl configuration. In addition, dolphin interactions were simulated by NMFS divers with an aluminum dolphin fluke model. Results indicate that the vertical profiles were reduced and horizontal profiles increased for all rope types when a 25 ft (7.6 m) ‘‘sugar line’’ was added. Due to differences in elasticity when compared to polypropylene, the alternative rope types experienced greater tension with vertical profiles flattening, while the polypropylene rope maintained vertical relief. Results of simulated dolphin interactions were inconclusive with divers able to introduce half-hitch loops around the model fluke with both VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 polypropylene and the stiffest alternative rope, Samson SSR 100 MHL. However divers commented that it was more difficult to introduce the loop in the stiffer Samson SSR 100 MHL than the polypropylene line and more difficult to introduce the loop along the outer portion of the lazy line with the sugar line attached due to the increased tension on the line. Use of an alternative stiffer line with low stretch in combination with a short sugar line may reduce the potential for bottlenose dolphin takes on lazy lines. However, additional usability research is needed with these alternative rope types to see how they perform under commercial conditions. Finally, more directed dolphin/lazy line interaction behavior research is needed to better understand the modes of interaction and provide conservation engineers with the knowledge required to better formulate potential solutions. Given the report’s results and recommendations, NMFS is not requiring the SEFSC implement lazy line modifications at this time. However, as an adaptive management strategy, NMFS will be periodically assessing lazy line modification as a potential mitigation measure in this and future regulations. NMFS will continue to work with the SEFSC to determine if gear modifications such as stiffer lazy lines are both warranted and practicable to implement. Should the SEFSC volunteer to modify trawl lazy lines, NMFS will work with the researchers to identify any potential benefit and costs to doing so. In addition to interactions with the lazy line, the SEFSC has identified that holes in trawl nets resulting from dolphin depredation are most numerous around net ‘‘pockets’’ where fish congregate. Reinforcing these more vulnerable sections of the net could help reduce entanglement. Similar to lazy line modification investigations, this potential mitigation measure will be further examined to determine its effectiveness and practicability. The proposed regulations identify ‘‘pocketing’’ of the net should be minimized. Finally, marine mammal monitoring will occur during all trawls. Bottlenose dolphins are consistently interacting with research trawls in the estuary and nearshore waters and are seemingly attracted to the vessel, with most dolphins converging around the net during haul-back (SCDNR Working Group, pers. comm., February 2, 2016). This makes it difficult to ‘‘lose’’ dolphins, even if moving stations. Due to the known persistent behavior of dolphins around trawls in the estuary PO 00000 Frm 00053 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6627 and nearshore waters, the move-on rule will not be required for such surveys. However, the chief scientist and/or vessel captain will be required to take immediate action to reduce dolphin interaction should animals appear to be at risk or are entangled in the net. For skimmer trawl research, both the lazy line and net can be monitored from the vessel. However, this is not possible for bottom trawls. Therefore, for bottom trawls, researchers should use best professional judgement to determine if gear deployment should be delayed or hauled. For example, the SCDNR has noted one instance upon which dolphins appeared distressed, evident by the entire group converging on the net during haul-back. They quickly discovered a dolphin was entangled in the net. This and similar types of overt distress behaviors should be used by researchers monitoring the net to identify potential entanglement, requiring the net be hauled-in immediately and quickly. Pelagic trawls conducted in deep water (500–800 m deep) are typically mid-water trawls and occur in oceanic waters where marine mammal species diversity is greater increased compared to the coast or estuaries. Oceanic species often travel in very large groups and are less likely to have prior encounters and experience with trawl gear than inshore bottlenose dolphins. For these trawls, a dedicated marine mammal observer would observe around the vessel for no less than 30 minutes prior to gear deployment. If a marine mammal is observed within 2 nm of the vessel, gear deployment would be delayed until that animal is deemed to not be at risk of entanglement (e.g., the animal is moving on a path away from the vessel) or the vessel would move to a location absent of marine mammals and deploy gear. If trawling operations have been delayed because of the presence of protected species, the vessel resumes trawl operations (when practicable) only when these species have not been sighted within 30 minutes or are determined to no longer be at risk (e.g., moving away from deployment site). If the vessel moves, the required 30minute monitoring period begins again. In extreme circumstances, the survey station may need to be cancelled if animals (e.g., delphinids) follow the vessel. In addition to implementing the ‘‘move-on’’ rule, all trawling would be conducted first to reduce the opportunity to attract marine mammals to the vessel. However, the order of gear deployment is at the discretion of the FPC or SWL based on environmental conditions. Other activities, such as E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6628 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules water sampling or plankton tows, are conducted in conjunction with, or upon completion of, trawl activities. Once the trawl net is in the water, the officer on watch, FPC or SWL, and/or crew standing watch continue to monitor the waters around the vessel and maintain a lookout for protected species as far away as environmental conditions allow. If protected species are sighted before the gear is fully retrieved, the most appropriate response to avoid incidental take is determined by the professional judgment of the FPC or SWL, in consultation with the officer on watch. These judgments take into consideration the species, numbers, and behavior of the animals, the status of the trawl net operation (net opening, depth, and distance from the stern), the time it would take to retrieve the net, and safety considerations for changing speed or course. Most marine mammals have been caught during haul-back operations, especially when the trawl doors have been retrieved and the net is near the surface and no longer under tension. In some situations, risk of adverse interactions may be diminished by continuing to trawl with the net at depth until the protected species have left the area before beginning haul-back operations. In other situations, swift retrieval of the net may be the best course of action. The appropriate course of action to minimize the risk of incidental take of protected species is determined by the professional judgment of the FPC or SWL based on all situation variables, even if the choices compromise the value of the data collected at the station. Care is taken when emptying the trawl, including opening the codend as close as possible to the deck of the checker (or sorting table) in order to avoid damage to protected species that may be caught in the gear but are not visible upon retrieval. The gear is emptied as quickly as possible after retrieval in order to determine whether or not protected species are present. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Seine Nets The SEFSC will implement the following mitigation measures when fishing with seine nets (e.g., gillnets, trammel nets): • Conduct gillnet and trammel net research activities during daylight hours only; • Limit soak times to the least amount of time required to conduct sampling; • Conduct dedicated marine mammal observation monitoring beginning 15 minutes prior to deploying the gear and continue through deployment and haulback; VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 • Hand-check the net every 30 minutes if soak times are longer than 30 minutes or immediately if disturbance is observed; • Pull gear immediately if disturbance in the nets is observed; • Reduce net slack and excess floating and trailing lines; • Repair damaged nets prior to deploying; and • Delay or pull all gear immediately and implement the move-on rule if marine mammal is at-risk of entanglement. The dedicated observation will be made by scanning the water and marsh edge (if visible when working in estuarine waters) 360 degrees around the vessel where the net would be set. If a marine mammal is sighted during this observation period, nets would not be deployed until the animal has left the area, is on a path away from where the net would be set, or has not been resighted within 15 minutes. Alternatively, the research team may move the vessel to an area clear of marine mammals. If the vessel moves, the 15 minute observation period is repeated. Monitoring by all available crew would continue while the net is being deployed, during the soak, and during haulback. If marine mammals are sighted in the peripheral sampling area during active netting, the SEFSC will raise and lower the net leadline. If marine mammals do not immediately depart the area and the animal appears to be at-risk of entanglement (e.g,, interacting with or on a path towards the net), the SEFSC delay or pull all gear immediately and, if required, implement the move-on rule if marine mammal is at-risk of entanglement. If protected species are not sighted during the 15 minute observation period, the gear may be set. Waters surrounding the net and the net itself would be continuously monitored during the soak. If protected species are sighted during the soak and appear to be at risk of interaction with the gear, then the gear is pulled immediately. If fishing operations are halted, operations resume when animal(s) have not been sighted within 15 minutes or are determined to no longer be at risk, as determined by the judgment of the FPC or SWL. In other instances, the station is moved or cancelled. If any disturbance in the gear is observed in the gear, it is immediately checked or pulled. Hook and Line Gear Mitigation In addition to the general mitigation measures listed above, the SEFSC will implement the following mitigation measures: PO 00000 Frm 00054 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 • Monitor area for marine mammals and, if present, delay setting gear until the animal is deemed not at risk. • Immediately reel in lines if marine mammals are deemed to be at risk of interacting with gear. • Following existing Dolphin Friendly Fishing Tips: http:// sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_ resources/outreach_and_education/ documents/dolphin_friendly_fishing_ tips.pdf. • Not discard leftover bait overboard while actively fishing. • Inspect tackles daily to avoid unwanted line breaks. When fishing with bottom or pelagic longlines, the SEFSC will: (1) Limit longline length and soak times to the minimum amount possible; (2) deploy longline gear first (after required monitoring) prior to conducting environmental sampling; (3) if any marine mammals are observed, delay deploying gear unless animal is not at risk of hooking; (4) pull gear immediately and implement the moveon rule if any marine mammal is hooked or at risk of being hooked; (5) deploy longline gear prior to environmental sampling; and (6) avoid chumming (i.e., baiting water). More detail on these measures are described below. Prior to arrival on station (but within 0.5 nautical mile), the officer, crew members, and scientific party on watch visually scan for protected species for 30 minutes prior to station arrival for pelagic longline surveys and 15 minutes prior for other surveys. Binoculars will be used as necessary to survey the area while approaching and upon arrival at the station, while the gear is deployed, and during haulback. Additional monitoring is conducted 15 minutes prior to setting longline gear by members of the scientific crew that monitor from the back deck while baiting hooks. If protected species are sighted prior to setting the gear or at any time the gear is in the water, the bridge crew and SWL are alerted immediately. Environmental conditions (e.g., lighting, sea state, precipitation, fog, etc.) often limit the distance for effective visual monitoring of protected species. If marine mammals are sighted during any monitoring period, the ‘‘move-on’’ rule, as described in the trawling mitigation section above would be implemented. If longline operations have been delayed because of the presence of protected species, the vessel resumes longline operations only when these species have not been sighted within 15 minutes or otherwise determined to no longer be at risk. The risk decision is at the discretion of the FPC or SWL and is dependent on the situation. After the E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules required monitoring period, longline gear is always the first equipment or fishing gear to be deployed when the vessel arrives on station. If marine mammals are detected during setting operations or while the gear is in the water and are considered to be at risk (e.g., moving towards deployment site, displaying behaviors of potentially interacting with gear, etc.), the FPC or SWL in conjunction with the officer on watch may halt the setting operation or call for retrieval of gear already set. The species, number, and behavior of the protected species are considered along with the status of the ship and gear, weather and sea conditions, and crew safety factors when making decisions regarding gear deployment delay or retrieval. There are also a number of standard measures designed to reduce hooking potential and minimize injury. In all pelagic longline sets, gangions are 110 percent as long as the drop line depth; therefore, this gear configuration allows a potentially hooked marine mammal the ability to reach the surface. SEFSC longline protocols specifically prohibit chumming reducing any attraction. Further, no stainless steel hooks are used so that in the event a hook can not be retrieved from an animal, it will corrode. Per PLTRP, the SEFSC pelagic longline survey uses the Pelagic Longline Marine Mammal Handling and Release Guidelines for any pelagic longline sets made within the Atlantic EEZ. These procedures would also be implemented in the GOMRA and CRA. Other gears—The SEFSC deploys a wide variety of gear to sample the marine environment during all of their research cruises. Many of these types of gear (e.g., chevron fish trap, eel traps, dip nets, video cameras and ROV deployments) are not considered to pose any risk to marine mammals due to their size, deployment methods, or location, and therefore are not subject to mitigation. However, at all times when the SEFSC is conducting survey operations at sea, the OOD and/or CS and crew will monitor for any unusual circumstances that may arise at a sampling site and use best professional judgment to avoid any potential risks to marine mammals during all vessel operation and use of research equipment. Electrofishing—Electrofishing occurs on small vessels and operates with a 3000 watt pulsed direct current for 15 minutes. The electric field is less than 20 feet around the electrofishing vessel. Before the electrofishing vessel begins operating, a dedicated marine mammal observer would scan the surrounding waters for at least 15 minutes prior to VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 fishing. If a marine mammal is observed within 50 meters of the vessel or on a path toward the vessel, electrofishing would be delayed. Fishing would not begin until the animal is outside of the 50 m safety zone or on a consistent path away from the vessel. Alternatively, if animals do not leave the area, the vessel could move to another sampling station. If the vessel moves, the 15 minutes observation period is repeated. During electrofishing, the research crew would also monitor for marine mammals. If animals are observed within or a path toward the 50 m safety zone, electrofishing would be terminated and not resume until the animal is clear of and on a path away from the 50 m safety zone. All samples collected during electrofishing are to remain on the vessel and not discarded until all electrofishing is completed to avoid attracting protected species. Vessel speed—Vessel speed during active sampling is less than 5 kn (average 2–3 kn) while transit speeds to and from sampling sites vary from 6–14 kn but average 10 kn. These low vessel speeds minimize the potential for ship strike (see ‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat’’ for an in-depth discussion of ship strike). At any time during a survey or in transit, if a crew member standing watch or dedicated marine mammal observer sights marine mammals that may intersect with the vessel course that individual will immediately communicate the presence of marine mammals to the bridge for appropriate course alteration or speed reduction, as possible, to avoid incidental collisions. While transiting in areas subjected to the North Atlantic ship strike rule, all SEFSC- affiliated research vessels (NOAA vessels, NOAA chartered vessels, and research partner vessels) will abide by the required speed restrictions and sighting alert protocols. The ship strike rule for the southeast U.S. seasonal management area (SMA) requires that, from November 15 through April 15, all vessels 65 feet or longer must slow to 10 kn or less in the right whale calving and nursery grounds which are bounded to the north by latitude 31°27′ N, to the south by 29°45′ N, and to the east by 80°51′36″ W. MidAtlantic SMAs include several port or bay entrances from northern Georgia to Rhode Island between November 1 and April 30. In addition, dynamic management areas (DMAs) are temporary areas created around right whale sightings, the size of which depends on the number of whales sighted. Voluntary speed reductions may apply when no SMA is in effect. PO 00000 Frm 00055 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6629 All NOAA research vessels operating in North Atlantic right whale habitat participate in the Right Whale Early Warning System. SEFSC research vessel captains and crew watch for marine mammals while underway during daylight hours and take necessary actions to avoid them. There are currently no Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) aboard the vessels dedicated to watching for marine mammals to minimize the risk of collisions, although the large NOAA vessels (e.g., NOAA Ship Pisces) operated by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) include one bridge crew dedicated to watching for obstacles at all times, including marine mammals. At any time during a survey or in transit, any bridge personnel that sights marine mammals that may intersect with the vessel course immediately communicates their presence to the helm for appropriate course alteration or speed reduction as soon as possible to avoid incidental collisions, particularly with large whales (e.g., North Atlantic right whales). The Right Whale Early Warning System is a multi-agency effort that includes the SEFSC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and volunteer observers. Sightings of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale are reported from aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, whale watch vessels, and opportunistic sources (U.S. Coast Guard, commercial ships, fishing vessels, and the general public). Whale sightings are reported in real time to the Right Whale Early Warning System network and information is disseminated to mariners within a half hour of a sighting. The program was designed to reduce collisions between ships and North Atlantic right whales by alerting mariners to the presence of the whales in near real time. Under the proposed rule, all NOAA-affiliated vessels operating in North Atlantic right whale habitat will be required to participate in the Right Whale Early Warning System. Acoustic and Visual Deterrent Devices—Acoustic and visual deterrents include, but are not limited; to pingers, recordings of predator vocalizations, light sticks, and reflective twine/rope. Pingers are underwater sound-emitting devices attached to gear that have been shown to decrease the probability of interacuetions with certain species of marine mammals. Pingers have been shown to be effective in deterring some marine mammals, particularly harbor porpoises, from interacting with gillnet gear (Nowacek et al. 2007, Carretta and E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6630 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Barlow 2011). Multiple studies have reported large decreases in harbor porpoise mortality (approximately eighty to ninety percent) in bottom-set gillnets (nets composed of vertical panes of netting, typically set in a straight line and either anchored to the bottom or drifting) during controlled experiments (e.g., Kraus et al., 1997; Trippel et al., 1999; Gearin et al., 2000). Using commercial fisheries data rather than a controlled experiment, Palka et al. (2008) reported that harbor porpoise bycatch rates in the northeast U.S gillnet fishery when fishing without pingers was about two to three times higher compared to when pingers were used. After conducting a controlled experiment in a California drift gillnet fishery during 1996–97, Barlow and Cameron (2003) reported significantly lower bycatch rates when pingers were used for all cetacean species combined, all pinniped species combined, and specifically for short-beaked common dolphins (85 percent reduction) and California sea lions (69 percent reduction). While not a statistically significant result, catches of Pacific white-sided dolphins (which are historically one of the most frequently captured species in SEFSC surveys; see Table 4) were reduced by seventy percent. Carretta et al. (2008) subsequently examined nine years of observer data from the same drift gillnet fishery and found that pinger use had eliminated beaked whale bycatch. Carretta and Barlow (2011) assessed the long-term effectiveness of pingers in reducing marine mammal bycatch in the California drift gillnet fishery by evaluating fishery data from 1990–2009 (with pingers in use beginning in 1996), finding that bycatch rates of cetaceans were reduced nearly fifty percent in sets using a sufficient number of pingers. However, in a behavioral response study investigating bottlenose dolphin behavior around gillnets outfitted with acoustic alarms in North Carolina, there was no significant difference is number of dolphins or closest approach between nets with alarms and nets without alarms (Cox et al., 2003). Studies of acoustic deterrents in a trawl fishery in Australia concluded that pingers are not likely to be effective in deterring bottlenose dolphins, as they are already aware of the gear due to the noisy nature of the fishery (Stephenson and Wells 2008, Allen et al. 2014). Acoustic deterrents were also ineffective in reducing bycatch of common dolphins in the U.K. bass pair trawl fishery (Mackay and Northridge 2006). The use and effectiveness of acoustic deterrent devices in fisheries in which VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 bottlenose dolphins have the potential to interact has been approached with caution. Two primary concerns expressed with regard to pinger effectiveness in reducing marine mammal bycatch relate to habituation (i.e., marine mammals may become habituated to the sounds made by the pingers, resulting in increasing bycatch rates over time; Dawson, 1994; Cox et al., 2001; Carlstro¨m et al., 2009) and the ‘‘dinner bell effect’’ (Dawson, 1994; Richardson et al., 1995), which implies that certain predatory marine mammal species may come to associate pingers with a food source (e.g., fish caught in nets) with the result that bycatch rates may be higher in nets with pingers than in those without. The BDTRP, after years of directed investigation, found pingers are not effective at deterring bottlenose dolphins from depredating on fish captured by trawls and gillnets. During research driven by the BDTRT efforts to better understand the effectiveness of pingers on bottlenose dolphins, one became entangled and drowned in a net outfitted with a pinger. Dolphins can become attracted to the sound of the pinger because they learn it signals the presence of fish (i.e., the ‘‘dinner bell effect’’), raising concerns about potential increased entanglement risks (Cox et al., 2003; Read et al., 2004 and 2006; and Read and Waples 2010). Due to the lack of evidence that pingers are effective at deterring bottlenose dolphins coupled with the potential dinner-bell effect, the BDTRP does not recommend them for use in SEFSC for bottlenose dolphins. The effectiveness of acoustic and visual deterrents for species encountered in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA is uncertain. Therefore, the SEFSC will not be required to outfit gear with deterrent devices but is encouraged to undertake investigations on the efficacy of these measures where unknown (i.e., not for surveys in which bottlenose dolphins are primary bycatch) in order to minimize potential for take. Disentanglement Handling Procedures—The SEFSC will implement a number of handling protocols to minimize potential harm to marine mammals that are incidentally taken during the course of fisheries research activities. In general, protocols have already been prepared for use on commercial fishing vessels. Although commercial fisheries are known to take a larger number of marine mammals than fisheries research, the nature of entanglements are similar. Therefore, the SEFSC would adopt commercial fishery disentanglement protocols, which are expected to increase postrelease survival. Handling or PO 00000 Frm 00056 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 disentangling marine mammals carries inherent safety risks, and using best professional judgment and ensuring human safety is paramount. Captured live or injured marine mammals are released from research gear and returned to the water as soon as possible with no gear or as little gear remaining on the animal as possible. Animals are released without removing them from the water if possible, and data collection is conducted in such a manner as not to delay release of the animal(s) or endanger the crew. SEFSC is responsible for training SEFSC and partner researchers on how to identify different species; handle and bring marine mammals aboard a vessel; assess the level of consciousness; remove fishing gear; and return marine mammals to water. Human safety is always the paramount concern. At least two persons aboard SEFSC ships and one person aboard smaller vessels, including vessels operated by partners where no SEFSC staff are present, will be trained in marine mammal handling, release, and disentanglement procedures. If a marine mammal is entangled or hooked in fishery research gear and discovered alive, the SEFSC or affiliate will follow safe handling procedures. To facilitate this training, SEFSC would be required to ensure relevant researchers attend the NMFS Highly Migratory Species/ Protected Species Safe Handling, Release, and Identification Workshop www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/ compliance/workshops/protected_ species_workshop/index.html or other similar training. The SEFSC shall provide SEFSC scientists and partner institutions with the Protected Species Safe Handling and Release Manual (see Appendix D is SEFSC’s application) and advise researchers to follow this manual, in addition to lessons learned during training, should a marine mammal become entangled during a survey. For those scientists conducting longline surveys, the SEFSC shall provide training on the Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Team Marine Mammal Handling and Release Guidelines. Based on our evaluation of the applicant’s proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of 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. Based on our evaluation of the SEFSC’s proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed 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. TPWD Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat The TPWD would undertake a number of measures to minimize risk of entangling bottlenose dolphins. Only new or fully repaired gill nets will be used thereby eliminating holes. Gill nets will be set with minimal slack and a very short marker buoy attached to the deep end of the net. This reduction in slack and float buoy length is designed to reduce possible entanglement. The TPWD would also modify the nets to greatly reduce or eliminate any gaps between the float/lead line and the net. As currently configured, nets are tied to the lines every eight in. creating a gap between the net and line of approximately six to eight in. depending on the mesh size. TPWD field crews report that entanglement has typically occurred in the float or lead lines in or near the gap in question. TPWD would tie the net to the lines at no more than 4 in. intervals, reducing the gap size to less than four in. should help prevent getting a tail, pectoral, or fluke fin getting caught in these gaps. Prior to setting nets, dedicated marine mammal observations will be conducted by at least one researcher trained in marine mammal detection techniques. If dolphins are observed around or on a path toward the sampling site, TPWD would delay setting the net until the animal has moved and is on a path away from the site. If an animal is observed around and on a path toward the sampling area while setting the net, the net will be hauled back aboard until the animal has moved on. If animals remain in the area, TPWD will move on to another site not in the animal’s path without setting the net. When a net is set, TPWD would minimize soak time by utilizing the ‘‘last out/first in’’ strategy for gill nets set in sites where marine mammals have been encountered within the last 5 years. A net set in this manner will be deployed last and retrieved first, reducing soak times by an average of 1.35 hours but a maximum of 6.6 hours. TPWD researchers will immediately respond to net disturbances when setting and retrieving nets to determine if a dolphin is entangled and, if so, will release the dolphin immediately. All nets set the night before will be inspected for the presence of bottlenose VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 dolphins and sea turtles before any nets are retrieved. If these animals are observed they will be released immediately. At least one TPWD research aboard gillnetting survey vessels will be trained in NMFSapproved Marine Mammal Handling Procedures. The TPWD would remove fishing grids from their sampling areas where dolphins have been taken on more than one occasion or where multiple adjacent grids have had at least one dolphin encounter. To date, grids which meet one or both of these criteria are (1) Aransas Bay, just south of Allyn’s Bight (grid #’s 280, 290, 291, 301, see Fig.3 in TPWD’s application), (2) Corpus Christi Bay, south of Ingleside shoreline (CC grid #132, see Fig. 4 in TPWD’s application), and (3) Lower Laguna Madre, in Redfish Bay (LLM grid #47, see Fig 5 in TPWD’s application). Based on our evaluation of the TPWD’s proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed 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. Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an incidental take authorization for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(A) 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) require that requests for incidental take 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 proposed action area. 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 action area (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 PO 00000 Frm 00057 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6631 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. SEFSC Proposed Monitoring and Reporting The SEFSC plans to make more systematic its training, operations, data collection, animal handling and sampling protocols, etc. in order to improve its ability to understand how mitigation measures influence interaction rates and ensure its research operations are conducted in an informed manner and consistent with lessons learned from those with experience operating these gears in close proximity to marine mammals. We propose the monitoring requirements described below. Marine mammal watches are a standard part of conducting fisheries research activities and are implemented as described previously in ‘‘Proposed Mitigation.’’ Dedicated marine mammal observations occur as described (1) for some period prior to deployment of most research gear; (2) throughout deployment and active fishing of all research gears; (3) for some period prior to retrieval of gear; and (4) throughout retrieval of research gear. Observers should record the species and estimated number of animals present and their behaviors, which may be valuable information towards an understanding of whether certain species may be attracted to vessels or certain survey gears. Separately, on white boats, marine mammal watches are conducted by watch-standers (those navigating the vessel and other crew; these will typically not be SEFSC personnel) at all times when the vessel is being operated. The primary focus for this type of watch is to avoid striking marine mammals and to generally avoid navigational hazards. These watch-standers typically E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6632 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 have other duties associated with navigation and other vessel operations and are not required to record or report to the scientific party data on marine mammal sightings, except when gear is being deployed or retrieved. Training The SEFSC anticipates that additional information on practices to avoid marine mammal interactions can be gleaned from training sessions and more systematic data collection standards. The SEFSC will conduct annual trainings for all chief scientists and other personnel who may be responsible for conducting dedicated marine mammal visual observations to explain mitigation measures and monitoring and reporting requirements, mitigation and monitoring protocols, marine mammal identification, recording of count and disturbance observations (relevant to AMLR surveys), completion of datasheets, and use of equipment. Some of these topics may be familiar to SEFSC staff, who may be professional biologists, The SEFSC shall determine the agenda for these trainings and ensure that all relevant staff have necessary familiarity with these topics. The first such training will include three primary elements: First, the course will provide an overview of the purpose and need for the authorization, including mandatory mitigation measures by gear and the purpose for each, and species that the SEFSC is authorized to incidentally take. Second, the training will provide detailed descriptions of reporting, data collection, and sampling protocols. This portion of the training will include instruction on how to complete new data collection forms such as the marine mammal watch log, the incidental take form (e.g., specific gear configuration and details relevant to an interaction with protected species), and forms used for species identification and biological sampling. The biological data collection and sampling training module will include the same sampling and necropsy training that is used for the Southeast Regional Observer training. The SEFSC will also dedicate a portion of training to discussion of best professional judgment (which is recognized as an integral component of mitigation implementation; see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’), including use in any incidents of marine mammal interaction and instructive examples where use of best professional judgment was determined to be successful or unsuccessful. We recognize that many factors come into play regarding decision-making at sea and that it is not VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 practicable to simplify what are inherently variable and complex situational decisions into rules that may be defined on paper. However, it is our intent that use of best professional judgment be an iterative process from year to year, in which any at-sea decision-maker (i.e., responsible for decisions regarding the avoidance of marine mammal interactions with survey gear through the application of best professional judgment) learns from the prior experience of all relevant SEFSC personnel (rather than from solely their own experience). The outcome should be increased transparency in decision-making processes where best professional judgment is appropriate and, to the extent possible, some degree of standardization across common situations, with an ultimate goal of reducing marine mammal interactions. It is the responsibility of the SEFSC to facilitate such exchange. Handling Procedures and Data Collection Improved standardization of handling procedures were discussed previously in ‘‘Proposed Mitigation.’’ In addition to the benefits implementing these protocols are believed to have on animals through increased post-release survival, SEFSC believes adopting these protocols for data collection will also increase the information on which ‘‘serious injury’’ determinations (NMFS, 2012a, b) are based and improve scientific knowledge about marine mammals that interact with fisheries research gears and the factors that contribute to these interactions. SEFSC personnel will be provided standard guidance and training regarding handling of marine mammals, including how to identify different species, bring an individual aboard a vessel, assess the level of consciousness, remove fishing gear, return an individual to water and log activities pertaining to the interaction. The SEFSC will record interaction information on either existing data forms created by other NMFS programs or will develop their own standardized forms. To aid in serious injury determinations and comply with the current NMFS Serious Injury Guidelines, researchers will also answer a series of supplemental questions on the details of marine mammal interactions. Finally, for any marine mammals that are killed during fisheries research activities, when practicable, scientists will collect data and samples pursuant to Appendix D of the SEFSC DEA, PO 00000 Frm 00058 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 ‘‘Protected Species Handling Procedures for SEFSC Fisheries Research Vessels.’’ SEFSC Reporting As is normally the case, SEFSC will coordinate with the relevant stranding coordinators for any unusual marine mammal behavior and any stranding, beached live/dead, or floating marine mammals that are encountered during field research activities. The SEFSC will follow a phased approach with regard to the cessation of its activities and/or reporting of such events, as described in the proposed regulatory text following this preamble. In addition, Chief Scientists (or cruise leader, CS) will provide reports to SEFSC leadership and to the Office of Protected Resources (OPR). As a result, when marine mammals interact with survey gear, whether killed or released alive, a report provided by the CS will fully describe any observations of the animals, the context (vessel and conditions), decisions made and rationale for decisions made in vessel and gear handling. The circumstances of these events are critical in enabling the SEFSC and OPR to better evaluate the conditions under which takes are most likely occur. We believe in the long term this will allow the avoidance of these types of events in the future. The SEFSC will submit annual summary reports to OPR including: (1) Annual line-kilometers surveyed during which the EK60, ME70, SX90 (or equivalent sources) were predominant (see ‘‘Estimated Take by Acoustic Harassment’’ for further discussion), specific to each region; (2) Summary information regarding use of all trawl, net, and hook and line gear, including number of sets, tows, hook hours, etc., specific to each research area and gear; (3) Accounts of all incidents of marine mammal interactions, including circumstances of the event and descriptions of any mitigation procedures implemented or not implemented and why; (4) Summary information related to any disturbance of marine mammals and distance of closest approach; (5) A written description of any mitigation research investigation efforts and findings (e.g., lazy line modifications); (6) A written evaluation of the effectiveness of SEFSC mitigation strategies in reducing the number of marine mammal interactions with survey gear, including best professional judgment and suggestions for changes to the mitigation strategies, if any; and (7) Details on marine mammal-related training taken by SEFSC and partner scientists. The period of reporting will be annually, beginning one year postissuance of any LOA, and the report must be submitted not less than ninety days following the end of a given year. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Submission of this information is in service of an adaptive management framework allowing NMFS to make appropriate modifications to mitigation and/or monitoring strategies, as necessary, during the proposed five-year period of validity for these regulations. Should an incidental take occur, the SEFSC, or affiliated partner involved in the taking, shall follow the NMFS Final Take Reporting and Response Procedures, dated January 15, 2016. NMFS has established a formal incidental take reporting system, the PSIT database, requiring that incidental takes of protected species be reported within 48 hours of the occurrence. The PSIT generates automated messages to NMFS leadership and other relevant staff, alerting them to the event and to the fact that updated information describing the circumstances of the event has been inputted to the database. The PSIT and CS reports represent not only valuable real-time reporting and information dissemination tools but also serve as an archive of information that may be mined in the future to study why takes occur by species, gear, region, etc. The SEFSC will also collect and report all necessary data, to the extent practicable given the primacy of human safety and the well-being of captured or entangled marine mammals, to facilitate serious injury (SI) determinations for marine mammals that are released alive. The SEFSC will require that the CS complete data forms and address supplemental questions, both of which have been developed to aid in SI determinations. The SEFSC understands the critical need to provide as much relevant information as possible about marine mammal interactions to inform decisions regarding SI determinations. In addition, the SEFSC will perform all necessary reporting to ensure that any incidental M/SI is incorporated as appropriate into relevant SARs. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 TPWD Proposed Monitoring and Reporting Issuance of the proposed regulations would require TPWD to monitor for marine mammals starting 0.5 miles (800 meters) from sampling site and for 15 minutes at sampling site prior to setting the net. Should a marine mammal be observed within 0.5 miles (800 meters) of the site and is on a path toward the site, the net would not be deployed. Should a marine mammal be observed during the 15-minute observation period at the site, the net would not be deployed. The net may only be deployed if marine mammals are observed on a path away from the site VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 consistently for 15 minutes or are not resighted within 15 minutes. TPWD currently reports marine mammal entanglements to NMFS Southeast Regional Office (SERO). However, reporting is not standardized and, in the past, has led to questions regarding the circumstances of the take and disposition of the animal. The proposed regulations would standardize a comprehensive reporting scheme and require TPWD to report all incidents of marine mammal interaction to OPR and NMFS SERO within 48 hours of occurrence. Also within 48 hours, TPWD shall log the incident in NMFS’ Protected Species Incidental Take (PSIT) database and provide any supplemental information to OPR and SERO upon request. Information related to marine mammal interaction (animal captured or entangled in research gear) must include the following: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Monitoring conducted prior to and occurring at the time of incident; • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, visibility); • Description of the animal(s) involved (e.g., size, age class); • Water depth and net location where entangled; • Nature of the entanglement (i.e., part of animal entangled, where in net entangled) • Fate of the animal(s); • Detailed description of events, including how animals was disentangled and behavior upon release, including signs of injury (if alive); • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). TPWD would also be required to submit an annual report to OPR not later than ninety days following the end of the fall sampling season. TPWD would provide a final report within thirty days following resolution of comments on the draft report. These reports shall contain, at minimum, the following: • Locations and time/date of all net sets; • all instances of marine mammal observations and descriptions of any mitigation procedures implemented or not implemented and why; • all incidents of marine mammal interactions, including all information required in § 219.86(b); • A written evaluation of the effectiveness of TPWD mitigation strategies in reducing the number of marine mammal interactions with survey gear, including gear modifications and best professional judgment and suggestions for changes to the mitigation strategies, if any; PO 00000 Frm 00059 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6633 • A summary of all relevant marine mammal training. Negligible Impact Analyses and Determinations Introduction—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’’ by mortality, serious injury, and Level A or Level B harassment, we consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any behavioral responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any such responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness of 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, and specific consideration of take by M/SI previously authorized for other NMFS research activities). We note here that the takes from potential gear interactions enumerated below could result in non-serious injury, but their worse potential outcome (mortality) is analyzed for the purposes of the negligible impact determination. We discuss here the connection, and differences, between the legal mechanisms for authorizing incidental take under section 101(a)(5) for activities such as SEFSC’s research activities, and for authorizing incidental take from commercial fisheries. In 1988, Congress amended the MMPA’s provisions for addressing incidental take of marine mammals in commercial fishing operations. Congress directed NMFS to develop and recommend a new long-term regime to govern such E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6634 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules incidental taking (see MMC, 1994). The need to develop a system suited to the unique circumstances of commercial fishing operations led NMFS to suggest a new conceptual means and associated regulatory framework. That concept, Potential Biological Removal (PBR), and a system for developing plans containing regulatory and voluntary measures to reduce incidental take for fisheries that exceed PBR were incorporated as sections 117 and 118 in the 1994 amendments to the MMPA. PBR is defined in Section 3 of the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population (OSP) and, although not controlling, can be one measure considered among other factors when evaluating the effects of M/ SI on a marine mammal species or stock during the section 101(a)(5)(A) process. OSP is defined in section 3 of the MMPA as the number of animals which will result in the maximum productivity of the population or the species, keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the habitat and the health of the ecosystem of which they form a constituent element. A primary goal of the MMPA is to ensure that each species or stock of marine mammal is maintained at or returned to its OSP. PBR values are calculated by NMFS as the level of annual removal from a stock that will allow that stock to equilibrate within OSP at least 95 percent of the time, and is the product of factors relating to the minimum population estimate of the stock (Nmin); the productivity rate of the stock at a small population size; and a recovery factor. Determination of appropriate values for these three elements incorporates significant precaution, such that application of the parameter to the management of marine mammal stocks may be reasonably certain to achieve the goals of the MMPA. For example, calculation of the minimum population estimate (Nmin) incorporates the precision and variability associated with abundance information, while also providing (typically the 20th percentile of a log-normal distribution of the population estimate) reasonable assurance that the stock size is equal to or greater than the estimate (Barlow et al., 1995). In general, the three factors are developed on a stock-specific basis in consideration of one another in order to produce conservative PBR values that appropriately account for both imprecision that may be estimated as well as potential bias stemming from lack of knowledge (Wade, 1998). VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 Congress called for PBR to be applied within the management framework for commercial fishing incidental take under section 118 of the MMPA. As a result, PBR cannot be applied appropriately outside of the section 118 regulatory framework without consideration of how it applies within section 118 framework, as well as how other statutory management frameworks in the MMPA differ from the framework in section 118. PBR was not designed and is not used as an absolute threshold limiting commercial fisheries. Rather, it serves as a means to evaluate the relative impacts of those activities on marine mammal stocks. Even where commercial fishing is causing M/SI at levels that exceed PBR, the fishery is not suspended. When M/SI exceeds PBR in the commercial fishing context under section 118, NMFS may develop a take reduction plan, usually with the assistance of a take reduction team. The take reduction plan will include measures to reduce and/or minimize the taking of marine mammals by commercial fisheries to a level below the stock’s PBR. That is, where the total annual human-caused M/SI exceeds PBR, NMFS is not required to halt fishing activities contributing to total M/ SI but rather utilizes the take reduction process to further mitigate the effects of fishery activities via additional bycatch reduction measures. In other words, under section 118 of the MMPA, PBR does not serve as a strict cap on the operation of commercial fisheries that may incidentally take marine mammals. Similarly, to the extent PBR may be relevant when considering the impacts of incidental take from activities other than commercial fisheries, using it as the sole reason to deny (or issue) incidental take authorization for those activities would be inconsistent with Congress’s intent under section 101(a)(5) and the use of PBR under section 118. The standard for authorizing incidental take under section 101(a)(5) continues to be, among other things, whether the total taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock. When Congress amended the MMPA in 1994 to add section 118 for commercial fishing, it did not alter the standards for authorizing non-commercial fishing incidental take under section 101(a)(5), implicitly acknowledging that the negligible impact under section 101(a)(5) is a separate from the PBR metric under section 118. In fact, in 1994, Congress also amended section 101(a)(5)(E) (a separate provision governing commercial fishing incidental take for species listed under the PO 00000 Frm 00060 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Endangered Species Act) to add compliance with the new section 118 but kept the requirement for a negligible impact finding. Congress thus understood that the determination of negligible impact and application of PBR may share certain features but are, in fact, different. Since the introduction of PBR, NMFS has used the concept almost entirely within the context of implementing sections 117 and 118 and other commercial fisheries managementrelated provisions of the MMPA. Although there are a few examples where PBR has informed agency deliberations under other sections of the MMPA, where PBR has been raised, it has been a consideration and not dispositive to the issue at hand. Further, the agency’s thoughts regarding the potential role of PBR in relation to other programs of the MMPA have evolved since the agency’s earlier applications to section 101(a)(5) decisions. The MMPA requires that PBR be estimated in stock assessment reports and that it be used in applications related to the management of take incidental to commercial fisheries (i.e., the take reduction planning process described in section 118 of the MMPA and the determination of whether a stock is ‘‘strategic’’ (16 U.S.C. 1362(19))), but nothing in the MMPA requires the application of PBR outside the management of commercial fisheries interactions with marine mammals. Nonetheless, NMFS recognizes that as a quantitative metric, PBR may be useful in certain instances as a consideration when evaluating the impacts of other human-caused activities on marine mammal stocks. Outside the commercial fishing context, and in consideration of all known human-caused mortality, PBR can help inform the potential effects of M/SI caused by activities authorized under 101(a)(5)(A) on marine mammal stocks. As noted by NMFS and the USFWS in our implementation regulations for the 1986 amendments to the MMPA (54 FR 40341, September 29, 1989), the Services consider many factors, when available, in making a negligible impact determination, including, but not limited to, the status of the species or stock relative to OSP (if known); whether the recruitment rate for the species or stock is increasing, decreasing, stable, or unknown; the size and distribution of the population; and existing impacts and environmental conditions. In this multi-factor analysis, PBR can be a useful indicator for when, and to what extent, the agency should take an especially close look at the circumstances associated with the potential mortality, along with any other E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules factors that could influence annual rates of recruitment or survival. When considering PBR during evaluation of effects of M/SI under section 101(a)(5)(A), we first calculate a metric for each species or stock that incorporates information regarding ongoing anthropogenic M/SI into the PBR value (i.e., PBR minus the total annual anthropogenic mortality/serious injury estimate), which is called ‘‘residual PBR’’ (Wood et al., 2012). We focus our analysis on residual PBR because it incorporates anthropogenic mortality occurring from other sources. We then consider how the anticipated potential incidental M/SI from the activities being evaluated compares to residual PBR utilizing the following framework. Where a specified activity could cause (and NMFS is contemplating authorizing) incidental M/SI that is less than 10 percent of residual PBR (the ‘‘insignificance threshold, see below), we consider M/SI from the specified activities to represent an insignificant incremental increase in ongoing anthropogenic M/SI for the marine mammal stock in question that alone (i.e., in the absence of any other take) will not adversely affect annual rates of recruitment and survival. As such, this amount of M/SI would not be expected to affect rates of recruitment or survival in a manner resulting in more than a negligible impact on the affected stock unless there are other factors that could affect reproduction or survival, such as Level A and/or Level B harassment, or considerations such as information that illustrates the uncertainty involved in the calculation of PBR for some stocks. In a prior incidental take rulemaking, this threshold was identified as the ‘‘significance threshold,’’ but it is more accurately labeled an insignificance threshold, and so we use that terminology here. Assuming that any additional incidental take by Level A or Level B harassment from the activities in question would not combine with the effects of the authorized M/SI to exceed the negligible impact level, the anticipated M/SI caused by the activities being evaluated would have a negligible impact on the species or stock. However, M/SI above the 10 percent insignificance threshold does not indicate that the M/SI associated with the specified activities is approaching a level that would necessarily exceed negligible impact. Rather, the 10 percent insignificance threshold is meant only to identify instances where additional analysis of the anticipated M/SI is not required because the negligible impact standard VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 clearly will not be exceeded on that basis alone. Where the anticipated M/SI is near, at, or above residual PBR, consideration of other factors (positive or negative), including those outlined above, as well as mitigation are especially important to assessing whether the M/SI will have a negligible impact on the species or stock. PBR is a conservative metric and not sufficiently precise to serve as an absolute predictor of population effects upon which mortality caps would appropriately be based. For example, in some cases stock abundance (which is one of three key inputs into the PBR calculation) is underestimated because marine mammal survey data within the U.S. EEZ are used to calculate the abundance even when the stock range extends well beyond the U.S. EEZ. An underestimate of abundance could result in an underestimate of PBR. Alternatively, we sometimes may not have complete M/SI data beyond the U.S. EEZ to compare to PBR, which could result in an overestimate of residual PBR. M/SI that exceeds PBR may still potentially be found to be negligible in light of other factors that offset concern, especially when robust mitigation and adaptive management provisions are included. This action is similar to the Navy’s authorization under the MMPA litigated in Conservation Council for Hawaii v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 97 F. Supp.3d 1210, 1225 (D. Haw. 2015) because both authorize mortalities of marine mammals. Conservation Council for Hawaii v. National Marine Fisheries Service concerned a challenge to NMFS’ issuance of letters of authorization to the Navy for activities in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the HSTT Study Area, and the Court reached a different conclusion regarding the relationship between PBR and negligible impact, stating, ‘‘[b]ecause any mortality level that exceeds PBR will not allow the stock to reach or maintain its OSP, such a mortality level could not be said to have only a ‘negligible impact’ on the stock.’’ As described above, the Court’s statement fundamentally misunderstands the two terms and incorrectly indicates that these concepts (PBR and ‘‘negligible impact’’) are directly connected, when in fact nowhere in the MMPA is it indicated that these two terms are equivalent. Specifically, PBR was designed as a tool for evaluating mortality and is defined as the number of animals that can be removed while allowing the stock to reach or maintain OSP, with the formula for PBR designed to ensure that growth towards OSP is not reduced by more than 10 percent (or equilibrate to PO 00000 Frm 00061 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6635 OSP 95 percent of the time). Separately, and without reference to PBR, NMFS’ long-standing MMPA implementing regulations state that take will have a negligible impact when it does not adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival. OSP (to which PBR is linked) is defined in the statute as a population which falls within a range from the population level that is the largest supportable within the ecosystem to the population level that results in maximum net productivity. OSP is an aspirational goal of the overall statute and PBR is designed to ensure minimal deviation from this overarching goal. The ‘‘negligible impact’’ determination and finding protects against ‘‘adverse impacts on the affected species and stocks’’ when evaluating specific activities. For all these reasons, even where M/ SI exceeds residual PBR, it is still possible for the take to have a negligible impact on the species or stock. While ‘‘allowing a stock to reach or maintain OSP’’ would ensure that NMFS approached the negligible impact standard in a conservative and precautionary manner so that there were not ‘‘adverse effects on affected species or stocks,’’ it is equally clear that in some cases the time to reach this aspirational OSP could be slowed by more than 10 percent (i.e., total humancaused mortality in excess of PBR could be allowed) without adversely affecting a species or stock. Another difference between the two standards is the temporal scales upon which the terms focus. That is, OSP contemplates the incremental, 10 percent reduction in the rate to approach a goal that is tens or hundreds of years away. The negligible impact analysis, on the other hand, necessitates an evaluation of annual rates of recruitment or survival to support the decision of whether to issue five-year regulations. Accordingly, while PBR is useful for evaluating the effects of M/SI in section 101(a)(5)(A) determinations, it is just one consideration to be assessed in combination with other factors and should not be considered determinative. The accuracy and certainty around the data that feed any PBR calculation (e.g., the abundance estimates) must be carefully considered. This approach of using PBR as a trigger for concern while also considering other relevant factors provides a reasonable and appropriate means of evaluating the effects of potential mortality on rates of recruitment and survival, while demonstrating that it is possible to exceed PBR by some small amount and still make a negligible impact E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6636 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 determination under section 101(a)(5)(A). Our evaluation of the M/SI for each of the species and stocks for which mortality could occur follows. In addition, all mortality authorized for some of the same species or stocks over the next several years pursuant to our final rulemakings for NEFSC has been incorporated into the residual PBR. We first consider maximum potential incidental M/SI for each stock (Table 14 and 15) in consideration of NMFS’s threshold for identifying insignificant M/SI take (10 percent of residual PBR (69 FR 43338; July 20, 2004)). By considering the maximum potential incidental M/SI in relation to residual PBR and ongoing sources of anthropogenic mortality, we begin our evaluation of whether the potential incremental addition of M/SI through SEFSC research activities may affect the species’ or stock’s annual rates of recruitment or survival. We also consider the interaction of those mortalities with incidental taking of that species or stock by harassment pursuant to the specified activity. Negligible Impact Analysis and Determinations for the SEFSC We methodically examined each stock above the insignificance threshold to determine if the amount and degree of proposed taking would have effects to annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., have a negligible impact on the population). These rates are inherently difficult to quantify for marine mammals because adults of long-lived, birth-pulse populations (e.g., many cetaceans, polar bears and walrus) may not breed every year because of parental care, long gestation periods or nutritional constraints (Taylor et al., 1987). Therefore, we pursued a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses to inform our determinations. First we compiled data to assess the baseline population status of each stock for which the SEFSC is requesting take. These data were pulled from the most recent SARs (Hayes et al., 2017) and, where information was unknown or undetermined in the SARs, we consulted marine mammal experts at the SEFSC and on TRTs to fill data gaps to the best of our ability based on the best available science. Data pulled from these sources include population size and demographics (where known), PBR, known mortality and serious injury from commercial and recreational fishing and other human-caused sources (e.g., direct shootings), stock trends (i.e., declining, stable, or increasing), threats, and other sources of potential take M/ VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 SI (e.g., MMPA 101(a)(5)(A or D) applications and scientific research permit applications). In addition, we looked at ongoing management actions (e.g., TRT gear restrictions) to identify where efforts are being focused and are successful at reducing incidental take. Estuarine and Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins For estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks, reaching our preliminary negligible impact determination required a hard examination of the status of each of the 7 ARA and 11 GOMRA stocks for which we propose to authorize take. We recognize that PBR is technically undetermined for many stocks because abundance data is more than eight years old. Therefore, we consulted with marine mammal experts at the SEFSC to derive best estimates of PBR based on the available data. Overall, PBR is low (less than one animal) because stock sizes are generally small (tens to hundreds) in southeast estuaries (with notable exceptions such as Mississippi Sound). Stock sizes are expected to be small because the abundance of a dolphin stock in an estuary is bounded by the capabilities of the bays and estuarine systems to support that stock (i.e., carrying capacity of the system) due to the residential nature of these stocks, among other things. With respect to rates of annual M/SI, we note some fisheries in the GoM (e.g., shrimp fishery) do not have full observer coverage. Estimates of take from these fisheries are both extrapolated and aggregated to the state level, making total M/SI rates from commercial fisheries applicable to any given stock rather than all stocks within a state not possible. We approached the issue of outdated abundance information by working closely with SEFSC experts and have developed estimated abundance data and PBR values. The resulting values follow the general trend of small stock sizes and are very conservative in some cases. For example, recent abundance surveys in Barataria Bay and Terrebonne Bay revealed stock numbers were in the thousands compared to the previously estimated populations of approximately 200–300 animals (Hayes et al., 2018). In addition, three stocks, including the Perdido Bay stock have population estimates showing zero. However, it is well documented dolphins inhabit these areas. We also consulted with the NMFS Southeast Regional Office (SERO) bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator to better understand the nature of the takes identified in the SARs M/SI values (i.e., the source of PO 00000 Frm 00062 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 take such as commercial fishery or research). That is, if we relied solely on the SAR annual M/SI values reported in the SARs and added the proposed M/SI take to these numbers, we would be double-counting M/SI as some takes were attributed to the research for which we are proposing to authorize take. Therefore, where M/SI takes were contributed to SEFSC research, we have adjusted annual M/SI values from Table 3b above so as not to ‘‘double count’’ potential take. Table 14 reflects these adjustments. In the ARA, all estuarine and coastal stocks for which we are proposing to authorize take are below the insignificance threshold (10 percent r-PBR) except for the Northern South Carolina Estuarine, Northern Georgia/ Southern South Carolina Estuarine, Central Georgia Estuarine, and Southern Georgia Estuarine stocks (Table 14). The latter two stocks are only slightly above the insignificance threshold (11.76 and 10.35 percent, respectively). The proposed take for the Northern Georgia/ Southern South Carolina stock constitutes 28.57 percent of r-PBR. Sources of anthropogenic mortality for this stock include hook and line and crab pot/trap fisheries. The proposed M/ SI take (0.2/year) of the Northern South Carolina stock is 50 percent of PBR. However, considering an average of one animal every 5 years is taken in commercial fisheries (likely gillnet or crab pot/trap), the proposed take and annual M/SI constitute 100 percent of r-PBR. The Northern South Carolina Estuarine System stock is delimited as dolphins inhabiting estuarine waters from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, southwest to Price Inlet, South Carolina, the northern boundary of Charleston Estuarine System stock. The region has little residential, commercial, and industrial development and contains the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. As such, the stock is not facing heavy anthropogenic pressure, and there are no identified continuous indirect stressors threatening the stock. Of the nine estuarine stocks in the GOMRA for which we are proposing to authorize take by M/SI, three are below the insignificance threshold (10% rPBR): Terrebonne Bay/Timbalier Bay; St. Vincent Sound/Apalachicola Bay/St. George Sound, and Apalachee Bay. The three coastal stocks are also below the insignificance threshold. Four stocks are between 14 and 40 percent r-PBR. The Mississippi Sound stock is already above PBR in absence of the proposed authorization, while authorizing take in Mobile Bay would put the stock above PBR (Table 14). E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6637 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 14—SUMMARY INFORMATION OF ESTUARINE AND COASTAL BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS RELATED TO SEFSC PROPOSED M/SI TAKE IN THE ARA, GOMRA, AND CRA Stock abundance (Nbest) Stock Proposed M/SI take (annual) PBR Annual M/SI NEFSC authorized take by M/SI (annual) r-PBR 2 Proposed M/SI take/r-PBR (%) 3 Atlantic Northern South Carolina Estuarine Stock ................................. Charleston Estuarine System Stock ......................................... Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine ............. Central Georgia Estuarine ........................................................ Southern Georgia Estuarine ..................................................... Jacksonville Estuarine System ................................................. Florida Bay ................................................................................ South Carolina/Georgia Coastal ............................................... Northern Florida Coastal ........................................................... Central Florida Coastal ............................................................. Northern Migratory Coastal ....................................................... Southern Migratory Coastal ...................................................... 1 50 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6 1 289 1 250 192 194 1 412 1 514 1 6,027 1 877 1 1,218 6,639 3,751 1 0.4 1.9 1.9 1 3.9 1 4.5 1 46 16 1 9.1 48 23 0.2 0.2 1.4 0.2 0 1.2 0 1.0–1.4 0.6 0.2 6.1–13.2 14.3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.6 1.6 0.2 2.6 0.7 1.7 1.9 2.7 4.5 44.6–45 5.4 8.9 33.2–43.5 7.1 100.00 7.69 28.57 11.76 10.53 7.41 4.44 1.35 11.11 6.74 0.4–0.6 8.45 27 1.4 23 0.2 40 310 0 0 0 26.8 1.4 ¥281 0.75 14.29 Neg. 1 0.9 5 0.8 1 0.9 0.2 0.4 0 0 0 0.6 0.4 1.6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 0.7 1.01 3.91 3.61 0.5 174.4 59.6 109.4 Neg. 28.57 19.80 5.12 5.54 40.00 0.34 1.01 0.55 1 2.8 1 2.1 Gulf of Mexico Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier Bay ................................................ Mississippi River Delta .............................................................. Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau 5 ................... 3,870 332 3,046 Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay ...................................................... St. Andrew Bay ......................................................................... St. Joseph Bay .......................................................................... St. Vincent Sound, Apalachicola Bay, St. George Sound ........ Apalachee Bay .......................................................................... Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee Bay, Crystal Bay ................. Northern Gulf of Mexico Western Coastal Stock ...................... Northern Gulf of Mexico Northern Coastal Stock ..................... Northern Gulf of Mexico Eastern Coastal Stock ....................... 122 124 152 439 491 1 100 20,161 7,185 12,388 0.2 0.2 .02 (M/SI), 0.2 (Level A) 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.6 1.41 1 3.91 1 3.61 1 0.5 175 60 111 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 1 For many estuarine stocks, the draft 2018 SAR has unknown abundance estimates and undetermined PBRs. Where this occurred, we used either the most recent estimates (even if more than 8 years old) or we consulted with SEFSC marine mammal experts for best judgement (pers. comm., K. Mullin). 2 r-BPR = PBR ¥ (annual M/I + NEFSC authorized take). For example, for the southern migratory coastal stock r-PBR = 23 ¥ (14.3 + 1.6). 3 Values in the column reflect what the proposed take represents as a percentage of r-PBR. The insignificance threshold is 10 percent. 4 The annual M/SI in the draft 2018 SAR is 0.2 for the Mississippi River stock; however, the takes considered were from gillnet fishery research; therefore, we reduced M/SI to 0. 5 The annual M/SI in the draft 2018 SAR is 1.0; however, one take used in those calculations is from fisheries research for which we propose to authorize take; therefore, we reduced M/SI to 0.8. For the Mississippi Sound stock, we evaluated various aspects of stock status. According to this stock’s 2017 SAR, the mean annual fishery-related mortality and serious injury during 2012–2015 for observed fisheries and strandings and at-sea observations identified as fishery-caused related is 1.0. Additional mean annual mortality and serious injury during 2011–2015 due to other human-caused actions (fishery research, sea turtle relocation trawling, gunshot wounds, and DWH oil spill) is 309 with the majority sourced from DWH. Projected annual M/SI over the next five years from commercial fishing and DWH are 6 and 1539, respectively. Management and research actions, including ongoing health assessments and Natural Resource Damage Plan efforts designed to restore injury to the stock, are anticipated to improve the status of the stock moving forward. Further, marine mammal population modeling indicates Barataria Bay dolphin should begin recovery nine years post spill (NRDA Trustees, 2016; DWH MMIQT 2015). Applying that VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 model to the Mississippi Sound stock, we should begin to see the population recover during the life of the proposed regulations. We note the three researchrelated mortalities discussed in the 2017 SAR for this stock are from the specified activities for which we are now proposing to authorize take. Therefore, the proposed take would not be in addition to but would account for these research-related takes. Our proposal to authorize one M/SI take from the Mobile Bay stock over 5 years would result in the stock being above r-PBR. The known takes of this stock includes one mortality in blue crab trap/pot gear in 2015, one mortality in stranding data where cause of death could not be determined and the animal could have been from the Northern Coastal stock, and one SI interaction in 2016. As with other estuarine stocks where abundance data is severely outdated, the population estimate is small compared to other estuarine stocks more recently and thoroughly studied. This could be a result of sampling methods. For example, the PO 00000 Frm 00063 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 abundance estimate of 122 animals for Mobile Bay is based on aerial survey data collected during September through October in 1992 and 1993 with 16 percent of animals observed in bay (Blaylock and Hoggard, 1994). Sounds and estuaries were eliminated from the analysis. Murky water in GoM estuaries and dark, grey animals makes it very difficult to detect dolphins from aerial surveys. Further, Mobile Bay is a large estuarine system (approximately 456 km2), similar in size to Barataria Bay where the population estimate is over 2,000 animals based on vessel-based surveys. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the population of dolphin in Mobile Bay and other places, such as Perdido Bay, are higher than estimated in old surveys using aerial observations. Looking beyond the quantitative abundance and PBR data, we also considered non-quantitative factors to determine the effects of the proposed authorization on estuarine dolphin stocks in the ARA and GOMRA. We consider qualitative information such as population dynamics and E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6638 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules context to determine if the proposed amount of take of estuarine and coastal bottlenose dolphins in the ARA and GOMRA would have a negligible impact on annual rates of survival and reproduction. Marine mammals are K-selected species, meaning they have few offspring, long gestation and parental care periods, and reach sexual maturity later in life. Therefore, between years, reproduction rates vary based on age and sex class ratios. As such, population dynamics is a driver when looking at reproduction rates. We focus on reproduction here because we conservatively consider inter-stock reproduction is the primary means of recruitment for these stocks. We note this is a conservative assumption, as some individuals are known to travel, and there is some mixing between the estuarine stocks and adjacent coastal stocks (Hayes et al, 2017). Given reproduction is the primary means of recruitment and females play a significantly larger role in their offspring’s reproductive success (also known as Bateman’s Principle), the mortality of females rather than males is, in general, more likely to influence recruitment rate. Several studies have purported that male bottlenose dolphins are more likely to engage in depredation or related behaviors with trawls and recreational fishing (Corkeron et al., 1990; Powell & Wells, 2011) or become entangled in gear (Reynolds et al., 2000; Adimey et al., 2014). Male bias has also been reported for strandings with evidence of fishery interaction (Stolen et al., 2007; Fruet et al., 2012; Adimey et al., 2014) and for in situ observations of fishery interaction (Corkeron et al., 1990; Finn et al., 2008; Powell & Wells, 2011). Byrd and Hohn (2017) examined stranding data to determine whether there was differential risk of bycatch based on sex and age class from gillnet fisheries in North Carolina. They found more males than females stranded. However, the relative gillnet bycatch risk was not different for males and females. In summary, these data suggest the risk of gear interaction from trawls and hook and line is likely higher for males while gillnet interactions may pose equal risk for males and females. For this rulemaking, the majority of historical gear interactions are from trawls. Therefore, we believe males (which are less likely to influence recruitment rate) are more likely at risk than females. Understanding the population dynamics of each bottlenose dolphin stock considered in this rulemaking is not possible as the data simply do not exist for each stock. Therefore, we VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 considered a well-studied population, the Sarasota Bay stock, as a proxy for assessing population dynamics of other estuarine stocks throughout the ARA and GOMRA. The Sarasota Bay stock is the most data rich population of bottlenose dolphins in the United States. The Sarasota Bay Research Program (SBRP) possesses 40 years of data on the resident dolphin population. Research topics include, but are not limited to, population structure and dynamics, health and physiology, and human interaction and impacts. The Sarasota Bay stock demonstrates high recruitment and survival rates. Wells et al. (2014) found 83 percent (95 percent CI = 0.52 to 0.99) of detected pregnancies were documented as resulting in live births. Eight of the 10 calves (80 percent) resulting from documented pregnancies survived through the calendar year of their birth and, therefore, were considered to have been successfully recruited into the Sarasota Bay bottlenose dolphin population. This value compares favorably with the 81 percent first year survival reported by Wells & Scott (1990) for Sarasota Bay bottlenose dolphins. Thus, approximately 66 percent of documented pregnancies led to successful recruitment. Mann et al. (2000) found dolphin interbirth intervals for surviving calves are between 3 and 6.2 years, resulting in annual variability in reproductive rates. With respect to survival, Wells and Scott (1990) calculated a mean annual survival rate of Sarasota Bay dolphins at 96.2 percent. In comparison, a markrecapture study of dolphins near Charleston, South Carolina reported an apparent annual survival rate of 95.1 percent (95 percent CI: 88.2–100) (Speakman et al., 2010). In summary, survival rate and reproductive success of the Sarasota Bay stock is high and, except for those stocks for which we know individual marine mammal health and reproductive success are compromised from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (e.g., Mississippi Sound stock), we consider estuarine bottlenose stocks in the ARA and GOMRA to have similar rates of recruitment and survival. For stocks that are known to be experiencing levels of stress from fishing and other anthropogenic sources (e.g.., annual rates of human-caused mortality and serious injury reach or exceed PBR levels in absence of the requested take from the SEFSC), we look toward the ongoing management actions and research designed to reduce those pressures when considering our preliminary negligible impact determination. Overall, many estuarine PO 00000 Frm 00064 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 bottlenose dolphin stocks are facing anthropogenic stressors such as commercial and recreational fishing, coastal development, habitat degradation (e.g., oil spills, harmful algal blooms), and directed violence (intentional killing/injury) and have some level of annual M/SI. NOAA, including the SEFSC, is dedicated to reducing fishery take, both in commercial fisheries and research surveys. For example, the Atlantic BDTRT is in place to decrease M/SI in commercial fisheries and scientists at NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) in Charleston, South Carolina, are undertaking research and working with local fishermen to reduce crab pot/trap and trawling entanglement (e.g., McFee et al., 2006, 2007; Greenman and McFee, 2014). In addition, through this rulemaking, the SEFSC has invested in developing measures that may be adopted by commercial fisheries to reduce bycatch rates, thereby decreasing the rate of fishing-related M/SI. For example, in 2017, the SEFSC executed the previously described Lazy Line Modification Mitigation Work Plan (see Potential Effects section) and the SEFSC is investigating the feasibility of applying gear modifications to select research trawl surveys. Also as a result of this rulemaking process, the SEFSC has a heightened awareness of the risk of take and a commitment to not only implement the mitigation measures proposed in this rulemaking but to develop additional mitigation measures beyond this rule they find effective and practicable. Because all NMFS Science Centers are dedicated to decreasing gear interaction risk, each Science Center is also committed to sharing information about reducing marine mammal bycatch, further educating fishery researchers on means by which is make best professional judgements and minimize risk of take. Region-wide, Gulf of Mexico states, in coordination with Federal agencies, are taking action to recover from injury sustained during the DWH spill. Funds from the spill have been allocated specifically for marine mammal restoration to the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Open Ocean, and Region-wide Trustee Implementation Groups (TIGs). In June 2017, the Trustees released their Strategic Framework for Marine Mammal Restoration Activities. The framework includes a number of marine mammal restoration goals which would improve marine mammal populations over the course of the proposed regulations. These goals include, but are E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules not limited to, (1) collecting and using monitoring information, such as population and health assessments, and spatiotemporal distribution information; (2) implementing an integrated portfolio of restoration approaches to restore injured bay, sound, and estuarine (BSE); coastal; shelf; and oceanic marine mammals across the diverse habitats and geographic ranges they occupy; (3) identifying and implementing actions that support ecological needs of the stocks; (4) improving resilience to natural stressors; and (5) addressing direct human-caused threats such as bycatch in commercial fisheries, vessel collisions, noise, industrial activities, illegal feeding and harassment, and hook-and-line fishery interactions. The Alabama TIG has made the most progress on executing this strategic framework. In 2018, the Alabama TIG committed to three projects designed to restore marine mammals: (1) Enhancing Capacity for the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network; (2) Assessment of Alabama Estuarine Bottlenose Dolphin Populations & Health (including the Mobile Bay stock); and (3) Alabama Estuarine Bottlenose Dolphin Protection: Enhancement & Education. 6639 Offshore Pelagic Stocks For all offshore pelagic stocks where PBR is known, except for gray seal, the level of taking is less than 10 percent of r-PBR after considering other sources of human-caused mortality (Table 15). Again, for those stocks with total incidental M/SI less than the significance threshold (i.e., ten percent of residual PBR), we consider the effects of the specified activity to represent an insignificant incremental increase in ongoing anthropogenic M/SI and need not consider other factors in making a negligible impact determination except in combination with additional incidental take by acoustic harassment. TABLE 15—SUMMARY INFORMATION OF PELAGIC STOCKS RELATED TO PROPOSED M/SI TAKE TO THE SEFSC IN THE ARA, GOMRA, AND CRA Species Stock Risso’s dolphin .................................. Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Puerto Rico/USVI .............................. N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Puerto Rico/USVI .............................. Western North Atlantic ...................... Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Puerto Rico/USVI .............................. Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Puerto Rico/USVI .............................. Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Western North Atlantic Offshore ....... N Gulf of Mexico Oceanic ................. N Gulf of Mexico Continental Shelf .. Puerto Rico/USVI .............................. Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy .............. Western North Atlantic ...................... N Gulf of Mexico ............................... Puerto Rico/USVI .............................. Western North Atlantic ...................... Western North Atlantic ...................... Melon headed whale ......................... Short-finned pilot whale ..................... Common dolphin ............................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ..................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ............... Striped dolphin ................................... Spinner dolphin .................................. Rough-toothed dolphin ...................... Bottlenose dolphin ............................. Harbor porpoise ................................. Unidentified delphinid ........................ Harbor seal ........................................ Gray seal ........................................... amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Proposed M/SI take (annual) Gray seals are the only stock where, at first look, annual M/SI is above PBR (Table 15). However, the minimum abundance estimate provided in the SAR is based on the U.S. population estimate of 23,158 and does not include the Canada population. The total estimated Canadian gray seal population in 2016 was estimated to be 424,300 (95% CI=263,600 to 578,300) (DFO 2017). This would be acceptable except that the annual M/SI rate of 5,688 includes M/SI from both the U.S. and Canada populations. Therefore, we should compare population to population. The draft 2018 indicates the VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.2 0.2 0.8 0.6 0.6 0 0.6 0 0 0.2 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 PBR 126 16 15 13 236 15 unk 557 316 undet unk 17 407 428 10 unk 62 unk 1.3 3 561 60 469 unk 706 — — — 2,006 1,389 annual M/SI for the U.S. population is 878. That equates to an r-PBR of 511. Considering the SEFSC is requesting one take, by M/SI, of gray seal over 5 years (or 0.2 animals per year), this results in a percentage of 0.003, well under the 10 percent insignificance threshold. Further, given the proposed M/SI of one animal over five years, this amount of take can be considered discountable given the large population size. We note that for all stocks, we have conservatively considered in this analysis that any gear interaction would result in mortality or serious injury PO 00000 Frm 00065 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Annual M/SI (SAR) NEFSC authorized take by M/SI (annual) 49.9 7.9 0.5 0 168 0.5 unk 406 0 42 unk 0 4.4 0 0 0 0 unk 0 0.8 39.4 0.4 0.8 0 437 — — — 389 5,688 0.6 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.4 0.4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.6 0 0 0 0 0.6 0 0 12 r-PBR 75.5 8.1 14.5 13 68 14.5 unk 149.6 315.6 unk unk 17 402.6 428 10 unk 62 unk 1.3 2.2 520 59.6 468.2 unk 269 n/a n/a n/a 1,605 ¥4,299 Proposed MI/SI take/rPBR (%) 0.26 2.47 1.38 4.62 0.29 1.38 unk 0.53 0.25 unk unk 1.18 0.20 0.14 6.00 .................... 0 0 0 9.09 0.15 1.34 0.17 unk 0.07 n/a n/a n/a 0.01 N/A when it has been documented that some gear interactions may result in Level A harassment (injury) or no injury at all, as serious injury determinations are not made in all cases where the disposition of the animal is ‘‘released alive’’ and, in some cases, animals are disentangled from nets without any injury observations (e.g., no wounds, no blood in water, etc). Level B Take From Acoustic Sources As described in greater depth previously (see ‘‘Acoustic Effects’’), we do not believe that SEFSC use of active acoustic sources has the likely potential E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6640 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules to result in Level A harassment, serious injury, or mortality. In addition, for the majority of species, the proposed annual take by Level B harassment is very low in relation to the population abundance estimate (less than one percent). We have produced what we believe to be precautionary estimates of potential incidents of Level B harassment (Table 13). The procedure for producing these estimates, described in detail in ‘‘Estimated Take Due to Acoustic Harassment,’’ represents NMFS’ best effort towards balancing the need to quantify the potential for occurrence of Level B harassment due to production of underwater sound with a general lack of information related to the specific way that these acoustic signals, which are generally highly directional and transient, interact with the physical environment and to a meaningful understanding of marine mammal perception of these signals and occurrence in the areas where the SEFSC operates. The sources considered here have moderate to high output frequencies (10 to 180 kHz), generally short ping durations, and are typically focused (highly directional with narrow beam width) to serve their intended purpose of mapping specific objects, depths, or environmental features. In addition, some of these sources can be operated in different output modes (e.g., energy can be distributed among multiple output beams) that may lessen the likelihood of perception by and potential impacts on marine mammals in comparison with the quantitative estimates that guide our proposed take authorization. As described previously, there is some minimal potential for temporary effects to hearing capabilities within specific frequency ranges for select marine mammals, but most effects would likely be limited to temporary behavioral disturbance. If individuals are in close proximity to active acoustic sources they may temporarily increase swimming speeds (presumably swimming away from the source) and surface time or decrease foraging effort (if such activity were occurring). These reactions are considered to be of low severity due to the short duration of the reaction. Individuals may move away from the source if disturbed. However, because the source is itself moving and because of the directional nature of the sources considered here, it is unlikely any temporary displacement from areas of significance would occur, and any disturbance would be of short duration. In addition, because the SEFSC survey effort is widely dispersed in space and time, repeated exposures of the same VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 individuals would be very unlikely. For these reasons, we do not consider the proposed level of take by acoustic disturbance to represent a significant additional population stressor when considered in context with the proposed level of take by M/SI for any species. Further, we note no take by harassment is proposed for estuarine bottlenose dolphins; therefore, only M/SI is incorporated into our negligible impact analysis for those stocks. For Level B take of coastal stocks in both the ARA and GOMRA, it is not possible to quantify take per stock given overlap in time and space. However, we consider the anticipated amount of take to have the potential to occur from some combination of coastal stocks. Summary of Negligible Impact Determination for SEFSC In summary, we consider the proposed authorization would not impact annual rates or recruitment or survival on any of the stocks considered here because: (1) The possibility of injury, serious injury, or mortality from the use of active acoustic devices may reasonably be considered discountable; (2) the anticipated incidents of Level B harassment from the use of active acoustic devices consist of, at worst, temporary and relatively minor modifications in behavior; (3) the predicted number of incidents of potential mortality are at insignificant levels (i.e., below ten percent of residual PBR) for select stocks; (4) consideration of more detailed data for gray seals do not reveal cause for concern; (5) for stocks above the insignificance threshold, the loss of one animal over five years, especially if it is male (the sex more likely to interact with trawls), is not likely to contribute to measurable changes in annual rates of recruitment or survival; (7) some stocks are subjected to ongoing management actions designed to improve stock understanding and reduce sources of M/ SI from other anthropogenic stressors (e.g., BDTRT management actions, pelagic longline TRT); (8) the efforts by the DHW Trustees are designed to restore for injury and address ongoing stressors such as commercial fishery entanglement which would improve stock conditions; (9) implementation of this proposed rule would build upon research designed to reduce fishery related mortality (e.g., NCCOS crap pot/ trap and trawl interaction research; HSU lazy line research); and (10) the presumed efficacy of the planned mitigation measures in reducing the effects of the specified activity to the level of least practicable adverse impact. PO 00000 Frm 00066 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from SEFSC fisheries research activities will have a negligible impact on affected marine mammal species or stocks. Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination—TPWD Similar to the SEFSC approach of considering the proposed M/SI take relative to r-PBR, we looked at known M/SI as identified in the SARs (excluding those from the proposed TPWD surveys) to estimate annual rates of M/SI (Table 16). No Level B harassment of estuarine bottlenose dolphins is proposed to be authorized to the TPWD; therefore, our analysis is limited to take by M/SI. The stocks for which we propose to authorize take by TPWD are grouped in the Gulf of Mexico BSE SAR. Abundance data show all but 2 of the 27 stocks grouped into the SAR are more than 8 years old and, therefore, PBR is undetermined. Similar to the SEFSC, we consulted marine mammal experts at the SEFSC to derive abundance and PBRs for all stocks. Similar to other areas in the Gulf, annual rates of BSE dolphin M/SI are aggregated for the entire state of Texas (which contains seven stocks) in the Gulf of Mexico BSE SAR. Therefore, we again used information, where available, for each stock from the SAR and Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Database to calculate but are described in text for each of the sources of M/SI (e.g. hook and line, crab pot fishery). Two stocks are positively identified in the 2016 SAR (Hayes et al., 2017) as subject to fishing pressure (other than gillnet research for which we are proposing take): The Copano Bay/ Aransas Bay/San Antonio Bay/Redfish Bay/Espiritu Santo Bay stock and the Nueces Bay/Corpus Christi Bay stock. For the first stock, in 2010, a calf was disentangled by stranding network personnel from a crab trap line wrapped around its peduncle. The animal swam away with no obvious injuries but was considered seriously injured because it is unknown whether it was reunited with its mother (Maze-Foley and Garrison, 2016). Hayes et al. (2016) also notes hook and line fisheries have taken animals from this stock; however, the exact number of animals is not provided. Therefore, we used the Marine Mammal Stranding Database for more information on these takes and the E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6641 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules Nueces Bay stock because they were implicated in the hook and line takes. For the Copano Bay et al. stock, one animal was a serious injury and two were mortality from hook and line interaction. For the Nueces Bay stock, one animal was taken by mortality in 2010 and one in 2013 from hook and line interaction. TABLE 16—SUMMARY INFORMATION OF ESTUARINE BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS RELATED TO TPWD GILLNET FISHERY SURVEYS Proposed M/SI take (annual) Stock abundance (Nbest) 1 Stock Laguna Madre ................................................................................................... Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay 4 .................................................................... Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espiritu Santo Bay 5 .............................................................................................................. Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay 6 ........................................... Estimated annual M/SI 2 PBR 1 Residual PBR 3 Proposed take/R–PBR (%) 80 150 0.2 0.2 0.3 1.3 0 0.4 0.3 0.9 66.67 22.22 250 150 0.2 0.2 2.1 1.3 0.8 0 0.9 1.1 22.2 18.18 1 In all cases, population estimates for these stocks are greater than 8 years old (last survey year was 1992); therefore, abundance and PBR are unknown. We solicited expert opinion of the SEFSC to gather the best available data to generate a population estimate for each stock and then calculated PBR using the estimated Nbest. 2 The estimated annual M/SI reflects the estimated M/SI less the takes for which M/SI take authorization is now proposed (i.e., it does not include historical takes from TPWD gillnet fishing). Annual M/SI was derived from the SAR and consulting the NMFS Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding database. 3 Residual PBR (r-PBR) = PBR—annual M/SI. No other M/SI is authorized for Texas BSE dolphin stocks. 4 The SEFSC conducted stock structure research (biopsy sampling surveys) from 2012–2014. During the biopsy sampling, photos were taken for photo-ID and 285 individual dolphins with distinct dorsal fins were identified within this stock boundaries (NMFS SEFSC, UNPUBLISHED DATA). The Nbest and PBR values reflect these data. 5 The SEFSC conducted stock structure research (biopsy sampling surveys) from 2012–2014. During the biopsy sampling, photos were taken for photo-ID and 524 individual dolphins with distinct dorsal fins were identified within this stock boundaries (NMFS SEFSC, UNPUBLISHED DATA). The Nbest and PBR values reflect these data. 6 The SEFSC conducted stock structure research (biopsy sampling surveys) from 2012–2014. During the biopsy sampling, photos were taken for photo-ID and 323 individual dolphins with distinct dorsal fins were identified within this stock boundaries (NMFS SEFSC, UNPUBLISHED DATA). The Nbest and PBR values reflect these data. The proposed take exceeds the insignificance threshold (10 percent rPBR) for all four Texas stocks. However, it does not exceed r-PBR when considering other sources of M/SI for any stock. For two stocks (Laguna Madre and Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay), there is no other known source of M/SI according to the SAR. The driving factor behind the higher percentages of r-PBR is the small stock size which results in a low PBR. For example, the Laguna Madre stocks has a population estimate of 80 individuals resulting in low PBR (0.3). This is a similar scenario to some of the estuarine stocks for which we propose to issue take to the SEFSC. TPWD would implement mitigation designed to reduce the potential for take, including research investigating the effectiveness of reducing gaps between the lead lines and net. Further, as discussed earlier, dolphins are Kselected species with variable reproductive rates, and estuarine stocks are not discretely closed populations with few animals migrating to and from coastal areas and adjacent waterbodies. The loss of one animal over 5 years is unlikely to result in more than a negligible impact to the stock’s recruitment and survival rates. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from TPWD’s gillnet fishing surveys will have a negligible impact on 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. Small Numbers Analysis—SEFSC The total amount of take proposed for all estuarine and coastal bottlenose dolphin stocks is less than one percent of each estuarine stock and less than 12 percent of all coastal stocks (Table 17; we note this 12 percent is conservatively high because it considers that all Level B take would come from any given single stock). For pelagic stocks, the total amount of take is less than 13 percent of the estimated population size (Table 18). TABLE 17—AMOUNT OF PROPOSED TAKING OF ESTUARINE AND COASTAL BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS IN THE ARA AND GOMRA RELATED TO STOCK ABUNDANCE Stock abundance (Nbest) amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Stock Proposed level B Take Proposed M/SI take (annual) Proposed take % population 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.40 0.07 0.08 0.10 0.10 0.05 0.04 Atlantic Northern South Carolina Estuarine Stock 1 ..................................................... Charleston Estuarine System Stock 1 .............................................................. Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine System Stock 1 .......... Central Georgia Estuarine System .................................................................. Southern Georgia Estuarine System Stock ..................................................... Jacksonville Estuarine System Stock 1 ............................................................ Florida Bay Stock 1 .......................................................................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00067 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 50 289 250 192 194 412 514 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 0 27FEP2 6642 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 17—AMOUNT OF PROPOSED TAKING OF ESTUARINE AND COASTAL BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS IN THE ARA AND GOMRA RELATED TO STOCK ABUNDANCE—Continued Stock abundance (Nbest) Stock South Carolina/Georgia Coastal Stock ............................................................ Northern Florida Coastal Stock ....................................................................... Central Florida Coastal Stock .......................................................................... Northern Migratory Coastal Stock ................................................................... Southern Migratory Coastal Stock ................................................................... Proposed level B Take 6,027 877 1,218 6,639 3,751 Proposed M/SI take (annual) Proposed take % population 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.01 12.61 9.08 1.67 2.95 0.2 0.2 0.2 (M/SI), 0.2 (Level A) 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.20 0.06 0.01 110 Gulf of Mexico Bay 1 Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier ..................................................................... Mississippi River Delta 1 .................................................................................. Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau 3 .......................................... 100 332 3,046 Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay 1 .......................................................................... St. Andrew Bay 1 .............................................................................................. St. Joseph Bay ................................................................................................ St. Vincent Sound, Apalachicola Bay, St. George Sound 1 ............................ Apalachee Bay 1 ............................................................................................... Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee Bay, Crystal Bay 1 ..................................... Northern Gulf of Mexico Western Coastal Stock ............................................ Northern Gulf of Mexico Northern Coastal Stock ............................................ Northern Gulf of Mexico Eastern Coastal Stock ............................................. 122 124 152 439 491 100 20,161 7,185 12,388 0 350 0.16 0.16 0.13 0.05 0.04 0.20 1.74 4.88 2.83 TABLE 18—AMOUNT OF PROPOSED TAKING OF PELAGIC STOCKS IN THE ARA, GOMRA, AND CRA TO THE SEFSC RELATED TO STOCK ABUNDANCE Species Stock N Atlantic right whale ................................ Fin whale ................................................... Sei whale .................................................. Humpback whale ...................................... Minke whale .............................................. Bryde’s whale ............................................ Sperm whale ............................................. Western North Atlantic ............................. Western North Atlantic ............................. Western North Atlantic ............................. Gulf of Maine ............................................ Western North Atlantic ............................. Northern Gulf of Mexico ........................... North Atlantic ............................................ Northern Gulf of Mexico ........................... Puerto Rico/USVI ..................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Puerto Rico/USVI ..................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Puerto Rico/USVI ..................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Puerto Rico/USVI ..................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Puerto Rico/USVI ..................................... Western North Atlantic ............................. N Gulf of Mexico ...................................... Western North Atlantic Offshore .............. N Gulf of Mexico Oceanic ........................ N Gulf of Mexico Continental Shelf .......... Puerto Rico/USVI ..................................... Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy ..................... Risso’s dolphin .......................................... Kogia ......................................................... Beaked whales ......................................... Melon headed whale ................................. Short-finned pilot whale ............................ Common dolphin ....................................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ............................. Pantropical spotted dolphin ...................... amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Striped dolphin .......................................... Spinner dolphin ......................................... Rough-toothed dolphin .............................. Bottlenose dolphin .................................... Harbor porpoise ........................................ VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00068 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Abundance (Nbest) Proposed level B take (annual) 451 1,618 357 896 2,591 33 2,288 763 unk 18,250 2,442 21,515 3,785 186 7,092 149 2,235 28,924 2,415 unk 70,184 44,715 unk unk 3,333 50,807 54,807 1,849 unk 11,441 unk 136 624 77,532 5,806 51,192 unk 79,833 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 17 4 15 10 10 10 12 9 8 100 48 25 20 268 37 198 50 78 203 75 46 100 200 50 10 20 39 100 350 50 0 E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Proposed M/SI take (annual) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 0.2 0.2 0 0 0 0 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.2 0.2 0.8 0.6 0.6 0 0.6 0 0 0.2 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.2 0.2 Total proposed take % population 0.89 0.25 1.12 0.45 0.15 12.12 0.17 2.23 unk 0.08 0.42 0.05 0.26 6.45 0.13 5.37 4.50 0.17 1.04 unk 0.38 0.08 unk unk 2.35 0.40 0.14 2.52 unk 1.75 unk 7.35 3.24 0.05 1.74 0.69 unk 0.00 6643 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules TABLE 18—AMOUNT OF PROPOSED TAKING OF PELAGIC STOCKS IN THE ARA, GOMRA, AND CRA TO THE SEFSC RELATED TO STOCK ABUNDANCE—Continued Species Stock Unidentified delphinid ............................... Western North Atlantic. N Gulf of Mexico Puerto Rico/USVI Western North Atlantic ............................. Western North Atlantic ............................. Harbor seal ............................................... Gray seal ................................................... The majority of stocks would see take less than 5 percent of the population taken with the greatest percentage being 12 from Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico. However, this is assuming all takes came from the same stock of beaked whales which is unlikely. Where stock numbers are unknown, we would expect a similar small amount of take relative to population sizes. Based on the analysis contained herein of the proposed activity (including the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures) and the anticipated take of marine mammals, Abundance (Nbest) Proposed level B take (annual) n/a 0 75,834 27,131 0 0 NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the population size of the affected species or stocks. Small Numbers Analysis—TPWD As noted above, only small numbers of incidental take may be authorized under Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA for specified 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 Proposed M/SI take (annual) 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 Total proposed take % population n/a 0.00 0.00 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. Table 19 provides information relating to this small numbers analysis for the proposed authorization to TPWD. The total annual amount of taking proposed for authorization is less than one percent for affected Texas estuarine dolphin stocks. TABLE 19—AMOUNT OF PROPOSED TAKING OF TEXAS BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN STOCKS RELATIVE TO STOCK ABUNDANCE Abundance (Nbest) Stock Laguna Madre 4 ........................................................................................................................... Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay 5 ............................................................................................... Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espirtu Santo Bay 6 ...................... Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay 7 ...................................................................... Based on the analysis contained herein of the proposed activity (including the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures) and the anticipated take of marine mammals, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the population size of the affected species or stocks. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination There are no relevant subsistence uses of the affected marine mammal stocks or species implicated by the issuance of regulations to the SEFSC or TPWD. 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. Adaptive Management The proposed regulations governing the take of marine mammals incidental to SEFSC fisheries research survey VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 operations contain an adaptive management component which is both valuable and necessary within the context of five-year regulations for activities that have been associated with marine mammal mortality. The use of adaptive management allows OPR to consider new information from different sources to determine (with input from the SEFSC and TPWD regarding practicability) on an annual or biennial basis if mitigation or monitoring measures should be modified (including additions or deletions). The coordination and reporting requirements in this proposed rule are designed to provide OPR with data to allow consideration of whether any changes to mitigation and monitoring is necessary. OPR and the SEFSC or TPWD will meet annually to discuss the monitoring reports and current science and whether mitigation or monitoring modifications are appropriate. Decisions will also be informed by findings from any established working groups, investigations into gear modifications PO 00000 Frm 00069 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 80 150 250 150 Proposed M/SI take (annual) 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 Proposed take % Population 0.25 0.13 0.08 0.13 and dolphin-gear interactions, new stock data, and coordination efforts between all NMFS Fisheries Science Centers. Mitigation measures could be modified if new data suggest that such modifications would have a reasonable likelihood of reducing adverse effects to marine mammals and if the measures are practicable. In addition, any M/SI takes by the SEFSC or TPWD and affiliates are required to be submitted within 48 hours to the PSIT database and OPR will be made aware of the take. If there is an immediate need to revisit monitoring and mitigation measures based on any given take, OPR and SEFSC or TPWD would meet as needed. The following are some of the possible sources of applicable data to be considered through the adaptive management process: (1) Results from monitoring reports, as required by MMPA authorization; (2) results from general marine mammal and sound research; (3) any information which reveals that marine mammals may have been taken in a manner, extent, or E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6644 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules number not authorized by these regulations or subsequent LOAs; and (4) findings from any mitigation research (e.g., gear modification). In addition, developments on the effectiveness of mitigation measures as discovered through research (e.g., stiffness of lazy lines) will inform adaptive management strategies. Finally, the SEFSC–SCDNR working group is investigating the relationships between SCDNR research surveys and marine mammal takes. Any report produced by that working group will inform improvements to marine mammal monitoring and mitigation. Endangered Species Act (ESA) On May 9, 2016, NMFS Southeast Regional Office (SERO) issued a Biological Opinion on Continued Authorization and Implementation of National Marine Fisheries Service’s Integrated Fisheries Independent Monitoring Activities in the Southeast Region. The Biological Opinion found independent fishery research is not likely to adversely affect the following ESA-listed species: Blue whales, sei whales, sperm whales, fin whales, humpback whales, North Atlantic right whales, gulf sturgeon and all listed corals in the action area. NMFS amended this Biological Opinion on June 4, 2018, updating hearing group information based on the best available science and adding NMFS OPR as an action agency. Similar to the previous finding, the amended Biological Opinion concluded SEFSC independent fishery research is not likely to adversely affect listed marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins are not listed under the ESA; therefore, consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not warranted for the issuance of regulations and associated LOA to the TPWD. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Request for Information NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments, information, and suggestions concerning the NWFSC request and the proposed regulations (see ADDRESSES). All comments will be reviewed and evaluated as we prepare final rules and make final determinations on whether to issue the requested authorizations. This notice and referenced documents provide all environmental information relating to our proposed action for public review. Classification 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 219 Endangered and threatened species, Fish, Marine mammals, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Wildlife. Dated: February 13, 2019. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. For reasons set forth in the preamble, 50 CFR part 219 is proposed to be amended as follows: PART 219—REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE TAKING AND IMPORTING OF MARINE MAMMALS 1. The authority citation for part 219 continues to read as follows: ■ Pursuant to the procedures established to implement Executive Order 12866, the Office of Management and Budget has determined that this proposed rule is not significant. VerDate Sep<11>2014 Pursuant to section 605(b) of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), the Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce has certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration that this proposed rule, if adopted, would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The SEFSC and TPWD are the sole entities that would be subject to the requirements in these proposed regulations, and the SEFSC and TPWD are not small governmental jurisdictions, small organizations, or small businesses, as defined by the RFA. Because of this certification, a regulatory flexibility analysis is not required and none has been prepared. The proposed rule for the SEFSC does not contain a collection-of-information requirement subject to the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) because the applicant is a Federal agency. However, the TWPD is not a federal agency. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person is required to respond to nor shall a person be subject to a penalty for failure to comply with a collection of information subject to the requirements of the PRA unless that collection of information displays a currently valid OMB control number. The proposed rule for TPWD contains collection-ofinformation requirements subject to the provisions of the PRA. These requirements have been approved by OMB under control number 0648–0151 and include applications for regulations, subsequent LOAs, and reports. Jkt 247001 Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq. 2. Add subpart H to part 219 to read as follows: ■ PO 00000 Frm 00070 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Subpart H—Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Southeast Fisheries Science Center Fisheries Research in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea Sec. 219.71 Specified activity and specified geographical region. 219.72 Effective dates. 219.73 Permissible methods of taking. 219.74 Prohibitions. 219.75 Mitigation requirements. 219.76 Requirements for monitoring and reporting. 219.77 Letters of Authorization. 219.78 Renewals and modifications of Letters of Authorization. 219.79–219.80 [Reserved] Subpart H—Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Southeast Fisheries Science Center Fisheries Research in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea § 219.71 Specified activity and specified geographical region. (a) Regulations in this subpart apply only to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and those persons it authorizes or funds to conduct fishery-independent research surveys on its behalf for the taking of marine mammals that occurs in the area outlined in paragraph (b) of this section and that occurs incidental to SEFSC and partner research survey program operations. (b) The taking of marine mammals by the SEFSC and partners may be authorized in a 5-year Letter of Authorization (LOA) only if it occurs during fishery research surveys in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. § 219.72 Effective dates. Regulations in this subpart are effective from [EFFECTIVE DATE OF FINAL RULE] through [DATE 5 YEARS AFTER EFFECTIVE DATE OF FINAL RULE]. § 219.73 Permissible methods of taking. (a) Under a LOA issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77, the Holder of the LOA (hereinafter ‘‘SEFSC’’) may incidentally, but not intentionally, take marine mammals within the areas described in § 219.71 by Level A harassment, serious injury, or mortality associated with fisheries research gear including trawls, gillnets, and hook and line, and Level B harassment associated with use of active acoustic systems provided the activity is in compliance with all terms, conditions, and requirements of the regulations in this subpart and the relevant LOA. E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules § 219.74 Prohibitions. Notwithstanding takings contemplated in § 219.73 and authorized by a LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77, no person in connection with the activities described in § 219.71 may: (a) Violate, or fail to comply with, the terms, conditions, and requirements of this subpart or a LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77; (b) Take any marine mammal species or stock not specified in the LOA; (c) Take any marine mammal in any manner other than as specified in the LOA; (d) Take a marine mammal specified in such LOA in numbers exceeding those for which NMFS determines results in more than a negligible impact on the species or stocks of such marine mammal; or (e) Take a marine mammal specified in such LOA if NMFS determines such taking results in an unmitigable adverse impact on the species or stock of such marine mammal for taking for subsistence uses. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 § 219.75 Mitigation requirements. When conducting the activities identified in § 219.71, the mitigation measures contained in any LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77 must be implemented. These mitigation measures shall include but are not limited to: (a) General conditions. (1) SEFSC shall take all necessary measures to coordinate and communicate in advance of each specific survey with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) or other relevant parties on non-NOAA platforms to ensure that all mitigation measures and monitoring requirements described herein, as well as the specific manner of implementation and relevant eventcontingent decision-making processes, are clearly understood and agreed upon; (2) SEFSC shall coordinate and conduct briefings at the outset of each survey and as necessary between ship’s crew (Commanding Officer/master or designee(s), as appropriate) and scientific party in order to explain responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, and operational procedures; (3) SEFSC shall coordinate, on an annual basis, with all partners to ensure that requirements, procedures, and decision-making processes are understood and properly implemented. (4) Where appropriate, SEFSC shall establish and maintain cooperating partner working group(s) to identify VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 circumstances of a take should it occur and any action necessary to avoid future take. (i) Working groups shall be established if a partner takes more than one marine mammal within 5 years to identify circumstances of marine mammal take and necessary action to avoid future take. Each working group shall meet at least once annually. (ii) Each working group shall consist of at least one SEFSC representative knowledgeable of the mitigation, monitoring and reporting requirements contained within these regulations, one or more research institution or SEFSC representative(s) (preferably researcher(s) aboard vessel when take or risk of take occurred), one or more staff from NMFS Southeast Regional Office Protected Resources Division, and one or more staff from NMFS Office of Protected Resources. (5) When deploying any type of sampling gear at sea, SEFSC shall at all times monitor for any unusual circumstances that may arise at a sampling site and use best professional judgment to avoid any potential risks to marine mammals during use of all research equipment. (6) SEFSC shall implement handling and/or disentanglement protocols as specified in the guidance that shall be provided to survey personnel. At least two persons aboard SEFSC ships and one person aboard smaller vessels, including vessels operated by partners where no SEFSC staff are present, will be trained in marine mammal handling, release, and disentanglement procedures. (7) For all research surveys using trawl, hook and line, or seine net gear in open-ocean waters (as defined from the coastline seaward), the SEFSC must implement move-on rule mitigation protocol upon observation of any marine mammal other than dolphins and porpoises attracted to the vessel. If marine mammals (other than dolphins or porpoises) are observed within 500 m of the planned location in the 10 minutes before setting gear, or are considered at risk of interacting with the vessel or research gear, or appear to be approaching the vessel and are considered at risk of interaction, the SEFSC shall move on to another sampling location or remain on site but delay gear deployment until the animals departs the area or appears to no longer be at risk of interacting with the vessel or gear. Once the animal is no longer considered a risk, another 10-minute observation shall be conducted. If no marine mammals are observed during this subsequent observation period or the visible animal(s) still does not PO 00000 Frm 00071 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6645 appear to be at risk of interaction, then the set may be made. If the vessel is moved to a different section of the sampling area, the move-on rule mitigation protocol would begin anew. If, after moving on, marine mammals remain at risk of interaction, the SEFSC shall move again or skip the station. Marine mammals that are sighted further than 500 m from the vessel shall be monitored to determine their position and movement in relation to the vessel to determine whether the move-on rule mitigation protocol should be implemented. The SEFSC may use best professional judgment, in accordance with this paragraph, in making decisions related to deploying gear. (8) SEFSC shall maintain visual monitoring effort during the entire period of time that trawl, hook and line, and seine net gear is in the water (i.e., throughout gear deployment, fishing, and retrieval). If marine mammals are sighted before the gear is fully removed from the water, SEFSC shall take the most appropriate action to avoid marine mammal interaction. SEFSC may use best professional judgment in making this decision. (9) If research operations have been suspended because of the presence of marine mammals, SEFSC may resume operations when practicable only when the animals are believed to have departed the area. SEFSC may use best professional judgment in making this determination; (b) Trawl and seine survey mitigation. In addition to the general conditions provided in § 219.75(a), the following measures must be implemented during trawl and seine surveys: (1) SEFSC shall conduct fishing operations as soon as is practicable upon arrival at the sampling station and prior to other environmental sampling not involving trawl nets. (2) The SEFSC shall limit tow times to 30 minutes (except for sea turtle research trawls); (3) The SEFSC shall, during haul back, open cod end close to deck/sorting table to avoid damage to animals that may be caught in gear and empty gear as quickly as possible after retrieval haul back; (4) The SEFSC shall delay gear deployment if any marine mammals are believed to be at-risk of interaction; (5) The SEFSC shall retrieve gear immediately if any marine mammals are believed to be entangled or at-risk of entanglement; (6) Dedicated marine mammal observations shall occur at least 15 minutes prior to the beginning of net deployment. This watch may include E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 6646 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules approach to the sampling station. Marine mammal watches should be conducted by systematically scanning the surrounding waters and marsh edge (if visible) 360 degrees around the vessel. If dolphin(s) are sighted and believed to be at-risk of interaction (e.g., moving in the direction of the vessel/ gear; moms/calves close to the gear; etc.), gear deployment should be delayed until the animal(s) are no longer at risk or have left the area on their own. If species other than dolphins are sighted, trawling must not be initiated and the marine mammal(s) must be allowed to either leave or pass through the area safely before trawling is initiated. All marine mammal sightings must be logged and reported per 219.76 of this section. (7) Retrieve gear immediately if marine mammals are believed to be captured/entangled and follow disentanglement protocols. (8) The SEFSC shall minimize ‘‘pocketing’’ in areas of trawl nets where dolphin depredation evidence is commonly observed; (9) When conducting research under an ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) scientific research permit issued by NMFS, all marine mammal monitoring protocol contained within that permit must be implemented. (10) SEFSC shall implement standard survey protocols to minimize potential for marine mammal interactions, including maximum tow durations at target depth and maximum tow distance, and shall carefully empty the trawl as quickly as possible upon retrieval. Trawl nets must be cleaned prior to deployment. (11) The SEFSC shall continue investigation into gear modifications (e.g., stiffening lazy lines) and the effectiveness of gear modification. (c) Hook and line (including longline) survey mitigation—In addition to the General Conditions provided in paragraph(a) of this section, the following measures must be implemented during hook and line surveys: (1) SEFSC shall deploy hook and line gear as soon as is practicable upon arrival at the sampling station. (2) SEFSC shall initiate marine mammal watches (visual observation) no less than 30 minutes prior to both deployment and retrieval of longline gear. Marine mammal watches shall be conducted by scanning the surrounding waters with the naked eye and rangefinding binoculars (or monocular). During nighttime operations, visual observation shall be conducted using the naked eye and available vessel lighting. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 (3) SEFSC shall implement the moveon rule mitigation protocol, as described in § paragraph(a)(6) of this section. (4) SEFSC shall maintain visual monitoring effort during the entire period of gear deployment and retrieval. If marine mammals are sighted before the gear is fully deployed or retrieved, SEFSC shall take the most appropriate action to avoid marine mammal interaction. SEFSC may use best professional judgment in making this decision. (5) If deployment or retrieval operations have been suspended because of the presence of marine mammals, SEFSC may resume such operations when practicable only when the animals are believed to have departed the area. SEFSC may use best professional judgment in making this decision. (6) SEFSC shall implement standard survey protocols, including maximum soak durations and a prohibition on chumming. § 219.76 Requirements for monitoring and reporting. (a) Compliance coordination. SEFSC shall designate a compliance coordinator who shall be responsible for ensuring and documenting compliance with all requirements of any LOA issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77 and for preparing for any subsequent request(s) for incidental take authorization. (b) Visual monitoring program. (1) Marine mammal visual monitoring shall occur prior to deployment of trawl, net, and hook and line gear, respectively; throughout deployment of gear and active fishing of research gears (not including longline soak time); prior to retrieval of longline gear; and throughout retrieval of all research gear. (2) Marine mammal watches shall be conducted by watch-standers (those navigating the vessel and/or other crew) at all times when the vessel is transiting to avoid ship strike. (c) Training. (1) SEFSC must conduct annual training for all SEFSC and affiliate chief scientists and other personnel who may be responsible for conducting dedicated marine mammal visual observations to explain mitigation measures and monitoring and reporting requirements in the LOA, mitigation and monitoring protocols, marine mammal identification, completion of datasheets, and use of equipment. SEFSC may determine the agenda for these trainings. (2) SEFSC shall also dedicate a portion of training to discussion of best professional judgment, including use in any incidents of marine mammal PO 00000 Frm 00072 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 interaction and instructive examples where use of best professional judgment was determined to be successful or unsuccessful. (3) SEFSC shall coordinate with NMFS’ Office of Science and Technology to ensure training and guidance related to handling procedures and data collection is consistent with other fishery science centers, where appropriate. (d) Handling procedures and data collection. (1) SEFSC must implement standardized marine mammal handling, disentanglement, and data collection procedures. These standard procedures will be subject to approval by NMFS’ Office of Protected Resources (OPR). (2) For any marine mammal interaction involving the release of a live animal, SEFSC shall collect necessary data to facilitate a serious injury determination. (3) SEFSC shall provide its relevant personnel with standard guidance and training regarding handling of marine mammals, including how to identify different species, bring an individual aboard a vessel, assess the level of consciousness, remove fishing gear, return an individual to water, and log activities pertaining to the interaction. (4) SEFSC shall record such data on standardized forms, which will be subject to approval by OPR. SEFSC shall also answer a standard series of supplemental questions regarding the details of any marine mammal interaction. (e) Reporting. (1) Marine mammal capture/entanglements (live or dead) must be reported immediately to the Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1–877–433–8299 and SEFSC and to OPR and NMFS Southeast Regional Office (SERO, 727– 551–5780) within 48 hours of occurrence. Also within 48 hours, SEFSC shall log the incident in NMFS’ Protected Species Incidental Take (PSIT) database and provide any supplemental information to OPR and SERO upon request. Information related to marine mammal interaction (animal captured or entangled in research gear) must include details of research survey, monitoring conducted prior to interaction, full descriptions of any observations of the animals, the context (vessel and conditions), decisions made, and rationale for decisions made in vessel and gear handling. (2) Annual reporting: (i) SEFSC shall submit an annual summary report to OPR not later than ninety days following the end of a given year. SEFSC shall provide a final report within thirty days following resolution of comments on the draft report; E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules (ii) These reports shall contain, at minimum, the following: (A) Annual line-kilometers and locations surveyed during which the EK60, ME70, SX90 (or equivalent sources) were predominant and associated pro-rated estimates of actual take; (B) Summary information regarding use of all trawl, gillnet, and hook and line gear, including location, number of sets, hook hours, tows, etc., specific to each gear; (C) Accounts of surveys where marine mammals were observed during sampling but no interactions occurred; (D) All incidents of marine mammal interactions, including circumstances of the event and descriptions of any mitigation procedures implemented or not implemented and why and, if released alive, serious injury determinations; (E) A written evaluation of the effectiveness of SEFSC mitigation strategies in reducing the number of marine mammal interactions with survey gear, including gear modifications and best professional judgment and suggestions for changes to the mitigation strategies, if any; (F) A summary of all relevant training provided by SEFSC and any coordination with NMFS Office of Science and Technology and the Southeast Regional Office; and (G) A summary of meetings and workshops outcomes with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources designed to reduce the number of marine mammal interactions (f) Reporting of injured or dead marine mammals. (1) In the unanticipated event that the activity defined in § 219.71(a) clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a prohibited manner, SEFSC personnel engaged in the research activity shall immediately cease such activity until such time as an appropriate decision regarding activity continuation can be made by the SEFSC Director (or designee). The incident must be reported immediately to OPR and SERO. OPR and SERO will review the circumstances of the prohibited take and work with SEFSC to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take. The immediate decision made by SEFSC regarding continuation of the specified activity is subject to OPR concurrence. The report must include the information included in paragraph (f)(2) of this section. (2) SEFSC or partner shall report all injured or dead marine mammals observed during fishery research surveys that are not attributed to the VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 specified activity to the Southeast Regional Stranding Coordinator within 24 hours. If the discovery is made by a partner, the report shall also be submitted to the SEFSC Environmental Compliance Coordinator. The following information shall be provided: (i) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (ii) Description of the incident including, but not limited to, monitoring prior to and occurring at time of incident; (iii) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, visibility); (iv) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (v) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (vi) Status of all sound source or gear used in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (vii) Water depth; (viii) Fate of the animal(s) (e.g., dead, injured but alive, injured and moving, blood or tissue observed in the water, status unknown, disappeared, etc.); and (ix) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). (3) In the event of a ship strike of a marine mammal by any SEFSC or partner vessel involved in the activities covered by the authorization, SEFSC or partner shall immediately report the information in paragraph (f)(2) of this section, as well as the following additional information: (i) Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (ii) Vessel’s course/heading and what operations were being conducted, (iii) Status of all sound sources in use, (iv) Description of avoidance measures/requirements that were in place at the time of the strike and what additional measures were taken, if any, to avoid strike. (v) Estimated size and length of animal that was struck; (vi) Description of the behavior of the marine mammal immediately preceding and following the strike. § 219.77 Letters of Authorization. (a) To incidentally take marine mammals pursuant to these regulations, SEFSC must apply for and obtain an LOA. (b) An LOA, unless suspended or revoked, may be effective for a period of time not to exceed the expiration date of these regulations. (c) In the event of projected changes to the activity or to mitigation and monitoring measures required by an LOA, SEFSC must apply for and obtain a modification of the LOA as described in § 219.78. PO 00000 Frm 00073 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 6647 (d) The LOA shall set forth: (1) Permissible methods of incidental taking; (2) Means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact (i.e., mitigation) on the species, its habitat, and on the availability of the species for subsistence uses; and (3) Requirements for monitoring and reporting. (e) Issuance of the LOA shall be based on a determination that the level of taking will be consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under these regulations. (f) Notice of issuance or denial of an LOA shall be published in the Federal Register within thirty days of a determination. § 219.78 Renewals and modifications of Letters of Authorization. (a) An LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77 for the activity identified in § 219.71(a) shall be renewed or modified upon request by the applicant, provided that: (1) The proposed specified activity and mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures, as well as the anticipated impacts, are the same as those described and analyzed for these regulations (excluding changes made pursuant to the adaptive management provision in paragraph (c)(1) of this section), and (2) OPR determines that the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures required by the previous LOA under these regulations were implemented. (b) For an LOA modification or renewal requests by the applicant that include changes to the activity or the mitigation, monitoring, or reporting (excluding changes made pursuant to the adaptive management provision in paragraph (c)(1) of this section) that do not change the findings made for the regulations or result in no more than a minor change in the total estimated number of takes (or distribution by species or years), OPR may publish a notice of proposed LOA in the Federal Register, including the associated analysis of the change, and solicit public comment before issuing the LOA. (c) An LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77 for the activity identified in § 219.71(a) may be modified by Office of Protected Resources (OPR) under the following circumstances: (1) Adaptive management. OPR may modify or augment the existing mitigation, monitoring, or reporting measures (after consulting with SEFSC regarding the practicability of the modifications) if doing so creates a E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 6648 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules reasonable likelihood of more effectively accomplishing the goals of the mitigation and monitoring set forth in the preamble for these regulations. (i) If, through adaptive management, the modifications to the mitigation, monitoring, or reporting measures are substantial, OPR will publish a notice of proposed LOA in the Federal Register and solicit public comment. (ii) [Reserved] (2) Emergencies. If OPR determines that an emergency exists that poses a significant risk to the well-being of the species or stocks of marine mammals specified in LOAs issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.77, an LOA may be modified without prior notice or opportunity for public comment. Notice would be published in the Federal Register within thirty days of the action. §§ 219.79—219.80 [Reserved] PART 219—REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE TAKING AND IMPORTING OF MARINE MAMMALS 3. The authority citation for part 219 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq. 4. Add subpart I to part 219 to read as follows: Subpart I—Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Gillnet Fisheries Research in the Gulf of Mexico Sec. 219.81 Specified activity and specified geographical region. 219.82 Effective dates. 219.83 Permissible methods of taking. 219.84 Prohibitions. 219.85 Mitigation requirements. 219.86 Requirements for monitoring and reporting. 219.87 Letters of Authorization. 219.88 Renewals and modifications of Letters of Authorization. 219.89–219.90 [Reserved] Subpart I—Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Gillnet Fisheries Research in the Gulf of Mexico amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 § 219.81 Specified activity and specified geographical region. (a) Regulations in this subpart apply only to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and those persons acting under its authority during gillnet fishery research surveys for the taking of marine mammals that occurs in the area outlined in paragraph (b) of this section and that occurs incidental to research survey program operations. (b) The taking of marine mammals by TPWD may be authorized in a 5-year 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 § 219.82 Effective dates. Regulations in this subpart are effective from [EFFECTIVE DATE OF FINAL RULE] through [DATE 5 YEARS AFTER EFFECTIVE DATE OF FINAL RULE]. § 219.83 Permissible methods of taking. Under a LOA issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87, the Holder of the LOA (hereinafter ‘‘TPWD’’) may incidentally, but not intentionally, take marine mammals within the areas described in § 219.81 by Level A harassment, serious injury, or mortality associated with gillnet fisheries research gear provided the activity is in compliance with all terms, conditions, and requirements of the regulations in this subpart and the relevant LOA. § 219.84 ■ VerDate Sep<11>2014 Letter of Authorization (LOA) only if the taking occurs within the following Texas bays: East Matagorda, Matagorda, San Antonio, Aransas, Corpus Christi, upper Laguna Madre and lower Laguna Madre. Prohibitions. Notwithstanding takings contemplated in § 219.103 and authorized by a LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87, no person in connection with the activities described in § 219.81 may: (a) Violate, or fail to comply with, the terms, conditions, and requirements of this subpart or a LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87; (b) Take any marine mammal species or stock not specified in the LOA; (c) Take any marine mammal in any manner other than as specified in the LOA; (d) Take a marine mammal specified in such LOA in numbers exceeding those for which NMFS determines results in more than a negligible impact on the species or stocks of such marine mammal; or (e) Take a marine mammal specified in such LOA if NMFS determines such taking results in an unmitigable adverse impact on the species or stock of such marine mammal for taking for subsistence uses. § 219.85 Mitigation requirements. When conducting the activities identified in § 219.81(a), the mitigation measures contained in any LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87 must be implemented. These mitigation measures shall include but are not limited to: (a) Only new or fully repaired gillnets shall be used. No holes greater than six inches are permitted. PO 00000 Frm 00074 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 (b) Upon close approach to the site and prior to setting the net, researchers shall conduct a dedicated observation for marine mammals for 15 minutes. If no marine mammals are observed during this time, the net may be set. If marine mammals are observed during this time or while setting the net, the net shall not be deployed or will be immediately removed from the water until such time as the animals has left the area and is on a path away from the net site. (c) TPWD shall not set gillnets in dolphin ‘‘hot spots’’ defined as grids where dolphins have been taken on more than one occasion or where multiple adjacent grids have had at least one dolphin encounter. (d) TPWD shall tie the float line/lead line to the net at no more than 4-inch intervals. (e) Captured live or injured marine mammals shall be released from research gear and returned to the water as soon as possible with no gear or as little gear remaining on the animal as possible. Animals are released without removing them from the water. (f) At least one person aboard TPWD gillnet vessel shall be trained in NMFSapproved marine mammal handling, release, and disentanglement procedures via attendance at NMFS Highly Migratory Species/Protected Species Safe Handling, Release, and Identification Workshop (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/ compliance/workshops/protected_ species_workshop/index.html) or other similar training. (g) Each TPWD gillnet researcher shall be familiar with NMFS Protected Species Safe Handling and Release Manual. § 219.86 Requirements for monitoring and reporting. (a) Marine mammal monitoring. TPWD shall monitor for marine mammals upon 0.5 miles from sampling site and for 15 minutes at sampling site prior to setting the net. Should a marine mammal be observed within 0.5 miles of the site and is on a path toward the site, the net will not be deployed. The net may only be deployed if marine mammals are observed on a path away from the site consistently for 15 minutes or are not re-sighted within 15 minutes. Should a marine mammal be observed within 0.5 miles of the site and is on a path toward the site, the net will not be deployed. Should a marine mammal be observed during the 15-minute observation period at the site, the net shall not be deployed. The net may only be deployed if marine mammals are observed on a path away from the site E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / Proposed Rules consistently for 15 minutes or are not resighted within 15 minutes. (b) Reporting of injured or dead marine mammals. (1) In the unanticipated event that the activity defined in § 219.81(a) clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a prohibited manner, NMFS Office of Protected Resources (OPR) and NMFS Southeast Regional Office (SERO). TPWD shall not set any more nets until such time as an appropriate decision regarding activity continuation can be made by NMFS OPR and SERO. OPR and SERO will review the circumstances of the prohibited take and work with SEFSC to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take. The report must include the information included in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, details of research survey, monitoring conducted prior to interaction, full descriptions of any observations of the animals, the context (vessel and conditions), decisions made, and rationale for decisions made in vessel and gear handling. (2) TPWD shall report all injured or dead marine mammals observed during fishery research surveys that are not attributed to the specified activity to the Southeast Regional Stranding Coordinator within 24 hours. The following information shall be provided: (i) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (ii) Description of the incident including, but not limited to, monitoring prior to and occurring at time of incident; (iii) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, visibility); (iv) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (v) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (vi) Status of all sound source or gear used in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (vii) Water depth; (viii) Fate of the animal(s) (e.g. dead, injured but alive, injured and moving, blood or tissue observed in the water, status unknown, disappeared, etc.); and (ix) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). (c) Annual reporting. (1) TPWD shall submit an annual summary report to OPR not later than ninety days following the end of the fall sampling season. TPWD shall provide a final report within thirty days following resolution of comments on the draft report. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:18 Feb 26, 2019 Jkt 247001 (2) These reports shall contain, at minimum, the following: (i) Locations and time/date of all net sets; (ii) All instances of marine mammal observations and descriptions of any mitigation procedures implemented or not implemented and why; (iii) All incidents of marine mammal interactions, including all information required in paragraph (b) of this section; (iv) A written evaluation of the effectiveness of TPWD mitigation strategies in reducing the number of marine mammal interactions with survey gear, including gear modifications and best professional judgment and suggestions for changes to the mitigation strategies, if any; (v) A summary of all relevant marine mammal training and any coordination with OPR and SERO. § 219.87 Letters of Authorization. (a) To incidentally take marine mammals pursuant to these regulations, SEFSC must apply for and obtain an LOA. (b) An LOA, unless suspended or revoked, may be effective for a period of time not to exceed the expiration date of these regulations. (c) In the event of projected changes to the activity or to mitigation and monitoring measures required by an LOA, TPWD must apply for and obtain a modification of the LOA as described in § 219.88. (d) The LOA shall set forth: (1) Permissible methods of incidental taking; (2) Means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact (i.e., mitigation) on the species, its habitat, and on the availability of the species for subsistence uses; and (3) Requirements for monitoring and reporting. (e) Issuance of the LOA shall be based on a determination that the level of taking will be consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under these regulations. (f) Notice of issuance or denial of an LOA shall be published in the Federal Register within thirty days of a determination. § 219.88 Renewals and modifications of Letters of Authorization. (a) An LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87 for the activity identified in § 219.81(a) shall be renewed or modified upon request by the applicant, provided that: (1) The proposed specified activity and mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures, as well as the anticipated impacts, are the same as PO 00000 Frm 00075 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 9990 6649 those described and analyzed for these regulations (excluding changes made pursuant to the adaptive management provision in paragraph (c)(1) of this section); and (2) OPR determines that the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures required by the previous LOA under these regulations were implemented; (b) For an LOA modification or renewal requests by the applicant that include changes to the activity or the mitigation, monitoring, or reporting (excluding changes made pursuant to the adaptive management provision in paragraph (c)(1) of this section) that do not change the findings made for the regulations or result in no more than a minor change in the total estimated number of takes (or distribution by species or years), OPR may publish a notice of proposed LOA in the Federal Register, including the associated analysis of the change, and solicit public comment before issuing the LOA. (c) An LOA issued under §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87 for the activity identified in § 219.71(a) may be modified by Office of Protected Resources (OPR) under the following circumstances: (1) Adaptive Management. OPR may modify or augment the existing mitigation, monitoring, or reporting measures (after consulting with SEFSC regarding the practicability of the modifications) if doing so creates a reasonable likelihood of more effectively accomplishing the goals of the mitigation and monitoring set forth in the preamble for these regulations. (i) If, through adaptive management, the modifications to the mitigation, monitoring, or reporting measures are substantial, OPR will publish a notice of proposed LOA in the Federal Register and solicit public comment. (ii) [Reserved] (2) Emergencies. If OPR determines that an emergency exists that poses a significant risk to the well-being of the species or stocks of marine mammals specified in LOAs issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 of this chapter and 219.87, an LOA may be modified without prior notice or opportunity for public comment. Notice would be published in the Federal Register within thirty days of the action. § 219.89–219.90 [Reserved] [FR Doc. 2019–02738 Filed 2–26–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\27FEP2.SGM 27FEP2

