Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to National Wildlife Refuge Complex Research, Monitoring, and Maintenance Activities in Massachusetts, 18259-18264 [2019-08744]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices Depensation: A decline in productivity in a population as the abundance declines that can result in increased extinction risk due to factors such as the uncertainty that mates will be able to find one another, randomly skewed sex ratios, changes in predator behavior to shifting prey abundance, or scaling effects of random variation among individuals. Major Threat: A threat whose scope, immediacy, and intensity results in a response by the species that prevents the improvement of its status to the point that such species may not be reclassified or delisted based on the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. Conversely, non-major threats are those threats whose scope, immediacy, and intensity results in a response by the species but singularly or cumulatively do not prevent the improvement of its status to the point that such species may be reclassified or delisted based on the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. Productivity: The population growth rate, over the entire life cycle. Factors that affect population growth rate provide information on how well a population is ‘‘performing.’’ These parameters, and related trends in abundance, reflect conditions that drive a population’s dynamics and thus determine its abundance. Changes in environmental conditions, including ecological interactions, can influence a population’s intrinsic productivity, the environment’s capacity to support a population, or both. Such changes may result from random environmental variation over a wide range of temporal scales (environmental stochasticity). A population growth rate that is unstable or declining over a long period of time indicates poor resiliency to future environmental change. Technically Feasible: The scientific, engineering, and operational aspects of management or protective actions that are capable of being implemented. amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES References A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon request (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Withdrawal From the 1994 Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act With this notice, we also are announcing NMFS’ withdrawal from the 1994 Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act. On July 1, 1994, NMFS and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published notice of six joint policy VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 statements on various issues involving implementation of the ESA (59 FR 34270). One of these, the Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act, established the policy that NMFS and FWS would develop recovery plans within 21⁄2 years after final listing. That timeframe was expanded upon in NMFS’ Interim Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Planning Guidance (Interim Recovery Planning Guidance) (updated version 1.4, July 2018; available at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ endangered-species-conservation/ endangered-species-act-guidancepolicies-and-regulations), which was adopted by FWS on August 26, 2010. The Interim Recovery Planning Guidance restated the 21⁄2 year deadline to complete final recovery plans and added a deadline of 11⁄2 years for completion of draft recovery plans. As explained in the revised recovery priority guidelines announced in this notice, we must prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species. These limited agency resources have meant that it is not always possible to complete recovery plans within 21⁄2 years after final listing of the species as endangered or threatened. NMFS will complete recovery plans within a reasonable amount of time, but must do so on a priority basis within the limits of available resources, which may require more than 21⁄2 years. Therefore NMFS is withdrawing from the Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act. The remainder of that policy has been expanded and updated for the most part through the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance, and NMFS will continue to follow that guidance. However, where section 1.5.1 of the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance also contains deadlines for completing draft and final recovery plans, we will no longer follow that portion of the guidance. The remainder of the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance continues to be applicable to our recovery planning and implementation efforts. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. Dated: April 24, 2019. Samuel D. Rauch, III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–08656 Filed 4–29–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18259 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XG949 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to National Wildlife Refuge Complex Research, Monitoring, and Maintenance Activities in Massachusetts National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received a request from the Eastern Massachusetts (MA) National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to conducting biological research, monitoring, and maintenance at the Eastern MA NWR Complex (Complex). The USFWS’s activities are similar to activities previously analyzed and for which take was authorized by NMFS. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals during the specified activities. NMFS is also requesting comments on a possible one-year renewal that could be issued under certain circumstances and if all requirements are met, as described in Request for Public Comments at the end of this notice. 