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 39 (Wednesday, February 27, 2019)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 6576-6649]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-02738]



[[Page 6575]]

Vol. 84

Wednesday,

No. 39

February 27, 2019

Part III





Department of Commerce





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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration





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50 CFR Part 219





Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental 
to Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Texas Parks and Wildlife 
Department Fisheries Research; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 84 , No. 39 / Wednesday, February 27, 2019 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 6576]]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 219

[Docket No. 161109999-8999-01]
RIN 0648-BG44


Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Texas Parks and 
Wildlife Department Fisheries Research

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS' Office of Protected Resources has received a request 
from NMFS' Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) for authorization 
to take marine mammals incidental to fisheries research conducted in 
the Atlantic Ocean along the southeastern U.S. coast and select 
estuaries, the Gulf of Mexico and select estuaries, and the Caribbean 
Sea over the course of five years from the date of issuance. We have 
also received a request from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 
(TPWD) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to fisheries 
research in Texas bay systems. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection 
Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue 
regulations to the SEFSC and, separately, TPWD, to incidentally take 
marine mammals during the specified activities. NMFS will consider 
public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of 
the requested MMPA authorizations and agency responses will be 
summarized in the final notice of our decision.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than March 
29, 2019.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2019-0016, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0016, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver 
Spring, MD 20910.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, 
or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter 
``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). 
Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, 
Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jaclyn Daly, 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: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. In case of problems accessing these documents, 
please call the contact listed above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Purpose and Need for Regulatory Action

    This proposed rule, to be issued under the authority of the MMPA 
(16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), establishes a framework for authorizing the 
take of marine mammals incidental to fisheries-independent research 
conducted by the SEFSC (in the Atlantic Ocean and associated estuaries, 
Gulf of Mexico and associated estuaries, and Caribbean Sea) and TPWD 
(in Texas bays and estuaries). SEFSC and TPWD fisheries research has 
the potential to take marine mammals due to possible physical 
interaction with fishing gear (e.g., trawls, gillnets, hook-and-line 
gear) andexposure to noise generated by SEFSC sonar devices (e.g., 
echosounders, side-scan sonar). The SEFSC submitted an application to 
NMFS requesting five-year regulations and a letter of authorization 
(LOA) to take multiple species and stocks of marine mammals in the 
three specified research areas (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and 
Caribbean). The SEFSC has requested take, by mortality, serious injury, 
and Level A harassment, incidental to the use of various types of 
fisheries research gear and Level B harassment incidental to the use of 
active acoustic survey sources. TPWD has requested take of dolphins 
from four stocks, by mortality or serious injury, incidental to gillnet 
fishing in Texas bays. For both applicants, the regulations would be 
valid from 2018 to 2023.

Legal Authority for the Proposed Action

    Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(A)) directs 
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 for up to five years 
if, after notice and public comment, the agency makes certain findings 
and issues regulations that set forth permissible methods of taking 
pursuant to that activity, as well as monitoring and reporting 
requirements.
    Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA and the implementing regulations 
at 50 CFR part 216, subpart I provide the legal basis for issuing this 
proposed rule containing five-year regulations and Letters of 
Authorization. As directed by this legal authority, this proposed rule 
contains mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements.

Summary of Major Provisions Within the Proposed Regulations

    Following is a summary of the major provisions for the SEFSC within 
the proposed rulemaking. The SEFSC is required to:
     Delay setting or haul in gear if marine mammal interaction 
may occur.
     Monitor prior to and during sets for signs of potential 
marine mammal interaction.
     Implement the ``move-on rule'' mitigation strategy during 
select surveys (note: this measure does not apply to bottlenose 
dolphins).
     Limit gear set times (varies based on gear type).
     Haul gear immediately if marine mammals may interact with 
gear.
     Utilize dedicated marine mammal observations during select 
surveys.
     Prohibit chumming.
     Continue investigation on the effectiveness of modifying 
lazy lines to reduce bottlenose dolphin entanglement risk.
     Establish and convene the South Carolina Department of 
Natural Resources (SCDNR) Working Group to better understand bottlenose 
dolphin entanglement events and apply effective mitigation strategies.
    Following is a summary of the major provisions for the TPWD within 
the proposed rulemaking. The TPWD is required to:

[[Page 6577]]

     Set only new or fully repaired gill nets thereby 
eliminating holes.
     Set gillnets with minimal slack and a short marker buoy 
attached to the deep end of the net.
     Conduct dedicated marine mammal observations at least 15 
minutes prior to setting nets and avoid setting nets if dolphins are 
observed at or approaching the sampling station.
     Minimize soak time by utilizing the ``last out/first in'' 
strategy for gillnets set in grids where marine mammals have been 
encountered within the last 5 years.
     Avoid fishing grids where dolphins have interacted with 
gear on more than one occasion or where multiple adjacent grids have 
had at least one dolphin encounter.
     Modify gillnets to avoid more than a 4 inch (in.) gap 
between float/lead line and net when net is set.

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).

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 
incidental harassment authorization) with respect to potential impacts 
on the human environment.
    Accordingly, NMFS is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) to 
consider the environmental impacts associated with the issuance of the 
proposed regulations to SEFSC and TPWD. NMFS' Draft Programmatic 
Environmental Assessment (PEA) for Fisheries and Ecosystem Research 
Conducted and Funded by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center was made 
available for public comment from April 20 through May 20, 2016 (81 FR 
23276). NMFS is modifying the draft EA to include TPWD gillnet fishing. 
We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice as we 
complete the NEPA process, prior to making a final decision on the 
incidental take authorization request.

Summary of Request

    On May 4, 2015, NMFS Office of Protected Resources (OPR) received 
an application from the SEFSC for a rulemaking and associated 5-year 
Letter of Authorization (LOA) to take marine mammals incidental to 
fisheries research activities conducted by the SEFSC and 18 cooperating 
research partners in the Atlantic Ocean Research Area (ARA), Gulf of 
Mexico Research Area (GOMRA), and Caribbean Research Area (CRA). The 
SEFSC submitted a revised draft in October 2015, followed by another 
revision on April 6, 2016, which we deemed adequate and complete. On 
April 22, 2016 (81 FR 23677), we published a notice of receipt of the 
SEFSC's application in the Federal Register, requesting comments and 
information related to the SEFSC's request for thirty days. We received 
joint comments from The Humane Society of the United States and Whale 
and Dolphin Conservation, which we considered in development of this 
proposed rule and are available on the internet at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. The SEFSC request is for the take 
of 15 species of marine mammals by mortality, serious injury, and Level 
A harassment (hereafter referred as ``M/SI'' assuming worst case 
scenario) and 34 species of marine mammals by Level B harassment.
    On July 29, 2015, NMFS received an application from TPWD requesting 
authorization for take of marine mammals incidental to fishery-
independent monitoring activities in Texas. On January 6, 2017 (82 FR 
1721), we published a notice of receipt of the TPWD's application in 
the Federal Register, requesting comments and information related to 
the TPWD's request for thirty days. We received comments from the 
Marine Mammal Commission and the Texas Chapter of the Coastal 
Conservation Association which we considered in the development of this 
proposed rule and are available on the internet at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act. In response to comments, TPWD submitted a 
subsequent application on May 11, 2017, which we deemed adequate and 
complete.

Description of the Specified Activity

SEFSC Overview

    The SEFSC is the research arm of NMFS in the Southeast Region. The 
SEFSC plans, develops, and manages a multidisciplinary program of basic 
and applied research to generate the information necessary for the 
conservation and management of the region's living marine resources, 
including the region's marine and anadromous fish and invertebrate 
populations to ensure they remain at sustainable and healthy levels. 
The SEFSC collects a wide array of information necessary to evaluate 
the status of exploited fishery resources and the marine environment 
from fishery independent (i.e., non-commercial or recreational fishing) 
platforms. Surveys are conducted from NOAA-owned and operated vessels, 
NOAA chartered vessels, or research partner-owned or chartered vessels 
in the state and Federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean south of 
Virginia, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. All work will occur within 
the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) except two surveys which may occur 
outside the EEZ.
    The SEFSC plans to administer, fund, or conduct 74 fishery-
independent survey programs over the five-year period the proposed 
regulations would be effective (see Table 1-1 in the SEFSC's 
application). The SEFSC works with 18 Federal, state, or academic 
partners to conduct these surveys (see

[[Page 6578]]

Table 1-1 in SEFSC's application for a list of cooperating research 
partners). Of the 74 surveys, only 38 involve gear and equipment with 
the potential to take marine mammals. Gear types include towed trawl 
nets fished at various levels in the water column, seine nets, traps, 
longline and other hook and line gear. Surveys using any type of seine 
net (e.g., gillnets), trawl net, or hook and line (e.g., longlines) 
have the potential for marine mammal interaction (e.g., entanglement, 
hooking) resulting in M/SI harassment. In addition, the SEFSC conducts 
hydrographic, oceanographic, and meteorological sampling concurrent 
with many of these surveys which requires the use of active acoustic 
devices (e.g., side-scan sonar, echosounders). These active sonars 
result in elevated sound levels in the water column, resulting in the 
potential to behaviorally disturb marine mammals resulting in Level B 
harassment.
    Many SEFSC surveys only occur at certain times of the year to align 
with the target species and age class being researched (see Table 1-1 
in SEFSC's application); however, in general, the SEFSC conducts some 
type of sampling year round in various locations. Specific dates and 
duration of individual surveys are inherently uncertain because they 
are based on congressional funding levels, weather conditions, and ship 
contingencies. For example, some surveys are only conducted every two 
or three years or when funding is available. Timing of the surveys is a 
key element of their design. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions, as 
well as ship contingencies, often dictate survey schedules even for 
routinely-conducted surveys. In addition, cooperative research is 
designed to provide flexibility on a yearly basis in order to address 
issues as they arise. Some cooperative research projects last multiple 
years or may continue with modifications. Other projects only last one 
year and are not continued. Most cooperative research projects go 
through an annual competitive selection process to determine which 
projects should be funded based on proposals developed by many 
independent researchers and fishing industry participants. The exact 
location of survey effort also varies year to year (albeit in the same 
general area) because they are often based on randomized sampling 
designs. Year-round, in all research areas, there is one or more than 
one survey planned that has the potential to take marine mammals.

TPWD Overview

    TPWD conducts a long-term standardized fishery-independent 
monitoring program to assess the relative abundance and size of finfish 
and shellfish in ten Texas bay systems using gillnets set perpendicular 
to the shoreline. Gill nets are set overnight during each spring and 
fall season for a total of four weeks per year. Bottlenose dolphins 
have the potential to become entangled in gillnet gear which can result 
in M/SI harassment.

Specified Geographic Region--SEFSC

    The SEFSC conducts research in three research areas: The Atlantic 
Ocean from North Carolina to Florida and associated estuaries (ARA), 
the Gulf of Mexico and associated estuaries (GOMRA), and the Caribbean 
around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (CRA). Research surveys 
occur both inside and outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 
and sometimes span across multiple ecological, physical, and political 
boundaries (see Figure1-2 in the SEFSC's application for map). With 
respect to gear, Appendix B in the SEFSC Draft Programmatic 
Environmental Assessment (PEA) includes a table and figures showing the 
spatial and temporal distribution of fishing gears used during SEFSC 
research.
    The three research areas fully or partially encompass four Large 
Marine Ecosystems (LMEs): The Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf LME (NE 
LME), the Southeast U.S. Continental Shelf LME (SE LME), the Gulf of 
Mexico LME, (GOM LME), and the Caribbean Sea LME (CS LME). LMEs are 
large areas of coastal ocean space, generally include greater than 
200,000 square kilometers (km\2\) of ocean surface area and are located 
in coastal waters where primary productivity is typically higher than 
in open ocean areas. LME physical boundaries are based on four 
ecological criteria: bathymetry, hydrography, productivity, and trophic 
relationships. NOAA has implemented a management approach designed to 
improve the long-term sustainability of LMEs and their resources by 
using practices that focus on ensuring the sustainability of the 
productive potential for ecosystem goods and services. Figure 2-1 in 
the SEFSC's application shows the location and boundaries of the three 
research areas with respect to LME boundaries. We note here that, while 
the SEFSC specified geographical region extends outside of the U.S. 
EEZ, into the Mexican EEZ (not including Mexican territorial waters), 
the MMPA's authority does not extend into foreign territorial waters. 
The following provides a brief introduction to the characteristics of 
each research area. Additional descriptive material concerning the 
geology, oceanography, and physical environment influencing species 
distribution within each of the research areas can be found in Chapter 
3 of the Draft PEA.

Atlantic Research Area

    The ARA constitutes more than 530,000 square miles (mi\2\) from 
North Carolina to Florida. Three key features of the ARA include the NE 
LME (however SEFSC research is only conducted south of Virginia), SE 
LME, and Gulf Stream. The NE LME encompasses approximately 115,831 
mi\2\, and is structurally complex, with marked temperature changes, 
winds, river runoff, estuarine exchanges, tides and complex circulation 
regimes. The Shelf-Slope Front is associated with a southward flow of 
cold, fresh water from the Labrador Sea. The Mid-Shelf Front follows 
the 50-m isobath (Ullman and Cornillon 1999). The Nantucket Shoals 
Front hugs the namesake bank/shaols along 20-30-m isobaths. The 
Wilkinson Basin Front and Jordan Basin Front separate deep basins from 
Georges Bank and Browns Bank (Mavor and Bisagni 2001). The SE LME 
extends from the Straits of Florida to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 
the Atlantic Ocean. It is characterized by a temperate climate and has 
a surface area of about 300,000 km\2\, of which 2.44 percent is 
protected. It contains 0.27 percent of the world's coral reefs and 18 
estuaries and river systems. These estuarine and river systems, such as 
the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound (the second largest estuary in the nation) 
contain nearshore and barrier islands, fresh and estuarine waters, and 
extensive coastal marshes that provide unique habitats for living 
marine resources, including marine mammals (Aquarone 2009). Adjacent to 
the SE LME is the warm, saline, northward flowing Gulf Stream which is 
bounded by two fronts; the inshore Gulf Stream Front and the offshore 
Gulf Stream Front (see Figure 2-2). The inshore Gulf Stream Front 
extends over the upper continental slope and shelf break, approximately 
aligned with the 50-meter isobath (Atkinson and Menzel 1985), while the 
offshore Gulf Stream Front runs parallel to it approximately 100 
kilometers offshore. The Gulf Stream forms a semi-permanent offshore 
deflection near a deepwater bank southeast of Charleston, South 
Carolina, called the `Charleston Bump' at 31.5 degrees north. The Mid-
Shelf Front is aligned approximately with the 35-to-40 meter isobaths. 
Other shelf fronts separate a mixture of water masses formed by 
wintertime cold air outbreaks, river discharge, tidal mixing and wind-
induced coastal upwelling

[[Page 6579]]

(Pietrafesa et al. 1985, Belkin et al. 2009).
Gulf of Mexico Research Area
    The GOMRA encompasses more than 800,000 mi\2\. The SEFSC conducts 
fisheries research in portions of the GOM LME, a deep marginal sea 
bordered by Cuba, Mexico, and the U.S. It is the largest semi-enclosed 
coastal sea of the western Atlantic, encompassing more than 1.5 million 
km\2\, of which 1.57 percent is protected, as well as 0.49 percent of 
the world's coral reefs and 0.02 percent of the world's sea mounts (Sea 
Around Us 2007). The continental shelf is very extensive, comprising 
about 30 percent of the total area and is topographically very diverse 
(Heileman and Rabalais 2009). Oceanic water enters this LME from the 
Yucatan channel and exits through the Straits of Florida, creating the 
Loop Current, a major oceanographic feature and part of the Gulf Stream 
System (Lohrenz et al. 1999) (see Figure 2-4). The LME is strongly 
influenced by freshwater input from rivers, particularly the 
Mississippi-Atchafalaya, which accounts for about two-thirds of the 
flows into the Gulf (Richards & McGowan 1989) while freshwater 
discharges from the Mississippi River estuary and rivers of the Florida 
Panhandle contribute to the development and maintenance of 6 major 
oceanic fronts. Similar to the ARA, the GOMRA includes forty-seven 
major estuaries, many of which support numerous recreational and 
commercial fisheries and are home to resident bottlenose dolphin 
stocks.
Caribbean Research Area
    The CRA is the smallest of the SEFSC research areas (approximately 
400,000 mi\2\) and includes portions of the CS LME. The CS LME is a 
tropic sea bounded by North America (South Florida), Central and South 
America, and the Antilles chain of islands. The LME has a surface area 
of about 3.3 million km\2\, of which 3.89 percent is protected 
(Heileman and Mahon 2009). It contains 7.09 percent of the world's 
coral reefs and 1.35 percent of the world's sea mounts. The average 
depth is 2,200 meters, with the Cayman Trench being the deepest part at 
7,100 meters. Most of the Caribbean islands are influenced by the 
nutrient-poor North Equatorial Current that enters the Caribbean Sea 
through the passages between the Lesser Antilles islands. Run-off from 
two of the largest river systems in the world, the Amazon and the 
Orinoco, as well as numerous other large rivers, dominates the north 
coast of South America (Muller-Karger 1993). Unlike the ARA and GOMRA, 
the SEFSC does not conduct research in estuarine waters within the CRA.

TPWD Specified Geographic Area

    TPWD conducts fisheries research using gillnets in ten Texas bay 
systems: Laguna Madre, Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio 
Bay, Matagorda Bay, East Matagorda Bay, Cedar Lakes, West Bay, 
Galveston Bay, and Sabine Lake (see Figure 1 and 2 in TPWD's 
application). These systems are wide and shallow with little tidal 
elevation change.

Detailed Description of Activities

SEFSC
    The Federal government has a trust responsibility to protect living 
marine resources in waters of the U.S., also referred to as Federal 
waters. These waters generally lie 3 to 200 nautical miles (nm) from 
the shoreline. Those waters 3-12 nm offshore comprise territorial 
waters and those 12-to-200 nm offshore comprise the Exclusive Economic 
Zone (EEZ), except where other nations have adjacent territorial 
claims. NOAA also conducts research to foster resource protection in 
state waters (i.e., estuaries and oceanic waters with 3 nm of shore). 
The U.S. government has also entered into a number of international 
agreements and treaties related to the management of living marine 
resources in international waters outside of the U.S. EEZ (i.e., the 
high seas). To carry out its responsibilities over Federal and 
international waters, Congress has enacted several statutes authorizing 
certain Federal agencies to administer programs to manage and protect 
living marine resources. Among these Federal agencies, NOAA has the 
primary responsibility for protecting marine finfish and shellfish 
species and their habitats. Within NOAA, NMFS has been delegated 
primary responsibility for the science-based management, conservation, 
and protection of living marine resources.
    The SEFSC conducts multi-disciplinary research programs to provide 
management information to support national and regional programs of 
NMFS and to respond to the needs of Regional Fishery Management 
Councils (FMCs), interstate and international fishery commissions, 
Fishery Development Foundations, government agencies, and the general 
public. SEFSC develops the scientific information required for fishery 
resource conservation, fishery development and utilization, habitat 
conservation, and protection of marine mammals and endangered marine 
species. Research is pursued to address specific needs in population 
dynamics, fishery biology and economics, engineering and gear 
development, and protected species biology. Specifically, research 
includes monitoring fish stock recruitment, abundance, survival and 
biological rates, geographic distribution of species and stocks, 
ecosystem process changes, and marine ecological research.
    To carry out this research, the SEFSC proposes to administer or 
conduct 74 survey programs during the 5-year period the proposed 
regulations would be effective; however, only 44 surveys have the 
potential to take marine mammals from gear interaction or acoustic 
harassment. Surveys would be carried out by SEFSC scientists alone or 
in combination with Federal, state, or academic partners while some 
surveys would be carried out solely by cooperating research partners. 
Surveys not conducted by SEFSC staff are included here because they are 
funded or have received other support (e.g., gear) by the SEFSC. SEFSC 
scientists conduct fishery-independent research onboard NOAA-owned and 
operated vessels or chartered vessels while partners conduct research 
aboard NOAA, their own or chartered vessels. Table 1 provides a summary 
of annual projects including survey name, entity conducting the survey, 
location, gear type, and effort. The information presented here 
augments the more detailed table included in the SEFSC's application. 
In the subsequent section, we describe relevant active acoustic 
devices, which are commonly used in SEFSC survey activities. Appendix A 
of the SEFSC's application contains detailed descriptions, pictures, 
and diagrams of all research gear and vessels used by the SEFSC and 
partners under this proposed rulemaking.

[[Page 6580]]



         Table 1--Summary Description of Fisheries and Ecosystem Research Activities Conducted or Funded by the SEFSC in the GOMRA, ARA, and CRA
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               Season, frequency,
   Survey name (research agency)         General area of       yearly days at sea         Vessel used             Gear used          Number of stations
                                            operation                 (DAS)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Gulf of Mexico Research Area
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
HMS--GOM Shark Pupping & Nursery     SEFSC--FL Panhandle in  Annual Apr-Oct, 30      USCG Class I: R/V      Set gillnet..........  SEFSC--16-20 sets/
 Survey (GULFSPAN), (SEFSC, USM/      St. Andrew Bay and      DAS, (approximately 4   Mokarran, R/V                                 month, up to 120
 GCRL, UWF, FSU/CML) \1\ * UWF is     St. Joseph Bay, 1-10    days/month), daytime    Pristis.                                      sets total.
 inactive.                            m depths.               operations only.
                                     Mississippi Sound, 1-9  Annual Apr-Oct, 8 DAS   USCG Class I: Small    Set gillnet..........  3 sets/month, 21 sets
                                      m depths.               (1/month), daytime      vessel.                                       total.
                                                              operations only.
                                     Perdido Bay, Pensacola  Annual May-Sep, 10 DAS  USCG Class I: State    Set gillnet..........  10 sets/month, 50
                                      Bay, Choctawhatchee     (2/month), daytime      vessel.                                       sets total.
                                      Bay, and Santa Rosa     operations only.
                                      Sound, 1.5-6 m depths.
                                     Northwest FL state      Annual................  USCG Class I: R/V      Set gillnet..........  74 sets/yr total.
                                      waters, 0.7-7 m                                 Naucrates.
                                      depths.
                                     (A) Apalachee Bay.....  (A) Jan-Dec, 12 DAS (1/                                               (A) 24 sets.
                                                              month).
                                     (B) Alligator Pt.-      (B) June & July, 20                                                   (B) 50 sets.
                                      Anclote Keys.           DAS, daytime                                  Bottom longline......  74 sets/yr total.
                                                              operations only.                                                     (A) 24 total.
                                                                                                                                   (B) 50 total.
                                     State waters of         Annual May-Sep, 15      USCG Class I: State    Set gillnet..........  16 sets/month (within
                                      southwest FL within     DAS, daytime            vessel.                                       two designated 10 km
                                      Pine Island Sound in    operations only.                                                      \2\ grids), 80 sets
                                      the Charlotte Harbor                                                                          total.
                                      estuary. Depth ranges
                                      0.6-4.6 m depth.
IJA Coastal Finfish Gillnet Survey,  Mississippi Sound and   Annual, Jan-Dec, 24     USCG Class I: Small    Sinking gillnet,       8 sets/month, 96 sets
 (MDMR) \1\.                          estuaries; 0.2-2 m      DAS, daytime            vessel.                shallow deployment.    total.
                                      depths.                 operations only.
Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance         Ten Thousand Islands,   Annual, Mar-Nov, 56     USCG Class I: R/V      Set gillnet, shallow   ~20 sets/month, 180-
 Survey, (SEFSC) \1\.                 FL backcountry          DAS (6-7 DAS/trip),     Pristis.               deployment.            200 sets total.
                                      region, including       daytime operations
                                      areas in Everglades     only.
                                      National Park and Ten
                                      Thousand Island
                                      National Wildlife
                                      Refuge in 0.2-1.0 m
                                      depths.
Pelagic Longline Survey--GOM,        U.S. GOM..............  Intermittent, Feb-May,  USCG R/V: R/V Oregon   Pelagic longline.....  100-125 sets.
 (SEFSC) \1\.                                                 30 DAS, 24 hour         II.                   CTD profiler.........  100-125 casts.
                                                              operations (set/haul
                                                              anytime day or night).
Shark and Red Snapper Bottom         Randomly selected       Annually, July-Sep, 60  USCG R/V: R/V Oregon   Bottom longline......  175 sets
 Longline Survey-GOM, (SEFSC) \1\.    sites from FL to        DAS, 24 hour            II, R/V Gordon        CTD profiler and       175 casts.
                                      Brownsville, TX         operations (set/haul    Gunter;.               rosette water
                                      between bottom depths   anytime day or night). USCG Small R/V: R/V     sampler.
                                      9-366 m.                                        Caretta, R/V Gandy.
SEAMAP--GOM Bottom Longline Survey,  AL--MS Sound, Mobile    Annually, Apr-May,      USCG Class III: R/V    Bottom longline......  AL--32 sets.
 (ADCNR, USM-GCRL, LDWF, TPWD) \1\.   Bay, and near Dauphin   June-July, Aug-Sep.     E.O. Wilson, R/V      .....................  MS--40.
                                      Island.                AL--8 DAS, day           Alabama Discovery, R/ .....................  LA--98.
                                     MS--MS Sound, south of   operations only.        V Defender I, R/V     .....................  TX--20.
                                      the MS Barrier         MS--16 DAS, day          Tom McIlwain, RV Jim   CTD Profiler........  AL--32 casts.
                                      Islands, Chandeleur,    operations only.        Franks, R/V Nueces,   .....................  LA--40.
                                      and Breton Sound, and  LA--30 DAS, day          R/V SanJacinto.       Water quality and      MS--40 casts.
                                      the area east of the    operations only.       USCG R/V: R/V           chemistry (YSI        TX--20.
                                      Chandeleur Islands..   TX--10 DAS, day          Blazing Seven (2011-   instruments, Niskin
                                     LA--LA waters west of    operations only.        2014).                 bottles, turbidity
                                      the MS River.                                                          meter).
                                     TX--near Aransas Pass
                                      and Bolivar Roads
                                      Ship Channel.
IJA Biloxi Bay Beam Trawl Survey,    MS state waters in      Annually, Jan-Dec, 25   USCG Class I: R/V      Modified beam trawl..  11 trawls/month, 132
 (MDMR) \1\.                          Biloxi Bay, 1-5 ft      DAS, day operations     Grav I, R/V Grav II,                          trawls total.
                                      depths.                 only.                   R/V Grav IV.
IJA Inshore Finfish Trawl Survey,    MS state waters from    Annually, Jan-Dec, 12   USCG Class I: small    Otter trawl..........  72 trawls.
 (MDMR) \1\.                          Bay St. Louis, to       DAS, day operations     vessel R/V Geoship.
                                      approximately 2 miles   only.
                                      south Cat Island, 5-
                                      25 ft depths.
IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl         TX state waters in      Annually, Jan-Dec, 120  USCG Class I: small    Otter trawl..........  90 trawls/month, 1080
 Survey, (TPWD) \1\.                  Galveston, Matagorda,   DAS, day operations     vessel.               .....................   trawls total.
                                      Aransas, and Corpus     only.                  USCG Class II: R/V     Water quality and
                                      Christi Bays and the                            Trinity Bay, R/V       chemistry (YSI
                                      lower Laguna Madre, 3-                          Copano Bay, R/V RJ     instruments, Niskin
                                      30 ft depths.                                   Kemp.                  bottles, turbidity
                                                                                                             meter).

[[Page 6581]]

 
Oceanic Deep-water Trawl--GOM,       U.S. GOM waters >500 m  Intermittent due to     USCG R/V: R/V Gunter,  High Speed Midwater    60 trawls (2-3 per
 (SEFSC) \1\.                         deep.                   funding, 20 DAS, 24     R/V Pisces.            Trawl, Aleutian Wing   day).
                                                              hour operations.                               Trawl.                .....................
                                                             * conducted in 2009 &                          CTD profiler and       .....................
                                                              2010 and in the                                rosette water         60 casts.
                                                              future as funding                              sampler.              Tow speed: 0.
                                                              allows..                                                             Duration: 60-90 min.
St. Andrew Bay Juvenile Reef Fish    St. Andrew Bay, FL, up  Annually, May-Nov, 28   USCG Class I: Boston   Benthic Trawl........  13 trawls per week,
 Trawl Survey, (SEFSC) \1\.           to 2 m depths.          DAS, day operations     Whaler.                                       24 weeks, 312 trawls
                                                              only, (one day/week).                                                 total.
Small Pelagics Trawl Survey,         U.S. GOM in depths of   Annually, Oct-Nov, 40   USCG R/V: R/V Gordon   High-opening bottom    150-200 trawls.
 (SEFSC) \1\.                         50-500 m.               DAS, 24 hour            Gunter, R/V Pisces.    trawl.
                                                              operations (set/haul
                                                              anytime day or night).
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Continuous.
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   Continuous.
                                                                                                             single-beam active
                                                                                                             acoustics.
                                                                                                            ADCP.................  Continuous.
                                                                                                            CTD profiler and       250 casts.
                                                                                                             rosette water
                                                                                                             sampler.
SEAMAP-GOM Shrimp/Groundfish Trawl   U.S. GOM from FL to     Annually, summer (June  USCG Class II: R/V     Otter trawl..........  Effort evenly divided
 Survey, (SEFSC, FFWCC, ADCNR, USM/   Mexico in depths of     & July) and fall (Oct-  Trinity Bay, R/V      .....................   between seasons
 GCRL, LDWF) \1\.                     30-360 ft.              Nov), effort evenly     Copano Bay, R/V RJ    .....................   unless noted.
                                                              divided between         Kemp.                 .....................  SEFSC--345 trawls
                                                              seasons unless noted;  USCG Class III: R/V    .....................   (summer), 325
                                                              all surveys have 24     A.E. Verrill, R/V     .....................   (fall).
                                                              hour operations-set/    Alabama Discovery, R/ .....................  FL--160 (summer
                                                              haul anytime day or     V Sabine Lake, R/V    .....................   only).
                                                              night.                  Nueces, R/V San       .....................  AL--16-24.
                                                             SEFSC--80 DAS.........   Jacinto, R/V San      .....................  MS--60.
                                                             FL--20 DAS (summer       Antonio, R/V           CTD profiler and      LA--32.
                                                              only).                  Matagorda Bay.         rosette water         .....................
                                                             AL--6 DAS.............  USCG R/V: R/V Oregon    sampler TPWD uses     SEFSC--395 casts
                                                             MS--6 DAS.............   II, R/V Tommy Munro,   YSI Datasonde 6600     (summer), 305
                                                             LA--5 DAS.............   R/V Weatherbird II,    v2-4.                  (fall).
                                                                                      R/V  Pelican, R/V                            FL--200 (summer
                                                                                      Blazing Seven (2011-                          only).
                                                                                      2014), R/V Point Sur.                        AL--20.
                                                                                                                                   MS--81.
                                                                                                                                   LA--39.
SEFSC BRD Evaluations, (SEFSC) \1\.  State and Federal       Annually, May & Aug     USCG Class III: R/V    Western jib shrimp     20 paired trawls each
                                      nearshore and           (one week/month), 14    Caretta.               trawls.                season, 40 paired
                                      offshore waters off     DAS, night operations                                                 trawls total.
                                      FL, AL, MS, and LA at   only.
                                      depths of 10-35 m.
                                      Also Mississippi
                                      Sound at depths of 3-
                                      6 m.
SEFSC-GOM TED Evaluations, (SEFSC)   State and Federal       Annually, May, Aug, &   USCG Class I & II:     Western jib shrimp     30 paired trawls per
 \1\.                                 nearshore and           Sep (one week/month),   NOAA small boats.      trawls.                season, 90 paired
                                      offshore waters off     21 DAS, day            USCG Class III: R/V                            trawls total.
                                      FL, AL, MS, and LA at   operations only.        Caretta.
                                      depths of 10-35 m.
                                      Also Mississippi
                                      Sound at depths of 3-
                                      6 m.
SEFSC Skimmer Trawl TED Testing,     Conducted in            Annually until 2016     USCG Class III: R/V    Skimmer trawls.......  600 paired trawls.
 (SEFSC) \1\.                         Mississippi Sound,      (tentative depending    Caretta.
                                      Chandeleur Sound, and   on funding and need)
                                      Breton Sound at         May-Dec, 5-15 DAS/
                                      depths of 2-6 m.        month, 60 DAS total,
                                                              24 hour operations-
                                                              set/haul anytime day
                                                              or night.
SEFSC Small Turtle TED Testing and   State waters in St.     Annually , 21 DAS, day  USCG Class III: R/V    Western jib shrimp     100 paired trawls.
 Gear Evaluations, (SEFSC) \1\.       Andrews Bay, FL and     operations only.        Caretta.               trawls are utilized
                                      off Shell Island and/                                                  during TED
                                      or Panama City Beach,                                                  evaluations.
                                      FL at depths of 7-10
                                      m.
IJA Biloxi Bay Seine Survey, (MDMR)  MS state waters in      Annually, Jan-Dec, 25   USCG Class I & II: R/  Bag seine............  11 sets/month, 132
 \1\.                                 Biloxi Bay, 1-5 ft      DAS, day operations     V Grav I, R/V Grav                            sets total.
                                      depths.                 only.                   II, R/V Grav IV,
                                                                                      small vessel.
IJA Oyster Dredge Monitoring         MS state waters, at     Annually, Jan-Dec, 12   USCG Class I: R/V      Oyster dredge........  38 tows.
 Survey, (MDMR).                      commercially            DAS, day operations     Rookie.
                                      important oyster        only.                  USCG Class II: R/V
                                      reefs: Pass Christian                           Silvership.
                                      Complex, Pass
                                      Marianne Reef,
                                      Telegraph Reef and
                                      St. Joe Reef, in 5-15
                                      ft depths.

[[Page 6582]]

 
IJA Shoreline Shellfish Bag Seine    TX state waters in      Annually, Jan-Dec, 120  N/A..................  Bag seine............  100 sets/month, 1200
 Survey, (TPWD) \1\.                  Galveston, Matagorda,   DAS, day operations                                                   total.
                                      Aransas, and Corpus     only.
                                      Christi Bays and the
                                      lower Laguna Madre, 0-
                                      6 ft depths.
Marine Mammal and Ecosystem          Northern GOM..........  Every three years,      USCG R/V: R/V Gordon   CTD profiler and       60 casts.
 Assessment Survey-GOM, (SEFSC) \1\.                          June-Sep, 60 DAS, 24    Gunter.                rosette water
                                                              hour operations (set/                          sampler.
                                                              haul anytime day or
                                                              night).
                                                                                                            Expendable             300 units.
                                                                                                             bathythermographs.
                                                                                                            ADCP.................  Continuous.
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Continuous.
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   Continuous.
                                                                                                             single-beam active
                                                                                                             acoustics.
                                                                                                            Passive acoustic       Continuous.
                                                                                                             arrays.
Northeast GOM MPA Survey, (SEFSC)..  Madison-Swanson,        Annually, Feb-Mar, 60   USCG Class III: R/V    4-camera array.......  100--200 deployments
*Currently Inactive................   Steamboat Lumps, and    DAS, day operations     Caretta.              CTD Profiler.........  100--200 casts.
                                      The Edges marine        only.
                                      reserves on the West
                                      Florida Shelf.
Panama City Laboratory Reef Fish     Penscecola, FL to       Annually, May-Sep, 40   USCG Class II: R/V     4-camera array.......  200 deployments.
 (Trap/Video) Survey, (SEFSC).        Cedar Key, FL.          DAS, day operations     Harold B,             .....................  .....................
                                                              only.                  USCG Class III: R/V    Chevron fish trap      100 sets.
                                                                                      Caretta, R/V           outfitted with one
                                                                                      Defender, R/V          GoPro video camera..
                                                                                      Apalachee.
                                                                                                            CTD profiler.........  200 casts.
SEAMAP-GOM Finfish Vertical Line     State and Federal       AL: Annually, two       USCG Class III: R/V    Bandit gear..........  AL: 120 sets per
 Survey, (ADCNR, LDWF, USM/GCRL).     waters off Alabama at   intervals: spring       Escape, R/V Lady                              season, 240 sets
                                      sampling depths from    (Apr/May) and summer    Ann, R/V Defender I.                          total.
                                      60 to 500 ft and LA     (July-Sep), 9 DAS,     USCG R/V: R/V Blazing                         LA: 100 sets total.
                                      waters west of the      day operations only.    Seven (2011-2014),                           TX: 165 sets total.
                                      Mississippi River      LA and TX: Annually,     Poseidon, Trident R/
                                      across three depth      April-Oct.              V Sabine, San
                                      strata (60-120 ft,                              Jacinto, San
                                      120-180 ft, and 180-                            Antonio, Nueces,
                                      360 ft) and selected                            Laguna.
                                      areas of Texas at
                                      three depth strata
                                      (33-66 ft, 66-132 ft,
                                      and 132-495 ft).
                                      Stations are sampled
                                      during daylight hours.
                                     State and Federal       Annually, Mar-Oct, 16   USCG Class III: R/V    Bandit gear..........  15 stations/season--
                                      waters off MS.          DAS (4 days/month),     Jim Franks.                                   45 stations total, 3
                                      Sampling depths 5-55    day operations only.                                                  sets per station,
                                      fathoms..                                                                                     135 sets total.
                                     Stations are sampled
                                      during daylight hours.
SEAMAP-GOM Plankton Survey, (ADCNR,  State and Federal       AL: Annually, Aug-Sep,  USCG Class III: R/V    Bongo net............  AL: 6 tows.
 LDWF, USM/GCRL).                     waters off the coast    2 DAS, day operations   A.E. Verrill, R/V     .....................  LA: 9 tows.
                                      of AL, MS, LA, and FL.  only.                   Alabama Discovery, R/ .....................  MS: 20 tows.
                                                             LA: Annually, June,      V Acadiana.           Neuston net..........  AL: 6 tows.
                                                              Sep, 2 DAS, day        USCG R/V: R/V Blazing  .....................  LA: 9 tows.
                                                              operations only.        Seven (2011-2014), R/ .....................  MS/FL: 20 tows.
                                                             MS: Annually, May and    V Point Sur; R/V      CTD Profiler.........  AL: 6 casts.
                                                              Sep, 4 DAS, 24 hour     Defender.                                    LA: 9 casts.
                                                              operations.                                                          MS/FL: 20 casts.
SEAMAP-GOM Plankton Survey, (SEFSC)  Coastal, shelf and      Annually, Feb-Mar       USCG R/V: R/V Oregon   Bongo net............  650 tows.
                                      open ocean waters of    (winter), 30 DAS;.      II, R/V Gordon        Neuston net..........  650 tows.
                                      the GOM.               Apr-May (spring), 60     Gunter, R/V Pisces.   MOCNESS..............  378 tows.
                                                              DAS;.                                         Methot juvenile fish   126 tows.
                                                             Aug-Sep (fall), 36 DAS                          net.                  756 casts.
                                                             24 hour operations                             CTD profiler and
                                                              (set/haul anytime day                          rosette water
                                                              or night).                                     sampler.
SEAMAP-GOM Reef Fish Monitoring,     West FL shelf from      Annual, July-Sep, 50    USCG Class I & II: R/  2-camera array.......  150 deployments.
 (FFWCC).                             26[deg]N to Dry         DAS, daylight hours.    V No Frills, R/V      Chevron fish trap....  300-450 sets.
                                      Tortugas, FL.                                   Gulf Mariner, R/V     CTD profiler.........  300 casts.
                                                                                      Sonic, R/V Johnson,
                                                                                      chartered fishing
                                                                                      vessels.
                                                                                     USCG Small R/V: R/V
                                                                                      Bellows, R/V
                                                                                      Apalachee.
                                                                                     USCG R/V: R/V
                                                                                      Weatherbird.

[[Page 6583]]

 
SEAMAP-GOM Reef Fish Survey,         Gulf-wide survey from   Annual, Apr-July, 60    USCG Class III: R/V    4-camera array.......  400-600 deployments.
 (SEFSC).                             Brownsville, TX to      DAS, 24 hour            Caretta, R/V Gandy.   Chevron trap           50-100 sets.
                                      Key West, FL, in        operations on large    USCG R/V: R/V Pisces,   (discontinued use in  .....................
                                      depths of 15-500 ft.    vessels (cameras,       R/V Oregon II.         2013).                400-600 casts.
                                      Approximately 7.0% of   traps, bandit--        USCG R/V: Southern     CTD Profiler.........  120 sets.
                                      this survey effort      daytime only), 12       Journey.              Bandit Reels.........  Continuous.
                                      (458 stations) occurs   hour operations on     NOAA Ship: Gordon      Acoustic Doppler       .....................
                                      within the Florida      small vessels           Hunter.                Current Profiler.     Continuous.
                                      Garden Banks NMS.       (daytime only).                               Simrad ME70 Multi-     .....................
                                                                                                             beam echosounder.     Continuous.
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   .....................
                                                                                                             single-beam active
                                                                                                             acoustics.
IJA Oyster Visual Monitoring         MS state waters, 5-15   Annually, Sep/Oct to    USCG Class I & II: R/  SCUBA divers.........  ~ 20 dives.
 Survey, (MDMR).                      ft depths.              Apr/May of following    V Silvership, R/V
                                                              year, 12 DAS, day       Rookie.
                                                              operations only.
Reef Fish Visual Census Survey--Dry  Dry Tortugas area in    Biannually, May-Sept,   USCG Class II & III:   SCUBA divers with      300 stations (4 dives
 Tortugas, Flower Gardens (SEFSC).    the GOM, <33m deep.     25 DAS, day             Chartered dive         meter sticks, 30 cm    per station).
                                                              operations only.        vessel.                rule and digital
                                                                                                             camera.
Tortugas Ecological Reserve Survey,  Tortugas South          Biannually, summer      USCG Class II & III:   SCUBA divers,          16 stations, each
 (SEFSC) *.                           Ecological Reserve,     (June or July), 6       Chartered vessel.      transect tape,         station done 2-3
*Currently inactive since 2015.....   Florida Keys National   days, day and night                            clipboards/pencils.    times.
                                      Marine Sanctuary.       12 hour operations.
                                                             *Survey has been
                                                              discontinued since
                                                              2015.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 Atlantic Research Area
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ACFCMA American Eel Fyke Net         Goose Creek Reservoir   Annually, Feb-Apr, 32   USCG Class A: John     Fyke net.............  1 station per day, 40
 Survey, (SCDNR).                     or the Cooper River,    DAS, day operations     Boat--no motor, walk/                         collections total.
                                      near Charleston, SC,    only.                   wade to work net.
                                      1-7 ft depths.
                                                                                                            Thermometer..........  32 casts.
ACFCMA American Shad Drift Gillnet   Santee, Edisto,         Annual, Jan-Apr, (2-3   USCG Class I: R/V      Drift gillnet........  4-5 sets/trip, 120
 Survey, (SCDNR) \1\.                 Waccamaw, Combahee      trips/week), 40 DAS,    Bateau R/V McKee                              sets total.
                                      Rivers, SC.             day operations only.    Craft.
RecFIN Red Drum Trammel Net Survey,  Coastal estuaries and   Annually, Jan-Dec, 120- USCG Class I: Florida  Trammel net..........  1000 sets/yr covering
 (SCDNR).                             rivers of SC in         144 DAS (14-18 days/    Mullet Skiffs.                                225 stations/yr.
                                      depths of 6 ft or       month), day                                                           Operates in 7-9
                                      less along shoreline..  operations only.                                                      strata/month.
HMS Chesapeake Bay and Coastal       Chesapeake Bay and      Annually, May-Oct (5    USCG Class III: R/V    Bottom longline......  50 sets.
 Virginia Bottom Longline Shark       state and Federal       days/month), 30 DAS,    Bay Eagle.            Hydrolab MS5 Sonde...  50 casts.
 Survey, (VIMS) \1\.                  waters off Virginia.    day operations only.
MARMAP Reef Fish Long Bottom         South Atlantic Bight    Annually 1996-2012 *,   USCG Small R/V: R/V    Bottom longline......  60 sets.
 Longline Survey, (SCDNR) \1\.        (between 27[deg]N and   Aug-Oct, 10-20 DAS,     Lady Lisa.            CTD profiler.........  60 casts.
                                      34[deg]N, but mostly    day operations only.
                                      off GA and SC).        *Halted in 2012 but
                                      Sampling occurs in      will resume annually
                                      Federal waters.         if funding obtained.
                                      Depths from ~ 500 to
                                      860 ft.
MARMAP/SEAMAP-SA Reef Fish Survey,   South Atlantic Bight    Annually, year-round    USCG R/V: R/V          Chevron fish trap      600 sets.
 (SCDNR) \1\.                         (between 27[deg]N and   but primarily Apr-      Palmetto.              outfitted with two
*Inactive 2012-2014................   34[deg]N).              Oct, 70-120 DAS, day                           cameras.
                                                              operations only.
                                                             Bottom longline.......  60 sets..............
                                                             Bandit reels..........  400 sets.............
                                                             CTD profiler..........  300 casts............
Pelagic Longline Survey-SA, (SEFSC)  Cape Hatteras, NC to    Intermittent, Feb-May,  USCG R/V: R/V Oregon   Pelagic Longline.....  100-125 sets.
 \1\.                                 Cape Canaveral, FL.     30 DAS, 24 hour         II.                   CTD profiler.........  100-125 casts.
(See also effort conducted in the                             operations (set/haul
 GOMRA).                                                      anytime day or night).
Shark and Red Snapper Bottom         Cape Hatteras, NC to    Annually, July-Sep, 60  USCG Class III: R/V    Bottom longline......  70 sets.
 Longline Survey-SA, (SEFSC) \1\.     Cape Canaveral, FL      DAS, 24 hour            Caretta.              .....................  .....................
(See also effort conducted in the     between bottom depths   operations (set/haul   USCG R/V: R/V Oregon   CTD profiler and       70 casts.
 GOMRA).                              9-183 m.                anytime day or night).  II, R/V Gordon         rosette water         0-20 tows.
                                                                                      Gunter.                sampler.
                                                                                                            Neuston and bongo
                                                                                                             effort if needed to
                                                                                                             augment SEAMAP
                                                                                                             plankton objectives.

[[Page 6584]]

 
SEAMAP-SA Red Drum Bottom Longline   NC: Pamlico Sound or    Annually..............  USCG Class II: 26 ft   Bottom longline......  NC: 75-100 sets
 Survey, (NCDEQ, SCDNR, GDNR) \1\.    in the nearshore       NC: mid-July to mid-     outboard.             .....................   total.
                                      waters of Ocracoke      Oct (2 days/week for   USCG Class III: R/V    .....................  SC: 360 sets.
                                      Inlet.                  12 weeks), 24 DAS, 12   Marguerite, R/V       YSI (Dissolved         GA: 200-275 sets.
                                     SC: Estuaries out to     hour operations,        Silver Crescent.       oxygen, salinity,     NC: 75-100 casts.
                                      10 miles in Winyah      beginning at dusk.                             temperature).         SC: 360 casts.
                                      Bay, Charleston        SC: Aug-Dec, day                                                      GA: 200-275 casts.
                                      Harbor, St. Helena      operations only 36
                                      Sound, and Port Royal   DAS.
                                      Sound.                 GA: Apr-Dec (6 days/
                                     GA: State and Federal    month), 54 DAS, day
                                      waters off the coast    operations only.
                                      of GA and NE FL,
                                      (~32[deg]05'N
                                      latitude to the
                                      north, 29[deg]20'N
                                      latitude to the
                                      south, 80[deg]30'W
                                      longitude to the
                                      east, and the
                                      coastline to the
                                      west.).
ACFCMA Ecological Monitoring Trawl   Georgia state waters    Annually, Jan-Dec (7    USCG Class III: R/V    Otter trawl..........  42 trawls/month, 504
 Survey, (GDNR) \1\.                  out to three nm, 10-    days/month), 84 DAS,    Anna.                                         trawls total.
                                      35 ft depths.           day operations only.
                                                                                                            YSI 85 (Dissolved      504 casts total.
                                                                                                             oxygen, salinity,
                                                                                                             temperature).
ACFCMA Juvenile Stage Trawl Survey,  Creeks and rivers of    Annually, Dec-Jan (3    USCG Class I: 19 ft    Otter trawl..........  18 trawls/month, 216
 (GDNR) \1\.                          three Georgia sound     days/month), 36 DAS,    Cape Horn; 25 ft                              trawls total.
                                      systems (Ossabaw,       day operations only.    Parker.
                                      Altamaha, and St.
                                      Andrew).
                                                                                                            YSI 85 (Dissolved      216 casts total.
                                                                                                             oxygen, salinity,
                                                                                                             temperature).
Atlantic Striped Bass Tagging        North of Cape           Annually, Jan-Feb, 14   USCG R/V: R/V Oregon   65 ft high-opening     200-350 trawls.
 Bottom Trawl Survey, (USFWS) \1\.    Hatteras, NC, in        DAS, 24 hour            II, R/V Cape           bottom trawls.
                                      state and Federal       operations (set/haul    Hatteras, R/V
                                      waters, 30-120 ft       anytime day or night).  Savannah.
                                      depths.
Juvenile Sport Fish Trawl            Florida Bay, FL.......  Annually, May-Nov, 35   USCG Class I: R/V      Otter trawl..........  -500 trawls.
 Monitoring in Florida Bay, (SEFSC)                           DAS, day operations     Batou.
 \1\.                                                         only.
Oceanic Deep-water Trawl Survey      Southeastern U.S.       Intermittent due to     USCG R/V: NOAA ships.  High Speed Midwater    60 trawls (2-3 per
 (SEFSC) \1\.                         Atlantic waters >500    funding, 20 DAS, 24                            Trawl, Aleutian Wing   day).
*Currently Inactive................   m deep.                 hour operations                                Trawl.
                                                              (trawls may be set                            .....................
                                                              and retrieved day or
                                                              night),
                                                             *conducted as funding
                                                              allows.
                                                                                                            CTD profiler and       60 casts.
                                                                                                             rosette water
                                                                                                             sampler.
SEAMAP-SA NC Pamlico Sound Trawl     Pamlico Sound and the   Annually, June & Sep,   USCG Class III: R/V    Otter trawl: paired    54 trawls each month,
 Survey, (NCDENR) \1\.                Pamlico, Pungo, and     20 DAS (10 days/        Carolina Coast.        mongoose-type Falcon   108 trawls total.
                                      Neuse rivers in         month), day                                    bottom trawls.
                                      waters >=6 ft deep.     operations only.
                                                                                                            Ponar grab...........  54 casts each month,
                                                                                                                                    108 total.
                                                                                                            YSI 556 (Dissolved     54 casts each month,
                                                                                                             oxygen, salinity,      108 total.
                                                                                                             temperature).
                                                                                                            Secchi disk..........  54 casts each month,
                                                                                                                                    108 total.
SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl Survey,      Cape Hatteras, NC to    Annually, Apr-May       USCG Small R/V: R/V    Otter trawl: paired    300-350 trawls total,
 (SCDNR) \1\.                         Cape Canaveral, FL in   (spring), July-Aug      Lady Lisa.             mongoose-type Falcon   evenly divided
                                      nearshore oceanic       (summer), and Oct-Nov                          bottom trawls.         between seasons.
                                      waters of 15-30 ft      (fall), 60-65 DAS,
                                      depth.                  day operations only.
                                                                                                            SEABIRD electronic     300-350 casts.
                                                                                                             CTD.
SEFSC-SA TED Evaluations, (SEFSC)    State and Federal       Annually, Nov-Apr, 10   USCG Class III: R/V    Otter trawl: Mongoose  50 paired trawls.
 \1\.                                 waters off Georgia      DAS, 24 hour            Georgia Bulldog.       shrimp trawls.
                                      and eastern FL.         operations-set/haul
                                                              anytime day or night.
In-Water Sea Turtle Research         Winyah Bay, SC to St.   Annually, mid-May       USCG Class III: R/V    Paired flat net        400-450 trawls.
 (SCDNR) \1\.                         Augustine, FL in        through late Jul to     Georgia Bulldog.       bottom trawls (NMFS
                                      water depths of 15-45   early Aug, 24-30 DAS,  USCG Small R/V: R/V     Turtle Nets per
                                      ft.                     day operations only.    Lady Lisa.             Dickerson et al.
                                                                                                             1995) with tickler
                                                                                                             chains.

[[Page 6585]]

 
ACFCMA American Eel Pot Survey for   Georgia state waters    Annually. Sampling      USCG Class I: 19 ft    Eel traps/pots with    30 stations (180 sets/
 Yellow-phase Eels, (GADNR).          in the Altamaha River   monthly Nov-Apr.        Cape Horn, 18 ft       float.                 month; 30 traps set
                                      System. Sampling is     based on water temp.    skiff.                                        each of 6 days).
                                      conducted during        36 DAS (6 days/
                                      daylight hours. Depth   month), day
                                      ranges from 2 to 20     operations only.
                                      ft.
Beaufort Bridgenet Plankton Survey,  Pivers Island Bridge,   Annually, Nov-May       None.................  Plankton net.........  125 tows.
 (SEFSC).                             NOAA Beaufort           (some years monthly
                                      facility, Beaufort,     Jan-Dec), night
                                      NC.                     operations only
                                                              sampling occurs once
                                                              per week, n + 4 tows
                                                              per night.
Integrated Biscayne Bay Ecological   Western shoreline of    Twice annually, May-    USCG Class II & III    Human divers.........  100 dives
 Assessment and Monitoring Project    Biscayne Bay, FL.       Oct (wet season) and    vessels.              Throw trap...........  372 casts.
 (IBBEAM) Project, (SEFSC).                                   Nov-Apr (dry season),
                                                              14 DAS, day
                                                              operations only.
Intraspecific Diversity in Pink      Florida Bay,            Annually, June-Aug, 16  USCG Class I: R/V      Miniature roller-      40 trawls.
 Shrimp Survey, (SEFSC).              Whitewater Bay,         DAS, day operations     Privateer.             frame trawl.          .....................
*Currently inactive................   Fakahatchee Bay,        only.                                         Dip net..............  40 samples.
                                      Biscayne Bay, Sanibel                                                 Bag seine............  40 sets.
                                      shrimp fishery,
                                      Tortugas shrimp
                                      fishery.
Marine Mammal and Ecosystem          Southeastern U.S.       Every three years,      USCG R/V: R/V Gordon   CTD profiler and       60 casts.
 Assessment Survey-SA, (SEFSC) \1\.   Atlantic.               June-Sep, 60 DAS, 24    Gunter.                rosette water
                                                              hour operations.                               sampler.
                                                                                                            Expendable             300 units.
                                                                                                             bathythermographs.
                                                                                                            Acoustic Doppler       Continuous.
                                                                                                             Current Profiler.
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Continuous.
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   Continuous.
                                                                                                             single-beam active
                                                                                                             acoustics.
                                                                                                            Passive acoustic       Continuous.
                                                                                                             arrays.
RecFIN Red Drum Electrofishing       Coastal estuaries and   Annually, Jan-Dec, 60-  USCG Class I: Small    18 ft elecrofishing    360 stations per year
 Survey, (SCDNR).                     rivers of SC in         72 DAS (5-6 days/       vessels.               boat.                  (30 sites/month).
                                      depths of 6 ft or       month), day
                                      less in low salinity    operations only.
                                      waters (0-12 ppt).
St. Lucie Rod-and-Reel Fish Health   Nearshore reef, inlet,  Annually, Jan-Dec,      USCG Class I: Small    Rod and reel gear....  468 stations per
 Study, (SEFSC) \1\.                  and estuary of St.      weekly, 156 DAS, day    vessels.                                      year: 3/day x 3 day/
*Currently inactive................   Lucie River, FL inlet   operations only.                                                      wk.
                                      system (Jupiter or
                                      Ft. Pierce, FL).
SEAMAP-SA Gag Ingress Study,         In the vicinity of      Annually, Mar-June,     USCG Class I: Small    Witham collectors....  15 sets (4 collectors
 (SCDNR).                             Swansboro, NC;          100 DAS, day            vessels.                                      at each set), 60
*Inactive since 2016...............   Wilmington, NC;         operations only.                                                      sets total.
                                      Georgetown, SC;
                                      Charleston, SC;
                                      Beaufort, SC;
                                      Savannah, GA; and
                                      Brunswick, GA.
Southeast Fishery Independent        Cape Hatteras, NC, to   Annually, Apr-Oct, 30-  USCG R/V: R/V Nancy    Chevron fish trap      1000 deployments.
 Survey (SEFIS) (SEFSC) \1\.          St. Lucie Inlet, FL.    80 DAS, 24 hour         Foster, R/V Pisces,    outfitted with 2
                                     Fifteen survey           operations (cameras &   R/V Savannah.          high-definition
                                      stations occur within   traps-daytime                                  video cameras.
                                      Gray's Reef NMS.        operations,
                                                              acoustics--anytime
                                                              day or night).
                                                                                                            CTD profiler.........  100-200 casts.
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Continuous.
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.
                                                                                                            Multi-frequency        Continuous.
                                                                                                             single-beam active
                                                                                                             acoustics.
U.S. South Atlantic MPA Survey,      Jacksonville, FL to     Annually, May-Aug, 14   USCG R/V: R/V Pisces,  ROV Phantom S2         10-40 deployments.
 (SEFSC) \1\.                         Cape Fear, NC on or     DAS, 24 hour            R/V Nancy Foster, R/   vehicle with tether   .....................
                                      near the continental    operations (ROV         V Spree.               attached to CTD       .....................
                                      shelf edge at depths    daytime operations,                            cable.                28 casts.
                                      between 80 and 600 m.   acoustics--anytime                            CTD profiler.........
                                                              day or night).
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Every other night for
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.      6-12 hrs.
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   Every other night for
                                                                                                             single-beam active     6-12 hrs.
                                                                                                             acoustics.

[[Page 6586]]

 
FL/Dry Tortugas Coral Reef Benthic   Survey area             Quarterly-annually,     USCG Class I & II:     SCUBA divers with      300 dives.
 Survey, (SEFSC).                     encompasses Federal     May-Oct, 100 DAS.       small vessels.         measuring devices,
                                      and territorial                                                        cameras, and hand
                                      waters from Dry                                                        tools.
                                      Tortugas to Martin
                                      County, FL. Surveys
                                      occur within the
                                      Florida Keys NMS (150
                                      stations).
Demographic Monitoring of Acropora   Florida Keys National   3x per year, ~35 DAS..  USCG Class I.........  SCUBA divers.........  30 fixed plots.
 Species, (SEFSC).                    Marine Sanctuary.
Reef Fish Visual Census Survey--     Florida Keys NMS and    Annually, May-Sep, 25   USCG Class I: R/V      SCUBA divers with      300 dives.
 Florida Keys/SE Florida Shelf,       SE Florida Shelf, <33   DAS, day operations     Aldo Leopold.          meter sticks, 30 cm
 (SEFSC).                             m deep.                 only.                                          rule and digital
                                                                                                             camera.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                Caribbean Research Area.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Caribbean Plankton Recruitment       Caribbean and Mexican   Bi-annually, Feb or     USCG R/V: R/V Gordon   Bongo net............  75 tows
 Experiment, (SEFSC).                 waters.                 June, 15 DAS, 24 hour   Gunter, R/V Nancy     MOCNESS..............  75 tows
                                                              operations, anytime     Foster.               CTD profiler and       75 casts.
                                                              day or night.                                  rosette water
                                                                                                             sampler.
Caribbean Reef Fish Survey, (SEFSC)  PR and USVI,            Every two years, Mar-   USCG R/V: R/V Pisces,  Bandit Reels.........  300 sets.
 \1\.                                 continental shelf       June, 40 DAS, 24 hour   R/V Oregon II.        4-camera array.......  150 deployments.
                                      waters.                 operations.                                   Chevron traps........  100 sets.
                                                                                                            CTD profiler.........  300 casts.
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Continuous.
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.     .....................
                                                                                                            Acoustic Doppler       Continuous.
                                                                                                             Current Profiler.     .....................
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   Continuous.
                                                                                                             single-beam active
                                                                                                             acoustics.
Marine Mammal and Ecosystem          U.S. Caribbean Sea....  Every three years,      USCG R/V: R/V Gordon   CTD profiler and       60 casts.
 Assessment Survey-C, (SEFSC) \1\.                            June-Sep, 60 DAS, 24    Gunter.                rosette water
                                                              hour operations-                               sampler.
                                                              acoustics--anytime
                                                              day or night.
                                                                                                            Expendable             300 units.
                                                                                                             bathythermographs     .....................
                                                                                                            Acoustic Doppler       Continuous.
                                                                                                             Current Profiler.     .....................
                                                                                                            Simrad ME70 Multi-     Continuous.
                                                                                                             Beam echosounder.     .....................
                                                                                                            EK60 Multi-frequency   Continuous.
                                                                                                             single-beam active    .....................
                                                                                                             acoustics.            .....................
                                                                                                            Passive acoustic       Continuous.
                                                                                                             arrays.
SEAMAP-C Reef Fish Survey (PR-DNER,  USVI and PR             Annually, Jan-Dec,....  USCG Class I & III:..  Camera array--two      PR: 120 per coast
 USVI-DFW).                           territorial and        (Day operations only).  Three chartered         GoPro cameras and      total of 240.
*Began 2017........................   Federal waters at 15-  PR: 70 DAS for each      vessels.               four lasers set on    USVI: 72 per island,
                                      300 ft depths.          coast.                                         an aluminum frame.     144 total.
                                                             USVI: ~30 DAS.........
SEAMAP-C Lane Snapper Bottom         East, west, and south   Annually beginning      USCG Class III: Two    Bottom longline......  45 sets/season, 180
 Longline Survey, (PR-DNER) \1\.      coasts of PR in         July 2015, (summer,     chartered vessels.                            sets total.
                                      territorial and         winter, fall,
                                      Federal waters at       spring), 120 DAS (30
                                      depths ranging from     days/season), night
                                      15-300 ft.              operations only.
SEAMAP-C Yellowtail Snapper Rod-and- East, west, and south   Annually beginning      USCG Class I & III:    Rod-and-reel gear....  120 stations (360
 Reel Survey, (PR-DNER) \1\.          coasts of PR in         2014, (4 sampling       Three chartered                               lines total).
                                      territorial and         seasons), 120 DAS,      vessels.
                                      Federal waters at       night operations only.
                                      depths ranging from
                                      15-300 ft.
Caribbean Coral Reef Benthic         Federal and             Annual to triennial,    USCG Class I & II:     SCUBA divers with      300 dives.
 Survey, (SEFSC).                     territorial waters      May-Oct, 30 DAS, day    Small vessel <28 ft.   measuring devices
                                      around PR, USVI, and    operations only.                               and hand tools.
                                      Navassa.
Reef Fish Visual Census Survey--     PR and USVI waters      Annually, May-Sept, 25  USCG Class I & II:     SCUBA divers with      300 dives.
 U.S. Caribbean, (SEFSC).             <100 ft deep.           DAS, day operations     Small vessel <24 ft.   meter sticks, 30 cm
                                                              only.                                          rule and digital
                                                                                                             camera.
SEAMAP-C Queen Conch Visual Survey,  PR and USVI             Annually,.............  USCG Class I & III:    SCUBA divers, SCUBA    PR: 100 dives.
 (PR-DNER, USVI-DFW).                 territorial waters in  PR: July-Nov, 35 DAS..   Three chartered        gear and underwater   USVI: 62 dives.
                                      10-90 ft depths, some  USVI: June-Oct, 62       vessels.               scooters.
                                      sampling occurs in      DAS, day operation
                                      Federal waters.         only.
SEAMAP-C Spiny Lobster Post Larvae   PR territorial waters   Every four years......  USCG Class I & III:    Fifty-six modified     6 stations along the
 Settlement Surveys, (PR-DNER).       in 6-90 ft depths.     West cost of PR: Jan-    Three chartered        Witham pueruli         west coast platform
                                                              Dec, 84 DAS.            vessels.               collectors.            per depth and
                                                                                     R/V Erdman...........                          distance from the
                                                                                                                                    shoreline.