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 May 30, 2019. ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to ITP.Fowler@noaa.gov. Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including all SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18260 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices attachments, must not exceed a 25megabyte file size. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ incidental-take-authorizations-undermarine-mammal-protection-act without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Amy Fowler, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. Electronic copies of the original application and supporting documents (including NMFS Federal Register notices of the original proposed and final authorizations, and the previous IHA), as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ incidental-take-authorizations-undermarine-mammal-protection-act. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Background The MMPA prohibits the ‘‘take’’ of marine mammals, with certain exceptions. 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 incidental take authorization may be provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses (where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other ‘‘means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact’’ on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 availability of such species or stocks for taking for certain subsistence uses (referred to in shorthand as ‘‘mitigation’’); and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. 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. This action is consistent with categories of activities identified in CE B4 of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216–6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the issuance of the proposed IHA qualifies to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review. We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice prior to concluding our NEPA process or making a final decision on the IHA request. History of Request On March 16, 2016, NMFS received an application from the USFWS for the taking of two species of marine mammals incidental to research, monitoring, and maintenance activities within the Complex. The USFWS’s request was for take of gray seals (Halichoerus grypus atlantica) and harbor seals (Phoca vitulina concolor) by Level B harassment. A notice of proposed IHA and request for comments was published in the Federal Register on January 12, 2017 (82 FR 3738). We subsequently published the final notice of our issuance of the IHA on March 2, 2017 (82 FR 12342) making the IHA valid from April 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018. On December 5, 2017, NMFS received a request from the USFWS for an IHA for takes of marine mammals incidental to the same research and monitoring activities as the initial IHA. A notice of proposed IHA and request for comments was published in the Federal Register on March 6, 2018 (83 FR 9483). We subsequently published the final notice of our issuance of the IHA on May 2, 2018 (83 FR 19236), making the IHA PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 valid from April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019. That IHA was identical to the initial IHA with the same number of takes authorized and the same mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. On January 31, 2019, NMFS received a request from the USFWS for another IHA to take marine mammals incidental to ongoing annual research and monitoring, and two new activities: New England cottontail introduction and seal haulout protection. The application was determined to be adequate and complete on March 20, 2019. Inclusion of the new activities in the application slightly increases the number of takes requested and some voluntary mitigation measures described by the USFWS in their 2018 monitoring report are incorporated in the proposed mitigation requirements for this authorization. The monitoring and reporting requirements are identical to the previous IHA (described in detail in the Federal Register notice of issuance of the previous IHA (83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018)). Description of the Proposed Activity and Anticipated Impacts The Complex is comprised of eight refuges, including its three coastal refuges: Monomoy NWR, Nantucket NWR, and Nomans Land Island (Nomans) NWR in eastern MA. The USFWS conducts ongoing biological tasks for refuge purposes at the Complex. The previous IHAs covered shorebird and seabird nest monitoring and research, roseate tern staging counts and resighting, red knot stopover study, northeastern beach tiger beetle census, and coastal shoreline change survey at Monomoy, Nantucket, and Nomans NWRs. The USFWS proposes to conduct these same activities under the proposed 2019 IHA. The previous IHAs authorized Level B take of gray seals and harbor seals. The USFWS requests authorization to harass these same species in this proposed IHA. To support public review and comment on the IHA that NMFS is proposing to issue here, we refer to the documents related to the previously issued IHAs and discuss any new or changed information here. The previous documents include the Federal Register notices of the previous proposed IHAs (82 FR 3738, January 12, 2017; 83 FR 9483, March 6, 2018), Federal Register notices of issuance of the previous IHAs (82 FR 12342, March 2, 2017; 83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018), and all associated references and documents. We also refer the reader to the USFWS’s previous and current applications and monitoring reports which can be found at https:// E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-research-and-otheractivities. Detailed