[[Page 6587]]

 
SEAMAP-C Spiny Lobster Artificial    PR and USVI             Annually,.............  USCG Class I & III:    Juvenile lobster       10 shelters,
 Habitat Survey, (PR-DNER, USVI-      territorial waters in  PR: Jan-Dec, 84 DAS...   Three chartered        artificial shelters.   continuous
 DFW).                                6-90 ft depths.        USVI: Jan-Dec, 20 DAS,   vessels.              SCUBA divers, SCUBA     deployment.
                                                              day operations only.                           gear and underwater   PR: 60 dives.
                                                                                                             scooters.             USVI: 20 dives.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ These surveys have the potential to take marine mammals through M/SI and/or Level B harassment.
* Inactive projects are currently not conducted but could resume if funds became available.

    Gillnets--A gillnet is a wall of netting that hangs in the water 
column, typically made of monofilament or multifilament nylon. Mesh 
sizes are designed to allow fish to get only their head through the 
netting, but not their body. The fish's gills then get caught in the 
mesh as the fish tries to back out of the net. A variety of regulations 
and factors determine the mesh size, length, and height of commercial 
gillnets, including area fished and target species. Gillnets can be 
fished floating or sinking, and stationary or drifting. Set gillnets 
are attached to poles fixed in the substrate or an anchor system to 
prevent movement of the net (i.e., stationary) while drift gillnets are 
free-flowing but kept afloat at the proper depth using a system of 
weights and buoys attached to the headrope, footrope, or floatline.
    A trammel net is a type of gillnet. However, unlike single wall 
gillnets, which will catch a narrow range of fish sizes, a trammel net 
is a type of gillnet that will catch a wide variety of fish sizes. 
Essentially, a trammel net is three layers of netting tied together on 
a common floatline and common leadline. The two outer layers of netting 
(known as walls or brails) are constructed out of large mesh netting 
(12 in to 18 in square) with a twine size of #9 multifilament nylon or 
0.81 millimeter (mm) to 0.90 mm monofilament. The light-weight or fine 
netting sandwiched between the two walls is usually small mesh 
multifilament or monofilament gill netting. Trammel nets have a large 
amount of lightweight gill netting hung in the nets, and fish will be 
caught by gilling or by tangling in the excess netting.
    Trammel nets are only used by the SCDNR in the ARA. The SCDNR sets 
trammel nets in depths of 6 ft or less along a shoreline. Scientists 
monitor the immediate area 15 minutes prior to deploying the gear. 
Before the net is set, while the net is being deployed, during the 
soak, and during haulback, the scientists monitor the net and waters 
around the net, maintaining a lookout for protected species. Survey 
protocol calls for a short, 10 minute soak time before the net is 
hauled.
    A total of six survey programs (3 in GOMRA, 3 in ARA) utilize 
gillnets to accomplish the SEFSC's research objectives (see Table 1-1 
in SEFSC's application). In total, 545 set gillnet deployments and 96 
sinking gillnet deployments would be made in the GOMRA, primarily in 
bays, sounds, and estuaries. These surveys occur year-round and each 
set typically lasts up to 1 hour with the exception of the gillnets 
fished in shallow waters (0.2 to 1 m) for the Smalltooth Sawfish 
Abundance Survey which can last 1 to 4 hours. In the ARA, 120 drift 
gillnet sets would be deployed in rivers and estuaries for the American 
Shad Drift Gillnet Survey conducted by the SCDNR.
    Trawl nets--A trawl is a funnel-shaped net towed behind a boat to 
capture fish. The codend (or bag) is the fine-meshed portion of the net 
most distant from the towing vessel where fish and other organisms 
larger than the mesh size are retained. In contrast to commercial 
fishery operations, which generally use larger mesh to capture 
marketable fish, research trawls often use smaller mesh to enable 
estimates of the size and age distributions of fish in a particular 
area. The body of a trawl net is generally constructed of relatively 
coarse mesh that functions to gather schooling fish so that they can be 
collected in the codend. The opening of the net, called the mouth, is 
extended horizontally by large panels of wide mesh called wings. The 
mouth of the net is held open by hydrodynamic force exerted on the 
trawl doors attached to the wings of the net. As the net is towed 
through the water, the force of the water spreads the trawl doors 
horizontally apart. The top of a net is called the headrope, and the 
bottom is called the footrope.
    The SEFSC uses several types of trawl nets: Aleutian Wing Trawl, 
otter trawls, semi-balloon shrimp trawl, mongoose trawl, western jib 
shrimp trawls, skimmer trawls, roller frame trawl, and modified beam 
trawl. Bottom trawls (e.g., shrimp trawls) are designed to capture 
target species at or near the seafloor. Skimmer trawls are used at the 
surface. Contrary to skimmer trawls, bottom trawls are not usually 
visible after they are deployed because they operate at or near the sea 
floor and the optical properties of the water limit the ability to see 
the bottom from the surface. Pelagic trawls are designed to operate at 
various depths within the water column and are most commonly set at the 
surface or mid-water depths. The trawl gear may be constructed and 
rigged for various target species and to operate over different types 
of bottom surfaces.
    Trawls typically used in estuaries include semi-balloon shrimp 
trawls (fished near creeks and rivers of Georgia Sound) and miniature 
roller-frame trawls (fished at various South Florida estuaries). In 
coastal waters, the types of trawls (and operating depths) SEFSC and 
partners typically use include modified beam trawls (1-5 ft), otter 
trawls (3-360 ft), benthic trawls (up to 7 ft), western jib shrimp 
trawls (10-20 ft), and skimmer trawls (7-20 ft). Typical offshore 
trawls (and operating depths) include high speed midwater trawls (> 
1,600 ft), Aleutian wing trawls (> 1,600 ft), and high-opening bottom 
trawls (160 to 1,600 ft).
    All trawls have a lazy line attached to the codend. The lazy line 
floats free during active trawling, and as the net is hauled back, it 
is retrieved with a boat- or grappling-hook to assist in guiding and 
emptying the trawl nets. Twisted, three-strand, polypropylene is the 
most commonly used type of rope for lazy lines due to cost, strength, 
handling, and low specific gravity (0.91), which allows it to float.
    Active acoustic devices (described later) incorporated into the 
research vessel and the trawl gear monitor the position and status of 
the net, speed of the tow, and other variables important to the 
research design. Gear details, schematics, and photos associated with 
each of these trawl net categories can be found in Table 1-1 of the 
SEFSC's application and Appendix A of the SEFSC's Draft PEA.

[[Page 6588]]

    For research purposes, the speed and duration of the tow and the 
characteristics of the net must be standardized to allow meaningful 
comparisons of data collected at different times and locations. 
Typically, tow speed ranges from 2-4 knots (kts) while duration can 
range from thirty seconds to 3 hours at target depth; however most 
trawls last less than 30 minutes. The shorter trawls (30 seconds to 30 
minutes) occur in estuaries and coastal waters less than 500 meters in 
depth while the longer trawls (1-3 hours) are reserved for offshore, 
deepwater research. The only exceptions to this are the BRD Evaluation 
Survey designed to test various gear for the shrimp fishery in the Gulf 
of Mexico and the SEFSC-South Atlantic (SA) Turtle Exclusion Device 
(TED) Evaluation Survey designed to test bycatch reduction devices and 
TEDs for commercial fishing vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. A total of 
40 paired BRD Evaluation Survey trawls occur annually in May and August 
in state and Federal nearshore and offshore waters, including 
Mississippi Sound. Each trawl can last up to 2 hours. Fifty paired 
SEFSC-SA TED Evaluation Survey trawls occur annually from November 
through April in state and Federal waters off Georgia and Florida, and 
each trawl can last up to 4 hours.
    Bag seines--Bag seines used in the GOMRA during the 
Inter[hyphen]jurisdictional Fisheries Act (IJA) Biloxi Bay Seine Survey 
and IJA Shoreline Shellfish Bag Seine Survey are 50-60 feet long with 6 
ft deep lateral wings (\1/2\ in stretch nylon multifilament mesh) and 6 
ft wide central bag. They are both fished by hand with the Biloxi Bay 
survey having a 20 minute soak time and the shoreline survey having a 
2-3 minute soak time. Bag seines used in the Intraspecific Diversity 
Pink Shrimp Survey (also in the GOMRA) are 9 ft long and taper from 50 
to 10 in at the closed codend. Bag seines and similar gear are not 
considered to pose any risk to protected species because of their small 
size, slow deployment speeds, and/or structural details of the gear and 
are therefore not subject to specific mitigation measures. However, the 
officer on watch and crew monitor for any unusual circumstances that 
may arise at a sampling site and use their professional judgment and 
discretion to avoid any potential risks to marine mammals during 
deployment of all research equipment.
    Plankton nets--SEFSC research activities include the use of several 
plankton sampling nets that employ very small mesh to sample plankton 
from various parts of the water column. Plankton sampling nets usually 
consist of fine mesh attached to a weighted frame. The frame spreads 
the mouth of the net to cover a known surface area.
    1. Bongo nets are used by the SEFSC during various plankton surveys 
conducted throughout the three research areas. Bongo nets are also used 
to collect additional data during shark and finfish surveys. Bongo nets 
consist of two cylindrical nets that come in various diameters and fine 
mesh sizes (Figure A-13). The bongo nets are towed through the water at 
an oblique angle to sample plankton over a range of depths. During each 
plankton tow, the bongo nets are deployed to a depth of approximately 
210 m and are then retrieved at a controlled rate so that the volume of 
water sampled is uniform across the range of depths. In shallow areas, 
the sampling protocol is adjusted to prevent contact between the bongo 
nets and the seafloor. A collecting bucket, attached to the end of the 
net, is used to contain the plankton sample. When the net is retrieved, 
the collecting bucket can be detached and easily transported to a 
laboratory. Some bongo nets can be opened and closed using remote 
control to enable the collection of samples from particular depth 
ranges. A group of depth-specific bongo net samples can be used to 
establish the vertical distribution of zooplankton species in the water 
column at a site. Bongo nets are generally used to collect zooplankton 
for research purposes and are not used for commercial harvest. There 
are no documented takes of marine mammals incidental to SEFSC research 
using bongo nets.
    2. Neuston net--Neuston nets are used to collect zooplankton that 
lives in the top few centimeters of the sea surface (the neuston 
layer). This specialized net has a rectangular mouth opening (usually 2 
or 3 times as wide as deep, i.e. 60 cm by 20 cm). They are generally 
towed half submerged at 1-2 kts from the side of the vessel on a boom 
to avoid the ship's wake. There are no documented takes of marine 
mammals incidental to SEFSC research using bongo nets.
    3. Other small nets--The SEFSC also uses Methot juvenile fish nets, 
Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System 
(MOCNESS), and bag seines. A complete description of this gear and 
SEFSC operational protocols can be found in Appendix A of the SEFSC's 
Draft PEA. There are no documented takes of marine mammals and NMFS 
incidental to research using this gear.
    Oyster Dredge--Oyster dredges are constructed from a metal frame 
with metal chain netting. Along the front edge of the dredge is a long 
bar with teeth that are dragged on the seafloor to pick up oysters and 
deposit them into the chain mesh netting. The oyster dredge used for 
the Mississippi Department of Marine Resource Oyster surveys consists 
of a nine-tooth bar about 20 inches wide with teeth 4 in. long and 
spaced 2 in. apart. There are no documented takes of marine mammals 
incidental to SEFSC research using oyster dredges.
    Hook and Line Gear--A variety of SEFSC surveys use hook-and-line 
gears to sample fish either in the water column or in benthic 
environments. These gear types include baited hooks deployed on 
longlines as well as rod-and-reel and bandit gear deployments.
    1. Longline--Longlines are basically strings of baited hooks that 
are either anchored to the bottom, for targeting groundfish, or are 
free-floating, for targeting pelagic species and represent a passive 
fishing technique. Pelagic longlines, which notionally fish near the 
surface with the use of floats, may be deployed in such a way as to 
fish at different depths in the water column. For example, deep-set 
longlines targeting tuna may have a target depth of 400 m, while a 
shallow-set longline targeting swordfish is set at 30-90 m depth. We 
refer here to bottom and pelagic longlines. Any longline generally 
consists of a mainline from which leader lines (gangions) with baited 
hooks branch off at a specified interval and is left to passively fish, 
or soak, for a set period of time before the vessel returns to retrieve 
the gear. Longlines are marked by two or more floats that act as visual 
markers and may also carry radio beacons; aids to detection are of 
particular importance for pelagic longlines, which may drift a 
significant distance from the deployment location. Pelagic longlines 
are generally composed of various diameter monofilament line and are 
generally much longer, and with more hooks, than are bottom longlines. 
Bottom longlines may be of monofilament or multifilament natural or 
synthetic lines.
    Longline vessels fish with baited hooks attached to a mainline (or 
groundline). The length of the longline and the number of hooks depend 
on the species targeted, the size of the vessel, and the purpose of the 
fishing activity. Hooks are attached to the mainline by another thinner 
line called a gangion. The length of the gangion and the distance 
between gangions depends on the purpose of the fishing activity. 
Depending on the fishery, longline gear can be deployed on the seafloor 
(bottom longline), in which case weights are

[[Page 6589]]

attached to the mainline, or near the surface of the water (pelagic 
longline), in which case buoys are attached to the mainline to provide 
flotation and keep the baited hooks suspended in the water.
    Target species for pelagic longline surveys conducted by the SEFSC 
are pelagic sharks and finfish species. These pelagic longline 
protocols have a five-nautical mile mainline with 100 gangions. The 
time period between completing deployment and starting retrieval of the 
longline gear is referred to as the soak time. Soak time is an 
important parameter for calculating fishing effort and is typically 
three hours for SEFSC surveys. Short soak times can help reduce 
longline interactions with sea turtles and marine mammals. Bottom 
longlines used by the SEFSC to survey species in deeper water, 
including sablefish, have a one-mile long monofilament mainline that is 
anchored on the seafloor with weights at the mid-point and ends. The 
line is marked at the surface by radar high flyers.
    2. Bandit Reels--Bandit reels are heavy duty fishing reels that are 
used for deep sea fishing. These are used by the SEFSC to sample fish 
in the nearshore reef inlet and estuary of the St. Lucie River, 
Florida. The SEFSC uses a bandit reel with a vertical mainline and 10 
gangions that is either deployed from the vessel and marked at the 
surface by a buoy or is fished while maintaining an attachment to the 
reel. The hook sizes used are 8/0, 11/0, or 15/0 circle hooks with 0 
offset.
    Traps and pots--Traps and pots are submerged, three-dimensional 
devices, often baited, that permit organisms to enter the enclosure but 
make escape extremely difficult or impossible. Most traps are attached 
by a rope to a buoy on the surface of the water and may be deployed in 
series. The trap entrance can be regulated to control the maximum size 
of animal that can enter, and the size of the mesh in the body of the 
trap can regulate the minimum size that is retained. In general, the 
species caught depends on the type and characteristics of the pot or 
trap used. The SEFSC uses fyke nets and various types of small traps 
and cages.
    1. Fyke nets--A fyke net is a fish trap that consists of 
cylindrical or cone-shaped netting bags that are mounted on rings or 
other rigid structures and fixed on the bottom by anchors, ballast or 
stakes (Figure A-19). Fyke traps are often outfitted with wings and/or 
leaders to guide fish towards the entrance of the bags. The Fyke nets 
used by the SEFSC are constructed with wings that are 18.8 x 9 feet and 
bag netting of 700 micron mesh.
    2. Chevron traps, shrimp cages, eel traps and throw traps--Chevron 
fish traps are wire mesh fish cages that are used to sample fish 
populations (Figure A-23). The SEFSC uses several different chevron 
fish traps of various dimensions that are baited to attract target 
species. Shrimp cages come in various shapes and are constructed of 1-
inch PVC poles that were oriented vertically attached to two fiberglass 
hoops and wrapped in 2mm mesh netting. They work by being lowered from 
a vessel or shore onto the bottom of the sea floor where they are 
baited and left for a certain amount of time and then later retrieved. 
The SEFSC uses 16 x 20 x 11 inch eel traps with \1/2\-inch metal mesh. 
The openings for the internal funnels are 2 x 3 inches and the trap is 
baited with horseshoe crabs and shrimp heads. Throw traps are small 
open ended boxes of aluminum with 1 m\2\ walls and a depth of 45 cm. 
Research using any of these traps or cages has little to no potential 
to result in marine mammal harassment.
    Conductivity, temperature, and depth profilers (CTD)--A CTD 
profiler measures these parameters and is the primary research tool for 
determining chemical and physical properties of seawater. A CTD 
profiler may be a fairly small device or it may be deployed with a 
variety of other oceanographic sensors and water sampling devices in a 
large (1 to 2 meter diameter) metal rosette wheel. The CTD profiler is 
lowered through the water column on a cable, and CTD data are collected 
either within the device or via a cable connecting to the ship. The 
data from a suite of samples collected at different depths are often 
called a depth profile, and are plotted with the value of the variable 
of interest on the x-axis and the water depth on the y-axis. Depth 
profiles for different variables can be compared in order to glean 
information about physical, chemical, and biological processes 
occurring in the water column.
    Remotely Operated Vehicle--The Super Phantom S2 (Figure A-26) is a 
powerful, versatile remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with high 
reliability and mobility. This light weight system can be deployed by 
two operators and is designed as an underwater platform which provides 
support services including color video, digital still photography, 
navigation instruments, laser scaling device, lights, position 
information of the ROV and support ship, vehicle heading, vehicle 
depth, and a powered tilt platform. The Mini ROV is used during the 
SEFSC Panama City Reef Fish survey to help conduct line surveys and 
identify cryptic and rare fish species in the Gulf of Mexico.
    Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources--A wide range of 
active acoustic devices are used in SEFSC fisheries surveys for 
remotely sensing bathymetric, oceanographic, and biological features of 
the environment. Most of these sources involve relatively high 
frequency, directional, and brief repeated signals tuned to provide 
sufficient focus and resolution on specific objects. SEFSC active 
acoustic sources include various echosounders (e.g., multibeam 
systems), scientific sonar systems, positional sonars (e.g., net 
sounders for determining trawl position), and environmental sensors 
(e.g., current profilers). The SEFSC also uses passive listening 
sensors (i.e., remotely and passively detecting sound rather than 
producing it), which do not have the potential to impact marine 
mammals.
    Underwater acoustic sources typically used for scientific purposes 
operate by creating an oscillatory overpressure through rapid vibration 
of a surface, using either electromagnetic forces or the piezoelectric 
effect of some materials. A vibratory source based on the piezoelectric 
effect is commonly referred to as a transducer. Transducers are usually 
designed to excite an acoustic wave of a specific frequency, often in a 
highly directive beam, with the directional capability increasing with 
operating frequency. The main parameter characterizing directivity is 
the beam width, defined as the angle subtended by diametrically 
opposite ``half power'' (-3 dB) points of the main lobe. For different 
transducers at a single operating frequency, the beam width can vary 
from 180 [deg] (almost omnidirectional) to only a few degrees. 
Transducers are usually produced with either circular or rectangular 
active surfaces. For circular transducers, the beam width in the 
horizontal plane (assuming a downward pointing main beam) is equal in 
all directions, whereas rectangular transducers produce more complex 
beam patterns with variable beam width in the horizontal plane. In 
general, the more narrow the beam, the shorter distance to which the 
sound propagates.
    The types of active sources employed in fisheries acoustic research 
and monitoring may be considered in two broad categories here (Category 
1 and Category 2), based largely on their respective operating 
frequency (i.e., within or outside the known audible range of marine 
species) and other output characteristics (e.g., signal duration, 
directivity). As described

[[Page 6590]]

below, these operating characteristics result in differing potential 
for acoustic impacts on marine mammals.
    Before identifying the active acoustic sources used by the SEFSC, 
we further describe scientific sonar sound source characteristics here 
relevant to our analysis. Specifically, we look at the following two 
ways to characterize sound: By its temporal (continuous or 
intermittent) and its pulse properties (i.e., impulsive or non-
impulsive). Continuous sounds are those whose sound pressure level 
remains above that of the ambient sound, with negligibly small 
fluctuations in level (NIOSH, 1998; ANSI, 2005), while intermittent 
sounds are defined as sounds with interrupted levels of low or no sound 
(NIOSH, 1998).
    Sounds can also be characterized as either impulsive or non-
impulsive. Impulsive sounds are typically transient, brief (< 1 sec), 
broadband, and consist of a high peak pressure with rapid rise time and 
rapid decay (ANSI, 1986; NIOSH, 1998). Impulsive sounds, by definition, 
are intermittent. Non-impulsive sounds can be broadband, narrowband or 
tonal, brief or prolonged, and typically do not have a high peak sound 
pressure with rapid rise/decay time that impulsive sounds do (ANSI 
1995; NIOSH 1998). Non-impulsive sounds can be intermittent or 
continuous. Scientific sonars, such as the ones used by the SEFSC, are 
characterized as intermittent and non-impulsive. Discussion on the 
appropriate harassment threshold associated with these types of sources 
based on these characteristics can be found in the Estimated Take 
section.
    Category 1 active fisheries acoustic sources include those with 
high output frequencies (>180 kHz) that are outside the known 
functional hearing capability of any marine mammal. Example Category 1 
sources include short range echosounders and acoustic Doppler current 
profilers). These sources also generally have short duration signals 
and highly directional beam patterns, meaning that any individual 
marine mammal would be unlikely to even detect a signal.
    While sounds that are above the functional hearing range of marine 
animals may be audible if sufficiently loud (e.g., M[oslash]hl, 1968), 
the relative output levels of the sources used by the SEFSC would only 
be detectable to marine mammals out to a few meters from the source. If 
detected, these sound levels are highly unlikely to be of sufficient 
intensity to result in behavioral harassment. Two recent studies (Deng 
et al., 2014; Hastie et al., 2014) demonstrate some behavioral reaction 
by marine mammals to acoustic signals at frequencies above 180 kHz. 
These studies generally indicate only that sub-harmonics could be 
detectable by certain species at distances up to several hundred 
meters. However, this detectability is in reference to ambient noise, 
not any harassment threshold for assessing the potential for Level B 
incidental take for these sources. Source levels of the secondary peaks 
considered in these studies--those within the hearing range of some 
marine mammals--range from 135-166 dB, meaning that these sub-harmonics 
would either be below the threshold for behavioral harassment (160 dB) 
or would attenuate to such a level within a few meters. Beyond these 
important study details, these high-frequency (i.e., Category 1) 
sources and any energy they may produce below the primary frequency 
that could be audible to marine mammals would be dominated by a few 
primary sources that are operated near-continuously, and the potential 
range above threshold would be so small as to essentially discount 
them. Therefore, Category 1 sources are not expected to have any effect 
on marine mammals and are not considered further in this document.
    Category 2 acoustic sources, which would be present on many vessels 
operating under this rulemaking include a variety of single, dual, and 
multi-beam echosounders (many with a variety of modes), sources used to 
determine the orientation of trawl nets, and several current profilers 
with lower output frequencies than Category 1 sources. Category 2 
active acoustic sources have moderate to high output frequencies (10 to 
180 kHz) that are generally within the functional hearing range of 
marine mammals and therefore have the potential to cause behavioral 
harassment. However, while likely potentially audible to certain 
species, these sources have generally short ping durations and are 
typically highly directional (i.e., narrow beam width) to serve their 
intended purpose of mapping specific objects, depths, or environmental 
features. These characteristics reduce the likelihood and or spatial 
extent of an animal receiving or perceiving the signal. In addition, 
sources with relatively lower output frequencies coupled with higher 
output levels, can be operated in different output modes (e.g., energy 
can be distributed among multiple output beams) which may lessen the 
likelihood of perception by and potential impact on marine mammals.
    Category 2 active acoustic sources are unlikely to be audible to 
whales and most pinnipeds, whereas they may be detected by odontocete 
cetaceans and high frequency specialists. Category 2 sources are 
described further in detail below because, unlike Category 1 sources, 
they have the potential to take a marine mammal by Level B (behavioral) 
harassment.
    The acoustic system used during a particular survey is optimized 
for surveying under specific environmental conditions (e.g., depth and 
bottom type). Lower frequencies of sound travel further in the water 
than in air but provide lower resolution (i.e., are less precise). 
Pulse width and power may also be adjusted in the field to accommodate 
a variety of environmental conditions. Signals with a relatively long 
pulse width travel further and are received more clearly by the 
transducer (i.e., good signal-to-noise ratio) but have a lower range 
resolution. Shorter pulses provide higher range resolution and can 
detect smaller and more closely spaced objects in the water. Similarly, 
higher power settings may decrease the utility of collected data. Power 
level is also adjusted according to bottom type, as some bottom types 
have a stronger return and require less power to produce data of 
sufficient quality. Power is typically set to the lowest level possible 
in order to receive a clear return with the best data.
    Survey vessels may be equipped with multiple acoustic systems; each 
system has different advantages that may be utilized depending on the 
specific survey area or purpose. In addition, many systems may be 
operated at one of two frequencies or at a range of frequencies. 
Characteristics of these sources are summarized in Table 2.
    1. Multi-Frequency Narrow Beam Scientific Echosounders (Simrad 
EK60)--Echosounders and sonars work by transmitting acoustic pulses 
into the water that travel through the water column, reflect off the 
seafloor, and return to the receiver. Water depth is measured by 
multiplying the time elapsed by the speed of sound in water (assuming 
accurate sound speed measurement for the entire signal path), while the 
returning signal itself carries information allowing ``visualization'' 
of the seafloor. Multi-frequency split-beam sensors are deployed from 
SEFSC survey vessels to acoustically map the distributions and estimate 
the abundances and biomasses of many types of fish; characterize their 
biotic and abiotic environments; investigate ecological linkages; and 
gather information about their schooling behavior, migration patterns, 
and avoidance reactions to the survey vessel. The use of multiple 
frequencies allows coverage of a broad range of marine

[[Page 6591]]

acoustic survey activity, ranging from studies of small plankton to 
large fish schools in a variety of environments from shallow coastal 
waters to deep ocean basins. Simultaneous use of several discrete 
echosounder frequencies facilitates accurate estimates of the size of 
individual fish and can also be used for species identification based 
on differences in frequency-dependent acoustic backscattering between 
species. The SEFSC uses devices that transmit and receive at six 
frequencies from 18 to 333 kHz.
    2. Multibeam Echosounder and Sonars (Simrad ME70, MS70, SX90)--
Multi-beam echosounders and sonars work by transmitting acoustic pulses 
into the water then measuring the time required for the pulses to 
reflect and return to the receiver and the angle of the reflected 
signal. However, the use of multiple acoustic ``beams'' allows coverage 
of a greater area compared to single beam sonar. The sensor arrays for 
multibeam echosounders and sonars are usually mounted on the keel of 
the vessel and have the ability to look horizontally in the water 
column as well as straight down. Multibeam echosounders and sonars are 
used for mapping seafloor bathymetry, estimating fish biomass, 
characterizing fish schools, and studying fish behavior. The multi-beam 
echosounders used by the SEFSC emit frequencies in the 70-120 kHz 
range.
    3. Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)--An ADCP is a type of 
sonar used for measuring water current velocities simultaneously at a 
range of depths. It can be mounted to a mooring or to the bottom of a 
boat. The ADCP works by transmitting ``pings'' of sound at a constant 
frequency into the water. As the sound waves travel, they ricochet off 
particles suspended in the moving water and reflect back to the 
instrument (WHOI 2011). Sound waves bounced back from a particle moving 
away from the profiler have a slightly lowered frequency when they 
return and particles moving toward the instrument send back higher 
frequency waves. The difference in frequency between the waves the 
profiler sends out and the waves it receives is called the Doppler 
shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the 
particle and the water around it are moving. Sound waves that hit 
particles far from the profiler take longer to come back than waves 
that strike close by. By measuring the time it takes for the waves to 
return to the sensor and the Doppler shift, the profiler can measure 
current speed at many different depths with each series of pings (WHOI 
2011).
    4. Trawl Monitoring Systems (Simrad ITI)--Trawl monitoring systems 
allow continuous monitoring of net dimensions during towing to assess 
consistency, maintain quality control, and provide swept area for 
biomass calculations. Transponders are typically located in various 
positions on the trawl or cables connecting the trawl to the ship. Data 
are monitored in real time to make adjustments in ship speed or depth 
of trawl to meet survey protocols. This system operates in the 27- 33 
kHz range, below the functional hearing range of all marine mammals.

                                           Table 2--Operating Characteristics of SEFSC Active Acoustic Sources
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                        Effective          Effective
                                                 Operating     Maximum source                                         exposure area:     exposure area:
            Active acoustic system              frequencies    level (dB re:             Nominal beamwidth            Sea surface to     Sea surface to
                                                   (kHz)      1[micro]Pa @1 m)                                         200 m depth      160 dB threshold
                                                                                                                         (km\2\)         depth (km\2\)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Simrad EK60 narrow beam echosounder...........  18, 38, 70,                224   11 [deg] @18 kHz, 7 [deg] @38 kHz             0.0142             0.1411
                                                 120, 200*,
                                                       333*
Simrad ME70 multibeam echosounder.............       70-120                205                           140 [deg]             0.0201             0.0201
Teledyne RD Instruments ADCP, Ocean Surveyor..           75              223.6                                 N/A             0.0086             0.0187
Simrad EQ50...................................     50, 200*                210                16 @50kHz, 7 @200kHz             0.0075              0.008
Simrad ITI Trawl Monitoring System............        27-33               <200                40 [deg] x 100 [deg]             0.0032             0.0032
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Devices working at this frequency is outside of known marine mammal hearing range and is not considered to have the potential to result in marine
  mammal harassment.

SEFSC Vessels Used for Survey Activities

    The SEFSC and its research partners use a variety of different 
types and sizes of vessels to meet their needs and objectives. Vessels 
may be owned and operated by NMFS, owned and operated by the 
cooperative partners, or chartered. Vessels vary in size, including, 
small fishing vessels (U.S. Coast Guard [USCG] Class A--up to 16 ft. 
and Class I--16 to <26 ft.), medium vessels (USCG Class II--26 to <40 
ft. and Class III--40 to 65 ft.), USCG Small Research Vessel (R/V) (>65 
ft. and <300 gross tons) and USCG Research Vessel (R/V) (>65 ft. and 
>300 gross tons). Several Motor Vessels (M/V) >65 feet and USCG 
Research Vessels are also chartered and used by partner agencies. 
Please see Appendix A of the SEFSC's Draft PEA for detailed information 
on all vessels over 65 ft used during fisheries research.

TPWD Gillnet Research

    TPWD conducts a long-term standardized fishery-independent 
monitoring program to assess the relative abundance and size of finfish 
and shellfish in Texas bays. TPWD is mandated by the Texas Legislature 
to conduct continuous research and study the supply, economic value, 
environment, and breeding habits of the various species of finfish, 
shrimp and oysters under Parks and Wildlife Code sections 66.217, 
76.302 and 77.004. Results from this program are primarily used by the 
agency to manage Texas' marine finfish and shellfish resources. Data 
are also available for use by other agencies (e.g., USFWS, Gulf of 
Mexico Fishery Management Council, Gulf States Marine Fisheries 
Commission, Texas Water Development Board, and Texas Commission on 
Environmental Quality), universities, non-governmental organizations, 
and the private sector.
    The current sampling protocol began in the spring of 1983 for seven 
of the ten bay systems; the remaining three bay systems were gradually 
added. The number of gill net sets was standardized in 1985. The 
monitoring program utilizes a stratified random sample design, with 
each bay system as an independent stratum. Gill net sample locations 
are randomly selected from grids (1 minute latitude by 1 minute 
longitude), with each selected grid further subdivided into 144 5-
second gridlets. Sample sites are then randomly selected from gridlets 
containing less than 15.2 m of shoreline.
    TPWD utilizes gill nets to conduct fishery-independent modeling on 
relative abundance, diversity, and age

[[Page 6592]]

and size distributions of adult and subadult finfish in Texas waters. 
Samples collected also provide data for genetic, life history and age 
and growth analyses. Statistically, gill nets provide for the lowest 
variability and the best fishery-independent measure of adult and 
subadult finfish abundance with a low coefficient of variation for most 
species requiring a low sample size. Standardized sampling methods have 
low operational bias allowing comparison between and among bay systems 
and years.
    Gill nets are typically set in shallow open bay systems with little 
to no tidal movement. In this type of system, long gill net soak times 
are needed to catch a statistically-significant number of fish. The 
average number of fish caught in the overnight gill net sets is 90 fish 
per gill net which equates to 1 fish per 27 ft\2\ or 6.7  
0.07 fish per hour (CPUE) of all species per hour. CPUE for two 
important recreational species, red drum and spotted seatrout, is 0.97 
 .02 and 0.68  .01 respectively.
    Each gillnet is 183 m (600 ft) long, 1.2 m (3 ft) deep, and 
comprised of four 45 m (150 ft) long panels. Each panel is a different 
sized mesh: 7.6 cm (3 in.), 10.2 cm (4 in.), 12.7 cm (5 in.), and 15.2 
cm (6 in.) to capture different sized fish. Each panel is sewn to the 
next panel; therefore, there are no gaps between panels. Currently, the 
float line and net mesh are tied together at 8 in. intervals. This 
results in a 6-8 in gap between the float line and the mesh when the 
net is set. TPWD will modify this design so that the float line and net 
mesh are tied together at 4 in. intervals. This will reduce the gap to 
approximately one to two inches. This gear modification would also be 
done for the lead line to reduce gaps between the lead line and net 
mesh. Reducing gaps between the lines and mesh are designed to minimize 
the potential of a dolphin getting its pectoral fins or flukes caught 
in these gaps.
    Gill nets are set perpendicular to the shoreline with the smaller 
mesh end (3'' mesh panel) of the net anchored to the shoreline and the 
progressively larger mesh (up to 6'' mesh panel) extending baywards for 
600 ft. All gill net are set in water depths ranging from 0.0-1.1 m on 
the shallow end of the net and from 0.1-4.6 m (0.33 to 15 ft) on the 
deep end of the net. However, 86 percent of gill net sets occur at a 
deep-end depth of 1.5 m (4 ft) or less. Where depths are greater than 4 
ft, the top of the gillnet will be submerged because it is only 3 ft 
high. A marker bouy is typically attached to the float line at the 
intersection of each mesh panel (150 ft) with sufficant length line to 
reach the surface. When setting the net, TPWD pulls it as taut as 
possible with one person pulling on the net while the anchor is set.
    Gill nets are set overnight during each spring and fall season. The 
spring season begins with the second full week in April and extends for 
ten weeks. The fall season begins with the second full week in 
September and extends for ten weeks. Nets are set within one hour 
before sunset and retrieved within 4 hours after the following sunrise. 
Soak times vary from approximately 12-14 hours. Gill nets are set 
overnight to eliminate day-use disturbances (boaters running the 
shoreline) that can alter normal fish behavior and movement patterns, 
reduce the amount of disturbance by and to anglers and boaters (user 
conflicts), and increase boater safety (reduced likelihood of striking 
nets). TPWD sets two to three nets on two separate nights for each of 
the 10 bay systems where they fish which are separated by at least 1 km 
and usually miles apart. No more than one gill net is set in the same 
grid on the same night, nor set more than two times in the same grid in 
a season. Fishing effort is evenly distributed between spring and fall 
season. Up to 90 sets per area could occur each year the proposed 
regulations would be valid. This sampling rate proposed for the next 
five years is identical to past sampling efforts.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Sections 3 and 4 of the SEFSC's application summarize available 
information regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat 
preferences, and behavior and life history, of the potentially affected 
species. Additional information regarding population trends and threats 
may be found in NMFS' Stock Assessment Reports (SAR; https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessment-reports-region) and more general information about 
these species (e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found 
on NMFS' website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/find-species). 
Additional species and stock information can be found in NMFS' Draft 
PEA (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/node/23111). In some cases, species 
are treated as guilds. In general ecological terms, a guild is a group 
of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role 
within a community. However, for purposes of stock assessment or 
abundance prediction, certain species may be treated together as a 
guild because they are difficult to distinguish visually and many 
observations are ambiguous. For example, NMFS' Atlantic SARs assess 
Mesoplodon spp. and Kogia spp. as guilds. Here, we consider pilot 
whales, beaked whales (excluding the northern bottlenose whale), and 
Kogia spp. as guilds. That is, where not otherwise specified, 
references to ``pilot whales'' includes both the long-finned and short-
finned pilot whale, ``beaked whales'' includes the Cuvier's, 
Blainville's, Gervais, Sowerby's, and True's beaked whales, and ``Kogia 
spp.'' includes both the dwarf and pygmy sperm whale.
    Table 3a lists all species (n = 33) with expected potential for 
occurrence in ARA, GOMRA, and CRA and summarizes information related to 
the population or stock, including regulatory status under the MMPA and 
ESA and potential biological removal (PBR), where known. PBR is defined 
by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural 
mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while 
allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable 
population (as described in NMFS' SARs). The use of PBR in this 
analysis is described in later detail in the Negligible Impact Analyses 
and Determination section. Excluding bottlenose dolphins, species with 
potential occurrence in the ARA and GOMRA constitute 56 managed stocks 
under the MMPA. Bottlenose dolphins contribute an additional 17 stocks 
in the ARA (1 offshore, 5 coastal, and 11 estuarine), 36 stocks in the 
GOMRA (1 offshore, 1 continental shelf, 3 coastal, and 31 bays, sounds, 
and estuaries (BSE)), and 1 stock in the CRA for a total of 54 
bottlenose dolphin stocks. In total, 110 stocks have the potential to 
occur in the SEFSC research area.
    Species that could occur in a given research area but are not 
expected to have the potential for interaction with SEFSC research gear 
or that are not likely to be harassed by SEFSC's use of active acoustic 
devices are listed here but omitted from further analysis. These 
include extralimital species, which are species that do not normally 
occur in a given area but for which there are one or more occurrence 
records that are considered beyond the normal range of the species. 
Extralimital or rarely sighted species within the SEFSC's ARA include 
the North Atlantic bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), Bryde's 
whale (B. edeni), Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus 
acutus), white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), Sowerby's 
beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens), harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus), 
and hooded seal (Cystophora cristata).

[[Page 6593]]

Extralimital or rarely sighted species in the GOMRA include the North 
Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), blue whale, fin whale (B. 
physalus), sei whale, minke whale (B. acutorostrata), humpback whale 
(Megaptera novaeangliae), and Sowerby's beaked whale. In the CRA, 
extralimital or rarely sighted species include blue whale, fin whale, 
sei whale, Bryde's whale, minke whale, harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), 
gray seal (Halichoerus grypus), harp seal, and hooded seal. In 
addition, Caribbean manatees (Trichechus manatus) may be found in all 
three research areas. However, manatees are managed by the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service and are not considered further in this document.
    Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document 
represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or 
the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. 
NMFS' stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total 
estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that 
comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend 
beyond U.S. waters. For some species, survey abundance (as compared to 
stock or species abundance) is the total number of individuals 
estimated within the survey area, which may or may not align completely 
with a stock's geographic range as defined in the SARs. These surveys 
may also extend beyond U.S. waters.
    To provide a background for how estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks 
are identified, we provide the following excerpt from the Bottlenose 
Dolphin Stock Structure Research Plan for the Central Northern Gulf of 
Mexico (NMFS, 2007) which more specifically describes the stock 
structure of bottlenose dolphins within the bays, sounds, and estuaries 
of the Gulf of Mexico: The distinct stock status for each of the 31 
inshore areas of contiguous, enclosed, or semi-enclosed bodies of 
waters is community-based. That is, stock delineation is based on the 
finding, through photo-identification (photo-ID) studies, of relatively 
discrete dolphin ``communities'' in the few GOM areas that have been 
studied (Waring et al. 2007). This finding was then generalized to all 
enclosed inshore GOM waters where bottlenose dolphins exist. A 
``community'' consists of resident dolphins that regularly share large 
portions of their ranges, and interact with each other to a much 
greater extent than with dolphins in adjacent waters. The term 
emphasizes geographic, and social relationships of dolphins. Bottlenose 
dolphin communities do not necessarily constitute closed demographic 
populations, as individuals from adjacent communities may interbreed.
    All values presented in Table 3a and 3b are the most recent 
available at the time of publication and are available in the most 
recent SAR for that stock, including draft 2018 SARs (Hayes et al., 
2018) available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/draft-marine-mammal-stock-assessment-reports) .

           Table 3a--Marine Mammals Potentially Present in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Research Areas During Fishery Research
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Research area         ESA status
                                                                     ---------------------------   (L/NL),     Stock abundance
          Common name            Scientific name       MMPA stock                                    MMPA      (CV, Nmin) \2\     PBR \3\    Annual M/SI
                                                                        ARA      GOM      CRA     strategic                                      \4\
                                                                                                  (Y/N) \1\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Order Cetartiodactyla--Cetacea--Suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Family Balaenopteridae
 (rorquals):
    North Atlantic right whale  Eubalaena          Western North           X   .......  .......  L, Y         451 (0, 445)....          0.9         5.56
                                 glacialis.         Atlantic.
    Humpback whale............  Megaptera          Gulf of Maine \5\       X        X        X   NL, Y        896 (0, 896 )...         14.6          9.8
                                 novaeangliae.
    Blue whale................  Balaenoptera       Western North           X   .......  .......  L, Y         unk (unk, 440,            0.9          unk
                                 musculus.          Atlantic.                                                  2010).
    Fin whale.................  Balaenoptera       Western North           X   .......  .......  L, Y         1,618 (0.33,              2.5         2.65
                                 physalis.          Atlantic.                                                  1,234).
    Minke whale...............  Balaenoptera       Canadian East           X        X        X   NL, N        2,591 (0.81,               14          7.5
                                 acutorostrata.     Coast.                                                     1,425).
    Bryde's whale.............  Balaenoptera       Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL,\6\ Y     33 (1.07, 16)...         0.03          0.7
                                 edeni.             Mexico.
    Sei whale.................  Balaenoptera       Nova Scotia......       X   .......  .......  L, Y         357 (0.52, 236).          0.5          0.6
                                 borealis.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Order Cetartiodactyla--Cetacea--Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Family Physeteridae:
    Sperm whale...............  Physeter           North Atlantic...       X   .......  .......  L, Y         2,288                     3.6          0.8
                                 macrocephalus.                                                                (0.28,1,815).
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  L, Y         763 (0.38, 560).          1.1            0
                                                    Mexico.
                                                   Puerto Rico and    .......  .......       X   L, Y         unk.............          unk          unk
                                                    U.S. Virgin
                                                    Islands.
Family Kogiidae:
    Pygmy sperm whale.........  Kogia breviceps..  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        3,785 (0.47,               21          3.5
                                                    Atlantic.                                                  2,598) \7\.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        186 (1.04, 90)            0.9          0.3
                                                    Mexico.                                                    \8\.
    Dwarf sperm whale.........  K. sima..........  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        3,785 (0.47,               21          3.5
                                                    Atlantic.                                                  2,598) \7\.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        186 (1.04, 90)            0.9            0
                                                    Mexico.                                                    \8\.
Family Ziphiidae (beaked
 whales):
    Cuvier's beaked whale.....  Ziphius            Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        6,532 (0.32,               50          0.4
                                 cavirostris.       Atlantic.                                                  5,021).

[[Page 6594]]

 
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        74 (1.04, 36)...          0.4            0
                                                    Mexico.
                                                   Puerto Rico and    .......  .......       X   NL, N        Unk.............          unk          unk
                                                    U.S. Virgin
                                                    Islands.
    Blainville's beaked whale.  Mesoplodon         Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        7,092 (0.54,               46          0.2
                                 densirostris.      Atlantic.                                                  4,632) \9\.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        149 (0.91, 77)..          0.8            0
                                                    Mexico.
    Gervais' beaked whale.....  Mesoplodon         Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        7,092 (0.54,               46            0
                                 europaeus.         Atlantic.                                                  4,632) \9\.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        149 (0.91, 77)..          0.8            0
                                                    Mexico.
    Sowerby's beaked whale....  Mesoplodon bidens  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        7,092 (0.54,               46            0
                                                    Atlantic.                                                  4,632) \9\.
    True's beaked whale.......  Mesoplodon mirus.  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        7,092 (0.54,               46            0
                                                    Atlantic.                                                  4,632) \9\.
Family Delphinidae (dolphins):
    Melon-headed whales.......  Peponocephala      Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk            0
                                 electra.           Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        2,235 (0.75,               13            0
                                                    Mexico.                                                    1,274).
    Risso's dolphin...........  Grampus griseus..  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        18,250 (0.46,             126         49.9
                                                    Atlantic.                                                  12,619).
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        2,442 (0.57,               16          7.9
                                                    Mexico.                                                    1,563).
    Short-finned pilot whales.  Globicephala       Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        28,924 (0.24,             236          168
                                 macrorhynchus.     Atlantic.                                                  23,637).
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        2,415 (0.66,               15          0.5
                                                    Mexico.                                                    1,456).
                                                   Puerto Rico and    .......  .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk          unk
                                                    U.S. Virgin
                                                    Islands.
    Long-finned pilot whales..  Globicephala       Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        5,636 (0.63,               35           27
                                 melas.             Atlantic.                                                  3,464).
                                                  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Bottlenose dolphin........  Tursiops           See table 3b.....
                                 truncatus.
                                                  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Common dolphin............  Delphinus delphis  Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        70,184 (0.28,             557          406
                                                    Atlantic.                                                  55,690).
    Atlantic spotted dolphin..  Stenella           Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        44,715 (0.43,             316            0
                                 frontalis.         Atlantic.                                                  31,610).
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        unk.............          unk           42
                                                    Mexico.
                                                   Puerto Rico and    .......  .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk          unk
                                                    U.S. Virgin
                                                    Islands.
    Pantropical spotted         Stenella           Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        3,333 (0.91,               17            0
     dolphin.                    attenuata.         Atlantic.                                                  1,733).
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  ...........  50,880 (0.27,             407          4.4
                                                    Mexico.                                                    40,699).
    Striped dolphin...........  Stenella           Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        54,807 (0.3,              428            0
                                 coeruleoalba.      Atlantic.                                                  42,804).
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        1,849 (0.77,               10            0
                                                    Mexico.                                                    1,041).
    Fraser's dolphin..........  Lagenodelphis      Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk            0
                                 hosei.             Atlantic.
                                                   Gulf of Mexico...  .......       X   .......  NL, N        unk.............        undet            0
    Rough-toothed dolphin.....  Steno bredanensis  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        136 (1.0, 67)...          0.7            0
                                                    Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        624 (0.99, 311).          2.5          0.8
                                                    Mexico.
    Clymene dolphin...........  Stenella clymene.  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        unk.............        undet            0
                                                    Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        129 (1.0, 64)...          0.6            0
                                                    Mexico.
    Spinner dolphin...........  Stenella           Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        unk.............          unk            0
                                 longirostris.      Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        11,441 (0.83,              62            0
                                                    Mexico.                                                    6,221).
                                                   Puerto Rico and    .......  .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk          unk
                                                    U.S. Virgin
                                                    Islands.
    Killer whale..............  Orcinus orca.....  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk            0
                                                    Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        28 (1.02, 14)...          0.1            0
                                                    Mexico.
    Pygmy killer whale........  Feresa attenuata.  Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        unk.............          unk            0
                                                    Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        152 (1.02, 75)..          0.8            0
                                                    Mexico.
    False killer whale........  Pseudorca          Western North           X   .......       X   NL, N        442 (1.06, 212).          2.1          unk
                                 crassidens.        Atlantic.
                                                   Northern Gulf of   .......       X   .......  NL, N        unk.............        undet            0
                                                    Mexico.
Family Phocoenidae
 (porpoises):

[[Page 6595]]

 
    Harbor porpoise...........  Phocoena phocoena  Gulf of Maine/Bay       X   .......  .......  NL, N        79,833 (0.32,             706          255
                                 vomerina.          of Fundy.                                                  61,415).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Order Carnivora--Superfamily Pinnipedia
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Family Phocidae (earless
 seals):
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Harbor seal...............  Phoca vitulina     Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        75,834 (0.15,           2,006          345
                                 richardii.         Atlantic.                                                  66,884).
    Gray seal.................  Halichoerus        Western North           X   .......  .......  NL, N        27,131 (0.19,           1,389        5,688
                                 grypus.            Atlantic.                                                  23,158).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). NL indicates that the species is not listed under the
  ESA and is not 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 at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock
  abundance.).
\3\ PBR indicates Potential Biological Removal as referenced from NMFS 2017 SARs. PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not
  including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable
  population. It is the product of minimum population size, one-half the maximum net productivity rate and a recovery factor for endangered, depleted,
  threatened stocks, or stocks of unknown status relative to OSP.
\4\ These values, found in NMFS' SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial
  fisheries, subsistence hunting, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value. All
  M/SI values are as presented in the 2016 SARs.
\5\ Humpback whales present off the southeastern U.S. are thought to be predominantly from the Gulf of Maine stock; however, could include animals from
  Canadian stocks (e.g., Nova Scotia) (NMFS, 2017). Here we provide estimates for the Gulf of Maine stock only as a conservative value.
\6\ The Bryde's whale is proposed for listing under the ESA (81 FR 88639, December 8, 2016). NMFS decision is pending.
\7\ This estimate includes both dwarf and pygmy sperm whales in the N. Atlantic stock.
\8\ This estimate includes both dwarf and pygmy sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico stock.
\9\ This estimate includes all species of Mesoplodon in the N.Atlantic stock.


 Table 3b--Bottlenose Dolphin Stocks Potentially Present in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Research
                                          Areas During Fishery Research
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Stock abundance (CV,
              Stock                     MMPA status             Nmin) \1\               PBR         Annual M/SI
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             ATLANTIC RESEARCH AREA
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Western North Atlantic, Offshore.  Not Strategic.......    77,532 (0.40, 56,053)             561            39.4
Northern Migratory Coastal.......  Depleted............      6,639 (0.41, 4,759)              48        6.1-13.2
Southern Migratory Coastal.......  Depleted............      3,751 (0.06, 2,353)              23          0-14.3
South Carolina & Georgia Coastal.  Depleted............      6,027 (0.34, 4,569)              46         1.4-1.6
Northern Florida Coastal.........  Depleted............        877 (0.0.49, 595)               6             0.6
Central Florida Coastal..........  Depleted............      1,218 (0.71, 2,851)             9.1             0.4
Northern North Carolina Estuarine  Strategic...........          823 (0.06, 782)             7.8        0.8-18.2
 System.
Southern North Carolina Estuarine  Strategic...........                      unk           Undet         0.4-0.6
 System.
Northern South Carolina Estuarine  Strategic...........                      unk           Undet             0.2
 System.
Charleston Estuarine System......  Strategic...........                      unk           Undet             unk
Northern Georgia/Southern South    Strategic...........                      unk           undet             1.4
 Carolina Estuarine System.
Central Georgia Estuarine System.  Strategic...........          192 (0.04, 185)             1.9             unk
Southern Georgia Estuarine System  Strategic...........          194 (0.05, 185)             1.9             unk
Jacksonville Estuarine System....  Strategic...........                      unk           undet             1.2
Biscayne Bay.....................  Strategic...........                      unk           undet             unk
Florida Bay......................  Not Strategic.......                      unk           undet             unk
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          GULF OF MEXICO RESEARCH AREA
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Oceanic..........................  Not Strategic.......      5,806 (0.39, 4,230)              42             6.5
Continental Shelf................  Not Strategic.......     51,192 (0.1, 46,926)             469             0.8
Western Coastal..................  Not Strategic.......    20,161 (0.17, 17,491)             175             0.6
Northern Coastal.................  Not Strategic.......      7,185 (0.21, 6,004)              60             0.4
Eastern Coastal..................  Not Strategic.......    12,388 (0.13, 11,110)             111             1.6
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                               Northern Gulf of Mexico Bay, Sound, and Estuary 2 3
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Laguna Madre.....................  Strategic...........           80 (1.57, unk)           undet             0.4
Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay...  Strategic...........           58 (0.61, unk)           undet               0
Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San       Strategic...........           55 (0.82, unk)           undet             0.2
 Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay,
 Espirtu Santo Bay.
Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay,  Strategic...........           61 (0.45, unk)           undet             0.4
 Lavaca Bay.
West Bay.........................  Strategic...........            48 (0.03, 46)             0.5             0.2

[[Page 6596]]

 
Galveston Bay, East Bay, Trinity   Strategic...........          152 (0.43, unk)           undet             0.4
 Bay.
Sabine Lake......................  Strategic...........                  0 (-,-)           undet             0.2
Calcasieu Lake...................  Strategic...........                  0 (-,-)           undet             0.2
Vermillion Bay, West Cote Blanche  Strategic...........                  0 (-,-)           undet               0
 Bay, Atchafalaya Bay.
Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier Bay....  Strategic...........       3,870 (0.15, 3426)              27             0.2
Barataria Bay....................  Strategic...........       2306 (0.09, 2,138)              17             160
Mississippi River Delta..........  Strategic...........          332 (0.93, 170)             1.4             0.2
Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne,    Strategic...........      3,046 (0.06, 2,896)              23             310
 Bay Boudreau.
Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay........  Strategic...........          122 (0.34, unk)           undet               1
Perdido Bay......................  Strategic...........                  0 (-,-)           undet             0.6
Pensacola Bay, East Bay..........  Strategic...........                     33 (           undet             unk
Choctawhatchee Bay...............  Strategic...........          179 (0.04, unk)           undet             0.4
St. Andrews Bay..................  Strategic...........          124 (0.57, unk)           undet             0.2
St. Joseph Bay...................  Strategic...........          152 (0.08, unk)           undet             unk
St. Vincent Sound, Apalachicola    Strategic...........             439 (0.14,-)           undet               0
 Bay, St. Georges Sound.
Apalachee Bay....................  Strategic...........          491 (0.39, unk)           undet               0
Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee      Strategic...........                      unk           undet               0
 Bay, Crystal Bay.
St. Joseph Sound, Clearwater       Strategic...........                      unk           undet             0.4
 Harbor.
Tampa Bay........................  Strategic...........                      unk           undet             0.6
Sarasota Bay, Little Sarasota Bay  Strategic...........          158 (0.27, 126)             1.3             0.6
Pine Island Sound, Charlotte       Strategic...........            826 (0.09, -)           undet             1.6
 Harbor, Gasparilla Sound, Lemon
 Bay.
Caloosahatchee River.............  Strategic...........                  0 (-,-)           undet             0.4
Estero Bay.......................  Strategic...........                      unk           undet             0.2
Chokoloskee Bay, Ten Thousand      Strategic...........                      unk           undet               0
 Islands, Gullivan Bay.
Whitewater Bay...................  Strategic...........                      unk           undet               0
Florida Keys (Bahia Honda to Key   Strategic...........                      unk           undet               0
 West).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             CARRIBEAN RESEARCH AREA
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin        Strategic...........                      unk           undet             unk
 Islands.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance).
\2\ Details for these 25 stocks are included in the report: Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus
  truncatus), Northern Gulf of Mexico Bay, Sound, and Estuary Stocks.
\3\ The total annual human-caused mortality and serious injury for these stocks of common bottlenose dolphins is
  unknown because these stocks may interact with unobserved fisheries. Also, for Gulf of Mexico BSE stocks,
  mortality estimates for the shrimp trawl fishery are calculated at the state level and have not been included
  within mortality estimates for individual BSE stocks. Therefore, minimum counts of human-caused mortality and
  serious injury for these stocks are presented.

    Take reduction planning--Incidental take of marine mammals in 
commercial fisheries has been and continues to be a serious issue in 
the Southeast region. In compliance with section 118 of the MMPA, NMFS 
has developed and implemented several Take Reduction Plans (TRPs) to 
reduce serious injuries and mortality of strategic marine mammal stocks 
that interact with certain commercial fisheries. Strategic stocks are 
those species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, those 
species listed as depleted under the MMPA, and those species with 
human-caused mortality that exceeds the PBR for the species. The 
immediate goal of TRPs is to reduce serious injury and mortality for 
each species below PBR within six months of the TRP's implementation. 
The long-term goal is to reduce incidental serious injury and mortality 
of marine mammals from commercial fishing operations to insignificant 
levels approaching a zero serious injury and mortality rate, taking 
into account the economics of the fishery, the availability of existing 
technology, and existing state or regional fishery management plans.
    TRPs relevant to the fisheries research areas in this rule include 
the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP), the Bottlenose 
Dolphin Take Reduction Plan (BDTRP), and the Pelagic Longline Take 
Reduction Plan (PLTRP). The ALWTRP was developed to reduce serious 
injury and mortality of North Atlantic right, humpback, fin, and minke 
whales from Northeast/Mid-Atlantic lobster trap/pot, Atlantic blue crab 
trap/pot, Atlantic mixed species trap/pot, Northeast sink gillnet, 
Northeast anchored float gillnet, Northeast drift gillnet, Mid-Atlantic 
gillnet, Southeastern U.S. Atlantic shark gillnet, and Southeastern 
Atlantic gillnet fisheries (NMFS 2010c). Gear requirements vary by 
geographic area and date. Universal gear modification requirements and 
restrictions apply to all traps/pots and anchored gillnets, including: 
no floating buoy line at the surface; no wet storage of gear (all gear 
must be hauled out of the water at least once every 30 days); fishermen 
are encouraged, but not required, to maintain knot-free buoy lines; and 
all groundlines must be made of sinking line. Additional gear 
modification requirements and restrictions vary by location, date, and 
gear type. Additional requirements may include the use of weak links, 
and gear marking and configuration specifications. Detailed 
requirements may be found in the regional guides to gillnet and pot/
trap gear fisheries available at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/Protected/ 
whaletrp/. The SEFSC MARMAP/SEAMAP-SA Reef Fish Survey (carried out by 
the SCDNR) and SEFIS (carried

[[Page 6597]]

out by the SEFSC) surveys meet the requirements necessary to implement 
TRP regulations; both surveys abide by all ALWTRP requirements.
    In 2006, NMFS implemented the BDTRP to reduce the serious injury 
and mortality of Western North Atlantic coastal bottlenose dolphins 
incidental to 13 Category I and II U.S. commercial fisheries. In 
addition to multiple non-regulatory provisions for research and 
education, the BDTRP requires modifications of fishing practices or 
gear for small, medium, and large-mesh gillnet fisheries from New York 
to Florida, and Virginia pound nets in Virginia state waters (50 CFR 
229.35). The BDTRP also established seasonal closures for certain 
gillnet commercial fisheries in state waters. The following general 
requirements are contained with BDTRP: Spatial/temporal gillnet 
restrictions, gear proximity (fishermen must stay within a set distance 
of gear), gear modifications for gillnets and Virginia pound nets, non-
regulatory gear modifications for crab pots, and other non-regulatory 
conservation measures (71 FR 24776, April 26, 2006; 77 FR 45268, July 
31, 2012; and 80 FR 6925, February 9, 2015). Due to substantial 
differences between SEFSC research fishing practices (e.g., smaller 
gear size, reduced set time, spatial and temporal differences) and 
scientific survey methods versus commercial fishing practices, the 
SEFSC and research partners do not have any surveys that meet the 
requirements necessary to implement BDTRP regulations. However, the 
SEFSC would abide by the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements included in this proposed rule.
    The Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan (PLTRP) addresses 
incidental serious injury and mortality of long-finned and short-finned 
pilot whales and Risso's dolphins in commercial pelagic longline 
fishing gear in the Atlantic. Regulatory measures include limiting 
mainline length to 20 nm or less within the Mid-Atlantic Bight and 
posting an informational placard on careful handling and release of 
marine mammals in the wheelhouse and on working decks of the vessel 
(NMFS 2009). Currently, the SEFSC uses gear that is only 5 nm long and 
per the PLTRP, uses the Pelagic Longline Marine Mammal Handling and 
Release Guidelines for any pelagic longline sets made within the 
Atlantic EEZ.
    Unusual Mortality Events (UME)--The marine mammal UME program was 
established in 1991. A UME is defined under the MMPA as a stranding 
that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal 
population; and demands immediate response. From 1991 to present, there 
have been 62 formally recognized UMEs in the U.S., involving a variety 
of species and dozens to hundreds of individual marine mammals per 
event. Twenty-seven of these UMEs have occurred within SEFSC fisheries 
research operating areas (we note 7 of these UMEs were for manatees 
managed by the USFWS). For the GOMRA, Litz et al. (2014) provides a 
review of historical UMEs in the Gulf of Mexico from 1990 through 2009. 
For more information on UMEs, please visit the internet at: 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/events.html.
    From 2010 through 2014, NMFS declared a multi-year, multi-cetacean 
UME in response to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the 
Northern Gulf of Mexico. The species and temporal and spatial 
boundaries included all cetaceans stranded in Alabama, Mississippi, and 
Louisiana from March 2010 through July 2014 and all cetaceans other 
than bottlenose dolphins stranded in the Florida Panhandle (Franklin 
County through Escambia County) from March 2010 through July 2014. The 
UME involved 1,141 cetacean strandings in the Northern Gulf of Mexico 
(5 percent stranded alive and 95 percent stranded dead).
    The Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) 
Trustees' 2016 Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration 
Plan (PDARP) and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement 
(PEIS) quantified injuries to marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico that 
were exposed to the oil spill, including bottlenose dolphins in four 
bay, sound, and estuary areas: Barataria Bay, the Mississippi River 
Delta, Mississippi Sound, and Mobile Bay (NRDA Trustees, 2016; DWH 
MMIQT, 2015). Both stocks are estimated to have been reduced 
significantly in population size from the DWH oil spill (DWH MMIQT 
2015; Schwacke et al. 2017). According to the PDARP, 24 percent of the 
Mississippi Sound stock had adverse health effects from DWH oil spill. 
Of the pregnant females studied in Barataria Bay and Mississippi Sound 
between 2010 and 2014, 19.2 percent gave birth to a viable calf. In 
contrast, dolphin populations in Florida and South Carolina have a 
pregnancy success rate of 64.7 percent (DWH MMIQT, 2015).
    Dolphin and whale species living farther offshore were also 
affected. Many of these species are highly susceptible to population 
changes because of their low initial population numbers. Thus, it is 
unclear how effectively these populations can recover from lower 
estimated injuries. For example, Deepwater Horizon oil exposure 
resulted in up to an estimated 7-percent decline in the population of 
endangered sperm whales, which will require 21 years to recover. For 
Bryde's whales, 48 percent of the population was impacted by Deepwater 
Horizon oil, resulting in up to an estimated 22-percent decline in 
population that will require 69 years to recover. For both nearshore 
and offshore populations, injuries were most severe in the years 
immediately following the spill. Health assessments on bottlenose 
dolphins in BBES and MS Sound have shown that there has been some 
improvement post spill, but that there are still persistent injuries 
(Smith et al. 2017).

Biologically Important Areas

    In 2015, NOAA's Cetacean Density and Distribution Mapping Working 
Group identified Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) for 24 cetacean 
species, stocks, or populations in seven regions (US East Coast, Gulf 
of Mexico, West Coast, Hawaiian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian 
Islands and Bering Sea, and Arctic) within U.S. waters through an 
expert elicitation process. BIAs are reproductive areas, feeding areas, 
migratory corridors, and areas in which small and resident populations 
are concentrated. BIAs are region-, species-, and time-specific. A 
description of the types of BIAs found within the SEFSC's fishery 
research areas follows:
    Reproductive Areas: Areas and months within which a particular 
species or population selectively mates, gives birth, or is found with 
neonates or other sensitive age classes.
    Feeding Areas: Areas and months within which a particular species 
or population selectively feeds. These may either be found consistently 
in space and time, or may be associated with ephemeral features that 
are less predictable but can be delineated and are generally located 
within a larger identifiable area.
    Migratory Corridors: Areas and months within which a substantial 
portion of a species or population is known to migrate; the corridor is 
typically delimited on one or both sides by land or ice.
    Small and Resident Population: Areas and months within which small 
and resident populations occupying a limited geographic extent exist.
    The delineation of BIAs does not have direct or immediate 
regulatory consequences. Rather, the BIA assessment is intended to 
provide the best available science to help inform regulatory and 
management decisions

[[Page 6598]]

under existing authorities about some, though not all, important 
cetacean areas in order to minimize the impacts of anthropogenic 
activities on cetaceans and to achieve conservation and protection 
goals. In addition, the BIAs and associated information may be used to 
identify information gaps and prioritize future research and modeling 
efforts to better understand cetaceans, their habitat, and ecosystems. 
Table 4 provides a list of BIA's found within the SEFSC's fisheries 
research areas.

                         Table 4--Biologically Important Areas Within the ARA and GOMRA
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             BIA name                    Species              BIA type           Time of year       Size (km2)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             ATLANTIC RESEARCH AREA
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Eastern Atlantic.................  N. Atlantic right    Migration..........  North: March-April;         269,448
                                    whale.                                    South: November-
                                                                              December.
Southeast Atlantic--Calving......  N. Atlantic right    Reproduction.......  Mid-Nov-April......          43,783
                                    whale.
Northern North Carolina Estuarine  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  July-October.......           8,199
 System--Inland & Coastal.
Northern North Carolina Estuarine  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  July-March.........             534
 System--Coastal.
Southern North Carolina Estuarine  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  July-October.......             783
 System.
Prince Inlet, SC; Charleston       Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             152
 Harbor; North Edisto River.
St. Helena Sound, SC to Ossabaw    Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             676
 Sound, GA.
Southern Georgia, GA.............  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             411
Jacksonville, FL.................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             195
Indian River Lagoon Estuarine      Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             776
 System.
Biscayne Bay, FL.................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             614
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 GULF OF MEXICO
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Florida Bay, FL..................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........           1,527
Lemon Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Pine  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             892
 Island Sound, FL.
Sarasota Bay and Little Sarasota   Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             117
 Bay, FL.
Tampa Bay, FL....................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             899
St. Vincent Sound and              Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             262
 Apalachicola Bay, FL.
St. Joseph Bay, FL...............  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             371
Mississippi Sound, MS............  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........           1,335
Caminada Bay and Barataria Bay,    Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             253
 LA.
Galveston Bay, TX................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........           1,222
San Luis Pass, TX................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             143
Matagorda Bay and Espiritu Santo   Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             740
 Bay, TX.
Aransas Pass, TX.................  Bottlenose dolphin.  Small and resident.  Year-round.........             273
Eastern Gulf of Mexico...........  Bryde's whale......  Small and resident.  Year round.........          23,559
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Marine Mammal Hearing
    Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals 
underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious 
effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to 
sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine 
mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine 
mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et 
al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect 
this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided 
into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated 
hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, 
audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, 
anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements 
of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes 
(i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2016) described 
generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. 
Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 dB 
threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with the exception 
for lower limits for low-frequency cetaceans where the lower bound was 
deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower bound from Southall 
et al. (2007) retained. The functional groups and the associated 
frequencies are indicated below (note that these frequency ranges 
correspond to the range for the composite group, with the entire range 
not necessarily reflecting the capabilities of every species within 
that group):
     Low-frequency cetaceans (mysticetes): Generalized hearing 
is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 35 kHz.
     Mid-frequency cetaceans (larger toothed whales, beaked 
whales, and most delphinids): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur 
between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz.

[[Page 6599]]

     High-frequency cetaceans (porpoises, river dolphins, and 
members of the genera Kogia and Cephalorhynchus; including two members 
of the genus Lagenorhynchus, on the basis of recent echolocation data 
and genetic data): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 275 Hz and 160 kHz.
     Pinnipeds in water; Phocidae (true seals): Generalized 
hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 50 Hz to 86 kHz.
     Pinnipeds in water; Otariidae (eared seals): Generalized 
hearing is estimated to occur between 60 Hz and 39 kHz.
    The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et 
al. (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have 
consistently demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing 
compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range 
(Hemil[auml] et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth and Holt, 
2013).
    For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency 
ranges, please see NMFS (2016) for a review of available information. 
Thirty three marine mammal species (31 cetacean and 2 pinniped (both 
phocid) species) have the reasonable potential to co-occur with the 
proposed survey activities (Table 3a). Of the cetacean species that may 
be present, six are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all 
mysticete species), 24 are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., 
all delphinid and ziphiid species and the sperm whale), and 1 is 
classified as high-frequency cetaceans (i.e., harbor porpoise and Kogia 
spp.).

Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their 
Habitat

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that 
components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and 
their habitat. The ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment'' section 
later in this document includes a quantitative analysis of the number 
of individuals that are expected to be taken by this activity. The 
``Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination'' section considers the 
content of this section, the ``Estimated Take by Incidental 
Harassment'' section, and the ``Proposed Mitigation'' section, to draw 
conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these activities on the 
reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and how those 
impacts on individuals are likely to impact marine mammal species or 
stocks.
    In the following discussion, we consider potential effects to 
marine mammals from ship strike, gear interaction (e.g., entanglement 
in nets and trawls, accidental hooking) and exposure to active acoustic 
fisheries research sources. We also include, where relevant, knowns 
takes of marine mammals incidental to previous SEFSC research. These 
data come from NMFS' Protected Species Incidental Take (PSIT) database, 
a formal incidental take reporting system that documents incidental 
takes of protected species by all NMFS Science Centers and partners; 
NMFS requires this reporting to be completed within 48 hours of the 
occurrence. The PSIT generates automated messages to NMFS staff, 
alerting them to the event and to the fact that updated information 
describing the circumstances of the event has been entered into the 
database.

Ship Strike

    Vessel collisions with marine mammals, or ship strikes, can result 
in death or serious injury of the animal. Wounds resulting from ship 
strike may include massive trauma, hemorrhaging, broken bones, or 
propeller lacerations (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001). An animal at the 
surface may be struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal may hit 
the bottom of a vessel, or an animal just below the surface may be cut 
by a vessel's propeller. Ship strikes may kill an animal; however, more 
superficial strikes may result in injury. Ship strikes generally 
involve commercial shipping, which is much more common in both space 
and time than is research activity. Jensen and Silber (2004) summarized 
ship strikes of large whales worldwide from 1975-2003 and found that 
most collisions occurred in the open ocean and involved large vessels 
(e.g., commercial shipping). Commercial fishing vessels were 
responsible for three percent of recorded collisions, while only one 
such incident (0.75 percent) was reported for a research vessel during 
that time period.
    The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and speed of 
the vessel, with the probability of death or serious injury increasing 
as vessel speed increases (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 
2001; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007; Conn and Silber, 2013). Impact 
forces increase with speed, as does the probability of a strike at a 
given distance (Silber et al., 2010; Gende et al., 2011). Pace and 
Silber (2005) found the predicted probability of serious injury or 
death increased from 45 to 75 percent as vessel speed increased from 10 
to 14 kn, and exceeded ninety percent at 17 kn. Higher speeds during 
collisions result in greater force of impact and appear to increase the 
chance of severe injuries or death through increased likelihood of 
collision by pulling whales toward the vessel (Clyne, 1999; Knowlton et 
al., 1995). In a separate study, Vanderlaan and Taggart (2007) analyzed 
the probability of lethal mortality of large whales at a given speed, 
showing that the greatest rate of change in the probability of a lethal 
injury to a large whale as a function of vessel speed occurs between 
8.6 and 15 kn. The chances of a lethal injury decline from 
approximately eighty percent at 15 kn to approximately twenty percent 
at 8.6 kn. At speeds below 11.8 kn, the chances of lethal injury drop 
below fifty percent, while the probability asymptotically increases 
toward one hundred percent above 15 kn.
    In an effort to reduce the number and severity of strikes of the 
endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), NMFS 
implemented speed restrictions in 2008 (73 FR 60173; October 10, 2008). 
These restrictions require that vessels greater than or equal to 65 ft 
(19.8 m) in length travel at less than or equal to 10 kn near key port 
entrances and in certain areas of right whale aggregation along the 
U.S. eastern seaboard. Conn and Silber (2013) estimated that these 
restrictions reduced total ship strike mortality risk levels by eighty 
to ninety percent.
    For vessels used in SEFSC-related research activities, transit 
speeds average 10 kn (but vary from 6-14 kn), while vessel speed during 
active sampling is typically only 2-4 kn. At sampling speeds, both the 
possibility of striking a marine mammal and the possibility of a strike 
resulting in serious injury or mortality are discountable. At average 
transit speed, the probability of serious injury or mortality resulting 
from a strike is less than fifty percent. However, it is possible for 
ship strikes to occur while traveling at slow speeds. For example, a 
NOAA-chartered survey vessel traveling at low speed (5.5 kn) while 
conducting multi-beam mapping surveys off the central California coast 
struck and killed a blue whale in 2009. The State of California 
determined the whale had suddenly and unexpectedly surfaced beneath the 
hull, with the result that the propeller severed the whale's vertebrae, 
and that this was an unavoidable event. This strike represents the only 
such incident in approximately 540,000 hours of similar coastal mapping 
activity (p = 1.9 x 10-\6\; 95% CI = 0-5.5 x 
10-\6\; NMFS, 2013). The NOAA vessel Gordon Gunter was 
conducting a marine mammal survey cruise off the coast of Savannah, 
Georgia in July 2011, when a group of Atlantic spotted dolphin began 
bow riding. The animals

[[Page 6600]]

eventually broke off and a dead calf was seen in the ship's wake with a 
large gash that was attributed to the propeller. This is the only 
documented ship strike by the SEFSC since 2002.
    In summary, we anticipate that vessel collisions involving SEFSC 
research vessels, while not impossible, represent unlikely, 
unpredictable events. Other than the 2009 and 2011 events, no other 
ship strikes have been reported from any fisheries research activities 
nationally. Given the relatively slow speeds of research vessels, the 
presence of bridge crew watching for obstacles at all times (including 
marine mammals), the presence of marine mammal observers on some 
surveys, and the small number of research cruises, we believe that the 
possibility of ship strike is discountable. Further, the implementation 
of the North Atlantic ship strike rule protocols will greatly reduce 
the potential for interactions with North Atlantic right whales. As 
such, no incidental take resulting from ship strike is anticipated nor 
is proposed to be authorized; therefore, this potential effect of 
research will not be discussed further.

Gear Interaction

    The types of research gear used by the SEFSC were described 
previously under ``Detailed Description of Activity.'' Here, we broadly 
categorize these gears into those which we believe may result in marine 
mammal interaction and those which we consider to have an extremely 
unlikely potential to result in marine mammal interaction. Gears with 
the potential for marine mammal interaction include trawl nets (e.g., 
bottom trawls, skimmer trawls), gillnets, and hook and line gear (i.e., 
longlines). Gears such as fyke nets, eel traps, ROVs, etc. do not have 
the potential for marine mammal interaction either due to small size of 
gear and fishing methods, and therefore do not have the potential for 
injury or harassment.
    Entanglement in Nets, Trawls, or Longlines--Gillnets, trawl nets, 
and longlines deployed by the SEFSC are similar to gear used in various 
commercial fisheries which have a history of taking marine mammals. 
Read et al. (2006) estimated marine mammal bycatch in U.S. fisheries 
from 1990-99 and derived an estimate of global marine mammal bycatch by 
expanding U.S. bycatch estimates using data on fleet composition from 
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Most U.S. 
bycatch for both cetaceans (84 percent) and pinnipeds (98 percent) 
occurred in gillnets. However, global marine mammal bycatch in trawl 
nets and longlines is likely substantial given that total global 
bycatch is thought to number in the hundreds of thousands of 
individuals (Read et al., 2006). In addition, global bycatch via 
longline has likely increased, as longlines have become the most common 
method of capturing swordfish and tuna since the United Nations banned 
the use of high seas driftnets over 2.5 km long in 1991 (high seas 
driftnets were previously often 40-60 km long) (Read, 2008; FAO, 2001).
    Gear interactions can result in injury or death for the animal(s) 
involved and/or damage to fishing gear. Coastal animals, including 
various pinnipeds, bottlenose dolphins, and harbor porpoises, are 
perhaps the most vulnerable to these interactions and set or passive 
fishing gear (e.g., gillnets, traps) are the most likely to be 
interacted with (e.g., Beverton, 1985; Barlow et al., 1994; Read et 
al., 2006; Byrd et al., 2014; Lewison et al., 2014). Although 
interactions are less common for use of trawl nets and longlines, they 
do occur with sufficient frequency to necessitate the establishment of 
required mitigation measures for multiple U.S. fisheries using both 
types of gear (NMFS, 2014). It is likely that no species of marine 
mammal can be definitively excluded from the potential for interaction 
with fishing gear (e.g., Northridge, 1984); however, the extent of 
interactions is likely dependent on the biology, ecology, and behavior 
of the species involved and the type, location, and nature of the 
fishery.
    As described above, since 2002, NMFS Science Centers have been 
documenting and recording all fishery research related incidental takes 
of marine mammals in PSIT database. There is also a documented take on 
record from 2001. We present all takes documented by the SEFSC in Table 
5.

                                        Table 5--SEFSC Research Gear Interactions With Marine Mammals Since 2001
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                     # Killed    # Released
  Survey name (lead organization)   Species taken (stock)           Gear type                  Date taken              \1\       alive \2\   Total taken
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 ATLANTIC RESEARCH AREA
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SEFSC In-Water Sea Turtle Research  Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom trawl..............  20 July 2016..............            1            0            1
 (SCDNR \3\).                        (South Carolina/
                                     Georgia coastal).
SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl             Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom trawl..............  11 April 2014.............            1            0            1
 Survey_Spring (SCDNR).              (Northern Florida
                                     coastal).
SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl             Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom trawl..............  2 Aug 2012................            1            0            1
 Survey_Summer (SCDNR).              (South Carolina/
                                     Georgia coastal).
In-Water Sea Turtle Trawl Survey    Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom trawl..............  11 July 2012..............            0            1            1
 (SCDNR).                            (South Carolina/
                                     Georgia coastal).
SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl             Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom trawl..............  5 October 2006............            1            0            1
 Survey_Fall (SCDNR).                (southern migratory).
SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl             Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom trawl..............  28 July 2006..............            1            0            1
 Survey_Summer (SCDNR).              (South Carolina/
                                     Georgia coastal).
RecFIN Red Drum Trammel Net Survey  Bottlenose dolphin     Trammel net...............  22 August 2002............            2            0            2
 (SCDNR).                            (Charleston
                                     Estuarine System).
In-Water Sea Turtle Trawl Survey    Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom Trawl..............  2001 \3\..................            0            1            1
 (SCDNR).                            (unk).
                                   ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    ARA TOTAL.....................  .....................  ..........................  ..........................            7            2            9
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              GULF OF MEXICO RESEARCH AREA
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and    Bottlenose dolphin     Gillnet...................  03 July 2018..............            0            1            1
 Nursery GULFSPAN (SEFSC).           (Sarasota Bay).
Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and    Bottlenose dolphin     Gillnet...................  15 July 2016..............            1            0            1
 Nursery GULFSPAN (USA/DISL \2\).    (northern Gulf of
                                     Mexico).
Skimmer Trawl TED Testing (SEFSC).  Bottlenose dolphin     Skimmer trawl.............  1 October 2014............            1            0            1
                                     (MS Sound, Lake
                                     Borgne, Bay
                                     Boudreau).
Skimmer Trawl TED Testing (SEFSC).  Bottlenose dolphin     Skimmer trawl.............  23 October 2013...........            0            1            1
                                     (MS Sound, Lake
                                     Borgne, Bay
                                     Boudreau).

[[Page 6601]]

 
SEAMAP-GOM Bottom Longline Survey   Bottlenose dolphin     Bottom longline...........  6 August 2013.............            0       1 (SI)            1
 (ADCNR \3\).                        (Mobile Bay,
                                     Bonsecour Bay).
Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and    Bottlenose dolphin     Gillnet...................  18 April 2011.............            1            0            1
 Nursery GULFSPAN (USA/DISL).        (MS Sound, Lake
                                     Borgne, Bay
                                     Boudreau).
                                   ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    GOMRA TOTAL...................  .....................  ..........................  ..........................            3            3            6
                                   ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        TOTAL ALL AREAS \3\.......  .....................  ..........................  ..........................           10            5           15
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ If there was question over an animal's fate after it was released (e.g., it was struggling to breath/swim), it was considered ``killed''. Serious
  injury determinations were not previously made for animals released alive but are now part of standard protocols for released animals and will be
  reported in stock assessment reports.
\2\ Animals released alive but were considered seriously injured as marked as SI.
\3\ This take occurred prior to development of the PSIT database but we include it here because it is documented.
\4\There have been no SEFSC fishery research-related takes of marine mammals in the CRA.

    Gillnets--According to the PSIT database, there are five documented 
takes of marine mammals (2 ARA, 3 GOMRA) incidental to SEFSC gillnet 
fishery research since 2002. On August 22, 2002, two bottlenose 
dolphins belonging to the Charleston Estuarine System stock became 
entangled in a trammel net (a type of gillnet) during the RecFIN Red 
Drum Trammel Net survey. One animal died before biologists could 
untangle it. The second animal was disentangled and released but it was 
listless; and, when freed, it sank and no subsequent resurface or 
breath was observed. Both animals were documented as a mortality. On 
April 18, 2013, a single bottlenose dolphin calf became entangled 
during the Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery (GULFSPAN) survey. 
On July 15, 2016, the lead line of a gillnet used for the same survey 
became wrapped around the fluke of an adult bottlenose dolphin. Both 
animals were considered part of the Northern Gulf of Mexico coastal 
stock and documented as taken by mortality. Most recently, on July 3, 
3018, a dolphin from the Sarasota Bay stock was entangled in a GULFSPAN 
survey gillnet. Researchers were attending the net when the dolphin 
became entangled and were able to respond immediately. All gear was 
removed from the animal, no injuries were observed, and the dolphin was 
observed breathing multiple times after release.
    TPWD also has a history of taking bottlenose dolphins during 
gillnet fisheries research. In 35 years of TPWD gill net sampling 
(1983-2017), and with over 26,067 gillnet sets, there have been 32 to 
35 dolphin entangled in the net (range is due to possible double 
counting incidents or two animals being entangled at the same time but 
logged as one incident during early years of reporting). According to 
the incident reports submitted to NMFS, 7 encounters (comprising eight 
animals) resulted in mortality, 2 were serious injury, 14 animals were 
released alive, and the condition of 10 animals was recorded as 
unknown.
    Commercial gillnet fisheries are also implicated in taking marine 
mammals. In the ARA, the mid-Atlantic gillnet fishery has the highest 
documented level of mortality of coastal morphotype common bottlenose 
dolphins. The sink gillnet gear in North Carolina is the largest 
component in terms of fishing effort and observed takes (Waring et al. 
2015). The SEFSC does not use sink gillnets in the ARA. The North 
Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) has operated systematic 
coverage of the fall (September-December) flounder gillnet fishery 
(greater 5 in. mesh) in Pamlico Sound. In May 2010, NCDMF expanded the 
observer coverage to include gillnet effort using nets greater than 4 
in. mesh in most internal state waters and throughout the year, with a 
goal of 7-10 percent coverage. No bycatch of bottlenose dolphins has 
been recorded by state observers, although stranding data continue to 
indicate interactions with this fishery occur. One gillnet take has 
also occurred in commercial fishing off a Florida's east coast in March 
2015 (eastern coastal stock); the animal was released alive but 
considered seriously injured. In the GOMRA, no marine mammal 
mortalities associated with commercial gillnet fisheries have been 
reported or observed despite observer coverage on commercial fishing 
vessels in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana since 2012 (Waring et 
al. 2016).
    Trawl nets--As described previously, trawl nets are towed nets 
(i.e., active fishing) consisting of a cone-shaped net with a codend or 
bag for collecting the fish and can be designed to fish at the bottom, 
surface, or any other depth in the water column. Trawls are categorized 
as bottom, skimmer or mid-water trawls based on where they are towed in 
the water column. Trawl nets have the potential to capture or entangle 
marine mammals. The likelihood of an animal being caught in a skimmer 
trawl is less than a bottom trawl because the gear can be observed 
directly; the SEFSC research permit 20339 authorizing research on sea 
turtles contains monitoring and mitigation measures related to marine 
mammals during skimmer trawling.
    Globally, at least seventeen cetacean species are known to feed in 
association with trawlers and individuals of at least 25 species are 
documented to have been killed by trawl nets, including several large 
whales, porpoises, and a variety of delphinids (Young and Iudicello, 
2007; Karpouzli and Leaper, 2004; Hall et al., 2000; Fertl and 
Leatherwood, 1997; Northridge, 1991; Song et al., 2010). Fertl and 
Leatherwood (1997) provide a comprehensive overview of marine mammal-
trawl interactions, including foraging behavior and considerations 
regarding entanglement risks. Capture or entanglement may occur 
whenever marine mammals are swimming near the gear, intentionally 
(e.g., foraging) or unintentionally (e.g., migrating), and any animal 
captured in a net is at significant risk of drowning unless quickly 
freed. Animals can also be captured or entangled in netting or tow 
lines (also called lazy lines) other than the main body of the net; 
animals may become entangled around the head, body, flukes, pectoral 
fins, or dorsal fin.
    Interaction that does not result in the immediate death of the 
animal by drowning can cause injury (i.e., Level A harassment) or 
serious injury. Constricting lines wrapped around the animal can 
immobilize the animal or injure by cutting into or through blubber, 
muscles and bone (i.e., penetrating injuries) or constricting blood 
flow to or severing appendages. Immobilization of the animal can cause 
internal injuries from prolonged stress and/or severe struggling and/or 
impede the animal's ability to feed (resulting in starvation or reduced 
fitness) (Andersen et al., 2008).

[[Page 6602]]

    As described in the Description of Specific Activity section, all 
trawls have lazy lines. For otter trawls, conventional lazy lines are 
attached at their forward end to the top/back edge of the inside trawl 
door closest to the vessel and at their aft end to either a ``choker 
strap'' that consists of a line looped around the forward portion of 
the codend or a ring in the ``elephant ear,'' which is a triangle of 
reinforced webbing sewn to the codend. Both ``choker straps'' and 
``elephant ears'' act as lifting straps to bring the codend onboard the 
vessel. The length of the lazy line is dependent on trawl size with 
conventional lazy lines having sufficient length to allow the codend of 
the trawl to be hauled to the side of the vessel after trawls have been 
retrieved. The lazy line is routed through a block and wound around a 
capstan to lift the codend to the side of the boat where the catch can 
be easily emptied on deck. During active commercial trawling, the lazy 
line is long enough to form a 10-12 ft loop behind the codend. When 
traditional polypropylene rope is used, this loop floats even with or 
slightly above and behind the codend. It is in this loop section where 
many lazy line dolphin interactions have been observed.
    Lazy lines are most commonly made from polypropylene. Because 
polypropylene is manufactured in a manner that produces soft lay rope, 
it is limber and can be dropped in a pile. This property lends to the 
potential risk of half hitching around bottlenose dolphin flukes when 
they interact with the line. In addition, polypropylene rope does not 
absorb water or lose strength when wet and becomes prickly to the touch 
as it ages, which may contribute to bottlenose dolphin rubbing 
behavior.
    When interacting with lazy lines, bottlenose dolphins are often 
observed rubbing, corkscrewing, or biting the aft portion of the line 
ahead of the point of attachment on the trawl (Greenman 2012). Although 
reasons for these behaviors are poorly understood, this type of 
interaction poses an entanglement threat. When corkscrewing on the lazy 
line, animals run the risk of the line wrapping around their fluke in a 
half-hitch preventing escapement. Soldevilla et al. (2016) provided 
bottlenose dolphin bycatch estimates for the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) 
shrimp otter trawl fishery for 2012-2014. The study found interactions 
with lazy lines represented the most common mode of entanglement 
observed.
    The SEFSC Harvesting Systems Unit (HSU) has conducted limited 
research examining the potential use of lazy lines constructed of 
alternative materials. In 2007, the HSU conducted preliminary diver 
assisted trials with polydac and polyester hard lay ropes as a 
replacement for traditional polypropylene. Polydac rope is a blend of 
polyester and polypropylene. Compared to polypropylene, polydac rope 
has similar properties including negligible water absorption and 
ultraviolet (UV) light resistance. However, polydac may be constructed 
with a harder lay than traditional polypropylene rope, which prevents 
it from knotting easily. Divers found the polydac and polyester lines 
to be significantly stiffer and less pliable underwater than the 
conventional polypropylene lines. When towed, divers noted that the 
polypropylene rope was positively buoyant and arced upward, while 
polydac and polyester ropes were negatively buoyant and arced downward.
    The 2007 diver evaluations were followed by sea trial evaluations 
of five different types of rope made from polypropylene, polyethylene, 
or nylon as lazy lines in a standard twin-rigged shrimp trawl 
configuration (Hataway 2008). The study utilized a Dual-Frequency 
Identification Sonar (DIDSON) to image bottlenose dolphins interacting 
with the lazy lines. Dolphin behaviors observed during the study 
included; rubbing, sliding down, and pulling the lazy line. No 
statistical analyses were conducted, but researchers noted that no 
differences in the frequency or types of interactions observed were 
apparent between line types.
    In the estuary and coastal waters, dolphins are attracted to and 
are consistently present during fishery research trawls. Dolphins are 
known to attend operating nets in order to either benefit from 
disturbance of the bottom or to prey on discards or fish within the 
net. Researchers have also identified that holes in trawl nets from 
dolphins are typically located in net pockets where fish congregate. 
Pelagic trawls have the potential to capture cetaceans because the nets 
may be towed at faster speeds. These trawls are more likely to target 
species that are important prey for marine mammals (e.g., squid, 
mackerel), and the likelihood of working in deeper waters means that a 
more diverse assemblage of species could potentially be present (Hall 
et al., 2000).
    According to the PSIT database, there are nine documented takes of 
marine mammals (7 ARA, 2 GOMRA) incidental to SEFSC trawl-based fishery 
research since 2002; all are bottlenose dolphins. In the ARA, all 
animals were taken in a bottom trawl while skimmer trawls were 
implicated in takes in the GOMRA. Six of the animals were dead upon net 
retrieval and two animals were released alive and determined not be 
serious injury. In 2001, a dolphin was caught in a bottom trawl during 
SCDNR's sea turtle research survey. Information regarding this take are 
sparse (date and location are unknown) but the animal was released 
alive. On July 28, 2006, and again later that year on October 5, 
bottlenose dolphins belonging to South Carolina/Georgia coastal and 
southern migratory coastal stock, respectively, was found dead in a 
bottom trawl net used during the fall Southeast Area Monitoring and 
Assessment Program (SEAMAP) SA Coastal Trawl survey. Both animals were 
taken back to partner labs for necropsy. On July 11, 2012, a bottlenose 
dolphin belonging to the South Carolina/Georgia coastal stock was also 
caught in a bottom trawl net during the In-Water Sea Turtle Research 
survey. The net was immediately retrieved and the animal was released 
alive, breathing without difficulty and swiftly swimming away. On 
August 2, 2012 a bottlenose dolphin also belonging to the South 
Carolina/Georgia coastal stock was captured in the trawl net during the 
summer SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl survey. The animal was dead upon net 
retrieval. Most recently, on July 20, 2016, a bottlenose dolphin 
belonging to the South Carolina/Georgia coastal stock was taken in a 
bottom trawl during the In-Water Sea Turtle Research survey. Upon net 
retrieval, a suspected juvenile bottlenose dolphin, approximately 6 
feet in length, was observed in the starboard codend of the trawl net. 
Although the animal was released alive, it was listless and not 
actively swimming when returned to the water. Therefore, the event was 
documented as a take by mortality.
    In the GOMRA, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the Mississippi 
Sound, Lake Borge, Bay Boudreau stock was captured in a skimmer trawl 
on October 23, 2013, during the SEFSC Skimmer Trawl TED Testing survey. 
The animal was observed breathing at the surface in the trawl upon 
retrieval of tailbag. To free the animal, the researchers redeployed 
the bag and slowed the vessel, allowing the animal to swim away 
unharmed. On October 1, 2014, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to the 
same stock was taken during the same survey. The animal was dead upon 
net retrieval.
    In November 2010, NMFS elevated the Southeast Atlantic shrimp trawl 
fishery from a Category II to Category III fishing. From May through 
December 2010, Greenman et al. (2013) investigated interactions between 
the South Carolina shrimping fleet and

[[Page 6603]]

bottlenose dolphins. Methods included fishery-independent (SCNDR 
fisheries research surveys) and fishery-dependent onboard observations, 
a shrimper survey, and stranding record research. The authors found 
that of the 385 tows observed, dolphins were present 45 percent of the 
time (173 tows). Of these tows, dolphins were present 12 percent of the 
time at set-out and 44 percent of the time during haul back. According 
to the shrimper survey, most fishermen report dolphins rubbing bodies 
on the net or biting or tugging on nets or lines. However, 39 of the 44 
fishermen surveyed reported a dolphin has never become entangled in the 
net while 38 of the 44 fishermen reported a dolphin has never become 
entangled in the lazy line.
    Hook and Line--Marine mammals may be hooked or entangled in 
longline gear, with interactions potentially resulting in death due to 
drowning, strangulation, severing of carotid arteries or the esophagus, 
infection, an inability to evade predators, or starvation due to an 
inability to catch prey (Hofmeyr et al., 2002), although it is more 
likely that animals will survive being hooked if they are able to reach 
the surface to breathe. Injuries, which may include serious injury, 
include lacerations and puncture wounds. Animals may attempt to 
depredate either bait or catch, with subsequent hooking, or may become 
accidentally entangled. As described for trawls, entanglement can lead 
to constricting lines wrapped around the animals and/or immobilization, 
and even if entangling materials are removed the wounds caused may 
continue to weaken the animal or allow further infection (Hofmeyr et 
al., 2002).
    Large whales may become entangled in a longline and then break free 
with a portion of gear trailing, resulting in alteration of swimming 
energetics due to drag and ultimate loss of fitness and potential 
mortality (Andersen et al., 2008). Weight of the gear can cause 
entangling lines to further constrict and further injure the animal. 
Hooking injuries and ingested gear are most common in small cetaceans 
and pinnipeds but have been observed in large cetaceans (e.g., sperm 
whales). The severity of the injury depends on the species, whether 
ingested gear includes hooks, whether the gear works its way into the 
gastrointestinal (GI) tract, whether the gear penetrates the GI lining, 
and the location of the hooking (e.g., embedded in the animal's stomach 
or other internal body parts) (Andersen et al., 2008).
    Bottom longlines pose less of a threat to marine mammals due to 
their deployment on the ocean bottom but can still result in 
entanglement in buoy lines or hooking as the line is either deployed or 
retrieved. The rate of interaction between longline fisheries and 
marine mammals depends on the degree of overlap between longline effort 
and species distribution, hook style and size, type of bait and target 
catch, and fishing practices (such as setting/hauling during the day or 
at night).
    Rod and reel gear carry less potential for marine mammal 
interaction, but the use of baited hooks in the presence of inquisitive 
marine mammals carries some risk. However, the small amount of hook and 
line operations in relation to longline operations and the lack of 
extended, unattended soak times mean that use of rod and reel is much 
less likely to result in marine mammal interactions for pelagic 
species. However, bottlenose dolphins are known to interact with 
commercial and recreational rod and reel fishermen. The SEFSC rod and 
reel fishing would implement various mitigation measures including 
consistent monitoring and pulling lines from water should marine 
mammals, especially bottlenose dolphins, be at risk of interaction. 
Therefore, we find a reduced potential for interaction from SEFSC rod 
and reel surveys than compared to commercial and recreational fishing.
    Many species of cetaceans and pinnipeds are documented to have been 
killed by longlines, including several large whales, porpoises, a 
variety of delphinids, seals, and sea lions (Perez, 2006; Young and 
Iudicello, 2007; Northridge, 1984, 1991; Wickens, 1995). Generally, 
direct interaction between longlines and marine mammals (both cetaceans 
and pinnipeds) has been recorded wherever longline fishing and animals 
co-occur. A lack of recorded interactions where animals are known to be 
present may indicate simply that longlining is absent or an 
insignificant component of fisheries in that region or that 
interactions were not observed, recorded, or reported.
    In evaluating risk relative to a specific fishery (or research 
survey), one must consider the length of the line and number of hooks 
deployed as well as frequency, timing, and location of deployment. 
These considerations inform determinations of whether interaction with 
marine mammals is likely. As with other gear and fishing practice 
comparisons to those involved in commercial fisheries, the longlines 
used by the SEFSC are shorter and are not set as long.
    According to the PSIT database, one bottlenose dolphin belonging to 
the Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay stock was taken incidental to longline 
fisheries research. On August 6, 2013, while retrieving bottom longline 
gear during the SEAMAP-GOM Bottom Longline survey, a dolphin was caught 
by a circle hook during a longline research survey. After less than 60 
seconds, the animal broke free from the gear and swam away vigorously, 
but the hook and approximately 2 m of trailing line remained attached 
to the animal. As such, the incident was documented as a serious 
injury. While a lack of repeated historical interaction does not in and 
of itself indicate that future interactions are unlikely, we believe 
that the historical record, considered in context with the frequency 
and timing of these activities, as well as mitigation measures employed 
indicate that future marine mammal interactions with these gears would 
be uncommon but not totally unexpected.
    Other research gear--All other gear used in SEFSC fisheries 
research (e.g., a variety of plankton nets, eel and chevron traps, 
CTDs, ROVs) do not have the expected potential for marine mammal 
interactions and are not known to have been involved in any marine 
mammal interaction. Specifically, we consider very small nets (e.g., 
bongo and nueston nets), CTDs, ROVs, and vertically deployed or towed 
imaging systems to be no-impact gear types.
    Unlike trawl nets, gillents, and hook and line gear, which are used 
in both scientific research and commercial fishing applications, the 
gear and equipment discussed here are not considered similar or 
analogous to any commercial fishing gear and are not designed to 
capture any commercially salable species, or to collect any sort of 
sample in large quantities. They do not have the potential to take 
marine mammals primarily because of their design, size, or how they are 
deployed. For example, CTDs are typically deployed in a vertical cast 
on a cable and have no loose lines or other entanglement hazards. A 
bongo net is typically deployed on a cable, whereas neuston nets (these 
may be plankton nets or small trawls) are often deployed in the upper 
one meter of the water column; either net type has very small size 
(e.g., two bongo nets of 0.5 m\2\ each or a neuston net of 
approximately 2 m\2\) and no trailing lines. Due to lack of potential 
to result in harassment to marine mammals, these other gear types are 
not considered further in this document.
    Potential Effects of Underwater Sound--Anthropogenic sounds cover a 
broad range of frequencies and sound levels and can have a range of 
highly variable impacts on marine life, from

[[Page 6604]]

none or minor to potentially severe responses, depending on received 
levels, duration of exposure, behavioral context, and various other 
factors. The potential effects of underwater sound from active acoustic 
sources can potentially result in one or more of the following: 
Temporary or permanent hearing impairment, non-auditory physical or 
physiological effects, behavioral disturbance, stress, and masking 
(Richardson et al., 1995; Gordon et al., 2004; Nowacek et al., 2007; 
Southall et al., 2007; G[ouml]tz et al., 2009). The degree of effect is 
intrinsically related to the signal characteristics, received level, 
distance from the source, duration of the sound exposure, and context 
in which the signal is received.
    When considering the potential for a marine mammal to be harassed 
by a sound-generating source, we consider multiple signal 
characteristics, including, but not limited to, sound type (e.g., 
impulsive vs. non-impulsive; continuous vs. intermittent), frequency 
(expressed as hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), and source levels 
(expressed as decibels (dB)). A sound pressure level (SPL) in dB is 
described as the ratio between a measured pressure and a reference 
pressure (for underwater sound, this is 1 microPascal [[mu]Pa]). 
Typically SPLs are expressed as root mean square (rms) values which is 
the quadratic mean sound pressure over the duration of an impulse or 
sound exposure levels (SEL; represented as dB re 1 [mu]Pa\2\-s) which 
represents the total energy contained within a pulse, and considers 
both intensity and duration of exposure.
    The SEFSC would not use acoustic sources with spectral 
characteristics resembling non-impulsive, continuous noise (e.g., 
drilling). For impulsive sounds, peak sound pressure levels (PK) also 
provide an indication of potential harassment. We also consider other 
source characteristics when assessing potential effects such as 
directionality and beam width of fishery sonar equipment such as the 
ones involved here.
    As described above, category 1 sources (those operating above 
180kHz), are determined to have essentially no probability of being 
detected by or resulting in any potential adverse impacts on marine 
species. This conclusion is based on the fact that operating 
frequencies are above the known hearing capabilities of any marine 
species (as described above). Although sounds that are above the 
functional hearing range of marine animals may be audible if 
sufficiently loud (e.g., see M[oslash]hl, 1968), the relative output 
levels of these sources and the levels that would likely be required 
for animals to detect them would be on the order of a few meters. The 
probability for injury or disturbance from these sources is 
discountable; therefore, no take is proposed to be authorized by 
Category 1 sources.

Auditory Thresholds Shifts

    NMFS defines threshold shift (TS) as ``a change, usually an 
increase, in the threshold of audibility at a specified frequency or 
portion of an individual's hearing range above a previously established 
reference level'' (NMFS, 2016). Threshold shift can be permanent (PTS) 
or temporary (TTS). As described in NMFS (2016), there are numerous 
factors to consider when examining the consequence of TS, including, 
but not limited to, the signal temporal pattern (e.g., impulsive or 
non-impulsive), likelihood an individual would be exposed for a long 
enough duration or to a high enough level to induce a TS, the magnitude 
of the TS, time to recovery (seconds to minutes or hours to days), the 
frequency range of the exposure (i.e., spectral content), the hearing 
and vocalization frequency range of the exposed species relative to the 
signal's frequency spectrum (i.e., how animal uses sound within the 
frequency band of the signal; e.g., Kastelein et al. 2014b), and their 
overlap (e.g., spatial, temporal, and spectral).
Permanent Threshold Shift
    NMFS defines PTS as ``a permanent, irreversible increase in the 
threshold of audibility at a specified frequency or portion of an 
individual's hearing range above a previously established reference 
level'' (NMFS, 2016). It is the permanent elevation in hearing 
threshold resulting from irreparable damage to structures of the inner 
ear (e.g., sensory hair cells, cochlea) or central auditory system 
(ANSI, 1995; Ketten 2000). Available data from humans and other 
terrestrial mammals indicate that a measured 40 dB threshold shift 
approximates PTS onset (see Ward et al. 1958; Ward et al. 1959; Kryter 
et al. 1966; Miller 1974; Henderson et al. 2008). Unlike TTS, NMFS 
considers PTS auditory injury and therefore constitutes Level A 
harassment, as defined in the MMPA.
    With the exception of a single study unintentionally inducing PTS 
in a harbor seal (Kastak et al., 2008), there are no empirical data 
measuring PTS in marine mammals largely due to the fact that, for 
various ethical reasons, experiments involving anthropogenic noise 
exposure at levels inducing PTS are not typically pursued or authorized 
(NMFS, 2016). As described in the SWFSC and NWFSC proposed rules for 
incidental take of marine mammals incidental to fisheries research and 
the SEFSC's application, the potential for PTS is extremely low given 
the high frequency and directionality of the active acoustic sources 
used during fisheries research. Because the frequency ranges of all 
sources are outside the hearing range of baleen whales (with the 
exception of the 18 kHz mode of the Simrad EK60), we do not anticipate 
PTS to occur for mysticetes. Any potential PTS for mid-frequency and 
high-frequency cetaceans is also very low given the cone of highest 
received levels is centered under the ship because, while echosounders 
may transmit at high sound pressure levels, the very short duration of 
their pulses and their high spatial selectivity make them unlikely to 
cause damage to marine mammal auditory systems (Lurton and DeRuiter, 
2011). Natural avoidance responses by animals to the proximity of the 
vessel at these extremely close ranges would likely further reduce 
their probability of being exposed to these levels.
Temporary Threshold Shift
    NMFS defines TTS as ``a temporary, reversible increase in the 
threshold of audibility at a specified frequency or portion of an 
individual's hearing range above a previously established reference 
level'' (NMFS, 2016). A TTS of 6 dB is considered the minimum threshold 
shift clearly larger than any day-to-day or session-to-session 
variation in a subject's normal hearing ability (Schlundt et al., 2000; 
Finneran et al., 2000; Finneran et al. 2002, as reviewed in Southall et 
al., 2007 for a review)). TTS can last from minutes or hours to days 
(i.e., there is recovery), occur in specific frequency ranges (i.e., an 
animal might only have a temporary loss of hearing sensitivity between 
the frequencies of 1 and 10 kHz)), and can be of varying amounts (for 
example, an animal's hearing sensitivity might be temporarily reduced 
by only 6 dB or reduced by 30 dB). Currently, TTS measurements exist 
for only four species of cetaceans (bottlenose dolphins, belugas, 
harbor porpoises, and Yangtze finless porpoise) and three species of 
pinnipeds (Northern elephant seal, harbor seal, and California sea 
lion). These TTS measurements are from a limited number of individuals 
within these species.
    Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration 
(i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in 
which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging 
from discountable to

[[Page 6605]]

serious (similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For 
example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, 
relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that 
takes place during a time when the animal is traveling through the open 
ocean, where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing 
sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of 
TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful 
mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts. We note that 
reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging has been 
observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall 
et al., 2007), so we can infer that strategies exist for coping with 
this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost.
    As described previously (see Description of Active Acoustic Sound 
Sources), the SEFSC proposes to use various active acoustic sources, 
including echosounders (e.g., multibeam systems), scientific sonar 
systems, positional sonars (e.g., net sounders for determining trawl 
position), and environmental sensors (e.g., current profilers). These 
acoustic sources are not as powerful as many typically investigated 
acoustic sources (e.g., seismic airguns, low- and mid-frequency active 
sonar used for military purposes) which produce signals that are either 
much lower frequency and/or higher total energy (considering output 
sound levels and signal duration) than the high-frequency mapping and 
fish-finding systems used by the SEFSC. There has been relatively 
little attention given to the potential impacts of high-frequency sonar 
systems on marine life, largely because their combination of high 
output frequency and relatively low output power means that such 
systems are less likely to impact many marine species. However, some 
marine mammals do hear and produce sounds within the frequency range 
used by these sources and ambient noise is much lower at high 
frequencies, increasing the probability of signal detection relative to 
other sounds in the environment.
    As noted above, relatively high levels of sound are likely required 
to cause TTS in marine mammals. However, there may be increased 
sensitivity to TTS for certain species generally (harbor porpoise; 
Lucke et al., 2009) or specifically at higher sound exposure 
frequencies, which correspond to a species' best hearing range (20 kHz 
vs. 3 kHz for bottlenose dolphins; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010). Based 
on discussion provided by Southall et al. (2007), Lurton and DeRuiter 
(2011) modeled the potential impacts of conventional echosounders on 
marine mammals, estimating TTS onset at typical distances of 10-100 m 
for the kinds of sources considered here. Kremser et al. (2005) modeled 
the potential for TTS in blue, sperm, and beaked whales (please see 
Kremser et al. (2005) for discussion of assumptions regarding TTS onset 
in these species) from a multibeam echosounder, finding similarly that 
TTS would likely only occur at very close ranges to the hull of the 
vessel. The authors estimated ship movement at 12 kn (faster than SEFSC 
vessels would typically move), which would result in an underestimate 
of the potential for TTS to occur. But the modeled system (Hydrosweep) 
operates at lower frequencies and with a wider beam pattern than do 
typical SEFSC systems, which would result in a likely more significant 
overestimate of TTS potential. The results of both studies emphasize 
that these effects would very likely only occur in the cone ensonified 
below the ship and that animal responses to the vessel (sound or 
physical presence) at these extremely close ranges would very likely 
influence their probability of being exposed to these levels. At the 
same distances, but to the side of the vessel, animals would not be 
exposed to these levels, greatly decreasing the potential for an animal 
to be exposed to the most intense signals. For example, Kremser et al. 
(2005) note that SPLs outside the vertical lobe, or beam, decrease 
rapidly with distance, such that SPLs within the horizontal lobes are 
about 20 dB less than the value found in the center of the beam. For 
certain species (i.e., odontocete cetaceans and especially harbor 
porpoises), these ranges may be somewhat greater based on more recent 
data (Lucke et al., 2009; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010) but are likely 
still on the order of hundreds of meters. In addition, potential 
behavioral responses further reduce the already low likelihood that an 
animal may approach close enough for any type of hearing loss to occur.
    Various other studies have evaluated the environmental risk posed 
by use of specific scientific sonar systems. Burkhardt et al. (2007) 
considered the Simrad EK60, which is used by the SEFSC, and concluded 
that direct injury (i.e., sound energy causes direct tissue damage) and 
indirect injury (i.e., self-damaging behavior as response to acoustic 
exposure) would be unlikely given source and operational use (i.e., 
vessel movement) characteristics, and that any behavioral responses 
would be unlikely to be significant. Similarly, Boebel et al. (2006) 
considered the Hydrosweep system in relation to the risk for direct or 
indirect injury, concluding that (1) risk of TTS (please see Boebel et 
al. (2006) for assumptions regarding TTS onset) would be less than two 
percent of the risk of ship strike and (2) risk of behaviorally-induced 
damage would be essentially nil due to differences in source 
characteristics between scientific sonars and sources typically 
associated with stranding events (e.g., mid-frequency active sonar, but 
see discussion of the 2008 Madagascar stranding event below). It should 
be noted that the risk of direct injury may be greater when a vessel 
operates sources while on station (i.e., stationary), as there is a 
greater chance for an animal to receive the signal when the vessel is 
not moving.
    Boebel et al. (2005) report the results of a workshop in which a 
structured, qualitative risk analysis of a range of acoustic technology 
was undertaken, specific to use of such technology in the Antarctic. 
The authors assessed a single-beam echosounder commonly used for 
collecting bathymetric data (12 kHz, 232 dB, 10[deg] beam width), an 
array of single-beam echosounders used for mapping krill (38, 70, 120, 
and 200 kHz; 230 dB; 7[deg] beam width), and a multibeam echosounder 
(30 kHz, 236 dB, 150[deg] x 1[deg] swath width). For each source, the 
authors produced a matrix displaying the severity of potential 
consequences (on a six-point scale) against the likelihood of 
occurrence for a given degree of severity. For the former two systems, 
the authors determined on the basis of the volume of water potentially 
affected by the system and comparisons between its output and available 
TTS data that the chance of TTS only exists in a small volume 
immediately under the transducers, and that consequences of level four 
and above were inconceivable, whereas level one consequences 
(``Individuals show no response, or only a temporary (minutes) behavior 
change'') would be expected in almost all instances. Some minor 
displacement of animals in the immediate vicinity of the ship may 
occur. For the multibeam echosounder, Boebel et al. (2005) note that 
the high output and broad width of the swath abeam of the vessel makes 
displacement of animals more likely. However, the fore and aft 
beamwidth is small and the pulse length very short, so the risk of 
ensonification above TTS levels is still considered quite small and the 
likelihood of auditory or other injuries low. In general, the authors 
reached the

[[Page 6606]]

same conclusions described for the single-beam systems but note that 
more severe impacts--including fatalities resulting from herding of 
sensitive species in narrow sea ways--are at least possible (i.e., may 
occur in exceptional circumstances). However, the probability of 
herding remains low not just because of the rarity of the necessary 
confluence of species, bathymetry, and likely other factors, but 
because the restricted beam shape makes it unlikely that an animal 
would be exposed more than briefly during the passage of the vessel 
(Boebel et al., 2005). More recently, Lurton (2016) conducted a 
modeling exercise and concluded similarly that likely potential for 
acoustic injury from these types of systems is negligible, but that 
behavioral response cannot be ruled out.
    Characteristics of the sound sources used by SEFSC reduce the 
likelihood of effects to marine mammals, as well as the intensity of 
effect assuming that an animal perceives the signal. Intermittent 
exposures--as would occur due to the brief, transient signals produced 
by these sources--require a higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than 
would continuous exposures of the same duration (i.e., intermittent 
exposure results in lower levels of TTS) (Mooney et al., 2009a; 
Finneran et al., 2010). In addition, animals recover from intermittent 
exposures faster in comparison to continuous exposures of the same 
duration (Finneran et al., 2010). Although echosounder pulses are, in 
general, emitted rapidly, they are not dissimilar to odontocete 
echolocation click trains. Research indicates that marine mammals 
generally have extremely fine auditory temporal resolution and can 
detect each signal separately (e.g., Au et al., 1988; Dolphin et al., 
1995; Supin and Popov, 1995; Mooney et al., 2009b), especially for 
species with echolocation capabilities. Therefore, it is likely that 
marine mammals would indeed perceive echosounder signals as being 
intermittent.
    We conclude that, on the basis of available information on hearing 
and potential auditory effects in marine mammals, high-frequency 
cetacean species would be the most likely to potentially incur 
temporary hearing loss from a vessel operating high-frequency fishery 
research sonar sources, and the potential for PTS to occur for any 
species is so unlikely as to be discountable. Even for high-frequency 
cetacean species, individuals would have to make a very close approach 
and also remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order 
to receive multiple exposures at relatively high levels, as would be 
necessary to cause TTS. Additionally, given that behavioral responses 
typically include the temporary avoidance that might be expected (see 
below), the potential for auditory effects considered physiological 
damage (injury) is considered extremely low in relation to realistic 
operations of these devices. Given the fact that fisheries research 
survey vessels are moving, the likelihood that animals may avoid the 
vessel to some extent based on either its physical presence or due to 
aversive sound (vessel or active acoustic sources), and the 
intermittent nature of many of these sources, the potential for TTS is 
probably low for high-frequency cetaceans and very low to zero for 
other species.

Behavioral Effects on Marine Mammals

    Category 2 active acoustic sources are likely to be audible to some 
marine mammal species. Among the marine mammals, most of these sources 
are unlikely to be audible to whales and most pinnipeds, whereas they 
may be detected by odontocete cetaceans (and particularly high 
frequency specialists such as harbor porpoise). Richardson et al. 
(1995) described zones of increasing intensity of effect that might be 
expected to occur, in relation to distance from a source and assuming 
that the signal is within an animal's hearing range. First is the area 
within which the acoustic signal would be audible (potentially 
perceived) to the animal but not strong enough to elicit any overt 
behavioral or physiological response. The next zone corresponds with 
the area where the signal is audible to the animal and of sufficient 
intensity to elicit behavioral or physiological responses. Third is a 
zone within which, for signals of high intensity, the received level is 
sufficient to potentially cause discomfort or tissue damage to auditory 
or other systems. Overlaying these zones to a certain extent is the 
area within which masking (i.e., when a sound interferes with or masks 
the ability of an animal to detect a signal of interest that is above 
the absolute hearing threshold) may occur; the masking zone may be 
highly variable in size.
    Behavioral disturbance may include a variety of effects, including 
subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief avoidance of an area 
or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous changes in similar 
behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or potentially severe 
reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment of high-quality 
habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-
specific and any reactions depend on numerous intrinsic and extrinsic 
factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, experience, current 
activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, time of day), as 
well as the interplay between factors (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; 
Wartzok et al., 2003; Southall et al., 2007; Weilgart, 2007; Archer et 
al., 2010). Behavioral reactions can vary not only among individuals 
but also within an individual, depending on previous experience with a 
sound source, context, and numerous other factors (Ellison et al., 
2012), and can vary depending on characteristics associated with the 
sound source (e.g., whether it is moving or stationary, number of 
sources, distance from the source).
    Habituation can occur when an animal's response to a stimulus wanes 
with repeated exposure, usually in the absence of unpleasant associated 
events (Wartzok et al., 2003). Animals are most likely to habituate to 
sounds that are predictable and unvarying. It is important to note that 
habituation is appropriately considered as a ``progressive reduction in 
response to stimuli that are perceived as neither aversive nor 
beneficial,'' rather than as, more generally, moderation in response to 
human disturbance (Bejder et al., 2009). The opposite process is 
sensitization, when an unpleasant experience leads to subsequent 
responses, often in the form of avoidance, at a lower level of 
exposure. As noted, behavioral state may affect the type of response. 
For example, animals that are resting may show greater behavioral 
change in response to disturbing sound levels than animals that are 
highly motivated to remain in an area for feeding (Richardson et al., 
1995; NRC, 2003; Wartzok et al., 2003). Controlled experiments with 
captive marine mammals have showed pronounced behavioral reactions, 
including avoidance of loud sound sources (Ridgway et al., 1997; 
Finneran et al., 2003). Observed responses of wild marine mammals to 
loud pulsed sound sources (typically seismic airguns or acoustic 
harassment devices) have been varied but often consist of avoidance 
behavior or other behavioral changes suggesting discomfort (Morton and 
Symonds, 2002; see also Richardson et al., 1995; Nowacek et al., 2007).
    Available studies show wide variation in response to underwater 
sound; therefore, it is difficult to predict specifically how any given 
sound in a particular instance might affect marine mammals perceiving 
the signal. If a marine mammal does react briefly to an underwater 
sound by changing its behavior or moving a small distance, the

[[Page 6607]]

impacts of the change are unlikely to be significant to the individual, 
let alone the stock or population. However, if a sound source displaces 
marine mammals from an important feeding or breeding area for a 
prolonged period, impacts on individuals and populations could be 
significant (e.g., Lusseau and Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007; NRC, 
2005). However, there are broad categories of potential response, which 
we describe in greater detail here, that include alteration of dive 
behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, effects to breathing, 
interference with or alteration of vocalization, avoidance, and flight.
    Changes in dive behavior can vary widely and may consist of 
increased or decreased dive times and surface intervals as well as 
changes in the rates of ascent and descent during a dive (e.g., Frankel 
and Clark, 2000; Costa et al., 2003; Ng and Leung, 2003; Nowacek et 
al.; 2004; Goldbogen et al., 2013a, b). Variations in dive behavior may 
reflect interruptions in biologically significant activities (e.g., 
foraging) or they may be of little biological significance. The impact 
of an alteration to dive behavior resulting from an acoustic exposure 
depends on what the animal is doing at the time of the exposure and the 
type and magnitude of the response.
    Disruption of feeding behavior can be difficult to correlate with 
anthropogenic sound exposure, so it is usually inferred by observed 
displacement from known foraging areas, the appearance of secondary 
indicators (e.g., bubble nets or sediment plumes), or changes in dive 
behavior. As for other types of behavioral response, the frequency, 
duration, and temporal pattern of signal presentation, as well as 
differences in species sensitivity, are likely contributing factors to 
differences in response in any given circumstance (e.g., Croll et al., 
2001; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Madsen et al., 2006; Yazvenko et al., 
2007). A determination of whether foraging disruptions incur fitness 
consequences would require information on or estimates of the energetic 
requirements of the affected individuals and the relationship between 
prey availability, foraging effort and success, and the life history 
stage of the animal.
    Variations in respiration naturally vary with different behaviors 
and alterations to breathing rate as a function of acoustic exposure 
can be expected to co-occur with other behavioral reactions, such as a 
flight response or an alteration in diving. However, respiration rates 
in and of themselves may be representative of annoyance or an acute 
stress response. Various studies have shown that respiration rates may 
either be unaffected or could increase, depending on the species and 
signal characteristics, again highlighting the importance in 
understanding species differences in the tolerance of underwater noise 
when determining the potential for impacts resulting from anthropogenic 
sound exposure (e.g., Kastelein et al., 2001, 2005b, 2006; Gailey et 
al., 2007).
    Marine mammals vocalize for different purposes and across multiple 
modes, such as whistling, echolocation click production, calling, and 
singing. Changes in vocalization behavior in response to anthropogenic 
noise can occur for any of these modes and may result from a need to 
compete with an increase in background noise or may reflect increased 
vigilance or a startle response. For example, in the presence of 
potentially masking signals, humpback whales and killer whales have 
been observed to increase the length of their songs (Miller et al., 
2000; Fristrup et al., 2003; Foote et al., 2004), while right whales 
have been observed to shift the frequency content of their calls upward 
while reducing the rate of calling in areas of increased anthropogenic 
noise (Parks et al., 2007b). In some cases, animals may cease sound 
production during production of aversive signals (Bowles et al., 1994).
    Avoidance is the displacement of an individual from an area or 
migration path as a result of the presence of a sound or other 
stressors, and is one of the most obvious manifestations of disturbance 
in marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). For example, gray whales 
are known to change direction--deflecting from customary migratory 
paths--in order to avoid noise from seismic surveys (Malme et al., 
1984). Avoidance may be short-term, with animals returning to the area 
once the noise has ceased (e.g., Bowles et al., 1994; Goold, 1996; 
Morton and Symonds, 2002; Gailey et al., 2007). Longer-term 
displacement is possible, however, which may lead to changes in 
abundance or distribution patterns of the affected species in the 
affected region if habituation to the presence of the sound does not 
occur (e.g., Blackwell et al., 2004; Bejder et al., 2006; Teilmann et 
al., 2006).
    A flight response is a dramatic change in normal movement to a 
directed and rapid movement away from the perceived location of a sound 
source. The flight response differs from other avoidance responses in 
the intensity of the response (e.g., directed movement, rate of 
travel). Relatively little information on flight responses of marine 
mammals to anthropogenic signals exist, although observations of flight 
responses to the presence of predators have occurred (Connor and 
Heithaus, 1996). The result of a flight response could range from 
brief, temporary exertion and displacement from the area where the 
signal provokes flight to, in extreme cases, marine mammal strandings 
(Evans and England, 2001). However, it should be noted that response to 
a perceived predator does not necessarily invoke flight (Ford and 
Reeves, 2008), and whether individuals are solitary or in groups may 
influence the response.
    Behavioral disturbance can also impact marine mammals in more 
subtle ways. Increased vigilance may result in costs related to 
diversion of focus and attention (i.e., when a response consists of 
increased vigilance, it may come at the cost of decreased attention to 
other critical behaviors such as foraging or resting). These effects 
have generally not been demonstrated for marine mammals, but studies 
involving fish and terrestrial animals have shown that increased 
vigilance may substantially reduce feeding rates (e.g., Beauchamp and 
Livoreil, 1997; Fritz et al., 2002; Purser and Radford, 2011). In 
addition, chronic disturbance can cause population declines through 
reduction of fitness (e.g., decline in body condition) and subsequent 
reduction in reproductive success, survival, or both (e.g., Harrington 
and Veitch, 1992; Daan et al., 1996; Bradshaw et al., 1998). However, 
Ridgway et al. (2006) reported that increased vigilance in bottlenose 
dolphins exposed to sound over a five-day period did not cause any 
sleep deprivation or stress effects.
    Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, 
traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Disruption 
of such functions resulting from reactions to stressors such as sound 
exposure are more likely to be significant if they last more than one 
diel cycle or recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). 
Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than one day and not 
recurring on subsequent days is not considered particularly severe 
unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et 
al., 2007). Note that there is a difference between multi-day 
substantive behavioral reactions and multi-day anthropogenic 
activities. For example, just because an activity lasts for multiple 
days does not necessarily mean that individual animals are either 
exposed to activity-related stressors for multiple days or, further, 
exposed in a manner resulting in sustained multi-day substantive 
behavioral responses.

[[Page 6608]]

    Few experiments have been conducted to explicitly test for 
potential effects of echosounders on the behavior of wild cetaceans. 
Quick et al. (2017) describe an experimental approach to assess 
potential changes in short-finned pilot whale behavior during exposure 
to an echosounder (Simrad EK60 operated at 38 kHz, which is commonly 
used by SESC). In 2011, digital acoustic recording tags (DTAG) were 
attached to pilot whales off of North Carolina, with five of the nine 
tagged whales exposed to signals from the echosounder over a period of 
eight days and four treated as control animals. DTAGS record both 
received levels of noise as well as orientation of the animal. Results 
did not show an overt response to the echosounder or a change to 
foraging behavior of tagged whales, but the whales did increase heading 
variance during exposure. The authors suggest that this response was 
not a directed avoidance response but was more likely a vigilance 
response, with animals maintaining awareness of the location of the 
echosounder through increased changes in heading variance (Quick et 
al., 2017). Visual observations of behavior did not indicate any 
dramatic response, unusual behaviors, or changes in heading, and 
cessation of biologically important behavior such as feeding was not 
observed. These less overt responses to sound exposure are difficult to 
detect by visual observation, but may have important consequences if 
the exposure does interfere with biologically important behavior.
    We considered behavioral data from these species when assessing the 
potential for take (see Estimated Take section). There are few studies 
that obtained detailed beaked whale behavioral data in response to 
echosounders (e.g., Quick et al. (2016), Cholewiak et al. (2017)) as 
more effort has been focused on mid-frequency active sonar (e.g., Cox 
et al. (2006), Tyack et al. (2006, 2011). In 2013, passive acoustic 
monitoring of beaked whales in the Atlantic Ocean occurred during and 
in absence of prey studies using an EK60 echosounder (Cholewiak et al., 
2017). There was a significant reduction of acoustic detections during 
echosounder use; indicating beaked whales may have moved out of the 
detection range, initiated directed movement away from the ship, the 
animals remained in the area but temporarily suspend foraging activity. 
The authors also noted that due to some potential outliers in the data, 
the analysis may not be sensitive enough to fully evaluate the 
relationship between beaked whale sightings and echosounder use. Beaked 
whales have also not consistently been observed to elicit behaviors 
across species or source type. For example, Cuvier's beaked whales have 
strongly avoided playbacks of mid-frequency active sonar at distances 
of 10 km but reacted much less severely to naval sonar operating 118 km 
away, despite similar RLs (DeRuiter et al. 2013).
    Based on the available data, NMFS anticipates beaked whales and 
harbor porpoise are more likely to respond in a manner that may rise to 
the level of take to SEFSC acoustic sources. However, the method by 
which take is quantified in this proposed rule is conservative (e.g., 
simplified, conservative Level B harassment area to the 160dB isopleth, 
conservative amount of time surveys may occur) and adequately accounts 
for the number of individuals which may be taken. We also note harbor 
porpoise occur as far south as North Carolina in the ARA during winter 
months (January through March) and do not inhabit the GOMRA or CRA. 
Therefore, the potential for harassment from scientific sonar used by 
the SEFSC is unlikely outside of the January through March timeframe 
off of North Carolina constituting a very small subset of space and 
time when considering all three research areas and research effort. 
More information on take estimate methodology is found in the Estimated 
Take section.
    Stress responses--An animal's perception of a threat may be 
sufficient to trigger stress responses consisting of some combination 
of behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, 
neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses (e.g., Seyle, 1950; 
Moberg, 2000). In many cases, an animal's first and sometimes most 
economical (in terms of energetic costs) response is behavioral 
avoidance of the potential stressor. Autonomic nervous system responses 
to stress typically involve changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and 
gastrointestinal activity. These responses have a relatively short 
duration and may or may not have a significant long-term effect on an 
animal's fitness.
    Neuroendocrine stress responses often involve the hypothalamus-
pituitary-adrenal system. Virtually all neuroendocrine functions that 
are affected by stress--including immune competence, reproduction, 
metabolism, and behavior--are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-
induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been 
implicated in failed reproduction, altered metabolism, reduced immune 
competence, and behavioral disturbance (e.g., Moberg, 1987; Blecha, 
2000). Increases in the circulation of glucocorticoids are also equated 
with stress (Romano et al., 2004).
    The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does 
not normally place an animal at risk) and ``distress'' is the cost of 
the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen stores 
that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. In such 
circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose serious 
fitness consequences. However, when an animal does not have sufficient 
energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress response, 
energy resources must be diverted from other functions. This state of 
distress will last until the animal replenishes its energetic reserves 
sufficient to restore normal function.
    Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal 
behavior, and the costs of stress responses are well-studied through 
controlled experiments and for both laboratory and free-ranging animals 
(e.g., Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; 
Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005). Stress responses due to 
exposure to anthropogenic sounds or other stressors and their effects 
on marine mammals have also been reviewed (Fair and Becker, 2000; 
Romano et al., 2002b) and, more rarely, studied in wild populations 
(e.g., Romano et al., 2002a). For example, Rolland et al. (2012) found 
that noise reduction from reduced ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy was 
associated with decreased stress in North Atlantic right whales. These 
and other studies lead to a reasonable expectation that some marine 
mammals will experience physiological stress responses upon exposure to 
acoustic stressors and that it is possible that some of these would be 
classified as ``distress.'' In addition, any animal experiencing TTS 
would likely also experience stress responses (NRC, 2003).
    Auditory masking--Sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or 
interfering with, an animal's ability to detect, recognize, or 
discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for 
intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, 
predator avoidance, navigation) (Richardson et al., 1995; Erbe et al., 
2016). Masking occurs when the receipt of a sound is interfered with by 
another coincident sound at similar frequencies and at similar or 
higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is natural (e.g., 
snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or anthropogenic (e.g., 
shipping, sonar,

[[Page 6609]]

seismic exploration) in origin. The ability of a noise source to mask 
biologically important sounds depends on the characteristics of both 
the noise source and the signal of interest (e.g., signal-to-noise 
ratio, temporal variability, direction), in relation to each other and 
to an animal's hearing abilities (e.g., sensitivity, frequency range, 
critical ratios, frequency discrimination, directional discrimination, 
age or TTS hearing loss), and existing ambient noise and propagation 
conditions.
    Under certain circumstances, marine mammals experiencing 
significant masking could also be impaired from maximizing their 
performance fitness in survival and reproduction. Therefore, when the 
coincident (masking) sound is man-made, it may be considered harassment 
when disrupting or altering critical behaviors. It is important to 
distinguish TTS and PTS, which persist after the sound exposure, from 
masking, which occurs during the sound exposure. Because masking 
(without resulting in TS) is not associated with abnormal physiological 
function, it is not considered a physiological effect, but rather a 
potential behavioral effect.
    The frequency range of the potentially masking sound is important 
in determining any potential behavioral impacts. For example, low-
frequency signals may have less effect on high-frequency echolocation 
sounds produced by odontocetes but are more likely to affect detection 
of mysticete communication calls and other potentially important 
natural sounds such as those produced by surf and some prey species. 
The masking of communication signals by anthropogenic noise may be 
considered as a reduction in the communication space of animals (e.g., 
Clark et al., 2009) and may result in energetic or other costs as 
animals change their vocalization behavior (e.g., Miller et al., 2000; 
Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007b; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt 
et al., 2009). Masking can be reduced in situations where the signal 
and noise come from different directions (Richardson et al., 1995), 
through amplitude modulation of the signal, or through other 
compensatory behaviors (Houser and Moore, 2014). Masking can be tested 
directly in captive species (e.g., Erbe, 2008), but in wild populations 
it must be either modeled or inferred from evidence of masking 
compensation. There are few studies addressing real-world masking 
sounds likely to be experienced by marine mammals in the wild (e.g., 
Branstetter et al., 2013).
    Masking affects both senders and receivers of acoustic signals and 
can potentially have long-term chronic effects on marine mammals at the 
population level as well as at the individual level. Low-frequency 
ambient sound levels have increased by as much as 20 dB (more than 
three times in terms of SPL) in the world's ocean from pre-industrial 
periods, with most of the increase from distant commercial shipping 
(Hildebrand, 2009). All anthropogenic sound sources, but especially 
chronic and lower-frequency signals (e.g., from vessel traffic), 
contribute to elevated ambient sound levels, thus intensifying masking.
    We have also considered the potential for severe behavioral 
responses such as stranding and associated indirect injury or mortality 
from SEFSC acoustic survey equipment, on the basis of a 2008 mass 
stranding of approximately one hundred melon-headed whales in a 
Madagascar lagoon system. An investigation of the event indicated that 
use of a high-frequency mapping system (12-kHz multibeam echosounder; 
it is important to note that all SEFSC sources operate at higher 
frequencies (see Table 1)) was the most plausible and likely initial 
behavioral trigger of the event, while providing the caveat that there 
is no unequivocal and easily identifiable single cause (Southall et 
al., 2013). The panel's conclusion was based on (1) very close temporal 
and spatial association and directed movement of the survey with the 
stranding event; (2) the unusual nature of such an event coupled with 
previously documented apparent behavioral sensitivity of the species to 
other sound types (Southall et al., 2006; Brownell et al., 2009); and 
(3) the fact that all other possible factors considered were determined 
to be unlikely causes. Specifically, regarding survey patterns prior to 
the event and in relation to bathymetry, the vessel transited in a 
north-south direction on the shelf break parallel to the shore, 
ensonifying large areas of deep-water habitat prior to operating 
intermittently in a concentrated area offshore from the stranding site. 
This may have trapped the animals between the sound source and the 
shore, thus driving them towards the lagoon system. The investigatory 
panel systematically excluded or deemed highly unlikely nearly all 
potential reasons for these animals leaving their typical pelagic 
habitat for an area extremely atypical for the species (i.e., a shallow 
lagoon system). Notably, this was the first time that such a system has 
been associated with a stranding event.
    The panel also noted several site- and situation-specific secondary 
factors that may have contributed to the avoidance responses that led 
to the eventual entrapment and mortality of the whales. Specifically, 
shoreward-directed surface currents and elevated chlorophyll levels in 
the area preceding the event may have played a role (Southall et al., 
2013). The report also notes that prior use of a similar system in the 
general area may have sensitized the animals and also concluded that, 
for odontocete cetaceans that hear well in higher frequency ranges 
where ambient noise is typically quite low, high-power active sonars 
operating in this range may be more easily audible and have potential 
effects over larger areas than low frequency systems that have more 
typically been considered in terms of anthropogenic noise impacts. It 
is, however, important to note that the relatively lower output 
frequency, higher output power, and complex nature of the system 
implicated in this event, in context of the other factors noted here, 
likely produced a fairly unusual set of circumstances that indicate 
that such events would likely remain rare and are not necessarily 
relevant to use of lower-power, higher-frequency systems more commonly 
used for scientific applications. The risk of similar events recurring 
may be very low, given the extensive use of active acoustic systems 
used for scientific and navigational purposes worldwide on a daily 
basis and the lack of direct evidence of such responses previously 
reported.
    Characteristics of the sound sources predominantly used by SEFSC 
further reduce the likelihood of effects to marine mammals, as well as 
the intensity of effect assuming that an animal perceives the signal. 
Intermittent exposures--as would occur due to the brief, transient 
signals produced by these sources--require a higher cumulative SEL to 
induce TTS than would continuous exposures of the same duration (i.e., 
intermittent exposure results in lower levels of TTS) (Mooney et al., 
2009a; Finneran et al., 2010). In addition, intermittent exposures 
recover faster in comparison with continuous exposures of the same 
duration (Finneran et al., 2010). Although echosounder pulses are, in 
general, emitted rapidly, they are not dissimilar to odontocete 
echolocation click trains. Research indicates that marine mammals 
generally have extremely fine auditory temporal resolution and can 
detect each signal separately (e.g., Au et al., 1988; Dolphin et al., 
1995; Supin and Popov, 1995; Mooney et al., 2009b), especially for 
species with echolocation capabilities.

[[Page 6610]]

Therefore, it is likely that marine mammals would indeed perceive 
echosounder signals as being intermittent.
    We conclude here that, on the basis of available information on 
hearing and potential auditory effects in marine mammals, the potential 
for threshold shift from exposure to fishery research sonar is low to 
discountable. High-frequency cetacean species would be the most likely 
to potentially incur some minimal amount of temporary hearing loss from 
a vessel operating high-frequency sonar sources, and the potential for 
PTS to occur for any species is so unlikely as to be discountable. Even 
for high-frequency cetacean species, individuals would have to make a 
very close approach and also remain very close to vessels operating 
these sources in order to receive multiple exposures at relatively high 
levels, as would be necessary to cause TTS. Additionally, given that 
behavioral responses typically include the temporary avoidance that 
might be expected (see below), the potential for auditory effects 
considered physiological damage (injury) is considered extremely low in 
relation to realistic operations of these devices. Given the fact that 
fisheries research survey vessels are moving, the likelihood that 
animals may avoid the vessel to some extent based on either its 
physical presence or due to aversive sound (vessel or active acoustic 
sources), and the intermittent nature of many of these sources, the 
potential for TTS is probably low for high-frequency cetaceans and very 
low to zero for other species.
    Based on the source operating characteristics, most of these 
sources may be detected by odontocete cetaceans (and particularly high-
frequency specialists such as porpoises) but are unlikely to be audible 
to mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans) and some pinnipeds. While 
low-frequency cetaceans and pinnipeds have been observed to respond 
behaviorally to low- and mid-frequency sounds (e.g., Frankel, 2005), 
there is little evidence of behavioral responses in these species to 
high-frequency sound exposure (e.g., Jacobs and Terhune, 2002; 
Kastelein et al., 2006). If a marine mammal does perceive a signal from 
a SEFSC active acoustic source, it is likely that the response would 
be, at most, behavioral in nature. Behavioral reactions of free-ranging 
marine mammals to scientific sonars are likely to vary by species and 
circumstance. For example, Watkins et al. (1985) note that sperm whales 
did not appear to be disturbed by or even aware of signals from 
scientific sonars and pingers (36-60 kHz) despite being very close to 
the transducers. But Gerrodette and Pettis (2005) report that when a 
38-kHz echosounder and ADCP were on (1) the average size of detected 
schools of spotted dolphins and pilot whales was decreased; (2) 
perpendicular sighting distances increased for spotted and spinner 
dolphins; and (3) sighting rates decreased for beaked whales.
    As described above, behavioral responses of marine mammals are 
extremely variable, depending on multiple exposure factors, with the 
most common type of observed response being behavioral avoidance of 
areas around aversive sound sources. Certain odontocete cetaceans 
(particularly harbor porpoises and beaked whales) are known to avoid 
high-frequency sound sources in both field and laboratory settings 
(e.g., Kastelein et al., 2000, 2005b, 2008a, b; Culik et al., 2001; 
Johnston, 2002; Olesiuk et al., 2002; Carretta et al., 2008). There is 
some additional, low probability for masking to occur for high-
frequency specialists, but similar factors (directional beam pattern, 
transient signal, moving vessel) mean that the significance of any 
potential masking is probably inconsequential.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    Effects to prey--In addition to direct, or operational, 
interactions between fishing gear and marine mammals, indirect (i.e., 
biological or ecological) interactions occur as well, in which marine 
mammals and fisheries both utilize the same resource, potentially 
resulting in competition that may be mutually disadvantageous (e.g., 
Northridge, 1984; Beddington et al., 1985; Wickens, 1995). Marine 
mammal prey varies by species, season, and location and, for some, is 
not well documented. There is some overlap in prey of marine mammals 
and the species sampled and removed during SEFSC research surveys, with 
primary prey of concern being zooplankton, estuarine fishes, and 
invertebrates. The majority of fish affected by SEFSC-affiliated 
research projects are caught and killed during these six annual 
surveys: SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl Survey, SEAMAP-GOM Shrimp/Groundfish 
(Summer/Fall) Trawl, Small Pelagics Trawl Survey, Shark and Red Snapper 
Bottom Longline Survey, SEAMAP-GOM Shrimp/Groundfish (Summer/Fall) 
Trawl Survey, and the MARMAP Reef Fish Long Bottom Longline Survey. The 
species caught in greatest abundance in the ARA are the great northern 
tilefish, Atlantic bumper, banded drum and star drum. In the GOMRA, the 
species caught in greatest abundance is the Atlantic croaker followed 
by the longspine porgy and Rough scad. In the CRA, the horse-eye jack 
and yellowtail snapper comprise the greatest catch. However, in all 
research areas, the total amount of these species taken in research 
surveys is very small relative to their overall biomass in the area 
(See Section 4.2.3 of the SEFSC EA for more information on fish catch 
during research surveys). Tables 4.2-8 through 4.2-12 in the SEFSC's 
Draft EA indicate that, while mortality to fish species is a direct 
effect of the SEFSC Atlantic Research Area surveys, there are likely no 
measurable population changes occurring as a result of these research 
activities because they represent such a small percentage of allowable 
quota in commercial and recreational fisheries, which are just 
fractions of the total populations for these species.
    In addition to the small total biomass taken, some of the size 
classes of fish targeted in research surveys are very small, and these 
small size classes are not known to be prey of marine mammals. Research 
catches are also distributed over a wide area because of the random 
sampling design covering large sample areas. Fish removals by research 
are therefore highly localized and unlikely to affect the spatial 
concentrations and availability of prey for any marine mammal species. 
The overall effect of research catches on marine mammals through 
competition for prey may therefore be considered insignificant for all 
species.
    Acoustic habitat--Acoustic habitat is the soundscape--which 
encompasses all of the sound present in a particular location and time, 
as a whole--when considered from the perspective of the animals 
experiencing it. Animals produce sound for, or listen for sounds 
produced by, conspecifics (communication during feeding, mating, and 
other social activities), other animals (finding prey or avoiding 
predators), and the physical environment (finding suitable habitats, 
navigating). Together, sounds made by animals and the geophysical 
environment (e.g., produced by earthquakes, lightning, wind, rain, 
waves) make up the natural contributions to the total acoustics of a 
place. These acoustic conditions, termed acoustic habitat, are one 
attribute of an animal's total habitat.
    Soundscapes are also defined by, and acoustic habitat influenced 
by, the total contribution of anthropogenic sound. This may include 
incidental emissions from sources such as vessel traffic, or

[[Page 6611]]

may be intentionally introduced to the marine environment for data 
acquisition purposes (as in the SEFSC's use of active acoustic 
sources). Anthropogenic noise varies widely in its frequency content, 
duration, and loudness, and these characteristics greatly influence the 
potential habitat-mediated effects to marine mammals (please see also 
the previous discussion on masking under ``Acoustic Effects''), which 
may range from local effects for brief periods of time to chronic 
effects over large areas and for long durations. Depending on the 
extent of effects to habitat, animals may alter their communications 
signals (thereby potentially expending additional energy) or miss 
acoustic cues (either conspecific or adventitious). For more detail on 
these concepts see, e.g., Barber et al., 2010; Pijanowski et al., 2011; 
Francis and Barber, 2013; Lillis et al., 2014.
    As described above (``Acoustic Effects''), the signals emitted by 
SEFSC active acoustic sources are of higher frequencies, short duration 
with high directionality, and transient. These factors mean that the 
signals will likely attenuate rapidly (not travel over great 
distances), may not be perceived or affect perception even when animals 
are in the vicinity, and would not be considered chronic in any given 
location. SEFSC use of these sources is widely dispersed in both space 
and time. In conjunction with the prior factors, this means that it is 
highly unlikely that SEFSC use of these sources would, on their own, 
have any appreciable effect on acoustic habitat.
    Physical habitat--The SEFSC conducts some bottom trawling, which 
may physically damage seafloor habitat. Physical damage may include 
furrowing and smoothing of the seafloor as well as the displacement of 
rocks and boulders, and such damage can increase with multiple contacts 
in the same area (Morgan and Chuenpagdee, 2003; Stevenson et al., 
2004). Damage to seafloor habitat may also harm infauna and epifauna 
(i.e., animals that live in or on the seafloor or on structures on the 
seafloor), including corals. In general, physical damage to the 
seafloor would be expected to recover within eighteen months through 
the action of water currents and natural sedimentation, with the 
exception of rocks and boulders which may be permanently displaced 
(Stevenson et al., 2004). Relatively small areas would be impacted by 
SEFSC bottom trawling and, because such surveys are conducted in the 
same areas but not in the exact same locations, they are expected to 
cause single rather than repeated disturbances in any given area. SEFSC 
activities would not be expected to have any other impacts on physical 
habitat.
    As described in the preceding, the potential for SEFSC research to 
affect the availability of prey to marine mammals or to meaningfully 
impact the quality of physical or acoustic habitat is considered to be 
insignificant for all species. Effects to habitat will not be discussed 
further in this document.

Estimated Take

    This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes 
proposed for authorization through this IHA, which will inform both 
NMFS' consideration of whether the number of takes is ``small'' and the 
negligible impact determination. When discussing take, we consider 
three manners of take: Mortality, serious injury, and harassment. 
Serious injury is defined as an injury that could lead to mortality 
while injury refers to injury that does not lead to mortality. 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).
    As previously described, the SEFSC has a history of take of marine 
mammals incidental to fisheries research. The degree of take resulting 
from gear interaction can range from mortality, serious injury, Level A 
harassment (injury), or released unharmed with no observable injury. 
However, given that we cannot predict the degree of take, we 
conservatively assume that any interaction may result in mortality or 
serious injury and have issued take as such. In the case of the 
Mississippi Sound stock, we have also authorized a single take from 
Level A harassment (injury) only. The amount of research conducted in 
Mississippi Sound using gear with the potential for marine mammal 
interaction increases the potential for interaction above other 
estuarine systems. However, there is evidence that, even without the 
proposed prescribed mitigation and monitoring measures, take may not 
result in mortality or serious injury (e.g., the October 13, 2013 
skimmer trawl take which did not result in serious injury or 
mortality). The proposed mitigation and monitoring measures described 
in this proposed rulemaking are designed to further reduce risk of take 
and degree of take.
Estimated Take Due to Gear Interaction
    Given the complex stock structure of bottlenose dolphins throughout 
the ARA and GOMRA as well as the vulnerability of this species to be 
taken incidental to fishery research, we have partitioned this section 
into two categories to present requested and proposed take in an 
organized manner. Below we present our analysis informing the proposed 
take of estuarine and coastal bottlenose dolphins followed by pelagic 
marine mammals which includes all relevant non-bottlenose dolphin 
species and open ocean stocks of bottlenose dolphins.
Estuarine and Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin Take--SEFSC
    In order to estimate the number of potential bottlenose dolphin 
takes in estuarine and coastal waters, we considered the SEFSC's and 
TPWD's record of such past incidents and other sources of take (e.g., 
commercial fisheries and non-SEFSC or TPWD affiliated research). We 
consulted the SARs, marine mammal experts at the SEFSC, and information 
emerging from the BDTRT to identify these other sources of mortality. 
We then assessed the similarities and differences between fishery 
research and commercial fisheries gear and fishing practices. Finally, 
we evaluated means of affecting the least practicable adverse impact on 
bottlenose dolphins through the proposed mitigation and additional 
mitigation developed during the proposed rulemaking process.
    In total, since 2001 and over the course of thousands of hours of 
research effort, 15 marine mammals (all bottlenose dolphins) have been 
entangled in SEFSC-affiliated research gear. All takes occurred between 
April through October; however, this is likely a result of research 
effort concentrated during this time period and there does not appear 
to be any trend in increased vulnerability throughout the year.
    In the ARA, the SEFSC has nine documented takes of bottlenose 
dolphins (in 8 instances) from fishing gear (Table 5) and 1 take of an 
Atlantic spotted dolphin. The Atlantic spotted dolphin take was a calf 
struck by a propeller during a marine mammal research cruise. Given the 
anomalous nature of the incident and proposed mitigation measures, NMFS 
is not proposing to authorize take by ship strike. Therefore, this take 
is not discussed further. Of the eight gear-related takes, two animals 
were taken at once in a trammel net by the SCDNR in

[[Page 6612]]

2002. However, the SCDNR has since changed fishing methods and 
implemented monitoring and mitigation measures essentially eliminating 
the potential for take during this survey. No other trammel net-related 
takes have occurred since these changes were implemented. Therefore, we 
believe the potential for a take in SCDNR trammel nets is discountable. 
The remaining six gear-related takes have been a result of interaction 
with bottom trawl gear during SEAMAP and TED research surveys resulting 
in an average 0.38 takes per year (6 takes/16 years).
    To further assess the potential for take in any given year, we 
considered where takes have occurred and the possible stock origin from 
which an animal was taken. The July 2006 take occurred offshore of 
Fripp Island, SC; the October 2006 take occurred off Oak Island, NC; 
the July 2012 take occurred off Little Tybee Island, GA; the August 
2012 take occurred off Pawley's Island, SC; the April 2014 take 
occurred just off the coast of Florida between St. Augustine and 
Daytona Beach; and the July 2016 take occurred off Sea Island, Georgia 
which is nestled between Little St. Simon's Island and St. Simon's 
Island. Therefore, the dolphins taken could have originated from any of 
the five coastal stocks (the Northern Migratory and Southern Migratory 
stock, South Carolina/Georgia Coastal stock, Northern Florida Coastal 
stock and a Central Florida stock), although they were assigned to the 
stock based on the location where the take occurred. Taking the average 
rate of 0.38 animals/five stocks equates to an average taking of 0.08 
animals per stock per year. This average would be even less if one 
considers an estuarine stock may be the stock of origin.
    According to the SEFSC's application, three trawl surveys and 2 
bottom longline surveys conducted by the SEFSC or research partner 
overlap spatially with the NNCES stock (Table 1). These are the 
Atlantic Striped Bass Tagging Bottom Trawl Survey (USFWS), SEAMAP-SA 
Coastal Trawl Survey (SCDNR), SEAMAP-SA North Carolina Pamlico Sound 
Trawl Survey (NCDENR), Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey 
(SEFSC), and the SEAMAP-SA Red Drum Bottom Longline Survey (NCDNR). No 
gillnet surveys would take place in waters overlapping with this stock. 
Based on data in the PSIT database, no dolphins from the NNCES stock 
have been taken from SEFSC or partner fishery research surveys, 
including those described above which have taken place for many years.
    Despite the lack of historical take, we further investigated the 
potential for future interaction. Based on commercial fishery and SEFSC 
fishery survey bycatch rates of marine mammals, we would expect the 
trawl surveys to be more likely to take a dolphin than the bottom 
longline surveys. An evaluation of each survey type occurring is 
provided below to more thoroughly evaluate the potential for taking a 
bottlenose dolphin belonging to the NNCES stock.
    The Atlantic Striped Bass Bottom Trawl Survey (conducted by the 
USFWS) is limited to two weeks (200-350 trawls) during January and 
February in coastal waters north of Cape Hatteras ranging from 30 to 
120 ft in depth. The USFWS uses dual 65-ft trawl nets with 3.75 in. 
stretch nylon multifilament mesh codend. Tow speed is 3 kts and tow 
time does not exceed 30 minutes at depth. Trawl operations are 
conducted day and night from the R/V Oregon II, R/V Oregon, or R/V 
Savannah (please refer to the EA for detailed vessel descriptions). The 
winter operations of this survey overlaps in time with when some 
animals move out of Pamlico Sound and into coastal waters. However, 
photo-ID studies, available tag data and stable isotope data indicate 
that the portion of the stock that moves out of Pamlico Sound into 
coastal waters remain south of Cape Hatteras during cold water months 
(Waring et al. 2016). The USFWS has historically conducted surveys 
north of Cape Hatteras. However, the survey is currently inactive due 
to funding constraints. If funding becomes available, they may 
undertake this survey. However, the spatial and temporal specifications 
described above greatly reduce the likelihood of a take from the NNCES 
stock. In addition, given the short duration of the survey (2 weeks) 
and short tow time durations (up to 30 minutes), the chance of marine 
mammal interaction is limited. This logic is supported by the lack of 
take from this survey. At this time, for the reasons described above, 
we believe the likelihood of an animal from the NNCES stock being taken 
during Atlantic Striped Bass Bottom Trawl Survey is unlikely.
    The SEAMAP-SA Pamlico Sound Trawl Survey (NCDENR) is conducted to 
support stock assessments and management of finfish, shrimp, and crab 
species in Pamlico Sound and its bays and rivers. The otter trawl 
survey takes place for 10 days in June and 10 days in September during 
daylight hours. Up to 54 trawls are completed each month (total = 108 
trawls) aboard the R/V Carolina Coast. The general area of operation is 
Pamlico Sound and the Pamlico, Pungo, and Neuse rivers in waters 
greater than or equal to 6 ft. Despite spatial and temporal overall 
with the NNCES stock, this survey has no record of interacting with a 
marine mammal. Given the lack of historical interaction, limited number 
of tows, and implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation 
measures, we do not believe there is reasonable likelihood of take from 
this survey.
    The SEAMAP-SA Coastal Trawl Survey (SCDNR) operates 300-350 trawls 
annually from Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL in nearshore 
oceanic waters of 15-30 ft depth. Its goal is collect long-term fishery 
independent data on ecologically, commercially, and recreationally 
important fishes and invertebrates, including shrimp and blue crab. Tow 
time is approximately 20 minutes. This survey is not associated with 
sea turtle research surveys, which have longer tow times. SCDNR uses 
the R/V Lady Lisa outfitted with an otter trawl comprised of paired 
mongoose-type Falcon bottom trawls. All takes of dolphins have occurred 
in coastal waters (none from estuarine waters), and all assigned takes 
have been from coastal stocks. However, because estuarine stocks may 
venture into coastal waters, there is a small possibility takes from 
this survey could have been from the SNCES (n=1), Northern South 
Carolina Estuarine System (n=1), Northern Georgia/Southern South 
Carolina Estuarine System (n= 2), and Southern Georgia Estuarine System 
(n=1) (Table 6). This is the only survey which may potentially overlap 
with the NNCES and SNCES stock but does so in coastal waters where 
coastal stocks overlap in time and space. It is most likely a take from 
this survey would be from a coastal stock. Therefore, we are not 
proposing to authorize take from the NNCES or SNCES stock.

[[Page 6613]]



                     Table 6--Possible Stock Origin of Bottlenose Dolphins Taken in the ARA
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                 Possible Stocks
                 Date                       Location Taken     -------------------------------------------------
                                                                        Coastal                 Estuarine.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2001.................................  Unknown................  Unknown................  Unknown.
July 2006............................  Off Fripp Island, GA...  W.N. Atlantic South      Northern Georgia/
                                                                 Carolina-Georgia         Southern South
                                                                 Coastal.                 Carolina Estuarine
                                                                                          System.
October 2006.........................  Off Oak Island, NC.....  Southern Migratory.....  Southern North Carolina
                                                                                          Estuarine System.
July 2012............................  Off Little Tybee         W.N. Atlantic South      Northern Georgia/
                                        Island, GA.              Carolina-Georgia         Southern South
                                                                 Coastal.                 Carolina Estuarine
                                                                                          System.
August 2012..........................  Off Pawley's Island, SC  W.N. Atlantic South      Northern South Carolina
                                                                 Carolina-Georgia         Estuarine System.
                                                                 Coastal.
April 2014...........................  Off the coast of         W.N. Atlantic Northern   W.N. Atlantic Central
                                        Florida between St.      Florida Coastal.         Florida Coastal.
                                        Augustine and Daytona
                                        Beach.
July 2016............................  Off Sea Island, Georgia  W.N. Atlantic South      Southern Georgia
                                                                 Carolina-Georgia         Estuarine System.
                                                                 Coastal.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The only survey overlapping with the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) 
stock is the St. Lucie Rod-and-Reel Fish Health Study. There are no 
documented instances of the SEFSC taking a dolphin from this survey. 
Therefore, we believe the likelihood of take is low and mitigation 
measures (e.g. quickly reeling in line if dolphins are likely to 
interact with gear) would be effective at further reducing take 
potential to discountable. In consideration of this, we are not 
proposing to issue take of the IRL stock.
    In summary, we are not proposing to authorize requested take in the 
ARA for the NNCES, SNCES, and Indian River Lagoon stocks due to low to 
discountable potential for take. For all other estuarine stocks for 
which take was requested (n=7), we are proposing to authorize the 
requested 1 take over 5 years by M/SI (Table 7). We are proposing to 
issue the requested 3 M/SI takes per stock of each of the coastal 
stocks and the offshore stock in the ARA over 5 years (Table 7).
    In the GOMRA, the SEFSC is requesting to take one dolphin from each 
of the 21 estuarine stocks, three dolphins from the Mississippi Sound 
stock, and three dolphins per year from the coastal stocks (Table 7). 
Similar to the ARA, NMFS examined the SEFSC's request and assessed 
authorizing take based on fishing effort and stock spatial and temporal 
parameters, the potential for take based on fishing practices (e.g., 
gear description, tow/soak times). In addition, the SEFSC has provided 
supplemental information indicating some surveys are discontinued or 
currently inactive and are not likely to take place during the proposed 
5-year regulations.
    When examining the survey gear used and fishing methods, we 
determined that the IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey (conducted by 
TPWD) has a very low potential to take dolphins. This survey has no 
documented dolphin/gear interactions despite high fishing effort (90 
trawls for month/1080 trawls per year). This is likely because TPWD 
uses a very small (20 ft wide) otter shrimp trawl which is towed for 
only 10 minutes in 3-30 ft of water. The nets can be retrieved within 
one to two minutes. The IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey is the only 
survey conducted by the SEFSC that overlaps with the following BSE 
bottlenose dolphin stocks: Laguna Madre; Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi 
Bay; Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay, Espirtu 
Santo Bay; Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios Bay, Lavaca Bay; West Bay, and 
Galveston Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay. TPWD has no documented take of 
dolphins from the IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey despite years of 
research effort. Due to the discountable potential for take from the 
IJA Open Bay Shellfish Trawl Survey, we are not proposing to authorize 
take of these Texas bottlenose dolphin stocks to the SEFSC.
    Another stock with a discountable potential for take is the 
Barataria Bay stock. This stock's habitat includes Caminada Bay, 
Barataria Bay east to Bastian Bay, Bay Coquette, and Gulf coastal 
waters extending 1 km from the shoreline. The SEFSC has committed to 
avoiding conducting fisheries independent monitoring in these waters. 
Hence, we find the potential for take from the Barataria Bay stock is 
discountable and we are not proposing to authorize the requested take.
    On December 22, 2017, the SEFSC indicated the Gulfspan shark survey 
conducted by University of West Florida (UWF) is considered inactive as 
of 2017 and would not likely take place over the course of the proposed 
regulations due to staffing changes. This is the only survey 
overlapping with the Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay 
stocks. Therefore, we find the potential for take from these stocks is 
discountable and we are not proposing to authorize the requested take.
    There are nine surveys in the GOMRA overlapping with the 
Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau stock (MS Sound stock): 
Four trawl, three gillnet, and two hook and line. While there are four 
documented takes from this stock since 2011 (from gillnet and trawl 
surveys), there are none prior to that year. The SEFSC requested three 
M/SI takes from the MS Sound stock due to the amount of fishing effort 
in this waterbody. However, we find two takes are warranted over the 
life of the 5-year regulations given the lack of take prior to 2011 and 
implementation of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures. 
Further, previous takes indicate there is potential that a marine 
mammal may not die or be seriously injured in fishing gear but be 
injured. Therefore, we are proposing to authorize one take by M/SI and 
one take by Level A harassment for the Mississippi Sound stock over the 
5-year regulations (Table 7).

[[Page 6614]]



 Table 7--SEFSC Total Requested and Proposed Take of Bottlenose Dolphins
 in ARA, GOMRA, and CRA Over the Life of the Proposed 5-Year Regulations
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      Total
             Stock               requested take  Total proposed take (M/
                                     (M/SI )               SI )
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Northern North Carolina                       1                    \1\ 0
 Estuarine System Stock........
Southern North Carolina                       1                    \1\ 0
 Estuarine System Stock........
Northern South Carolina                       1                        1
 Estuarine Stock...............
Charleston Estuarine System                   1                        1
 Stock.........................
Northern Georgia/Southern South               1                        1
 Carolina Estuarine System
 Stock.........................
Central Georgia Estuarine                     1                        1
 System........................
Southern Georgia Estuarine                    1                        1
 System Stock..................
Jacksonville Estuarine System                 1                        1
 Stock.........................
Indian River Lagoon Estuarine                 1                    \1\ 0
 System Stock..................
Biscayne Bay Stock.............               0                        0
Florida Bay Stock..............               1                        1
Western North Atlantic South                  3                        3
 Carolina/Georgia Coastal Stock
Western North Atlantic Northern               3                        3
 Florida Coastal Stock.........
Western North Atlantic Central                3                        3
 Florida Coastal Stock.........
Western North Atlantic Northern               3                        3
 Migratory Coastal Stock.......
Western North Atlantic Southern               3                        3
 Migratory Coastal Stock.......
Western North Atlantic Offshore               3                        3
 Stock.........................
Puerto Rico and US Virgin                     1                        1
 Islands Stock.................
Laguna Madre...................               1                    \1\ 0
Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay.               1                    \1\ 0
Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San                  1                    \1\ 0
 Antonio Bay, Redfish Bay,
 Espirtu Santo Bay.............
Matagorda Bay, Tres Palacios                  1                    \1\ 0
 Bay, Lavaca Bay...............
West Bay.......................               1                    \1\ 0
Galveston Bay, East Bay,                      1                    \1\ 0
 Trinity Bay...................
Sabine Lake....................               1                    \1\ 0
Calcasieu Lake.................               0                        0
Atchalfalaya Bay, Vermilion                   0                        0
 Bay, West Cote Blanche Bay....
Terrabonne Bay, Timbalier Bay..               1                        1
Barataria Bay Estuarine System.               1                    \2\ 0
Mississippi River Delta........               1                        1
Mississippi Sound, Lake Bornge,               3    \3\ 1 M/SI, 1 Level A
 Bay Boudreau..................
Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay......               1                        1
Perdido Bay....................               1                    \2\ 0
Pensacola Bay, East Bay........               1                    \2\ 0
Choctwhatchee Bay..............               1                    \2\ 0
St. Andrew Bay.................               1                        1
St. Joseph Bay.................               1                        1
St. Vincent Sound, Apalachiola                1                        1
 Bay, St. George Sound.........
Apalachee Bay..................               1                        1
Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee                 1                        1
 Bay, Crystal Bay..............
St. Joseph Sound, Clearwater                  0                        0
 Harbor........................
Tampa Bay......................               0                        0
Sarasota Bay, Little Sarasota                 0                        0
 Bay...........................
Pine Island Sound, Charlotte                  1                        1
 Harbor, Gasparilla Sound,
 Lemon Bay.....................
Caloosahatchee River...........               0                        0
Estero Bay.....................               0                        0
Chokoloskee Bay, Ten Thousand                 1                        1
 Islands, Gullivan Bay.........
Whitewater Bay.................               0                        0
Florida Keys-Bahia Honda to Key               0                        0
 West..........................
Northern Gulf of Mexico Western               3                        3
 Coastal Stock.................
Northern Gulf of Mexico                       3                        3
 Northern Coastal Stock........
Northern Gulf of Mexico Eastern               3                        3
 Coastal Stock.................
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Surveys overlapping these stocks have a low to discountable
  potential to take marine mammals due to temporal and spatial overlap
  with stock, fishing methods, and/or gear types. The SEFSC has no
  history of taking individuals from these stocks.
\2\ No surveys are proposed that overlap with these stocks.
\3\ The SEFSC has the potential to take one marine mammal by M/SI and
  one marine mammal by Level A harassment (injury) only for the
  Mississippi Sound stock.

Estuarine Bottlenose Dolphin Take--TPWD
    During gillnet surveys, the TPWD may incidentally take bottlenose 
dolphins. TPWD conducts research in seven major bays, sounds, and 
estuaries in Texas. There is no history of take in three of those 
waterbodies (Sabine Lake, West Bay, and Galveston Bay), therefore, TPWD 
has not requested, and we are not proposing, to authorize take from 
these stocks as the potential for take from these stocks is 
discountable.
    Historical take from TPWD's gillnet surveys is random in time and 
space making it difficult to predict where and how often future takes 
could occur. TPWD has taken 32-35 bottlenose dolphins during the 35 
years of gillnet fishing (exact number is not clear due to potential 
errors in early reporting and record keeping). In 18 of the 35 years 
(52 percent) there were zero dolphins taken (see Table 3 in TPWD's

[[Page 6615]]

application). However, the long term average equates to approximately 
one animal per year (32-34 dolphins in 35 years) To cover the life of 
the 5-yr regulations, this would equate to five takes. However, TPWD 
would remove grids meeting ``hot spot'' criteria and remove potential 
sources of entanglement (e.g., the gap between the float line and the 
net). Therefore, we are proposing to issue one M/SI take from each of 
the previously taken stocks over the life of the proposed regulations 
for a total of four takes over the life of the regulations. We also 
consider that the regulations would be conditioned with mitigation 
measures designed to reduce the risk of take (e.g., new gear 
modification, removal of sampling areas deemed dolphin ``hot spots''). 
Therefore, NMFS is proposing to issue one take by M/SI from the 
following stocks of bottlenose stocks: (1) Laguna Madre; (2) Corpus 
Christi Bay, Nueces Bay; (3) Copano Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, 
Redfish Bay, Espiritu Santa Bay; and (4) MatagordaBay, Tres Palacios 
Bay, Lavaca Bay. In total, four M/SI takes (one from each stock) would 
be authorized over the life of the proposed regulations.
Pelagic Marine Mammals Take--SEFSC
    Since systematic record keep began in 2002, the SEFSC and 
affiliated research partners have taken no marine mammals species other 
than bottlenose dolphins due to gear interaction. However, NMFS has 
assessed other sources of M/SI for these species (e.g., commercial 
fishing) to inform the potential for incidental takes of marine mammals 
in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA under this proposed rule. These species have 
not been taken historically by SEFSC research activities but inhabit 
the same areas and show similar types of behaviors and vulnerabilities 
to such gear used in other contexts. To more comprehensively identify 
where vulnerability and potential exists for take between SEFSC 
research and other species of marine mammals, we compared with similar 
commercial fisheries by way of the 2017 List of Fisheries (LOF) and the 
record of interactions from non-SEFSC affiliated research.
    NMFS LOF classifies U.S. commercial fisheries into one of three 
categories according to the level of incidental marine mammal M/SI that 
is known to have occured on an annual basis over the most recent five-
year period (generally) for which data has been analyzed: Category I, 
frequent incidental M/SI; Category II, occasional incidental M/SI; and 
Category III, remote likelihood of or no known incidental M/SI. In 
accordance with the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1387(e)) and 50 CFR 229.6, any 
vessel owner or operator, or gear owner or operator (in the case of 
non-vessel fisheries), participating in a fishery listed on the LOF 
must report to NMFS all incidental mortalities and injuries of marine 
mammals that occur during commercial fishing operations, regardless of 
the category in which the fishery is placed. The LOF for 2016 was based 
on, among other things, stranding data; fisher self-reports; and SARs, 
primarily the 2014 SARs, which are generally based on data from 2008-
2012. Table 8 indicates which species (other than bottlenose dolphins) 
have been known to interact with commercial fishing gear in the three 
research areas based on the 2016 LOF (81 FR 20550; April 8, 2016). More 
information on the 2016 LOF can be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/interactions/fisheries/lof.html.

  Table 8--Gear Types Implicated for Interaction With Marine Mammals in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and
                                         Caribbean Commercial Fisheries
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     Fishery by Gear Type \1\
                                                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
                     Species                          Gillnet          Trawl
                                                     Fisheries       Fisheries       Trap/Pot        Longline
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
N. Atlantic right whale.........................               Y  ..............               Y  ..............
Humpback whale..................................               Y  ..............               Y  ..............
Fin whale.......................................               Y  ..............               Y  ..............
Minke whale.....................................               Y               Y               Y               Y
Risso's dolphin.................................               Y               Y  ..............               Y
Cuvier's beaked whale...........................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
Gervais beaked whale............................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
Beaked whale (Mesoplodon spp)...................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
False killer whale..............................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
Killer whale....................................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
Pygmy sperm whale...............................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
Sperm Whale.....................................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
Long-finned pilot whale.........................               Y               Y  ..............               Y
Short-finned pilot whale........................  ..............  ..............  ..............               Y
White-sided dolphin.............................               Y               Y  ..............  ..............
Atlantic spotted dolphin........................  ..............               Y  ..............               Y
Pantropical spotted dolphin.....................               Y  ..............  ..............               Y
Common dolphin..................................               Y               Y  ..............               Y
Harbor porpoise.................................               Y               Y  ..............  ..............
Harbor seal.....................................               Y               Y               Y  ..............
Gray seal.......................................  ..............               Y  ..............  ..............
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Only fisheries with gear types used by the SEFSC during the course of the proposed regulations are included
  here. For example, purse seine and aquaculture fisheries are also known to interact with marine mammals in the
  specified geographic region; however, the SEFSC would not use those gears during their research.

    In addition to examining known interaction, we also considered a 
number of activity-related factors (e.g., gear size, set duration, 
etc.) and species-specific factors (e.g., species-specific knowledge 
regarding animal behavior, overall abundance in the geographic region, 
density relative to SEFSC survey effort, feeding ecology, propensity to 
travel in groups commonly associated with other species historically 
taken) to determine whether a species may have a similar vulnerability 
to certain types of gear as historically taken species. For example, 
despite known take in

[[Page 6616]]

commercial trap/pot fisheries, here we rule out the potential for 
traps/pots to take marine mammals incidental to SEFSC research for a 
number of reasons. Commercial fisheries often involve hundreds of 
unattended traps that are located on a semi-permanent basis, usually 
with long, loose float lines, in shallow waters close to shore. In 
contrast, SEFSC research gear is fished in deeper waters, and typically 
only one pot is fished at a time and monitored continuously for short 
soak times (e.g., one hour). These differences in fishing practices, 
along with the fact no marine mammals have been taken in a SEFSC trap/
pot, negate the potential for take to a level NMFS does not believe 
warrants authorization of take, and there is no historical 
documentation of take from this gear incidental to SEFSC surveys. 
Therefore, we do not expect take incidental to SEFSC research 
activities using trap/pot gear.
    It is well documented that multiple marine mammal species are taken 
in commercial longline fisheries (Table 8). We used this information to 
help make an informed decision on the probability of specific cetacean 
and large whale interactions with longline gear and other hook-and-line 
gear while taking into account many other factors affecting the 
vulnerability of a species to be taken in SEFSC research surveys (e.g., 
relative survey effort, survey location, similarity in gear type, 
animal behavior, prior history of SEFSC interactions with longline gear 
etc.). First we examined species known to be taken in longline 
fisheries but for which the SEFSC has not requested take. For example, 
the SEFSC is not requesting take of large whales in longline gear. 
Although large whale species could become entangled in longline gear, 
the probability of interaction with SEFSC longline gear is extremely 
low considering a far lower level of survey effort relative to that of 
commercial fisheries, much shorter set durations, shorter line lengths, 
and monitoring and mitigation measures implemented by the SEFSC (e.g., 
the move-on rule). Although data on commercial fishing efforts 
comparable to the known SEFSC research protocols (net size, tow 
duration and speed, and total number of tows) are not publically 
available, based on the amount of fish caught by commercial fisheries 
versus SEFSC fisheries research, the ``footprint'' of research effort 
compared to commercial fisheries is very small (see Section 9 in the 
SEFSC's application). As such, the SEFSC has not requested, nor is NMFS 
proposing, to authorize take of large whales (i.e., mysticetes) 
incidental to longline research. There are situations with hook-and-
line (e.g., longline) fisheries research gear when a caught animal 
cannot be identified to species with certainty. This might occur when a 
hooked or entangled dolphin frees itself before being identified or 
when concerns over crew safety, weather, or sea state conditions 
necessitate quickly releasing the animal before identification is 
possible. The top priority for live animals is to release them as 
quickly and safely as possible. The SEFSC ship's crew and research 
personnel make concerted efforts to identify animals incidentally 
caught in research gear whenever crew and vessel safety are not 
jeopardized.
    With respect to trawling, both commercial fisheries and non-SEFSC 
affiliated research trawls in the Gulf of Mexico have taken pelagic 
marine mammals. For example, a mid-water research trawl conducted to 
monitor the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of 
Mexico took 3 pantropical spotted dolphins in one trawl in 2012. 
Additionally, an Atlantic spotted dolphin was taken in non-SEFSC 
research bottom trawl in 2014. Known takes in commercial trawl 
fisheries in the ARA and GOMRA include a range of marine mammal species 
(Table 8). NMFS examined the similarities between species known to be 
taken in commercial and non-SEFSC research trawls with those species 
that overlap in time and space with SEFSC research trawls in the open 
ocean. Because some species exhibit similar behavior, distribution, 
abundance, and vulnerability to research trawl gear to these species, 
NMFS proposes to authorize take of eight species of pelagic cetaceans 
and two pinniped species in the ARA and nine species of cetaceans in 
the GOMRA (Table 9). In addition, NMFS provides allowance of one take 
of an unidentified species in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA over the life of 
these proposed regulations to account for any animal that cannot be 
identified to a species level. Takes would occur incidental to trawl 
and hook and line (including longline) research in the ARA and GOMRA. 
However, because the SEFSC does not use trawl gear in the CRA, take is 
proposed incidental to hook and line gear in the Caribbean (see Tables 
6.4- 6.6 in SEFSC's application for more detail). We are proposing to 
authorize the amount of take requested by the SEFSC's for these stocks 
listed in Table 9.

  Table 9--Proposed Total Take, by Species and Stock, of Pelagic Marine
   Mammals in the ARA and GOMRA Incidental To Trawl and Hook and Line
     Research and, in the CRA, Incidental To Hook and Line Research
                 Activities Over the 5 Year Regulations
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                          Total Proposed
              Species                       Stock            M&SI Take
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Risso's dolphin...................  Western North
                                     Atlantic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico...
Melon headed whale................  N. Gulf of Mexico...               3
Short-finned pilot whale..........  Western North                      1
                                     Atlantic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico...               1
Long-finned pilot whale...........  Western North                      1
                                     Atlantic.
Short-beaked common dolphin.......  Western North                      4
                                     Atlantic.
Atlantic spotted dolphin..........  Western North                      4
                                     Atlantic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico...               4
Pantropical spotted dolphin.......  Western North                      1
                                     Atlantic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico...               4
Striped dolphin...................  Western North                      3
                                     Atlantic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico...               3
Spinner dolphin...................  N. Gulf of Mexico...               3
Rough-toothed dolphin.............  N. Gulf of Mexico...               1
Bottlenose dolphin................  Western North                      4
                                     Atlantic Oceanic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico                  4
                                     Oceanic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico                  4
                                     Continental Shelf.

[[Page 6617]]

 
                                    Puerto Rico/USVI....               1
Harbor porpoise...................  Gulf of Maine/Bay of               1
                                     Fundy.
Undetermined delphinid............  Western North                      1
                                     Atlantic.
                                    N. Gulf of Mexico...               1
Harbor seal.......................  Western North                      1
                                     Atlantic.
Gray seal.........................  Western North                      1
                                     Atlantic.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Estimated Take Due to Acoustic Harassment

    As described previously (``Potential Effects of the Specified 
Activity on Marine Mammals''), we believe that SEFSC use of active 
acoustic sources has, at most, the potential to cause Level B 
harassment of marine mammals. In order to attempt to quantify the 
potential for Level B harassment to occur, NMFS (including the SEFSC 
and acoustics experts from other parts of NMFS) developed an analytical 
framework considering characteristics of the active acoustic systems 
described previously under Description of Active Acoustic Sound 
Sources, their expected patterns of use, and characteristics of the 
marine mammal species that may interact with them. This quantitative 
assessment benefits from its simplicity and consistency with current 
NMFS acoustic guidance regarding Level B harassment but we caution 
that, based on a number of deliberately precautionary assumptions, the 
resulting take estimates may be seen as an overestimate of the 
potential for behavioral harassment to occur as a result of the 
operation of these systems. Additional details on the approach used and 
the assumptions made that result in these estimates are described 
below.
Acoustic Thresholds
    Using the best available science, NMFS has developed acoustic 
thresholds that identify the received level of underwater sound above 
which exposed marine mammals would be reasonably expected to be 
behaviorally harassed (equated to Level B harassment) or to incur PTS 
of some degree (Level A harassment). We note NMFS has begun efforts to 
update its behavioral thresholds, considering all available data, and 
is formulating a strategy for updating those thresholds for all types 
of sound sources considered in incidental take authorizations. It is 
NMFS intention to conduct both internal and external review of any new 
thresholds prior to finalizing. In the interim, we apply the 
traditional thresholds.
    Level B Harassment for non-explosive sources--Though significantly 
driven by received level, the onset of behavioral disturbance from 
anthropogenic noise exposure is also informed to varying degrees by 
other factors related to the source (e.g., frequency, predictability, 
duty cycle), the environment (e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving 
animals (hearing, motivation, experience, demography, behavioral 
context) and can be difficult to predict (Southall et al., 2007, 
Ellison et al., 2011). Based on what the best available science 
indicates and the practical need to use a threshold based on a factor 
that is both predictable and measurable for most activities, NMFS uses 
a generalized acoustic threshold based on received level to estimate 
the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS predicts that marine mammals 
are likely to be behaviorally harassed in a manner we consider Level B 
harassment when exposed to underwater anthropogenic noise above 
received levels of 120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) for continuous (e.g. 
vibratory pile-driving, drilling) and above 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) 
for non-explosive impulsive (e.g., seismic airguns) or intermittent 
(e.g., scientific sonar) sources. Neither threshold is used for 
military sonar due to the unique source characteristics.
    The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) has previously suggested 
NMFS apply the 120 dB continuous threshold to scientific sonar such as 
the ones proposed by the SEFSC. NMFS has responded to this comment in 
multiple Federal Register notices of issuance for other NMFS science 
centers. However, we provide more clarification here on why the 160 dB 
threshold is appropriate when estimating take from acoustic sources 
used during SEFSC research activities. NMFS historically has referred 
to the 160 dB threshold as the impulsive threshold, and the 120 dB 
threshold as the continuous threshold, which in and of itself is 
conflicting as one is referring to pulse characteristics and the other 
is referring to the temporal component. A more accurate term for the 
impulsive threshold is the intermittent threshold. This distinction is 
important because, when assessing the potential for hearing loss (PTS 
or TTS) or non-auditory injury (e.g., lung injury), the spectral 
characteristics of source (impulsive vs. non-impulsive) is critical to 
assessing the potential for such impacts. However, for behavior, the 
temporal component is more appropriate to consider. Gomez et al. (2016) 
conducted a systematic literature review (370 papers) and analysis (79 
studies, 195 data cases) to better assess probability and severity of 
behavioral responses in marine mammals exposed to anthropogenic sound. 
They found a significant relationship between source type and 
behavioral response when sources were split into broad categories that 
reflected whether sources were continuous, sonar, or seismic (the 
latter two of which are intermittent sources). Moreover, while Gomez et 
al (2017) acknowledges acoustically sensitive species (beaked whales 
and harbor porpoise), the authors do not recommend an alternative 
method for categorizing sound sources for these species when assessing 
behavioral impacts from noise exposure.
    To apply the continuous 120 dB threshold to all species based on 
data from known acoustically sensitive species (one species of which is 
the harbor porpoise which is likely to be rarely encountered in the ARA 
and do not inhabit the GOMRA or CRA) is not warranted as it would be 
unnecessarily conservative for non-sensitive species. Qualitatively 
considered in our effects analysis below is that beaked whales and 
harbor porpoise are more acoustically sensitive than other cetacean 
species, and thus are more likely to demonstrate overt changes in 
behavior when exposed to such sources. Further, in absence of very 
sophisticated acoustic modeling, our propagation rates are also 
conservative. Therefore, the distance to the 160 dB threshold is

[[Page 6618]]

likely much closer to the source than calculated. In summary, the 
SEFSC's proposed activity includes the use of intermittent sources 
(scientific sonar). Therefore, the 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) threshold 
is applicable when quantitatively estimating take by behavioral 
harassment incidental to SEFSC scientific sonar for all marine mammal 
species.
    Level A harassment for non-explosive sources--NMFS' Technical 
Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine 
Mammal Hearing (Technical Guidance, 2018) identifies dual criteria to 
assess auditory injury (Level A harassment) to five different marine 
mammal groups (based on hearing sensitivity) as a result of exposure to 
noise from two different types of sources (impulsive or non-impulsive). 
However, as described in greater detail in the Potential Effects 
section, given the highly direction, e.g.,narrow beam widths, NMFS does 
not anticipate animals would be exposed to noise levels resulting in 
PTS. Therefore, the Level A criteria do not apply here and are not 
discussed further; NMFS is proposing take by Level B harassment only.
    The operating frequencies of active acoustic systems used by the 
SEFSC sources range from 18-333 kHz (see Table 2). These frequencies 
are within the very upper hearing range limits of baleen whales (7 Hz 
to 35 kHz). The Simrad EK60 may operate at frequency of 18 kHz which is 
the only frequency that might be detectable by baleen whales. However, 
the beam pattern is extremely narrow (11 degrees) at that frequency. 
The Simrad ME70 echosounder, EQ50, and Teledyne RD ADCP operate at 50-
200 kHz which are all outside of baleen whale hearing capabilities. 
Therefore, we would not expect any exposures to these signals to result 
in behavioral harassment. The Simrad EK60 lowest operating frequency 
(18 kHz) is within baleen whale hearing capabilities.
    The assessment paradigm for active acoustic sources used in SEFSC 
fisheries research mirrors approaches by other NMFS Science Centers 
applying for regulations. It is relatively straightforward and has a 
number of key simple and conservative assumptions. NMFS' current 
acoustic guidance requires in most cases that we assume Level B 
harassment occurs when a marine mammal receives an acoustic signal at 
or above a simple step-function threshold. For use of these active 
acoustic systems used during SEFSC research, NMFS uses the threshold is 
160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) as the best available science indicates the 
temporal characteristics of a source are most influential in 
determining behavioral impacts (Gomez et al., 2016), and it is NMFS 
long standing practice to apply the 160 dB threshold to intermittent 
sources. Estimating the number of exposures at the specified received 
level requires several determinations, each of which is described 
sequentially below:
    (1) A detailed characterization of the acoustic characteristics of 
the effective sound source or sources in operation;
    (2) The operational areas exposed to levels at or above those 
associated with Level B harassment when these sources are in operation;
    (3) A method for quantifying the resulting sound fields around 
these sources; and
    (4) An estimate of the average density for marine mammal species in 
each area of operation.
    Quantifying the spatial and temporal dimension of the sound 
exposure footprint (or ``swath width'') of the active acoustic devices 
in operation on moving vessels and their relationship to the average 
density of marine mammals enables a quantitative estimate of the number 
of individuals for which sound levels exceed the relevant threshold for 
each area. The number of potential incidents of Level B harassment is 
ultimately estimated as the product of the volume of water ensonified 
at 160 dB rms or higher and the volumetric density of animals 
determined from simple assumptions about their vertical stratification 
in the water column. Specifically, reasonable assumptions based on what 
is known about diving behavior across different marine mammal species 
were made to segregate those that predominately remain in the upper 200 
m of the water column versus those that regularly dive deeper during 
foraging and transit. Methods for estimating each of these calculations 
are described in greater detail in the following sections, along with 
the simplifying assumptions made, and followed by the take estimates.
    Sound source characteristics--An initial characterization of the 
general source parameters for the primary active acoustic sources 
operated by the SEFSC was conducted, enabling a full assessment of all 
sound sources used by the SEFSC and delineation of Category 1 and 
Category 2 sources, the latter of which were carried forward for 
analysis here. This auditing of the active acoustic sources also 
enabled a determination of the predominant sources that, when operated, 
would have sound footprints exceeding those from any other 
simultaneously used sources. These sources were effectively those used 
directly in acoustic propagation modeling to estimate the zones within 
which the 160 dB rms received level would occur.
    Many of these sources can be operated in different modes and with 
different output parameters. In modeling their potential impact areas, 
those features among those given previously in Table 2 (e.g., lowest 
operating frequency) that would lead to the most precautionary estimate 
of maximum received level ranges (i.e., largest ensonified area) were 
used. The effective beam patterns took into account the normal modes in 
which these sources are typically operated. While these signals are 
brief and intermittent, a conservative assumption was taken in ignoring 
the temporal pattern of transmitted pulses in calculating Level B 
harassment events. Operating characteristics of each of the predominant 
sound sources were used in the calculation of effective line-kilometers 
and area of exposure for each source in each survey (Table 10).

           Table 10--Effective Exposure Areas for Predominant Acoustic Sources Across Two Depth Strata
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                   Effective exposure area:  Sea
                                                    Effective exposure area:  Sea    surface to depth at  which
              Active acoustic system                    surface to 200 m depth      160-dB threshold  is reached
                                                               (km\2\)                        (km\2\)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Simrad EK60 narrow beam echosounder...............                        0.0142                         0.1411
Simrad ME70 multibeam echosounder.................                        0.0201                         0.0201
Simrad FS70 trawl sonar...........................                         0.008                          0.008
Simrad SX90 narrow beam sonar \1\.................                        0.0654                         0.1634
Teledyne RD Instruments ADCP, Ocean Surveyor......                        0.0086                         0.0187

[[Page 6619]]

 
Simrad ITI trawl monitoring system................                        0.0032                         0.0032
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Exposure area varies greatly depending on the tilt angle setting of the SX90. To approximate the varied
  usage this system might receive, the exposure area for each depth strata was averaged by assuming equal usage
  at tilt angles of 5, 20, 45, and 80 degrees.

    Calculating effective line-kilometers--As described below, based on 
the operating parameters for each source type, an estimated volume of 
water ensonified at or above the 160 dB rms threshold was calculated. 
In all cases where multiple sources are operated simultaneously, the 
one with the largest estimated acoustic footprint was considered to be 
the effective source. Two depth zones were defined for each research 
area: A Continental Shelf Region defined by having bathymetry 0-200 m 
and an Offshore Region with bathymetry >200 m. Effective line distance 
and volume insonified was calculated for each depth stratum (0-200 m 
and > 200 m), where appropriate (i.e. in the Continental Shelf region, 
where depth is <200 m, only the exposure area for the 0-200 m depth 
stratum was calculated). In some cases, this resulted in different 
sources being predominant in each depth stratum for all line km when 
multiple sources were in operation. This was accounted for in 
estimating overall exposures for species that utilize both depth strata 
(deep divers). For each ecosystem area, the total number of line km 
that would be surveyed was determined, as was the relative percentage 
of surveyed linear km associated with each source. The total line km 
for each vessel, the effective portions associated with each of the 
dominant sound types, and the effective total km for operation for each 
sound type is given in Tables 6-8a and 6-8b in SEFSC's application. In 
summary, line transect kms range from 1149 to 3352 in the ARA and 
16,797 to 30,146 km with sources operating 20-100 percent of the time 
depending on the source.
    Calculating volume of water ensonified--The cross-sectional area of 
water ensonified to a 160 dB rms received level was calculated using a 
simple spherical spreading model of sound propagation loss (20 log R) 
such that there would be 60 dB of attenuation over 1,000 m. The 
spherical spreading model accounted for the frequency dependent 
absorption coefficient and the highly directional beam pattern of most 
of these sound sources. For absorption coefficients, the most commonly 
used formulas given by Francios and Garrison (1982) were used. The 
lowest frequency was used for systems that are operated over a range of 
frequencies. The vertical extent of this area is calculated for two 
depth strata (surface to 200 m, and for deep water operations > 200 m, 
surface to range at which the on-axis received level reaches 160 dB 
RMS). This was applied differentially based on the typical vertical 
stratification of marine mammals (see Tables 6-9 and 6-10 in SEFSC's 
application).
    For each of the three predominant sound sources, the volume of 
water ensonified is estimated as the cross-sectional area (in square 
kilometers) of sound at or above 160 dB rms multiplied by the total 
distance traveled by the ship (see Table 6a and 6b in SEFSC's 
application). Where different sources operating simultaneously would be 
predominant in each different depth strata (e.g., ME70 and EK60 
operating simultaneously may be predominant in the shallow stratum and 
deep stratum, respectively), the resulting cross-sectional area 
calculated took this into account. Specifically, for shallow-diving 
species this cross-sectional area was determined for whichever was 
predominant in the shallow stratum, whereas for deeper-diving species, 
this area was calculated from the combined effects of the predominant 
source in the shallow stratum and the (sometimes different) source 
predominating in the deep stratum. This creates an effective total 
volume characterizing the area ensonified when each predominant source 
is operated and accounts for the fact that deeper-diving species may 
encounter a complex sound field in different portions of the water 
column.
    Marine mammal densities--One of the primary limitations to 
traditional estimates of behavioral harassment from acoustic exposure 
is the assumption that animals are uniformly distributed in time and 
space across very large geographical areas, such as those being 
considered here. There is ample evidence that this is in fact not the 
case, and marine species are highly heterogeneous in terms of their 
spatial distribution, largely as a result of species-typical 
utilization of heterogeneous ecosystem features. Some more 
sophisticated modeling efforts have attempted to include species-
typical behavioral patterns and diving parameters in movement models 
that more adequately assess the spatial and temporal aspects of 
distribution and thus exposure to sound (e.g., Navy, 2013). While 
simulated movement models were not used to mimic individual diving or 
aggregation parameters in the determination of animal density in this 
estimation, the vertical stratification of marine mammals based on 
known or reasonably assumed diving behavior was integrated into the 
density estimates used.
    The marine mammal abundance estimates used for the ARA and GOM were 
obtained from Stock Assessment Reports for the Atlantic and the Gulf of 
Mexico ecosystem areas (Waring et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), and 
the best scientific information available to SEFSC staff. We note 
abundances for cetacean stocks in western North Atlantic U.S. waters 
are the combined estimates from surveys conducted by the NMFS Northeast 
Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) from central Virginia to the lower Bay 
of Fundy and surveys conducted by the SEFSC from central Virginia to 
central Florida. The SEFSC primary area of research is south of central 
Virginia. Therefore, densities are based on abundance estimates from 
central Virginia to central Florida and are reported in the stock 
assessment report for each stock. For example, the fin whale abundance 
estimate for the stock is 1,618. However, most of those animals occur 
in the northeast with only about 23 individuals in the southeast where 
SEFSC would occur. Therefore, an abundance estimate of 23 was used to 
estimate density. Density estimates in areas where a species is known 
to occur, but where published density data is absent were calculated 
based on values published for the species in adjacent

[[Page 6620]]

regions by analogy and SEFSC expertise. For example, in the CRA there 
are records of marine mammal species occurrence (e.g., Mignucci-
Giannoni 1998, Roden and Mullin 2000), However, area specific abundance 
estimates are unavailable so the density estimates for the GOMRA were 
used as proxies where appropriate to estimate acoustic take in the CRA. 
There are a number of caveats associated with these estimates:
    (1) They are often calculated using visual sighting data collected 
during one season rather than throughout the year. The time of year 
when data were collected and from which densities were estimated may 
not always overlap with the timing of SEFSC fisheries surveys (detailed 
previously in ``Detailed Description of Activities'').
    (2) The densities used for purposes of estimating acoustic 
exposures do not take into account the patchy distributions of marine 
mammals in an ecosystem, at least on the moderate to fine scales over 
which they are known to occur. Instead, animals are considered evenly 
distributed throughout the assessed area, and seasonal movement 
patterns are not taken into account.
    In addition, and to account for at least some coarse differences in 
marine mammal diving behavior and the effect this has on their likely 
exposure to these kinds of often highly directional sound sources, a 
volumetric density of marine mammals of each species was determined. 
This value is estimated as the abundance averaged over the two-
dimensional geographic area of the surveys and the vertical range of 
typical habitat for the population. Habitat ranges were categorized in 
two generalized depth strata (0-200 m and 0 to greater than 200 m) 
based on gross differences between known generally surface-associated 
and typically deep-diving marine mammals (e.g., Reynolds and Rommel, 
1999; Perrin et al., 2009). Animals in the shallow-diving stratum were 
assumed, on the basis of empirical measurements of diving with 
monitoring tags and reasonable assumptions of behavior based on other 
indicators, to spend a large majority of their lives (i.e., greater 
than 75 percent) at depths shallower than 200 m. Their volumetric 
density and thus exposure to sound is therefore limited by this depth 
boundary. In contrast, species in the deeper-diving stratum were 
assumed to regularly dive deeper than 200 m and spend significant time 
at these greater depths. Their volumetric density and thus potential 
exposure to sound at or above the 160 dB rms threshold is extended from 
the surface to the depth at which this received level condition occurs 
(i.e., corresponding to the 0 to greater than 200 m depth stratum). The 
volumetric densities are estimates of the three-dimensional 
distribution of animals in their typical depth strata. For shallow-
diving species the volumetric density is the area density divided by 
0.2 km (i.e., 200 m). For deeper diving species, the volumetric density 
is the area density divided by a nominal value of 0.5 km (i.e., 500 m). 
The two-dimensional and resulting three-dimensional (volumetric) 
densities for each species in each ecosystem area are provided in Table 
11.

                Table 11--Abundances and Volumetric Densities Calculated for Each Species in SEFSC Research Areas Used in Take Estimation
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                      Typical dive    Continental               Continental    Offshore
                                                                                      depth strata     shelf area    Offshore    shelf area      area
                  Species \1\                                Abundance             ------------------     \2\        area \3\    volumetric   volumetric
                                                                                                      density  (#/ density (#/   density (#/ density  (#/
                                                                                    0-200 m   >200 m     km\2\)       km\2\)       km\3\)       km\3\)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               Atlantic Research Area \4\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fin whale......................................  23...............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00005  ...........      0.00025
Sperm whale....................................  695..............................  .......       X   ...........      0.00148  ...........      0.00296
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales \5\...................  2,002............................  .......       X   ...........      0.00426  ...........      0.00852
False killer whale.............................  442..............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00094  ...........      0.00470
Beaked whales \5\..............................  3,163............................  .......       X   ...........      0.00673  ...........      0.01346
Risso's dolphin................................  3,053............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00650  ...........      0.03248
Short-finned pilot whale.......................  16,964...........................  .......       X   ...........      0.03610  ...........      0.07219
Short-beaked common dolphin....................  2,993............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00637  ...........      0.03184
Atlantic spotted dolphin.......................  17,917...........................       X   .......      0.39209      0.03812      1.96043      0.19062
Pantropical spotted dolphin....................  3,333............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00709  ...........      0.03546
Striped dolphin................................  7,925............................       X   .......  ...........      0.01686  ...........      0.08431
Rough-toothed dolphin..........................  271..............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00058  ...........      0.00288
Bottlenose dolphin.............................  50,766 (offshore), 31,212 (cont.        X   .......      0.25006      0.10802      1.25028      0.54010
                                                  shelf).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Gulf of Mexico Research Area
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bryde's whale..................................  33...............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00011  ...........      0.00054
Sperm whale....................................  763..............................  .......       X   ...........      0.00438  ...........      0.00876
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales \5\...................  184..............................  .......       X   ...........      0.01857  ...........      0.00101
Pygmy killer whale.............................  152..............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00080  ...........      0.00400
False killer whale.............................  Unk..............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00086  ...........      0.00432
Beaked whales \5\ \6\..........................  149..............................  .......       X   ...........      0.00925  ...........      0.00081
Melon-headed whale.............................  2,235............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00487  ...........      0.02434
Risso's dolphin................................  2,442............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00523  ...........      0.02613
Short-finned pilot whale.......................  2,415............................  .......       X   ...........      0.00463  ...........      0.00925
Atlantic spotted dolphin \7\...................  37,611...........................       X   .......      0.09971          unk      0.49854          Unk
Pantropical spotted dolphin....................  50,880...........................       X   .......  ...........      0.09412  ...........      0.47062
Striped dolphin................................  1,849............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00735  ...........      0.03677
Rough-toothed dolphin..........................  624..............................       X   .......      0.00401      0.00664      0.02006      0.03322
Clymene dolphin \8\............................  129..............................       X   .......  ...........      0.00907  ...........      0.04537
Spinner dolphin................................  11,441...........................       X   .......  ...........      0.01888  ...........      0.09439
Bottlenose dolphin.............................  5,806 (oceanic) 51,192 (cont.           X   .......      0.29462      0.02347      1.47311      0.11735
                                                  shelf).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               Caribbean Research Area \9\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sperm whale....................................  763..............................  .......       X            na      0.00438           na     0.008761
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales \5\ \6\...............  186..............................  .......       X            na      0.01857           na      0.00101
Killer whale...................................  184..............................       X   .......           na      0.00000           na            0

[[Page 6621]]

 
Pygmy killer whale.............................  152..............................       X   .......           na      0.00080           na     0.003998
False killer whale.............................  Unk..............................       X   .......           na      0.00086           na     0.004324
Beaked whales \5\ \6\..........................  149..............................  .......       X            na      0.00925           na      0.00081
Melon-headed whale.............................  2,235............................       X   .......           na      0.00487           na     0.024343
Risso's dolphin................................  2,442............................       X   .......           na      0.00523           na     0.026132
Short-finned pilot whale.......................  2,415............................  .......       X            na      0.00463           na     0.009255
Pantropical spotted dolphin....................  50,880...........................       X   .......           na      0.09412           na     0.470615
Striped dolphin................................  1,849............................       X   .......           na      0.00735           na     0.036771
Fraser's dolphin...............................  .................................       X   .......           na      0.00000           na            0
Rough-toothed dolphin..........................  624..............................       X   .......           na      0.00664           na      0.03322
Clymene dolphin................................  129..............................       X   .......           na      0.00907           na     0.045365
Spinner dolphin................................  11,441...........................       X   .......           na      0.01888           na     0.094389
Bottlenose dolphin.............................  5,806 (oceanic), 51,192 (cont.          X   .......           na      0.02347           na     0.117349
                                                  shelf).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Those species known to occur in the ARA and GOMRA with unknown volumetric densities have been omitted from this table. Those omitted include: for
  the ARA--North Atlantic right whale, minke whale, humpback whale, melon-headed whale, pygmy killer whale, long-finned pilot whale, Fraser's dolphin,
  spinner dolphin, Clymene dolphin, harbor porpoise, gray seal, and harbor seal; for the GOMRA--killer whale and Fraser's dolphin. This does not mean
  they were all omitted for take as proxy species provided in this table were used to estimate take, where applicable.
\2\ Continental shelf area means 0-200 m bottom depth
\3\ Offshore area means 200 m bottom depth.
\4\ Abundances for cetacean stocks in western North Atlantic U.S. waters are the combined estimates from surveys conducted by the NEFSC from central
  Virginia to the lower Bay of Fundy and surveys conducted by the SEFSC from central Virginia to central Florida. The SEFSC primary area of research is
  south of central Virginia. Therefore, acoustic take estimates are based on abundance estimates from central Virginia to central Florida and are
  reported in the stock assessment report for each stock. However, these acoustic takes are compared to the abundance for the entire stock.
\5\ Density estimates are based on the estimates of dwarf and pygmy sperm whale SAR abundances and the combined abundance estimates of all beaked whales
  (Mesoplodon spp. + Cuvier's beaked whale). These groups are cryptic and difficult to routinely identify to species in the field.
\6\ Data from acoustic moorings in the Gulf of Mexico suggest that both beaked whales and dwarf/pygmy sperm whales are much more abundant than visual
  surveys suggest. Therefore, acoustic take estimates for these groups were based on abundance estimates extrapolated from acoustic mooring data (DWH-
  NRDAT 2016).
\7\ The most reasonable estimate Atlantic spotted dolphin abundance is in the Gulf of Mexico is based on ship surveys of continental shelf waters
  conducted from 2000-2001. In the Gulf of Mexico the continental shelf is the Atlantic spotted dolphin's primary habitat. Ship surveys have not been
  conducted in shelf waters since 2001.
\8\ Three previous abundance estimates for the Clymene dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico were based surveys conducted over several years and estimates
  ranged from 5,000 to over 17,000 dolphins. The current estimate is based on one survey in 2009 from the 200 m isobaths to the EEZ and is probably
  negatively biased.
\9\ Estimates for the CRA are based on proxy values taken from the GOMRA where available and appropriate. Species omitted due to lack of data were
  humpback whale, minke whale, Bryde's whale, and Atlantic spotted dolphin.

    Using area of ensonification and volumetric density to estimate 
exposures--Estimates of potential incidents of Level B harassment 
(i.e., potential exposure to levels of sound at or exceeding the 160 dB 
rms threshold) are then calculated by using (1) the combined results 
from output characteristics of each source and identification of the 
predominant sources in terms of acoustic output; (2) their relative 
annual usage patterns for each operational area; (3) a source-specific 
determination made of the area of water associated with received sounds 
at either the extent of a depth boundary or the 160 dB rms received 
sound level; and (4) determination of a volumetric density of marine 
mammal species in each area. Estimates of Level B harassment by 
acoustic sources are the product of the volume of water ensonified at 
160 dB rms or higher for the predominant sound source for each portion 
of the total line-kilometers for which it is used and the volumetric 
density of animals for each species. However, in order to estimate the 
additional volume of ensonified water in the deep stratum, the SEFSC 
first subtracted the cross-sectional ensonified area of the shallow 
stratum (which is already accounted for) from that of the deep stratum. 
Source- and stratum-specific exposure estimates are the product of 
these ensonified volumes and the species-specific volumetric densities 
(Table 12). The general take estimate equation for each source in each 
depth statrum is density * (ensonified volume * linear kms). If there 
are multiple sources of take in both depth stata, individual take 
estimates were summed. To illustrate, we use the ME70 and the 
pantropical spotted dolphin, which are found only in the 0-200 m depth 
stratum, as an example:

    (1) ME70 ensonified volume (0-200 m) = 0.0201 km\2\
    (2) Total Linear kms = 1,794 km (no pantropical spotted dolphins 
are found on the shelf so those trackline distances are not included 
here)
    (3) Pantropical spotted dolphin density (0-200 m) = 0.47062 
dolphins/km\3\
    (4) Estimated exposures to sound >=160 dB rms = 0.47062 
pantropical spotted dolphin/km\3\ * (0.0201 km\2\ * 1,794 km) = 16.9 
(rounded up) = 17 estimated pantropical spotted dolphin exposures to 
SPLs >= 160 dB rms resulting from use of the ME70.

                           Table 12--Estimated Source-, Stratum-, and Species-Specific Annual Estimates of Level B Harassment
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Estimated Level B Harassment (#s of animals)    Estimated Level B Harassment
                                                                   in 0-200 m dive depth stratum           in >200 m dive depth stratum        Total
                         Species                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------   calculated
                                                               EK60            ME70            EQ50            EK60            EQ50            take
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               Atlantic Continental Shelf
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bottlenose dolphin......................................           67.00           21.43           21.43            0.00            0.00             110
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 6622]]

 
                                                                    Atlantic Offshore
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fin whale...............................................            0.02            0.00            0.00            0.00            0.00               1
Sperm whale.............................................            0.18            0.02            0.01            1.75            0.00               2
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales................................            0.52            0.06            0.02            5.03            0.00               6
False killer whale......................................            0.29            0.03            0.01            0.00            0.00               1
Beaked whales...........................................            0.83            0.09            0.03            7.95            0.00               9
Risso's dolphin.........................................            2.00            0.21            0.08            0.00            0.00               3
Short-finned pilot whale................................            4.43            0.48            0.17           42.65            0.00              48
Short-beaked common dolphin.............................            1.96            0.21            0.07            0.00            0.00               3
Atlantic spotted dolphin................................           11.71            1.26            0.45            0.00            0.00              14
Pantropical spotted dolphin.............................            2.18            0.23            0.08            0.00            0.00               3
Striped dolphin.........................................            5.18            0.56            0.20            0.00            0.00               6
Rough-toothed dolphin...................................            0.18            0.02            0.01            0.00            0.00               1
Bottlenose dolphin......................................           33.18            3.57            1.27            0.00            0.00              39
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Gulf of Mexico Continental Shelf
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Atlantic spotted dolphin................................          161.80           12.95           22.75            0.00            0.00             198
Bottlenose dolphin......................................          269.16           21.55           37.84            0.00            0.88             329
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 Gulf of Mexico Offshore
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bryde's whale...........................................            0.23            0.02            0.01            0.00            0.00               1
Sperm whale.............................................            1.58           00.15            0.06           15.04            0.06              17
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales................................            0.38            0.04            0.01            3.66            0.01               5
Pygmy killer whale......................................            0.79            0.07            0.03            0.00            0.00               1
False killer whale......................................            1.63            0.15            0.06            0.00            0.00               2
Beaked whales...........................................            0.31            0.03            0.01            2.93            0.01               4
Melon-headed whale......................................           11.55            1.09            0.41            0.00            0.00              13
Risso's dolphin.........................................           15.78            1.49            0.55            0.00            0.00              18
Short-finned pilot whale................................            4.99            0.47            0.18            0.00            0.00               4
Pantropical spotted dolphin.............................          179.45           16.97            6.31            0.00            0.00             203
Striped dolphin.........................................           14.02            1.33            0.49            0.00            0.00              16
Rough-toothed dolphin...................................            3.23            0.30            0.11            0.00            0.00               4
Clymene dolphin.........................................            0.67            0.06            0.02            0.00            0.00               1
Spinner dolphin.........................................           59.13            5.59            2.08            0.00            0.00              67
Bottlenose dolphin......................................           44.75            4.23            1.57            0.00            0.00              51
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Caribbean Offshore
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sperm whale.............................................            0.18            0.01            0.00            1.66            0.00               2
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales................................            0.38            0.04            0.01            3.66            0.01               5
Pygmy killer whale......................................            0.09            0.00            0.00            0.00            0.00               1
False killer whale......................................            0.19            0.00            0.00            0.00            0.00               1
Beaked whales...........................................            0.31            0.03            0.01            2.93            0.01               4
Melon-headed whale......................................            1.34            0.03            0.01            0.00            0.00               2
Risso's dolphin.........................................            1.83            0.04            0.02            0.00            0.00               2
Short-finned pilot whale................................            0.58            0.01            0.01            0.00            0.00               1
Pantropical spotted dolphin.............................           20.80            0.50            0.23            0.00            0.00              22
Striped dolphin.........................................            1.63            0.04            0.02            0.00            0.00               2
Rough-toothed dolphin...................................            1.47            0.04            0.02            0.00            0.00               1
Clymene dolphin.........................................            0.08            0.05            0.02            0.00            0.00               1
Spinner dolphin.........................................            6.85            0.16            0.07            0.00            0.00               8
Bottlenose dolphin......................................            5.19            0.12            0.06            0.00            0.00               6
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In some cases, the calculated Level B take estimates resulted in 
low numbers of animals which are known to be gregarious or travel in 
group sizes larger than the calculated take estimate. In those cases, 
we have adjusted the requested take in the application to reflect those 
groups sizes (see proposed take column in Table 13).

                            Table 13--Calculated and Proposed Level B Take Estimates
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                    Calculated      Avg. group
              Common name                      MMPA stock              take          size \1\     Proposed  take
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fin whale.............................  Western North Atlantic..               1               2               4

[[Page 6623]]

 
Blue whale............................  Western North Atlantic..             N/A               2               4
Bryde's whale.........................  Northern Gulf of Mexico.               1               2               4
Sperm whale...........................  North Atlantic..........               2             2.1               4
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.              17             2.6              17
                                        Puerto Rico and U.S.                   4             unk               4
                                         Virgin Islands.
Pygmy/dwarf sperm whale \1\...........  Western North Atlantic..               6             1.9              10
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.               5               2               6
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico                5               2               6
                                         (CRA).
Beaked whale \2\......................  Western North Atlantic..               9             2.3               9
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico                4               2               4
                                         (GOMRA).
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico                4               2               4
                                         (CRA).
Melon-headed whales...................  Northern Gulf of Mexico.              13            99.6             100
Risso's dolphin.......................  Western North Atlantic..               3            15.4              15
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.              18            10.2              10
                                        Puerto Rico and U.S.                   2            10.2              10
                                         Virgin Island.
Short-finned pilot whales.............  Western North Atlantic..              48            16.6              48
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.               6            24.9              25
                                        Puerto Rico and U.S.                   1             unk              20
                                         Virgin Islands.
Common dolphin........................  Western North Atlantic..               3           267.2             268
Atlantic spotted dolphin..............  Western North Atlantic..              14              37              37
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.             198              22             198
                                        Puerto Rico and U.S.                 unk             unk              50
                                         Virgin Islands.
Pantropical spotted dolphin...........  Western North Atlantic..               4            77.5              78
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.             203            71.3             203
Striped dolphin.......................  Western North Atlantic..               6            74.6              75
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.              16            46.1              46
Bottlenose dolphin....................  Western North Atlantic                39            11.8              39
                                         (offshore).
                                        Western North Atlantic               110              10             110
                                         (coastal/continental
                                         shelf).
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico          \2\ 329              10         \2\ 350
                                         (coastal).
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico              329              10             350
                                         (continental shelf).
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico               51            20.6             100
                                         (oceanic).
                                        Puerto Rico and U.S.                   6             unk              50
                                         Virgin Islands.
Rough-toothed dolphin.................  Western North Atlantic..               1               8              10
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.               4            14.1              20
Clymene dolphin.......................  Western North Atlantic..              20             110             100
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.               1            89.5             100
Spinner dolphin.......................  Western North Atlantic..             unk             unk             100
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.              16           151.5             200
                                        Puerto Rico and U.S.                 n/a             unk              50
                                         Virgin Islands.
Pygmy killer whale....................  Northern Gulf of Mexico.               1            18.5              20
False killer whale....................  Western North Atlantic..               1             unk              20
                                        Northern Gulf of Mexico.             n/a            27.6              20
Harbor porpoise.......................  Gulf of Maine/Bay of                 n/a           \3\ 8              16
                                         Fundy.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Groups sizes based on Fulling et al., 2003; Garrison et al., 2011; Mullin et al., 2003; and Mullin et al.,
  2004.
\2\ We note the SEFSC's application did not request take, by Level B harassment, of bottlenose dolphins
  belonging to coastal stocks; however, because surveys occur using scientific sonar in waters where coastal
  dolphins may occur, we are proposing to issue the same amount of Level B take as requested for the continental
  shelf stock.
\3\ The American Cetacean Society reports average group size of harbor porpoise range from 6 to 10 individuals.
  We propose an average group size of 8 for the ARA which is likely conservative given the low density of
  animals off North Carolina. Given the short and confined spatio-temporal scale of SEFSC surveys in North
  Carolina during winter months, we assume two groups per year could be encountered.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization under Section 
101(a)(5)(A or 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. 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

[[Page 6624]]

applicant implementation, which may consider such things as cost, 
impact on operations, and, in the case of a military readiness 
activity, personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact 
on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity.

SEFSC Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

    The SEFSC has invested significant time and effort in identifying 
technologies, practices, and equipment to minimize the impact of the 
proposed activities on marine mammal species and stocks and their 
habitat. The mitigation measures discussed here have been determined to 
be both effective and practicable and, in some cases, have already been 
implemented by the SEFSC. In addition, the SEFSC is actively conducting 
research to determine if gear modifications are effective at reducing 
take from certain types of gear; any potentially effective and 
practicable gear modification mitigation measures will be discussed as 
research results are available as part of the adaptive management 
strategy included in this rule. As for other parts of this rule, all 
references to the SEFSC, unless otherwise noted, include requirements 
for all partner institutions identified in the SEFSC's application.
    Coordination and communication--When SEFSC survey effort is 
conducted aboard NOAA-owned vessels, there are both vessel officers and 
crew and a scientific party. Vessel officers and crew are not composed 
of SEFSC staff, but are employees of NOAA's Office of Marine and 
Aviation Operations (OMAO), which is responsible for the management and 
operation of NOAA fleet ships and aircraft and is composed of uniformed 
officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps as well as civilians. The 
ship's officers and crew provide mission support and assistance to 
embarked scientists, and the vessel's Commanding Officer (CO) has 
ultimate responsibility for vessel and passenger safety and, therefore, 
decision authority. When SEFSC-funded surveys are conducted aboard 
cooperative platforms (i.e., non-NOAA vessels), ultimate responsibility 
and decision authority again rests with non-SEFSC personnel (i.e., 
vessel's master or captain). Decision authority includes the 
implementation of mitigation measures (e.g., whether to stop deployment 
of trawl gear upon observation of marine mammals). The scientific party 
involved in any SEFSC survey effort is composed, in part or whole, of 
SEFSC staff and is led by a Chief Scientist (CS). Therefore, because 
the SEFSC--not OMAO or any other entity that may have authority over 
survey platforms used by the SEFSC--is the applicant to whom any 
incidental take authorization issued under the authority of these 
proposed regulations would be issued, we require that the SEFSC take 
all necessary measures to coordinate and communicate in advance of each 
specific survey with OMAO, and other relevant parties, to ensure that 
all mitigation measures and monitoring requirements described herein, 
as well as the specific manner of implementation and relevant event-
contingent decision-making processes, are clearly understood and 
agreed-upon. This may involve description of all required measures when 
submitting cruise instructions to OMAO or when completing contracts 
with external entities. The SEFSC will coordinate and conduct briefings 
at the outset of each survey and as necessary between ship's crew (CO/
master or designee(s), as appropriate) and scientific party in order to 
explain responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal 
monitoring protocol, and operational procedures. SEFSC will also 
coordinate as necessary on a daily basis during survey cruises with 
OMAO personnel or other relevant personnel on non-NOAA platforms to 
ensure that requirements, procedures, and decision-making processes are 
understood and properly implemented. The CS will be responsible for 
coordination with the Officer on Deck (OOD; or equivalent on non-NOAA 
platforms) to ensure that requirements, procedures, and decision-making 
processes are understood and properly implemented.
    For fisheries research being conducted by partner entities, it 
remains the SEFSC's responsibility to ensure those partners are 
communicating and coordinating with the SEFSC, receiving all necessary 
marine mammal mitigation and monitoring training, and implementing all 
required mitigation and monitoring in a manner compliant with the 
proposed rule and LOA. The SEFSC will incorporate specific language 
into its contracts that specifies training requirements, operating 
procedures, and reporting requirements for protected species that will 
be required for all surveys conducted by research partners, including 
those conducted on chartered vessels. To facilitate this requirement, 
SEFSC would be required to hold at least one training per year with at 
least one representative from each partner institution (preferably 
chief scientists of the fishery independent surveys discussed in this 
rule) to review the proposed mitigation, monitoring and reporting 
requirements. The SEFSC would also provide consistent, timely support 
throughout the year to address any questions or concerns researchers 
may have regarding these measures.
    SEFSC would also be required to establish and maintain cooperating 
partner working group(s) to identify circumstances of a take should it 
occur and any action necessary to avoid future take. Each working group 
shall consist of at least one SEFSC representative knowledgeable of the 
mitigation, monitoring and reporting requirements contained within 
these regulations, one or more research institution or SEFSC 
representative(s) (preferably researcher(s) aboard vessel when take or 
risk of take occurred), one or more staff from NMFS Southeast Regional 
Office Protected Resources Division, and one or more staff from NMFS 
Office of Protected Resources. At the onset of these regulations, SEFSC 
shall maintain the recently established SCDNR working group to identify 
actions necessary to reduce the amount of take from SCDNR trawling. 
Other working groups shall be established if a partner takes more than 
one marine mammal within 5 years to identify circumstances of marine 
mammal take and necessary action to avoid future take. Each working 
group shall meet at least once annually. The SEFSC will maintain a 
centralized repository for all working group findings to facilitate 
sharing and coordination.
    While at sea, best professional judgement is used to determine if a 
marine mammal is at risk of entanglement/hooking and if and what type 
of actions should be taken to decrease risk of interaction. To improve 
judgement consistency across the region, the SEFSC will initiate a 
process for SEFSC and partner institution FPCs, SWLs, scientists, and 
vessel captains and crew to communicate with each other about their 
experiences with protected species interactions during research work 
with the goal of improving decision-making regarding avoidance of 
adverse interactions. The SEFSC will host at least one training 
annually (may be combined with other training requirements) to inform 
decision-makers of various circumstances that may arise during surveys, 
necessary action, and follow-up coordination and reporting of instances 
of take or possible take. The intent of this new training program would 
be to draw on the collective experience of people who have been making 
those decisions, provide a forum for the exchange of information about 
what went right and what went wrong, and try to determine if there are 
any rules-

[[Page 6625]]

of-thumb or key factors to consider that would help in future decisions 
regarding avoidance practices. The SEFSC would coordinate not only 
among its staff and vessel captains and crew but also with those from 
other fisheries science centers, research partners, the Southeast 
Regional Office, and other institutions with similar experience.
    The SEFSC will coordinate with the local Southeast Regional 
Stranding Coordinator and the NMFS Stranding Coordinator for any 
unusual protected species behavior and any stranding, beached live/
dead, or floating protected species that are encountered during field 
research activities. If a large whale is alive and entangled in fishing 
gear, the vessel will immediately call the U.S. Coast Guard at VHF Ch. 
16 and/or the appropriate Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response 
Network for instructions. All entanglements (live or dead) and vessel 
strikes must be reported immediately to the NOAA Fisheries Marine 
Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1-877-433-8299.
General Fishing Gear Measures
    The following measures describe mitigation application to all SEFSC 
surveys while measures specific to gear types follow. SEFSC will take 
all necessary measures to avoid marine mammal interaction with fishing 
gear used during fishery research surveys. This includes implementing 
the move-on rule (when applicable), which means delaying setting gear 
when marine mammals are observed at or approaching the sampling site 
and are deemed to be at-risk of becoming entangled or hooked on any 
type of fishing gear, and immediately pulling gear from the water when 
marine mammals are deemed to be at-risk of becoming entangled or hooked 
on any type of fishing gear. SEFSC will, at all times, monitor for any 
unusual circumstances that may arise at a sampling site and use best 
professional judgment to avoid any potential risks to marine mammals 
during use of all research equipment.
    In some cases, marine mammals may be attracted to the vessel during 
fishing. To avoid increased risk of interaction, the SEFSC will conduct 
fishery research sampling as soon as practicable upon arriving at a 
sampling station and prior to conducting environmental sampling. If 
fishing operations have been suspended because of the presence of 
marine mammals, SEFSC may resume fishing operations when interaction 
with marine mammals is deemed unlikely. SEFSC may use best professional 
judgment in making this determination. SEFSC shall coordinate with all 
research partners, at least once annually, to ensure mitigation, 
monitoring and reporting requirements, procedures and decision-making 
processes contained within the proposed regulations and LOA are 
understood. All vessels must comply with applicable and relevant take 
reduction plans, including any required soak time limits and gear 
length restrictions.
Trawl Mitigation Measures
    The SEFSC and research partners use a variety of bottom trawl gears 
for different research purposes. These trawl types include various 
shrimp trawls (otter, western jib, mongoose, Falcon), high-opening 
bottom trawls, and flat net bottom trawls (see Table 1-1 and Appendix A 
in the DPEA). The SEFSC and its research partners also use modified 
beam trawls and benthic trawls pulled by hand that are not considered 
to pose a risk to protected species due to their small size and very 
short tow durations. Therefore, these smaller, hand pulled trawls are 
not subject to the mitigation measures provided here.
    The following mitigation measures apply for trawl surveys:
     Limit tow times to 30 minutes (except for sea turtle 
research trawls);
     open codend close to deck/sorting table during haul back 
to avoid damage to animals that may be caught in gear and empty gear as 
quickly as possible after retrieval haul back;
     delay gear deployment if marine mammals are believed to be 
at-risk of interaction;
     retrieve gear immediately if marine mammals is believed to 
be entangled or at-risk of entanglement;
     implement marine mammal mitigation measures included in 
the NMFS ESA Scientific Research permit under which a survey may be 
operating;
     dedicated marine mammal observations shall occur at least 
15 minutes to beginning of net deployment; this watch may include 
approach to the sampling station;
     at least one scientist will monitor for marine mammals 
while the trawl is deployed and upon haul-back;
     minimize ``pocketing'' in areas of the net where dolphin 
depredation evidence is commonly observed; and
     continue investigation into gear modifications (e.g., 
stiffening lazy lines) and e.g., the effectiveness of gear 
modification.
    In 2008, standard tow durations for fishery bottom trawl surveys 
were reduced from 55 minutes to 30 minutes or less at target depth 
(excluding deployment and retrieval time). These short tow durations 
decrease the opportunity for curious marine mammals to find the vessel 
and investigate. Tow times are less than the 55 minute tow time 
restriction required for commercial shrimp trawlers not using turtle 
excluder devices (TEDs) (50 CFR 223.206). The resulting tow distances 
are typically one to two nm or less, depending on the survey and trawl 
speed. Short tow times reduce the likelihood of entangling protected 
species.
    The move-on rule will be applied to all oceanic deep water trawls 
if sightings occur anywhere around vessel (within 2 nm) during a 30 
minute pre-gear deployment monitoring timeframe. Vessels will move away 
if animals appear at risk or trawling will be delayed until marine 
mammals have not been sighted for 30 min or otherwise determined to no 
longer be at risk. If animals are still at risk after moving or 30 
minutes have lapsed, the vessel will move again or the station will be 
skipped.
    Bottom trawl surveys conducted for purposes of researching gears 
designed to reduce sea turtle interaction (e.g., turtle exclusion 
device (TED) testing) and develop finfish bycatch mitigation measures 
for commercial trawl fisheries may have tow times of up to four hours. 
These exceptions to the short tow duration protocols are necessary to 
meet research objectives. TEDs are used in nets that are towed in 
excess of 55 minutes as required by 50 CFR 223.206. When research 
objectives prevent the installation of TEDs, tow time limits will match 
those set by commercial fishing regulations such as the skimmer trawl 
fishery which has a 55 min tow time limit. This research is covered 
under the authority of the ESA and the regulations governing the 
taking, importing, and exporting of endangered and threatened species 
(50 CFR parts 222-226). The SEFSC began using skimmer trawls in their 
TED testing in 2012. Mitigation measures in Scientific Research permit 
20339, issued May 23, 2017, include:
     Trawling must not be initiated when marine mammals (except 
dolphins or porpoises) are observed within the vicinity of the research 
and the marine mammals must be allowed to either leave or pass through 
the area safely before trawling is initiated;
     Researchers must make every effort to prevent interactions 
with marine mammals and researchers must be aware of the presence and 
location of these animals at all times as they conduct trawling 
activities;

[[Page 6626]]

     During skimmer trawl surveys, a minimum of two staff, one 
on each side (port/starboard) of the vessel, must inspect the gear 
every five minutes to monitor for the presence of marine mammals,
     Prior to retrieving the skimmer trawl tail bags, the 
vessel must be slowed from the active towing speed to 0.5-1.0 kn;
     If a marine mammal enters the net, becomes entangled or 
dies, researchers must (a) stop trawling activities and immediately 
free the animal, (b) notify the appropriate NMFS Regional Stranding 
Coordinator as soon as possible and (c) report the incident (permitted 
activities will be suspended until the Permits Division has granted 
approval to continue research); and
     Video monitoring of the TED must be used when trawling 
around Duck, North Carolina, to reduce take of Atlantic sturgeon 
(although this requirement is not geared toward marine mammals, the 
camera feed can be used to observe marine mammals to inform decisions 
regarding implementing mitigation).
    The SEFSC also holds an ESA-research permit to assess sea turtle 
abundance, stock identification, life history, and impacts of human 
activities; determine sea turtle movements, fine-scale habitat 
characteristics and selection, and delineation of foraging and nursery 
areas; and examine how sea turtle distributions correlate with temporal 
trends and environmental data (Scientific Research Permit 16733-04). 
That research permit includes a number of marine mammal conditions that 
must be followed and are incorporated into this proposed rule by 
reference:
     Trawl tow times must not exceed 30 minutes (bottom time) 
except in cases when the net is continuously monitored with a real-time 
video camera or multi-beam sonar system;
     Haul back must begin once a sea turtle or marine mammal 
enters the net regardless of time limits;
     Seine net pulls must not exceed 45 minutes as part of a 2-
hour deployment;
     Nets must not be put in the water and trawls must not be 
initiated when marine mammals are observed within the vicinity of the 
research;
     Marine mammals must be allowed to either leave or pass 
through the area safely before net setting or trawling is initiated;
     Researchers must make every effort to prevent interactions 
with marine mammals;
     Researchers must be aware of the presence and location of 
these animals at all times as they conduct activities;
     During skimmer trawl surveys, a minimum of two staff, one 
on each side (port/starboard) of the vessel, must inspect the gear 
every five minutes to monitor for the presence of marine mammals;
     Prior to retrieving the skimmer trawl tail bags, the 
vessel must be slowed from the active towing speed to 0.5-1.0 kn;
     Should marine mammals enter the research area after the 
seine or tangle nets have been set, the lead line must be raised and 
dropped in an attempt to make marine mammals in the vicinity aware of 
the net;
     If marine mammals remain within the vicinity of the 
research area, tangle or seine nets must be removed; and
     If a marine mammal enters the trawl net, becomes entangled 
or captured, researchers must stop activities and immediately free the 
animal, notify the NMFS Southeast Regional Stranding Coordinator as 
soon as possible, report the incident within 2 weeks and, in addition 
to the written report, the Permit Holder must contact the Permits 
Division.
    Other mitigation measures are included in research permit 16733-04 
that are designed for sea turtles but also have benefits to minimizing 
entanglement of marine mammals. These include:
     Highly visible buoys must be attached to the float line of 
each net and spaced at intervals of 10 yards or less; Nets must be 
checked at intervals of less than 30 minutes, and more frequently 
whenever turtles or other organisms are observed in the net. If water 
temperatures are <=10 [deg]C or >=30 [deg]C, nets must be checked at 
less than 20-minute intervals (``net checking'' is defined as a 
complete and thorough visual check of the net either by snorkeling the 
net in clear water or by pulling up on the top line such that the full 
depth of the net is viewed along the entire length); The float line of 
all nets must be observed at all times for movements that indicate an 
animal has encountered the net (when this occurs the net must be 
immediately checked). During diver assisted gear evaluations (SEFSC 
Small Turtle TED Testing and Gear Evaluations), dive teams are deployed 
on the trawls while they are being towed. During this research, divers 
actively monitor the gear for protected species interactions and use 
emergency signal floats to notify the vessel if an interaction occurs. 
When the signal float is deployed the vessel terminates the tow and 
slows the gear down to a minimal forward speed of less than 0.5 knots, 
which allows divers to assist the protected species escape.
    Live feed video or sonar monitoring of the trawl may be used in 
lieu of tow time limits. This mitigation measure is also used in 
addition to TEDs during some projects. Video or sonar feeds are 
monitored for the duration of the tow. If a TED is not installed in the 
trawl and a protected species is observed in the trawl then the tow is 
immediately terminated. If a TED is installed and a marine mammal is 
observed to have difficulty escaping through the TED opening, or the 
individual is lost from the video or sonar feed then the tow is 
immediately terminated. For all trawl types, the lazy line is a source 
of entanglement. In particular, dolphins like to rub the line. Loose 
lines are prone to create a half-hitch around their tail. Therefore, to 
mitigate this type of interaction, the SEFSC Harvesting Systems Unit 
(HSU) has conducted limited research examining the potential use of 
lazy lines constructed of alternative materials designed to reduce 
marine mammal entanglement with respect to material, thickness, and 
stiffness. Polyester rope, also known as Dacron, may be a suitable 
alternative to traditionally used polypropylene. Polyester rope is UV 
and abrasion resistant and has less elasticity than nylon, but does not 
lose strength when wet. Polyester, like polypropylene, does not absorb 
water, but has a higher specific gravity (1.38), which causes it to 
sink. Polyester can be constructed using a process that results in a 
medium or hard lay rope that that is stiff, avoids hockling (a twist in 
the line which gets caught in a block) and is self-coiling when loaded 
or unloaded off a capstan or gear hauler. The high specific gravity of 
this type of rope may pose a snagging or hang-up hazard when used as a 
lazy line in trawl operations. However, the smooth feel of the rope 
compared to polypropylene may reduce the attractiveness of the line to 
the rubbing behavior of bottlenose dolphin.
    In 2007, the HSU conducted preliminary NOAA diver assisted trials 
with High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) rope as a replacement for 
traditional polypropylene. Compared to polypropylene, HDPE polyethylene 
has similar properties including negligible water absorption, UV 
resistance, and low specific gravity, which allows it to float. 
However, HDPE polyethylene may be constructed with a harder lay than 
traditional polypropylene rope. Divers found that half-hitching the 
line was more difficult than traditional polypropylene line. However, 
operational trials were not conducted to examine performance and 
usability

[[Page 6627]]

aboard the vessel during extended fishing operations.
    Another alternative may be replacement of the lazy line with \3/8\ 
in. stainless steel cable or replacement of the aft portion of the lazy 
line with \3/8\ in. stainless steel cable. Replacement of the entire 
lazy line with cable would require block replacement and the use of 
dedicated winches for hauling the gear. Replacing the aft portion of 
the lazy line, where bottlenose dolphins typically interact with the 
line, would not require any changes as long as the rope to cable 
connection is able to smoothly pass through existing blocks. However, 
each of these changes would result in sinking and potential snagging or 
hang-up hazards. These modifications are also not without consequences. 
Lazy line modifications may require vessel equipment changes (e.g., 
blocks on research vessels) or may change the effectiveness of the 
catch, precluding comparison of new data to long-term data sets. In 
2017, the HSU conducted a follow-up study, funded by NMFS Office of 
Science and Technology, to further investigate gear modification and 
the potential effectiveness at reducing dolphin entanglement.
    The following summarizes HSU's 2017 research efforts on shrimp 
trawl gear modification which was carried out to inform development of 
this proposed rule (the fully report can be found at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/node/23111). Gearhart and Hathaway (2018) 
provide the following summary of research methods and findings: From 
June 9-22, 2017, HSU conducted gear evaluations in Panama City, 
Florida, with various lazy lines and configurations. In addition to 
traditional polypropylene, three types of 3 strand rope were examined; 
Samson Ultra-Blue Medium Hard Lay (MHL); Samson SSR 100 MHL; and Samson 
XLR. Vertical and horizontal profiles of each rope type were measured 
with and without a ``sugar line'' attached in a twin-rigged trawl 
configuration. In addition, dolphin interactions were simulated by NMFS 
divers with an aluminum dolphin fluke model. Results indicate that the 
vertical profiles were reduced and horizontal profiles increased for 
all rope types when a 25 ft (7.6 m) ``sugar line'' was added. Due to 
differences in elasticity when compared to polypropylene, the 
alternative rope types experienced greater tension with vertical 
profiles flattening, while the polypropylene rope maintained vertical 
relief. Results of simulated dolphin interactions were inconclusive 
with divers able to introduce half-hitch loops around the model fluke 
with both polypropylene and the stiffest alternative rope, Samson SSR 
100 MHL. However divers commented that it was more difficult to 
introduce the loop in the stiffer Samson SSR 100 MHL than the 
polypropylene line and more difficult to introduce the loop along the 
outer portion of the lazy line with the sugar line attached due to the 
increased tension on the line. Use of an alternative stiffer line with 
low stretch in combination with a short sugar line may reduce the 
potential for bottlenose dolphin takes on lazy lines. However, 
additional usability research is needed with these alternative rope 
types to see how they perform under commercial conditions. Finally, 
more directed dolphin/lazy line interaction behavior research is needed 
to better understand the modes of interaction and provide conservation 
engineers with the knowledge required to better formulate potential 
solutions.
    Given the report's results and recommendations, NMFS is not 
requiring the SEFSC implement lazy line modifications at this time. 
However, as an adaptive management strategy, NMFS will be periodically 
assessing lazy line modification as a potential mitigation measure in 
this and future regulations. NMFS will continue to work with the SEFSC 
to determine if gear modifications such as stiffer lazy lines are both 
warranted and practicable to implement. Should the SEFSC volunteer to 
modify trawl lazy lines, NMFS will work with the researchers to 
identify any potential benefit and costs to doing so.
    In addition to interactions with the lazy line, the SEFSC has 
identified that holes in trawl nets resulting from dolphin depredation 
are most numerous around net ``pockets'' where fish congregate. 
Reinforcing these more vulnerable sections of the net could help reduce 
entanglement. Similar to lazy line modification investigations, this 
potential mitigation measure will be further examined to determine its 
effectiveness and practicability. The proposed regulations identify 
``pocketing'' of the net should be minimized.
    Finally, marine mammal monitoring will occur during all trawls. 
Bottlenose dolphins are consistently interacting with research trawls 
in the estuary and nearshore waters and are seemingly attracted to the 
vessel, with most dolphins converging around the net during haul-back 
(SCDNR Working Group, pers. comm., February 2, 2016). This makes it 
difficult to ``lose'' dolphins, even if moving stations. Due to the 
known persistent behavior of dolphins around trawls in the estuary and 
nearshore waters, the move-on rule will not be required for such 
surveys. However, the chief scientist and/or vessel captain will be 
required to take immediate action to reduce dolphin interaction should 
animals appear to be at risk or are entangled in the net. For skimmer 
trawl research, both the lazy line and net can be monitored from the 
vessel. However, this is not possible for bottom trawls. Therefore, for 
bottom trawls, researchers should use best professional judgement to 
determine if gear deployment should be delayed or hauled. For example, 
the SCDNR has noted one instance upon which dolphins appeared 
distressed, evident by the entire group converging on the net during 
haul-back. They quickly discovered a dolphin was entangled in the net. 
This and similar types of overt distress behaviors should be used by 
researchers monitoring the net to identify potential entanglement, 
requiring the net be hauled-in immediately and quickly.
    Pelagic trawls conducted in deep water (500-800 m deep) are 
typically mid-water trawls and occur in oceanic waters where marine 
mammal species diversity is greater increased compared to the coast or 
estuaries. Oceanic species often travel in very large groups and are 
less likely to have prior encounters and experience with trawl gear 
than inshore bottlenose dolphins. For these trawls, a dedicated marine 
mammal observer would observe around the vessel for no less than 30 
minutes prior to gear deployment. If a marine mammal is observed within 
2 nm of the vessel, gear deployment would be delayed until that animal 
is deemed to not be at risk of entanglement (e.g., the animal is moving 
on a path away from the vessel) or the vessel would move to a location 
absent of marine mammals and deploy gear. If trawling operations have 
been delayed because of the presence of protected species, the vessel 
resumes trawl operations (when practicable) only when these species 
have not been sighted within 30 minutes or are determined to no longer 
be at risk (e.g., moving away from deployment site). If the vessel 
moves, the required 30-minute monitoring period begins again. In 
extreme circumstances, the survey station may need to be cancelled if 
animals (e.g., delphinids) follow the vessel. In addition to 
implementing the ``move-on'' rule, all trawling would be conducted 
first to reduce the opportunity to attract marine mammals to the 
vessel. However, the order of gear deployment is at the discretion of 
the FPC or SWL based on environmental conditions. Other activities, 
such as

[[Page 6628]]

water sampling or plankton tows, are conducted in conjunction with, or 
upon completion of, trawl activities.
    Once the trawl net is in the water, the officer on watch, FPC or 
SWL, and/or crew standing watch continue to monitor the waters around 
the vessel and maintain a lookout for protected species as far away as 
environmental conditions allow. If protected species are sighted before 
the gear is fully retrieved, the most appropriate response to avoid 
incidental take is determined by the professional judgment of the FPC 
or SWL, in consultation with the officer on watch. These judgments take 
into consideration the species, numbers, and behavior of the animals, 
the status of the trawl net operation (net opening, depth, and distance 
from the stern), the time it would take to retrieve the net, and safety 
considerations for changing speed or course. Most marine mammals have 
been caught during haul-back operations, especially when the trawl 
doors have been retrieved and the net is near the surface and no longer 
under tension. In some situations, risk of adverse interactions may be 
diminished by continuing to trawl with the net at depth until the 
protected species have left the area before beginning haul-back 
operations. In other situations, swift retrieval of the net may be the 
best course of action. The appropriate course of action to minimize the 
risk of incidental take of protected species is determined by the 
professional judgment of the FPC or SWL based on all situation 
variables, even if the choices compromise the value of the data 
collected at the station. Care is taken when emptying the trawl, 
including opening the codend as close as possible to the deck of the 
checker (or sorting table) in order to avoid damage to protected 
species that may be caught in the gear but are not visible upon 
retrieval. The gear is emptied as quickly as possible after retrieval 
in order to determine whether or not protected species are present.

Seine Nets

    The SEFSC will implement the following mitigation measures when 
fishing with seine nets (e.g., gillnets, trammel nets):
     Conduct gillnet and trammel net research activities during 
daylight hours only;
     Limit soak times to the least amount of time required to 
conduct sampling;
     Conduct dedicated marine mammal observation monitoring 
beginning 15 minutes prior to deploying the gear and continue through 
deployment and haulback;
     Hand-check the net every 30 minutes if soak times are 
longer than 30 minutes or immediately if disturbance is observed;
     Pull gear immediately if disturbance in the nets is 
observed;
     Reduce net slack and excess floating and trailing lines;
     Repair damaged nets prior to deploying; and
     Delay or pull all gear immediately and implement the move-
on rule if marine mammal is at-risk of entanglement.
    The dedicated observation will be made by scanning the water and 
marsh edge (if visible when working in estuarine waters) 360 degrees 
around the vessel where the net would be set. If a marine mammal is 
sighted during this observation period, nets would not be deployed 
until the animal has left the area, is on a path away from where the 
net would be set, or has not been re-sighted within 15 minutes. 
Alternatively, the research team may move the vessel to an area clear 
of marine mammals. If the vessel moves, the 15 minute observation 
period is repeated. Monitoring by all available crew would continue 
while the net is being deployed, during the soak, and during haulback.
    If marine mammals are sighted in the peripheral sampling area 
during active netting, the SEFSC will raise and lower the net leadline. 
If marine mammals do not immediately depart the area and the animal 
appears to be at-risk of entanglement (e.g,, interacting with or on a 
path towards the net), the SEFSC delay or pull all gear immediately 
and, if required, implement the move-on rule if marine mammal is at-
risk of entanglement.
    If protected species are not sighted during the 15 minute 
observation period, the gear may be set. Waters surrounding the net and 
the net itself would be continuously monitored during the soak. If 
protected species are sighted during the soak and appear to be at risk 
of interaction with the gear, then the gear is pulled immediately. If 
fishing operations are halted, operations resume when animal(s) have 
not been sighted within 15 minutes or are determined to no longer be at 
risk, as determined by the judgment of the FPC or SWL. In other 
instances, the station is moved or cancelled. If any disturbance in the 
gear is observed in the gear, it is immediately checked or pulled.

Hook and Line Gear Mitigation

    In addition to the general mitigation measures listed above, the 
SEFSC will implement the following mitigation measures:
     Monitor area for marine mammals and, if present, delay 
setting gear until the animal is deemed not at risk.
     Immediately reel in lines if marine mammals are deemed to 
be at risk of interacting with gear.
     Following existing Dolphin Friendly Fishing 
Tips: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/outreach_and_education/documents/dolphin_friendly_fishing_tips.pdf.
     Not discard leftover bait overboard while actively 
fishing.
     Inspect tackles daily to avoid unwanted line breaks.
    When fishing with bottom or pelagic longlines, the SEFSC will: (1) 
Limit longline length and soak times to the minimum amount possible; 
(2) deploy longline gear first (after required monitoring) prior to 
conducting environmental sampling; (3) if any marine mammals are 
observed, delay deploying gear unless animal is not at risk of hooking; 
(4) pull gear immediately and implement the move-on rule if any marine 
mammal is hooked or at risk of being hooked; (5) deploy longline gear 
prior to environmental sampling; and (6) avoid chumming (i.e., baiting 
water). More detail on these measures are described below.
    Prior to arrival on station (but within 0.5 nautical mile), the 
officer, crew members, and scientific party on watch visually scan for 
protected species for 30 minutes prior to station arrival for pelagic 
longline surveys and 15 minutes prior for other surveys. Binoculars 
will be used as necessary to survey the area while approaching and upon 
arrival at the station, while the gear is deployed, and during 
haulback. Additional monitoring is conducted 15 minutes prior to 
setting longline gear by members of the scientific crew that monitor 
from the back deck while baiting hooks. If protected species are 
sighted prior to setting the gear or at any time the gear is in the 
water, the bridge crew and SWL are alerted immediately. Environmental 
conditions (e.g., lighting, sea state, precipitation, fog, etc.) often 
limit the distance for effective visual monitoring of protected 
species. If marine mammals are sighted during any monitoring period, 
the ``move-on'' rule, as described in the trawling mitigation section 
above would be implemented. If longline operations have been delayed 
because of the presence of protected species, the vessel resumes 
longline operations only when these species have not been sighted 
within 15 minutes or otherwise determined to no longer be at risk. The 
risk decision is at the discretion of the FPC or SWL and is dependent 
on the situation. After the

[[Page 6629]]

required monitoring period, longline gear is always the first equipment 
or fishing gear to be deployed when the vessel arrives on station.
    If marine mammals are detected during setting operations or while 
the gear is in the water and are considered to be at risk (e.g., moving 
towards deployment site, displaying behaviors of potentially 
interacting with gear, etc.), the FPC or SWL in conjunction with the 
officer on watch may halt the setting operation or call for retrieval 
of gear already set. The species, number, and behavior of the protected 
species are considered along with the status of the ship and gear, 
weather and sea conditions, and crew safety factors when making 
decisions regarding gear deployment delay or retrieval.
    There are also a number of standard measures designed to reduce 
hooking potential and minimize injury. In all pelagic longline sets, 
gangions are 110 percent as long as the drop line depth; therefore, 
this gear configuration allows a potentially hooked marine mammal the 
ability to reach the surface. SEFSC longline protocols specifically 
prohibit chumming reducing any attraction. Further, no stainless steel 
hooks are used so that in the event a hook can not be retrieved from an 
animal, it will corrode. Per PLTRP, the SEFSC pelagic longline survey 
uses the Pelagic Longline Marine Mammal Handling and Release Guidelines 
for any pelagic longline sets made within the Atlantic EEZ. These 
procedures would also be implemented in the GOMRA and CRA.
    Other gears--The SEFSC deploys a wide variety of gear to sample the 
marine environment during all of their research cruises. Many of these 
types of gear (e.g., chevron fish trap, eel traps, dip nets, video 
cameras and ROV deployments) are not considered to pose any risk to 
marine mammals due to their size, deployment methods, or location, and 
therefore are not subject to mitigation. However, at all times when the 
SEFSC is conducting survey operations at sea, the OOD and/or CS and 
crew will monitor for any unusual circumstances that may arise at a 
sampling site and use best professional judgment to avoid any potential 
risks to marine mammals during all vessel operation and use of research 
equipment.
    Electrofishing--Electrofishing occurs on small vessels and operates 
with a 3000 watt pulsed direct current for 15 minutes. The electric 
field is less than 20 feet around the electrofishing vessel. Before the 
electrofishing vessel begins operating, a dedicated marine mammal 
observer would scan the surrounding waters for at least 15 minutes 
prior to fishing. If a marine mammal is observed within 50 meters of 
the vessel or on a path toward the vessel, electrofishing would be 
delayed. Fishing would not begin until the animal is outside of the 50 
m safety zone or on a consistent path away from the vessel. 
Alternatively, if animals do not leave the area, the vessel could move 
to another sampling station. If the vessel moves, the 15 minutes 
observation period is repeated. During electrofishing, the research 
crew would also monitor for marine mammals. If animals are observed 
within or a path toward the 50 m safety zone, electrofishing would be 
terminated and not resume until the animal is clear of and on a path 
away from the 50 m safety zone. All samples collected during 
electrofishing are to remain on the vessel and not discarded until all 
electrofishing is completed to avoid attracting protected species.
    Vessel speed--Vessel speed during active sampling is less than 5 kn 
(average 2-3 kn) while transit speeds to and from sampling sites vary 
from 6-14 kn but average 10 kn. These low vessel speeds minimize the 
potential for ship strike (see ``Potential Effects of the Specified 
Activity on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat'' for an in-depth 
discussion of ship strike). At any time during a survey or in transit, 
if a crew member standing watch or dedicated marine mammal observer 
sights marine mammals that may intersect with the vessel course that 
individual will immediately communicate the presence of marine mammals 
to the bridge for appropriate course alteration or speed reduction, as 
possible, to avoid incidental collisions.
    While transiting in areas subjected to the North Atlantic ship 
strike rule, all SEFSC- affiliated research vessels (NOAA vessels, NOAA 
chartered vessels, and research partner vessels) will abide by the 
required speed restrictions and sighting alert protocols. The ship 
strike rule for the southeast U.S. seasonal management area (SMA) 
requires that, from November 15 through April 15, all vessels 65 feet 
or longer must slow to 10 kn or less in the right whale calving and 
nursery grounds which are bounded to the north by latitude 31[deg]27' 
N, to the south by 29[deg]45' N, and to the east by 80[deg]51'36'' W. 
Mid-Atlantic SMAs include several port or bay entrances from northern 
Georgia to Rhode Island between November 1 and April 30. In addition, 
dynamic management areas (DMAs) are temporary areas created around 
right whale sightings, the size of which depends on the number of 
whales sighted. Voluntary speed reductions may apply when no SMA is in 
effect. All NOAA research vessels operating in North Atlantic right 
whale habitat participate in the Right Whale Early Warning System.
    SEFSC research vessel captains and crew watch for marine mammals 
while underway during daylight hours and take necessary actions to 
avoid them. There are currently no Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) 
aboard the vessels dedicated to watching for marine mammals to minimize 
the risk of collisions, although the large NOAA vessels (e.g., NOAA 
Ship Pisces) operated by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation 
Operations (OMAO) include one bridge crew dedicated to watching for 
obstacles at all times, including marine mammals. At any time during a 
survey or in transit, any bridge personnel that sights marine mammals 
that may intersect with the vessel course immediately communicates 
their presence to the helm for appropriate course alteration or speed 
reduction as soon as possible to avoid incidental collisions, 
particularly with large whales (e.g., North Atlantic right whales).
    The Right Whale Early Warning System is a multi-agency effort that 
includes the SEFSC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation 
Commission (FWCC), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and volunteer 
observers. Sightings of the critically endangered North Atlantic right 
whale are reported from aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, whale watch 
vessels, and opportunistic sources (U.S. Coast Guard, commercial ships, 
fishing vessels, and the general public). Whale sightings are reported 
in real time to the Right Whale Early Warning System network and 
information is disseminated to mariners within a half hour of a 
sighting. The program was designed to reduce collisions between ships 
and North Atlantic right whales by alerting mariners to the presence of 
the whales in near real time. Under the proposed rule, all NOAA-
affiliated vessels operating in North Atlantic right whale habitat will 
be required to participate in the Right Whale Early Warning System.
    Acoustic and Visual Deterrent Devices--Acoustic and visual 
deterrents include, but are not limited; to pingers, recordings of 
predator vocalizations, light sticks, and reflective twine/rope. 
Pingers are underwater sound-emitting devices attached to gear that 
have been shown to decrease the probability of interacuetions with 
certain species of marine mammals. Pingers have been shown to be 
effective in deterring some marine mammals, particularly harbor 
porpoises, from interacting with gillnet gear (Nowacek et al. 2007, 
Carretta and

[[Page 6630]]

Barlow 2011). Multiple studies have reported large decreases in harbor 
porpoise mortality (approximately eighty to ninety percent) in bottom-
set gillnets (nets composed of vertical panes of netting, typically set 
in a straight line and either anchored to the bottom or drifting) 
during controlled experiments (e.g., Kraus et al., 1997; Trippel et 
al., 1999; Gearin et al., 2000). Using commercial fisheries data rather 
than a controlled experiment, Palka et al. (2008) reported that harbor 
porpoise bycatch rates in the northeast U.S gillnet fishery when 
fishing without pingers was about two to three times higher compared to 
when pingers were used. After conducting a controlled experiment in a 
California drift gillnet fishery during 1996-97, Barlow and Cameron 
(2003) reported significantly lower bycatch rates when pingers were 
used for all cetacean species combined, all pinniped species combined, 
and specifically for short-beaked common dolphins (85 percent 
reduction) and California sea lions (69 percent reduction). While not a 
statistically significant result, catches of Pacific white-sided 
dolphins (which are historically one of the most frequently captured 
species in SEFSC surveys; see Table 4) were reduced by seventy percent. 
Carretta et al. (2008) subsequently examined nine years of observer 
data from the same drift gillnet fishery and found that pinger use had 
eliminated beaked whale bycatch. Carretta and Barlow (2011) assessed 
the long-term effectiveness of pingers in reducing marine mammal 
bycatch in the California drift gillnet fishery by evaluating fishery 
data from 1990-2009 (with pingers in use beginning in 1996), finding 
that bycatch rates of cetaceans were reduced nearly fifty percent in 
sets using a sufficient number of pingers. However, in a behavioral 
response study investigating bottlenose dolphin behavior around 
gillnets outfitted with acoustic alarms in North Carolina, there was no 
significant difference is number of dolphins or closest approach 
between nets with alarms and nets without alarms (Cox et al., 2003). 
Studies of acoustic deterrents in a trawl fishery in Australia 
concluded that pingers are not likely to be effective in deterring 
bottlenose dolphins, as they are already aware of the gear due to the 
noisy nature of the fishery (Stephenson and Wells 2008, Allen et al. 
2014). Acoustic deterrents were also ineffective in reducing bycatch of 
common dolphins in the U.K. bass pair trawl fishery (Mackay and 
Northridge 2006).
    The use and effectiveness of acoustic deterrent devices in 
fisheries in which bottlenose dolphins have the potential to interact 
has been approached with caution. Two primary concerns expressed with 
regard to pinger effectiveness in reducing marine mammal bycatch relate 
to habituation (i.e., marine mammals may become habituated to the 
sounds made by the pingers, resulting in increasing bycatch rates over 
time; Dawson, 1994; Cox et al., 2001; Carlstr[ouml]m et al., 2009) and 
the ``dinner bell effect'' (Dawson, 1994; Richardson et al., 1995), 
which implies that certain predatory marine mammal species may come to 
associate pingers with a food source (e.g., fish caught in nets) with 
the result that bycatch rates may be higher in nets with pingers than 
in those without.
    The BDTRP, after years of directed investigation, found pingers are 
not effective at deterring bottlenose dolphins from depredating on fish 
captured by trawls and gillnets. During research driven by the BDTRT 
efforts to better understand the effectiveness of pingers on bottlenose 
dolphins, one became entangled and drowned in a net outfitted with a 
pinger. Dolphins can become attracted to the sound of the pinger 
because they learn it signals the presence of fish (i.e., the ``dinner 
bell effect''), raising concerns about potential increased entanglement 
risks (Cox et al., 2003; Read et al., 2004 and 2006; and Read and 
Waples 2010). Due to the lack of evidence that pingers are effective at 
deterring bottlenose dolphins coupled with the potential dinner-bell 
effect, the BDTRP does not recommend them for use in SEFSC for 
bottlenose dolphins.
    The effectiveness of acoustic and visual deterrents for species 
encountered in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA is uncertain. Therefore, the 
SEFSC will not be required to outfit gear with deterrent devices but is 
encouraged to undertake investigations on the efficacy of these 
measures where unknown (i.e., not for surveys in which bottlenose 
dolphins are primary bycatch) in order to minimize potential for take.
    Disentanglement Handling Procedures--The SEFSC will implement a 
number of handling protocols to minimize potential harm to marine 
mammals that are incidentally taken during the course of fisheries 
research activities. In general, protocols have already been prepared 
for use on commercial fishing vessels. Although commercial fisheries 
are known to take a larger number of marine mammals than fisheries 
research, the nature of entanglements are similar. Therefore, the SEFSC 
would adopt commercial fishery disentanglement protocols, which are 
expected to increase post-release survival. Handling or disentangling 
marine mammals carries inherent safety risks, and using best 
professional judgment and ensuring human safety is paramount.
    Captured live or injured marine mammals are released from research 
gear and returned to the water as soon as possible with no gear or as 
little gear remaining on the animal as possible. Animals are released 
without removing them from the water if possible, and data collection 
is conducted in such a manner as not to delay release of the animal(s) 
or endanger the crew. SEFSC is responsible for training SEFSC and 
partner researchers on how to identify different species; handle and 
bring marine mammals aboard a vessel; assess the level of 
consciousness; remove fishing gear; and return marine mammals to water. 
Human safety is always the paramount concern.
    At least two persons aboard SEFSC ships and one person aboard 
smaller vessels, including vessels operated by partners where no SEFSC 
staff are present, will be trained in marine mammal handling, release, 
and disentanglement procedures. If a marine mammal is entangled or 
hooked in fishery research gear and discovered alive, the SEFSC or 
affiliate will follow safe handling procedures. To facilitate this 
training, SEFSC would be required to ensure relevant researchers attend 
the NMFS Highly Migratory Species/Protected Species Safe Handling, 
Release, and Identification Workshop www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/compliance/workshops/protected_species_workshop/index.html or other 
similar training. The SEFSC shall provide SEFSC scientists and partner 
institutions with the Protected Species Safe Handling and Release 
Manual (see Appendix D is SEFSC's application) and advise researchers 
to follow this manual, in addition to lessons learned during training, 
should a marine mammal become entangled during a survey. For those 
scientists conducting longline surveys, the SEFSC shall provide 
training on the Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Team Marine Mammal 
Handling and Release Guidelines.
    Based on our evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, as 
well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily 
determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of 
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.
    Based on our evaluation of the SEFSC's proposed measures, as well 
as other measures considered by NMFS,

[[Page 6631]]

NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed 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.

TPWD Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

    The TPWD would undertake a number of measures to minimize risk of 
entangling bottlenose dolphins. Only new or fully repaired gill nets 
will be used thereby eliminating holes. Gill nets will be set with 
minimal slack and a very short marker buoy attached to the deep end of 
the net. This reduction in slack and float buoy length is designed to 
reduce possible entanglement. The TPWD would also modify the nets to 
greatly reduce or eliminate any gaps between the float/lead line and 
the net. As currently configured, nets are tied to the lines every 
eight in. creating a gap between the net and line of approximately six 
to eight in. depending on the mesh size. TPWD field crews report that 
entanglement has typically occurred in the float or lead lines in or 
near the gap in question. TPWD would tie the net to the lines at no 
more than 4 in. intervals, reducing the gap size to less than four in. 
should help prevent getting a tail, pectoral, or fluke fin getting 
caught in these gaps.
    Prior to setting nets, dedicated marine mammal observations will be 
conducted by at least one researcher trained in marine mammal detection 
techniques. If dolphins are observed around or on a path toward the 
sampling site, TPWD would delay setting the net until the animal has 
moved and is on a path away from the site. If an animal is observed 
around and on a path toward the sampling area while setting the net, 
the net will be hauled back aboard until the animal has moved on. If 
animals remain in the area, TPWD will move on to another site not in 
the animal's path without setting the net. When a net is set, TPWD 
would minimize soak time by utilizing the ``last out/first in'' 
strategy for gill nets set in sites where marine mammals have been 
encountered within the last 5 years. A net set in this manner will be 
deployed last and retrieved first, reducing soak times by an average of 
1.35 hours but a maximum of 6.6 hours.
    TPWD researchers will immediately respond to net disturbances when 
setting and retrieving nets to determine if a dolphin is entangled and, 
if so, will release the dolphin immediately. All nets set the night 
before will be inspected for the presence of bottlenose dolphins and 
sea turtles before any nets are retrieved. If these animals are 
observed they will be released immediately. At least one TPWD research 
aboard gillnetting survey vessels will be trained in NMFS-approved 
Marine Mammal Handling Procedures.
    The TPWD would remove fishing grids from their sampling areas where 
dolphins have been taken on more than one occasion or where multiple 
adjacent grids have had at least one dolphin encounter. To date, grids 
which meet one or both of these criteria are (1) Aransas Bay, just 
south of Allyn's Bight (grid #'s 280, 290, 291, 301, see Fig.3 in 
TPWD's application), (2) Corpus Christi Bay, south of Ingleside 
shoreline (CC grid #132, see Fig. 4 in TPWD's application), and (3) 
Lower Laguna Madre, in Redfish Bay (LLM grid #47, see Fig 5 in TPWD's 
application).
    Based on our evaluation of the TPWD's proposed measures, as well as 
other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined 
that the proposed 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.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization for an activity, 
section 101(a)(5)(A) 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) 
require that requests for incidental take 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 proposed action area.
    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 
action area (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 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.

SEFSC Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    The SEFSC plans to make more systematic its training, operations, 
data collection, animal handling and sampling protocols, etc. in order 
to improve its ability to understand how mitigation measures influence 
interaction rates and ensure its research operations are conducted in 
an informed manner and consistent with lessons learned from those with 
experience operating these gears in close proximity to marine mammals. 
We propose the monitoring requirements described below.
    Marine mammal watches are a standard part of conducting fisheries 
research activities and are implemented as described previously in 
``Proposed Mitigation.'' Dedicated marine mammal observations occur as 
described (1) for some period prior to deployment of most research 
gear; (2) throughout deployment and active fishing of all research 
gears; (3) for some period prior to retrieval of gear; and (4) 
throughout retrieval of research gear. Observers should record the 
species and estimated number of animals present and their behaviors, 
which may be valuable information towards an understanding of whether 
certain species may be attracted to vessels or certain survey gears. 
Separately, on white boats, marine mammal watches are conducted by 
watch-standers (those navigating the vessel and other crew; these will 
typically not be SEFSC personnel) at all times when the vessel is being 
operated. The primary focus for this type of watch is to avoid striking 
marine mammals and to generally avoid navigational hazards. These 
watch-standers typically

[[Page 6632]]

have other duties associated with navigation and other vessel 
operations and are not required to record or report to the scientific 
party data on marine mammal sightings, except when gear is being 
deployed or retrieved.
Training
    The SEFSC anticipates that additional information on practices to 
avoid marine mammal interactions can be gleaned from training sessions 
and more systematic data collection standards. The SEFSC will conduct 
annual trainings for all chief scientists and other personnel who may 
be responsible for conducting dedicated marine mammal visual 
observations to explain mitigation measures and monitoring and 
reporting requirements, mitigation and monitoring protocols, marine 
mammal identification, recording of count and disturbance observations 
(relevant to AMLR surveys), completion of datasheets, and use of 
equipment. Some of these topics may be familiar to SEFSC staff, who may 
be professional biologists, The SEFSC shall determine the agenda for 
these trainings and ensure that all relevant staff have necessary 
familiarity with these topics. The first such training will include 
three primary elements:
    First, the course will provide an overview of the purpose and need 
for the authorization, including mandatory mitigation measures by gear 
and the purpose for each, and species that the SEFSC is authorized to 
incidentally take.
    Second, the training will provide detailed descriptions of 
reporting, data collection, and sampling protocols. This portion of the 
training will include instruction on how to complete new data 
collection forms such as the marine mammal watch log, the incidental 
take form (e.g., specific gear configuration and details relevant to an 
interaction with protected species), and forms used for species 
identification and biological sampling. The biological data collection 
and sampling training module will include the same sampling and 
necropsy training that is used for the Southeast Regional Observer 
training.
    The SEFSC will also dedicate a portion of training to discussion of 
best professional judgment (which is recognized as an integral 
component of mitigation implementation; see ``Proposed Mitigation''), 
including use in any incidents of marine mammal interaction and 
instructive examples where use of best professional judgment was 
determined to be successful or unsuccessful. We recognize that many 
factors come into play regarding decision-making at sea and that it is 
not practicable to simplify what are inherently variable and complex 
situational decisions into rules that may be defined on paper. However, 
it is our intent that use of best professional judgment be an iterative 
process from year to year, in which any at-sea decision-maker (i.e., 
responsible for decisions regarding the avoidance of marine mammal 
interactions with survey gear through the application of best 
professional judgment) learns from the prior experience of all relevant 
SEFSC personnel (rather than from solely their own experience). The 
outcome should be increased transparency in decision-making processes 
where best professional judgment is appropriate and, to the extent 
possible, some degree of standardization across common situations, with 
an ultimate goal of reducing marine mammal interactions. It is the 
responsibility of the SEFSC to facilitate such exchange.
Handling Procedures and Data Collection
    Improved standardization of handling procedures were discussed 
previously in ``Proposed Mitigation.'' In addition to the benefits 
implementing these protocols are believed to have on animals through 
increased post-release survival, SEFSC believes adopting these 
protocols for data collection will also increase the information on 
which ``serious injury'' determinations (NMFS, 2012a, b) are based and 
improve scientific knowledge about marine mammals that interact with 
fisheries research gears and the factors that contribute to these 
interactions. SEFSC personnel will be provided standard guidance and 
training regarding handling of marine mammals, including how to 
identify different species, bring an individual aboard a vessel, assess 
the level of consciousness, remove fishing gear, return an individual 
to water and log activities pertaining to the interaction.
    The SEFSC will record interaction information on either existing 
data forms created by other NMFS programs or will develop their own 
standardized forms. To aid in serious injury determinations and comply 
with the current NMFS Serious Injury Guidelines, researchers will also 
answer a series of supplemental questions on the details of marine 
mammal interactions.
    Finally, for any marine mammals that are killed during fisheries 
research activities, when practicable, scientists will collect data and 
samples pursuant to Appendix D of the SEFSC DEA, ``Protected Species 
Handling Procedures for SEFSC Fisheries Research Vessels.''
SEFSC Reporting
    As is normally the case, SEFSC will coordinate with the relevant 
stranding coordinators for any unusual marine mammal behavior and any 
stranding, beached live/dead, or floating marine mammals that are 
encountered during field research activities. The SEFSC will follow a 
phased approach with regard to the cessation of its activities and/or 
reporting of such events, as described in the proposed regulatory text 
following this preamble. In addition, Chief Scientists (or cruise 
leader, CS) will provide reports to SEFSC leadership and to the Office 
of Protected Resources (OPR). As a result, when marine mammals interact 
with survey gear, whether killed or released alive, a report provided 
by the CS will fully describe any observations of the animals, the 
context (vessel and conditions), decisions made and rationale for 
decisions made in vessel and gear handling. The circumstances of these 
events are critical in enabling the SEFSC and OPR to better evaluate 
the conditions under which takes are most likely occur. We believe in 
the long term this will allow the avoidance of these types of events in 
the future.
    The SEFSC will submit annual summary reports to OPR including:

    (1) Annual line-kilometers surveyed during which the EK60, ME70, 
SX90 (or equivalent sources) were predominant (see ``Estimated Take 
by Acoustic Harassment'' for further discussion), specific to each 
region;
    (2) Summary information regarding use of all trawl, net, and 
hook and line gear, including number of sets, tows, hook hours, 
etc., specific to each research area and gear;
    (3) Accounts of all incidents of marine mammal interactions, 
including circumstances of the event and descriptions of any 
mitigation procedures implemented or not implemented and why;
    (4) Summary information related to any disturbance of marine 
mammals and distance of closest approach;
    (5) A written description of any mitigation research 
investigation efforts and findings (e.g., lazy line modifications);
    (6) A written evaluation of the effectiveness of SEFSC 
mitigation strategies in reducing the number of marine mammal 
interactions with survey gear, including best professional judgment 
and suggestions for changes to the mitigation strategies, if any; 
and
    (7) Details on marine mammal-related training taken by SEFSC and 
partner scientists.

    The period of reporting will be annually, beginning one year post-
issuance of any LOA, and the report must be submitted not less than 
ninety days following the end of a given year.

[[Page 6633]]

Submission of this information is in service of an adaptive management 
framework allowing NMFS to make appropriate modifications to mitigation 
and/or monitoring strategies, as necessary, during the proposed five-
year period of validity for these regulations.
    Should an incidental take occur, the SEFSC, or affiliated partner 
involved in the taking, shall follow the NMFS Final Take Reporting and 
Response Procedures, dated January 15, 2016. NMFS has established a 
formal incidental take reporting system, the PSIT database, requiring 
that incidental takes of protected species be reported within 48 hours 
of the occurrence. The PSIT generates automated messages to NMFS 
leadership and other relevant staff, alerting them to the event and to 
the fact that updated information describing the circumstances of the 
event has been inputted to the database. The PSIT and CS reports 
represent not only valuable real-time reporting and information 
dissemination tools but also serve as an archive of information that 
may be mined in the future to study why takes occur by species, gear, 
region, etc.
    The SEFSC will also collect and report all necessary data, to the 
extent practicable given the primacy of human safety and the well-being 
of captured or entangled marine mammals, to facilitate serious injury 
(SI) determinations for marine mammals that are released alive. The 
SEFSC will require that the CS complete data forms and address 
supplemental questions, both of which have been developed to aid in SI 
determinations. The SEFSC understands the critical need to provide as 
much relevant information as possible about marine mammal interactions 
to inform decisions regarding SI determinations. In addition, the SEFSC 
will perform all necessary reporting to ensure that any incidental M/SI 
is incorporated as appropriate into relevant SARs.

TPWD Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    Issuance of the proposed regulations would require TPWD to monitor 
for marine mammals starting 0.5 miles (800 meters) from sampling site 
and for 15 minutes at sampling site prior to setting the net. Should a 
marine mammal be observed within 0.5 miles (800 meters) of the site and 
is on a path toward the site, the net would not be deployed. Should a 
marine mammal be observed during the 15-minute observation period at 
the site, the net would not be deployed. The net may only be deployed 
if marine mammals are observed on a path away from the site 
consistently for 15 minutes or are not re-sighted within 15 minutes.
    TPWD currently reports marine mammal entanglements to NMFS 
Southeast Regional Office (SERO). However, reporting is not 
standardized and, in the past, has led to questions regarding the 
circumstances of the take and disposition of the animal. The proposed 
regulations would standardize a comprehensive reporting scheme and 
require TPWD to report all incidents of marine mammal interaction to 
OPR and NMFS SERO within 48 hours of occurrence. Also within 48 hours, 
TPWD shall log the incident in NMFS' Protected Species Incidental Take 
(PSIT) database and provide any supplemental information to OPR and 
SERO upon request. Information related to marine mammal interaction 
(animal captured or entangled in research gear) must include the 
following:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Monitoring conducted prior to and occurring at the time of 
incident;
     Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, visibility);
     Description of the animal(s) involved (e.g., size, age 
class);
     Water depth and net location where entangled;
     Nature of the entanglement (i.e., part of animal 
entangled, where in net entangled)
     Fate of the animal(s);
     Detailed description of events, including how animals was 
disentangled and behavior upon release, including signs of injury (if 
alive);
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s).
    TPWD would also be required to submit an annual report to OPR not 
later than ninety days following the end of the fall sampling season. 
TPWD would provide a final report within thirty days following 
resolution of comments on the draft report. These reports shall 
contain, at minimum, the following:
     Locations and time/date of all net sets;
     all instances of marine mammal observations and 
descriptions of any mitigation procedures implemented or not 
implemented and why;
     all incidents of marine mammal interactions, including all 
information required in Sec.  219.86(b);
     A written evaluation of the effectiveness of TPWD 
mitigation strategies in reducing the number of marine mammal 
interactions with survey gear, including gear modifications and best 
professional judgment and suggestions for changes to the mitigation 
strategies, if any;
     A summary of all relevant marine mammal training.

Negligible Impact Analyses and Determinations

    Introduction--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'' by mortality, serious injury, 
and Level A or Level B harassment, we consider other factors, such as 
the likely nature of any behavioral responses (e.g., intensity, 
duration), the context of any such responses (e.g., critical 
reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on 
habitat, and the likely effectiveness of 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, and specific consideration of take 
by M/SI previously authorized for other NMFS research activities).
    We note here that the takes from potential gear interactions 
enumerated below could result in non-serious injury, but their worse 
potential outcome (mortality) is analyzed for the purposes of the 
negligible impact determination.
    We discuss here the connection, and differences, between the legal 
mechanisms for authorizing incidental take under section 101(a)(5) for 
activities such as SEFSC's research activities, and for authorizing 
incidental take from commercial fisheries. In 1988, Congress amended 
the MMPA's provisions for addressing incidental take of marine mammals 
in commercial fishing operations. Congress directed NMFS to develop and 
recommend a new long-term regime to govern such

[[Page 6634]]

incidental taking (see MMC, 1994). The need to develop a system suited 
to the unique circumstances of commercial fishing operations led NMFS 
to suggest a new conceptual means and associated regulatory framework. 
That concept, Potential Biological Removal (PBR), and a system for 
developing plans containing regulatory and voluntary measures to reduce 
incidental take for fisheries that exceed PBR were incorporated as 
sections 117 and 118 in the 1994 amendments to the MMPA.
    PBR is defined in Section 3 of the MMPA as the maximum number of 
animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a 
marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its 
optimum sustainable population (OSP) and, although not controlling, can 
be one measure considered among other factors when evaluating the 
effects of M/SI on a marine mammal species or stock during the section 
101(a)(5)(A) process. OSP is defined in section 3 of the MMPA as the 
number of animals which will result in the maximum productivity of the 
population or the species, keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the 
habitat and the health of the ecosystem of which they form a 
constituent element. A primary goal of the MMPA is to ensure that each 
species or stock of marine mammal is maintained at or returned to its 
OSP.
    PBR values are calculated by NMFS as the level of annual removal 
from a stock that will allow that stock to equilibrate within OSP at 
least 95 percent of the time, and is the product of factors relating to 
the minimum population estimate of the stock (Nmin); the 
productivity rate of the stock at a small population size; and a 
recovery factor. Determination of appropriate values for these three 
elements incorporates significant precaution, such that application of 
the parameter to the management of marine mammal stocks may be 
reasonably certain to achieve the goals of the MMPA. For example, 
calculation of the minimum population estimate (Nmin) 
incorporates the precision and variability associated with abundance 
information, while also providing (typically the 20th percentile of a 
log-normal distribution of the population estimate) reasonable 
assurance that the stock size is equal to or greater than the estimate 
(Barlow et al., 1995). In general, the three factors are developed on a 
stock-specific basis in consideration of one another in order to 
produce conservative PBR values that appropriately account for both 
imprecision that may be estimated as well as potential bias stemming 
from lack of knowledge (Wade, 1998).
    Congress called for PBR to be applied within the management 
framework for commercial fishing incidental take under section 118 of 
the MMPA. As a result, PBR cannot be applied appropriately outside of 
the section 118 regulatory framework without consideration of how it 
applies within section 118 framework, as well as how other statutory 
management frameworks in the MMPA differ from the framework in section 
118. PBR was not designed and is not used as an absolute threshold 
limiting commercial fisheries. Rather, it serves as a means to evaluate 
the relative impacts of those activities on marine mammal stocks. Even 
where commercial fishing is causing M/SI at levels that exceed PBR, the 
fishery is not suspended. When M/SI exceeds PBR in the commercial 
fishing context under section 118, NMFS may develop a take reduction 
plan, usually with the assistance of a take reduction team. The take 
reduction plan will include measures to reduce and/or minimize the 
taking of marine mammals by commercial fisheries to a level below the 
stock's PBR. That is, where the total annual human-caused M/SI exceeds 
PBR, NMFS is not required to halt fishing activities contributing to 
total M/SI but rather utilizes the take reduction process to further 
mitigate the effects of fishery activities via additional bycatch 
reduction measures. In other words, under section 118 of the MMPA, PBR 
does not serve as a strict cap on the operation of commercial fisheries 
that may incidentally take marine mammals.
    Similarly, to the extent PBR may be relevant when considering the 
impacts of incidental take from activities other than commercial 
fisheries, using it as the sole reason to deny (or issue) incidental 
take authorization for those activities would be inconsistent with 
Congress's intent under section 101(a)(5) and the use of PBR under 
section 118. The standard for authorizing incidental take under section 
101(a)(5) continues to be, among other things, whether the total taking 
will have a negligible impact on the species or stock. When Congress 
amended the MMPA in 1994 to add section 118 for commercial fishing, it 
did not alter the standards for authorizing non-commercial fishing 
incidental take under section 101(a)(5), implicitly acknowledging that 
the negligible impact under section 101(a)(5) is a separate from the 
PBR metric under section 118. In fact, in 1994, Congress also amended 
section 101(a)(5)(E) (a separate provision governing commercial fishing 
incidental take for species listed under the Endangered Species Act) to 
add compliance with the new section 118 but kept the requirement for a 
negligible impact finding. Congress thus understood that the 
determination of negligible impact and application of PBR may share 
certain features but are, in fact, different.
    Since the introduction of PBR, NMFS has used the concept almost 
entirely within the context of implementing sections 117 and 118 and 
other commercial fisheries management-related provisions of the MMPA. 
Although there are a few examples where PBR has informed agency 
deliberations under other sections of the MMPA, where PBR has been 
raised, it has been a consideration and not dispositive to the issue at 
hand. Further, the agency's thoughts regarding the potential role of 
PBR in relation to other programs of the MMPA have evolved since the 
agency's earlier applications to section 101(a)(5) decisions. The MMPA 
requires that PBR be estimated in stock assessment reports and that it 
be used in applications related to the management of take incidental to 
commercial fisheries (i.e., the take reduction planning process 
described in section 118 of the MMPA and the determination of whether a 
stock is ``strategic'' (16 U.S.C. 1362(19))), but nothing in the MMPA 
requires the application of PBR outside the management of commercial 
fisheries interactions with marine mammals.
    Nonetheless, NMFS recognizes that as a quantitative metric, PBR may 
be useful in certain instances as a consideration when evaluating the 
impacts of other human-caused activities on marine mammal stocks. 
Outside the commercial fishing context, and in consideration of all 
known human-caused mortality, PBR can help inform the potential effects 
of M/SI caused by activities authorized under 101(a)(5)(A) on marine 
mammal stocks. As noted by NMFS and the USFWS in our implementation 
regulations for the 1986 amendments to the MMPA (54 FR 40341, September 
29, 1989), the Services consider many factors, when available, in 
making a negligible impact determination, including, but not limited 
to, the status of the species or stock relative to OSP (if known); 
whether the recruitment rate for the species or stock is increasing, 
decreasing, stable, or unknown; the size and distribution of the 
population; and existing impacts and environmental conditions. In this 
multi-factor analysis, PBR can be a useful indicator for when, and to 
what extent, the agency should take an especially close look at the 
circumstances associated with the potential mortality, along with any 
other

[[Page 6635]]

factors that could influence annual rates of recruitment or survival.
    When considering PBR during evaluation of effects of M/SI under 
section 101(a)(5)(A), we first calculate a metric for each species or 
stock that incorporates information regarding ongoing anthropogenic M/
SI into the PBR value (i.e., PBR minus the total annual anthropogenic 
mortality/serious injury estimate), which is called ``residual PBR'' 
(Wood et al., 2012). We focus our analysis on residual PBR because it 
incorporates anthropogenic mortality occurring from other sources. We 
then consider how the anticipated potential incidental M/SI from the 
activities being evaluated compares to residual PBR utilizing the 
following framework.
    Where a specified activity could cause (and NMFS is contemplating 
authorizing) incidental M/SI that is less than 10 percent of residual 
PBR (the ``insignificance threshold, see below), we consider M/SI from 
the specified activities to represent an insignificant incremental 
increase in ongoing anthropogenic M/SI for the marine mammal stock in 
question that alone (i.e., in the absence of any other take) will not 
adversely affect annual rates of recruitment and survival. As such, 
this amount of M/SI would not be expected to affect rates of 
recruitment or survival in a manner resulting in more than a negligible 
impact on the affected stock unless there are other factors that could 
affect reproduction or survival, such as Level A and/or Level B 
harassment, or considerations such as information that illustrates the 
uncertainty involved in the calculation of PBR for some stocks. In a 
prior incidental take rulemaking, this threshold was identified as the 
``significance threshold,'' but it is more accurately labeled an 
insignificance threshold, and so we use that terminology here. Assuming 
that any additional incidental take by Level A or Level B harassment 
from the activities in question would not combine with the effects of 
the authorized M/SI to exceed the negligible impact level, the 
anticipated M/SI caused by the activities being evaluated would have a 
negligible impact on the species or stock. However, M/SI above the 10 
percent insignificance threshold does not indicate that the M/SI 
associated with the specified activities is approaching a level that 
would necessarily exceed negligible impact. Rather, the 10 percent 
insignificance threshold is meant only to identify instances where 
additional analysis of the anticipated M/SI is not required because the 
negligible impact standard clearly will not be exceeded on that basis 
alone.
    Where the anticipated M/SI is near, at, or above residual PBR, 
consideration of other factors (positive or negative), including those 
outlined above, as well as mitigation are especially important to 
assessing whether the M/SI will have a negligible impact on the species 
or stock. PBR is a conservative metric and not sufficiently precise to 
serve as an absolute predictor of population effects upon which 
mortality caps would appropriately be based. For example, in some cases 
stock abundance (which is one of three key inputs into the PBR 
calculation) is underestimated because marine mammal survey data within 
the U.S. EEZ are used to calculate the abundance even when the stock 
range extends well beyond the U.S. EEZ. An underestimate of abundance 
could result in an underestimate of PBR. Alternatively, we sometimes 
may not have complete M/SI data beyond the U.S. EEZ to compare to PBR, 
which could result in an overestimate of residual PBR. M/SI that 
exceeds PBR may still potentially be found to be negligible in light of 
other factors that offset concern, especially when robust mitigation 
and adaptive management provisions are included.
    This action is similar to the Navy's authorization under the MMPA 
litigated in Conservation Council for Hawaii v. National Marine 
Fisheries Service, 97 F. Supp.3d 1210, 1225 (D. Haw. 2015) because both 
authorize mortalities of marine mammals. Conservation Council for 
Hawaii v. National Marine Fisheries Service concerned a challenge to 
NMFS' issuance of letters of authorization to the Navy for activities 
in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the HSTT Study Area, and the 
Court reached a different conclusion regarding the relationship between 
PBR and negligible impact, stating, ``[b]ecause any mortality level 
that exceeds PBR will not allow the stock to reach or maintain its OSP, 
such a mortality level could not be said to have only a `negligible 
impact' on the stock.'' As described above, the Court's statement 
fundamentally misunderstands the two terms and incorrectly indicates 
that these concepts (PBR and ``negligible impact'') are directly 
connected, when in fact nowhere in the MMPA is it indicated that these 
two terms are equivalent.
    Specifically, PBR was designed as a tool for evaluating mortality 
and is defined as the number of animals that can be removed while 
allowing the stock to reach or maintain OSP, with the formula for PBR 
designed to ensure that growth towards OSP is not reduced by more than 
10 percent (or equilibrate to OSP 95 percent of the time). Separately, 
and without reference to PBR, NMFS' long-standing MMPA implementing 
regulations state that take will have a negligible impact when it does 
not adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual 
rates of recruitment or survival. OSP (to which PBR is linked) is 
defined in the statute as a population which falls within a range from 
the population level that is the largest supportable within the 
ecosystem to the population level that results in maximum net 
productivity. OSP is an aspirational goal of the overall statute and 
PBR is designed to ensure minimal deviation from this overarching goal. 
The ``negligible impact'' determination and finding protects against 
``adverse impacts on the affected species and stocks'' when evaluating 
specific activities.
    For all these reasons, even where M/SI exceeds residual PBR, it is 
still possible for the take to have a negligible impact on the species 
or stock. While ``allowing a stock to reach or maintain OSP'' would 
ensure that NMFS approached the negligible impact standard in a 
conservative and precautionary manner so that there were not ``adverse 
effects on affected species or stocks,'' it is equally clear that in 
some cases the time to reach this aspirational OSP could be slowed by 
more than 10 percent (i.e., total human-caused mortality in excess of 
PBR could be allowed) without adversely affecting a species or stock. 
Another difference between the two standards is the temporal scales 
upon which the terms focus. That is, OSP contemplates the incremental, 
10 percent reduction in the rate to approach a goal that is tens or 
hundreds of years away. The negligible impact analysis, on the other 
hand, necessitates an evaluation of annual rates of recruitment or 
survival to support the decision of whether to issue five-year 
regulations.
    Accordingly, while PBR is useful for evaluating the effects of M/SI 
in section 101(a)(5)(A) determinations, it is just one consideration to 
be assessed in combination with other factors and should not be 
considered determinative. The accuracy and certainty around the data 
that feed any PBR calculation (e.g., the abundance estimates) must be 
carefully considered. This approach of using PBR as a trigger for 
concern while also considering other relevant factors provides a 
reasonable and appropriate means of evaluating the effects of potential 
mortality on rates of recruitment and survival, while demonstrating 
that it is possible to exceed PBR by some small amount and still make a 
negligible impact

[[Page 6636]]

determination under section 101(a)(5)(A).
    Our evaluation of the M/SI for each of the species and stocks for 
which mortality could occur follows. In addition, all mortality 
authorized for some of the same species or stocks over the next several 
years pursuant to our final rulemakings for NEFSC has been incorporated 
into the residual PBR.
    We first consider maximum potential incidental M/SI for each stock 
(Table 14 and 15) in consideration of NMFS's threshold for identifying 
insignificant M/SI take (10 percent of residual PBR (69 FR 43338; July 
20, 2004)). By considering the maximum potential incidental M/SI in 
relation to residual PBR and ongoing sources of anthropogenic 
mortality, we begin our evaluation of whether the potential incremental 
addition of M/SI through SEFSC research activities may affect the 
species' or stock's annual rates of recruitment or survival. We also 
consider the interaction of those mortalities with incidental taking of 
that species or stock by harassment pursuant to the specified activity.

Negligible Impact Analysis and Determinations for the SEFSC

    We methodically examined each stock above the insignificance 
threshold to determine if the amount and degree of proposed taking 
would have effects to annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., 
have a negligible impact on the population). These rates are inherently 
difficult to quantify for marine mammals because adults of long-lived, 
birth-pulse populations (e.g., many cetaceans, polar bears and walrus) 
may not breed every year because of parental care, long gestation 
periods or nutritional constraints (Taylor et al., 1987). Therefore, we 
pursued a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses to 
inform our determinations.
    First we compiled data to assess the baseline population status of 
each stock for which the SEFSC is requesting take. These data were 
pulled from the most recent SARs (Hayes et al., 2017) and, where 
information was unknown or undetermined in the SARs, we consulted 
marine mammal experts at the SEFSC and on TRTs to fill data gaps to the 
best of our ability based on the best available science. Data pulled 
from these sources include population size and demographics (where 
known), PBR, known mortality and serious injury from commercial and 
recreational fishing and other human-caused sources (e.g., direct 
shootings), stock trends (i.e., declining, stable, or increasing), 
threats, and other sources of potential take M/SI (e.g., MMPA 
101(a)(5)(A or D) applications and scientific research permit 
applications). In addition, we looked at ongoing management actions 
(e.g., TRT gear restrictions) to identify where efforts are being 
focused and are successful at reducing incidental take.
Estuarine and Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins
    For estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks, reaching our preliminary 
negligible impact determination required a hard examination of the 
status of each of the 7 ARA and 11 GOMRA stocks for which we propose to 
authorize take. We recognize that PBR is technically undetermined for 
many stocks because abundance data is more than eight years old. 
Therefore, we consulted with marine mammal experts at the SEFSC to 
derive best estimates of PBR based on the available data. Overall, PBR 
is low (less than one animal) because stock sizes are generally small 
(tens to hundreds) in southeast estuaries (with notable exceptions such 
as Mississippi Sound). Stock sizes are expected to be small because the 
abundance of a dolphin stock in an estuary is bounded by the 
capabilities of the bays and estuarine systems to support that stock 
(i.e., carrying capacity of the system) due to the residential nature 
of these stocks, among other things. With respect to rates of annual M/
SI, we note some fisheries in the GoM (e.g., shrimp fishery) do not 
have full observer coverage. Estimates of take from these fisheries are 
both extrapolated and aggregated to the state level, making total M/SI 
rates from commercial fisheries applicable to any given stock rather 
than all stocks within a state not possible.
    We approached the issue of outdated abundance information by 
working closely with SEFSC experts and have developed estimated 
abundance data and PBR values. The resulting values follow the general 
trend of small stock sizes and are very conservative in some cases. For 
example, recent abundance surveys in Barataria Bay and Terrebonne Bay 
revealed stock numbers were in the thousands compared to the previously 
estimated populations of approximately 200-300 animals (Hayes et al., 
2018). In addition, three stocks, including the Perdido Bay stock have 
population estimates showing zero. However, it is well documented 
dolphins inhabit these areas. We also consulted with the NMFS Southeast 
Regional Office (SERO) bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator to 
better understand the nature of the takes identified in the SARs M/SI 
values (i.e., the source of take such as commercial fishery or 
research). That is, if we relied solely on the SAR annual M/SI values 
reported in the SARs and added the proposed M/SI take to these numbers, 
we would be double-counting M/SI as some takes were attributed to the 
research for which we are proposing to authorize take. Therefore, where 
M/SI takes were contributed to SEFSC research, we have adjusted annual 
M/SI values from Table 3b above so as not to ``double count'' potential 
take. Table 14 reflects these adjustments.
    In the ARA, all estuarine and coastal stocks for which we are 
proposing to authorize take are below the insignificance threshold (10 
percent r-PBR) except for the Northern South Carolina Estuarine, 
Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine, Central Georgia 
Estuarine, and Southern Georgia Estuarine stocks (Table 14). The latter 
two stocks are only slightly above the insignificance threshold (11.76 
and 10.35 percent, respectively). The proposed take for the Northern 
Georgia/Southern South Carolina stock constitutes 28.57 percent of r-
PBR. Sources of anthropogenic mortality for this stock include hook and 
line and crab pot/trap fisheries. The proposed M/SI take (0.2/year) of 
the Northern South Carolina stock is 50 percent of PBR. However, 
considering an average of one animal every 5 years is taken in 
commercial fisheries (likely gillnet or crab pot/trap), the proposed 
take and annual M/SI constitute 100 percent of r-PBR. The Northern 
South Carolina Estuarine System stock is delimited as dolphins 
inhabiting estuarine waters from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, 
southwest to Price Inlet, South Carolina, the northern boundary of 
Charleston Estuarine System stock. The region has little residential, 
commercial, and industrial development and contains the Cape Romain 
National Wildlife Refuge. As such, the stock is not facing heavy 
anthropogenic pressure, and there are no identified continuous indirect 
stressors threatening the stock.
    Of the nine estuarine stocks in the GOMRA for which we are 
proposing to authorize take by M/SI, three are below the insignificance 
threshold (10% r-PBR): Terrebonne Bay/Timbalier Bay; St. Vincent Sound/
Apalachicola Bay/St. George Sound, and Apalachee Bay. The three coastal 
stocks are also below the insignificance threshold. Four stocks are 
between 14 and 40 percent r-PBR. The Mississippi Sound stock is already 
above PBR in absence of the proposed authorization, while authorizing 
take in Mobile Bay would put the stock above PBR (Table 14).

[[Page 6637]]



     Table 14--Summary Information of Estuarine and Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin Stocks Related to SEFSC Proposed M/SI Take in the ARA, GOMRA, and CRA
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                      NEFSC
                                                                  Stock     Proposed M/                             authorized               Proposed M/
                            Stock                               abundance     SI take        PBR      Annual M/SI   take by M/   r-PBR \2\    SI take/r-
                                                                 (Nbest)      (annual)                             SI (annual)               PBR (%) \3\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                        Atlantic
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Northern South Carolina Estuarine Stock......................       \1\ 50          0.2      \1\ 0.4          0.2            0          0.2       100.00
Charleston Estuarine System Stock............................      \1\ 289          0.2      \1\ 2.8          0.2            0          2.6         7.69
Northern Georgia/Southern South Carolina Estuarine...........      \1\ 250          0.2      \1\ 2.1          1.4            0          0.7        28.57
Central Georgia Estuarine....................................          192          0.2          1.9          0.2            0          1.7        11.76
Southern Georgia Estuarine...................................          194          0.2          1.9            0            0          1.9        10.53
Jacksonville Estuarine System................................      \1\ 412          0.2      \1\ 3.9          1.2            0          2.7         7.41
Florida Bay..................................................      \1\ 514          0.2      \1\ 4.5            0            0          4.5         4.44
South Carolina/Georgia Coastal...............................    \1\ 6,027          0.6       \1\ 46      1.0-1.4            0      44.6-45         1.35
Northern Florida Coastal.....................................      \1\ 877          0.6        \1\ 6          0.6            0          5.4        11.11
Central Florida Coastal......................................    \1\ 1,218          0.6      \1\ 9.1          0.2            0          8.9         6.74
Northern Migratory Coastal...................................        6,639          0.6           48     6.1-13.2          1.6    33.2-43.5      0.4-0.6
Southern Migratory Coastal...................................        3,751          0.6           23         14.3          1.6          7.1         8.45
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     Gulf of Mexico
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier Bay................................        3,870          0.2           27          0.2            0         26.8         0.75
Mississippi River Delta......................................          332          0.2          1.4        \4\ 0            0          1.4        14.29
Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Bay Boudreau \5\.............        3,046  .02 (M/SI),           23          310            0         -281         Neg.
                                                                             0.2 (Level
                                                                                     A)
Mobile Bay, Bonsecour Bay....................................          122          0.2      \1\ 0.9      \5\ 0.8            0          0.1         Neg.
St. Andrew Bay...............................................          124          0.2      \1\ 0.9          0.2            0          0.7        28.57
St. Joseph Bay...............................................          152          0.2         1.41          0.4            0         1.01        19.80
St. Vincent Sound, Apalachicola Bay, St. George Sound........          439          0.2     \1\ 3.91            0            0         3.91         5.12
Apalachee Bay................................................          491          0.2     \1\ 3.61            0            0         3.61         5.54
Waccasassa Bay, Withlacoochee Bay, Crystal Bay...............      \1\ 100          0.2      \1\ 0.5            0            0          0.5        40.00
Northern Gulf of Mexico Western Coastal Stock................       20,161          0.6          175          0.6            0        174.4         0.34
Northern Gulf of Mexico Northern Coastal Stock...............        7,185          0.6           60          0.4            0         59.6         1.01
Northern Gulf of Mexico Eastern Coastal Stock................       12,388          0.6          111          1.6            0        109.4         0.55
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ For many estuarine stocks, the draft 2018 SAR has unknown abundance estimates and undetermined PBRs. Where this occurred, we used either the most
  recent estimates (even if more than 8 years old) or we consulted with SEFSC marine mammal experts for best judgement (pers. comm., K. Mullin).
\2\ r-BPR = PBR - (annual M/I + NEFSC authorized take). For example, for the southern migratory coastal stock r-PBR = 23 - (14.3 + 1.6).
\3\ Values in the column reflect what the proposed take represents as a percentage of r-PBR. The insignificance threshold is 10 percent.
\4\ The annual M/SI in the draft 2018 SAR is 0.2 for the Mississippi River stock; however, the takes considered were from gillnet fishery research;
  therefore, we reduced M/SI to 0.
\5\ The annual M/SI in the draft 2018 SAR is 1.0; however, one take used in those calculations is from fisheries research for which we propose to
  authorize take; therefore, we reduced M/SI to 0.8.

    For the Mississippi Sound stock, we evaluated various aspects of 
stock status. According to this stock's 2017 SAR, the mean annual 
fishery-related mortality and serious injury during 2012-2015 for 
observed fisheries and strandings and at-sea observations identified as 
fishery-caused related is 1.0. Additional mean annual mortality and 
serious injury during 2011-2015 due to other human-caused actions 
(fishery research, sea turtle relocation trawling, gunshot wounds, and 
DWH oil spill) is 309 with the majority sourced from DWH. Projected 
annual M/SI over the next five years from commercial fishing and DWH 
are 6 and 1539, respectively. Management and research actions, 
including ongoing health assessments and Natural Resource Damage Plan 
efforts designed to restore injury to the stock, are anticipated to 
improve the status of the stock moving forward. Further, marine mammal 
population modeling indicates Barataria Bay dolphin should begin 
recovery nine years post spill (NRDA Trustees, 2016; DWH MMIQT 2015). 
Applying that model to the Mississippi Sound stock, we should begin to 
see the population recover during the life of the proposed regulations. 
We note the three research-related mortalities discussed in the 2017 
SAR for this stock are from the specified activities for which we are 
now proposing to authorize take. Therefore, the proposed take would not 
be in addition to but would account for these research-related takes.
    Our proposal to authorize one M/SI take from the Mobile Bay stock 
over 5 years would result in the stock being above r-PBR. The known 
takes of this stock includes one mortality in blue crab trap/pot gear 
in 2015, one mortality in stranding data where cause of death could not 
be determined and the animal could have been from the Northern Coastal 
stock, and one SI interaction in 2016. As with other estuarine stocks 
where abundance data is severely outdated, the population estimate is 
small compared to other estuarine stocks more recently and thoroughly 
studied. This could be a result of sampling methods. For example, the 
abundance estimate of 122 animals for Mobile Bay is based on aerial 
survey data collected during September through October in 1992 and 1993 
with 16 percent of animals observed in bay (Blaylock and Hoggard, 
1994). Sounds and estuaries were eliminated from the analysis. Murky 
water in GoM estuaries and dark, grey animals makes it very difficult 
to detect dolphins from aerial surveys. Further, Mobile Bay is a large 
estuarine system (approximately 456 km\2\), similar in size to 
Barataria Bay where the population estimate is over 2,000 animals based 
on vessel-based surveys. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the 
population of dolphin in Mobile Bay and other places, such as Perdido 
Bay, are higher than estimated in old surveys using aerial 
observations. Looking beyond the quantitative abundance and PBR data, 
we also considered non-quantitative factors to determine the effects of 
the proposed authorization on estuarine dolphin stocks in the ARA and 
GOMRA.
    We consider qualitative information such as population dynamics and

[[Page 6638]]

context to determine if the proposed amount of take of estuarine and 
coastal bottlenose dolphins in the ARA and GOMRA would have a 
negligible impact on annual rates of survival and reproduction. Marine 
mammals are K-selected species, meaning they have few offspring, long 
gestation and parental care periods, and reach sexual maturity later in 
life. Therefore, between years, reproduction rates vary based on age 
and sex class ratios. As such, population dynamics is a driver when 
looking at reproduction rates. We focus on reproduction here because we 
conservatively consider inter-stock reproduction is the primary means 
of recruitment for these stocks. We note this is a conservative 
assumption, as some individuals are known to travel, and there is some 
mixing between the estuarine stocks and adjacent coastal stocks (Hayes 
et al, 2017). Given reproduction is the primary means of recruitment 
and females play a significantly larger role in their offspring's 
reproductive success (also known as Bateman's Principle), the mortality 
of females rather than males is, in general, more likely to influence 
recruitment rate. Several studies have purported that male bottlenose 
dolphins are more likely to engage in depredation or related behaviors 
with trawls and recreational fishing (Corkeron et al., 1990; Powell & 
Wells, 2011) or become entangled in gear (Reynolds et al., 2000; Adimey 
et al., 2014). Male bias has also been reported for strandings with 
evidence of fishery interaction (Stolen et al., 2007; Fruet et al., 
2012; Adimey et al., 2014) and for in situ observations of fishery 
interaction (Corkeron et al., 1990; Finn et al., 2008; Powell & Wells, 
2011). Byrd and Hohn (2017) examined stranding data to determine 
whether there was differential risk of bycatch based on sex and age 
class from gillnet fisheries in North Carolina. They found more males 
than females stranded. However, the relative gillnet bycatch risk was 
not different for males and females. In summary, these data suggest the 
risk of gear interaction from trawls and hook and line is likely higher 
for males while gillnet interactions may pose equal risk for males and 
females. For this rulemaking, the majority of historical gear 
interactions are from trawls. Therefore, we believe males (which are 
less likely to influence recruitment rate) are more likely at risk than 
females.
    Understanding the population dynamics of each bottlenose dolphin 
stock considered in this rulemaking is not possible as the data simply 
do not exist for each stock. Therefore, we considered a well-studied 
population, the Sarasota Bay stock, as a proxy for assessing population 
dynamics of other estuarine stocks throughout the ARA and GOMRA. The 
Sarasota Bay stock is the most data rich population of bottlenose 
dolphins in the United States. The Sarasota Bay Research Program (SBRP) 
possesses 40 years of data on the resident dolphin population. Research 
topics include, but are not limited to, population structure and 
dynamics, health and physiology, and human interaction and impacts.
    The Sarasota Bay stock demonstrates high recruitment and survival 
rates. Wells et al. (2014) found 83 percent (95 percent CI = 0.52 to 
0.99) of detected pregnancies were documented as resulting in live 
births. Eight of the 10 calves (80 percent) resulting from documented 
pregnancies survived through the calendar year of their birth and, 
therefore, were considered to have been successfully recruited into the 
Sarasota Bay bottlenose dolphin population. This value compares 
favorably with the 81 percent first year survival reported by Wells & 
Scott (1990) for Sarasota Bay bottlenose dolphins. Thus, approximately 
66 percent of documented pregnancies led to successful recruitment. 
Mann et al. (2000) found dolphin interbirth intervals for surviving 
calves are between 3 and 6.2 years, resulting in annual variability in 
reproductive rates. With respect to survival, Wells and Scott (1990) 
calculated a mean annual survival rate of Sarasota Bay dolphins at 96.2 
percent. In comparison, a mark-recapture study of dolphins near 
Charleston, South Carolina reported an apparent annual survival rate of 
95.1 percent (95 percent CI: 88.2-100) (Speakman et al., 2010). In 
summary, survival rate and reproductive success of the Sarasota Bay 
stock is high and, except for those stocks for which we know individual 
marine mammal health and reproductive success are compromised from the 
Deepwater Horizon oil spill (e.g., Mississippi Sound stock), we 
consider estuarine bottlenose stocks in the ARA and GOMRA to have 
similar rates of recruitment and survival.
    For stocks that are known to be experiencing levels of stress from 
fishing and other anthropogenic sources (e.g.., annual rates of human-
caused mortality and serious injury reach or exceed PBR levels in 
absence of the requested take from the SEFSC), we look toward the 
ongoing management actions and research designed to reduce those 
pressures when considering our preliminary negligible impact 
determination. Overall, many estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks are 
facing anthropogenic stressors such as commercial and recreational 
fishing, coastal development, habitat degradation (e.g., oil spills, 
harmful algal blooms), and directed violence (intentional killing/
injury) and have some level of annual M/SI. NOAA, including the SEFSC, 
is dedicated to reducing fishery take, both in commercial fisheries and 
research surveys. For example, the Atlantic BDTRT is in place to 
decrease M/SI in commercial fisheries and scientists at NOAA's National 
Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) in Charleston, South Carolina, 
are undertaking research and working with local fishermen to reduce 
crab pot/trap and trawling entanglement (e.g., McFee et al., 2006, 
2007; Greenman and McFee, 2014). In addition, through this rulemaking, 
the SEFSC has invested in developing measures that may be adopted by 
commercial fisheries to reduce bycatch rates, thereby decreasing the 
rate of fishing-related M/SI. For example, in 2017, the SEFSC executed 
the previously described Lazy Line Modification Mitigation Work Plan 
(see Potential Effects section) and the SEFSC is investigating the 
feasibility of applying gear modifications to select research trawl 
surveys. Also as a result of this rulemaking process, the SEFSC has a 
heightened awareness of the risk of take and a commitment to not only 
implement the mitigation measures proposed in this rulemaking but to 
develop additional mitigation measures beyo