Description of the Action Differences between the previous IHAs and the proposed IHA are limited to the inclusion of two new activities that may result in Level B harassment of seals. Detailed descriptions of the ongoing shorebird and seabird nest monitoring and research, roseate tern staging counts and resighting, red knot stopover study, northeastern beach tiger beetle census, and coastal shoreline change survey at Monomoy, Nantucket, and Nomans NWRs can be found in the documents listed above. Detailed descriptions of these new activities are provided here. New England Cottontail Reintroduction—Beginning in 2019, the USFWS expects to spend an average of 20 days on Nomans NWR each year to initiate a New England cottontail reintroduction project. Most of the cottontail work will take place in the island interior (not the shorelines), and will not cause disturbance of seals. However, there will be more trips to and from the island, which could result in slightly more disturbance to seals on the shoreline as the boat approaches the island. The 20 days of activity on the island are expected to occur over approximately 12 trips during the spring, summer, and fall. Protection of Seal Haulout Areas— Complex staff maintain a year-round closure for seals on the north tip of the Nantucket NWR. Staff use metal and wooden signs, rope or twine, and informational signs to keep vehicles and pedestrians out of these areas. The perimeter of the closed areas sometimes needs to be moved (as seals move) or replaced (as signs are vandalized or lost in coastal storms). Protection of seal haulout areas occurs year-round. Previous authorizations limited research and monitoring activities to April 1 and November 30 of each year, to avoid the gray seal pupping season. The timing of research and monitoring activities proposed by the USFWS would remain identical, but protection of seal haulout areas would be authorized to occur at any time during the year, as necessary. Description of Marine Mammals A description of the marine mammals in the area of the activities is found in these previous documents, which remains applicable to the proposed 2019–2020 IHA as well. In addition, NMFS has reviewed recent draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality Events, and recent scientific literature, to evaluate the current status of the affected species. Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME). Additionally, seals showing clinical signs of disease have stranded as far south as Virginia, although not in elevated numbers. Therefore, the UME investigation now encompasses all seal strandings from Maine to Virginia. Full or partial necropsy examinations have been conducted on some of the seals and samples have been collected for testing. Based on tests conducted so far, the main pathogen found in the seals is phocine distemper virus. As of April 17, 2019, the total number of seals included 18261 in the UME was 2,159. More information on this UME is available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/newengland-mid-atlantic/marine-lifedistress/2018-2019-pinniped-unusualmortality-event-along. Potential Effects on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat A description of the potential effects of the specified activities on marine mammals and their habitat may be found in the documents supporting the previous IHA, which remains applicable to the issuance of the proposed 2019– 2020 IHA. Although there is currently an ongoing UME involving gray and harbor seals, the increased mortality appears to be primarily due to infection with phocine distemper virus. As such, NMFS has preliminarily determined that no new information affects our original analysis of impacts under the 2018–2019 IHA. Estimated Take A detailed description of the methods and inputs used to estimate authorized take is found in these previous documents. All estimated take is expected to be in the form of Level B harassment. The methods of estimating take for the proposed 2019–2020 IHA are identical to those used in the 2018– 2019 IHA (i.e., by multiplying the maximum number of seals estimated to be present at each location by the number of events at each location that may result in disturbance). Take from the two newly described activities was estimated in the same manner. The total estimated gray seal takes are presented in Table 1. TABLE 1—ESTIMATED NUMBER OF GRAY SEAL TAKES (BY LEVEL B HARASSMENT) PER ACTIVITY AT MONOMOY, NANTUCKET, AND NOMANS NWRS Activity Takes per event Events per activity Shorebird and Seabird Monitoring & Research ......... 34 (Monomoy) ................................ 8 (Nantucket) 3 (Nomans) 6 (Monomoy) .................................. 4 (Nantucket) 5 (Monomoy) .................................. 5 (Cape Cod) 3 (Monomoy) .................................. 1 (Monomoy) .................................. 20 (Nomans) .................................. 10 (Nantucket) ............................... 34,430 Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle Census ................. Coastal Shoreline Change Survey ............................. New England Cottontail Introduction .......................... Seal Haul Out Protection ............................................ 1000 (Monomoy) ............................ 50 (Nantucket) ............................... 10 (Nomans) .................................. 10 (Monomoy) ................................ 10 (Nantucket) ............................... 250 (Monomoy) .............................. 150 (Cape Cod) ............................. 750 (Monomoy) .............................. 500 (Monomoy) .............................. 10 (Nomans) .................................. 25 (Nantucket) ............................... Total takes ........................................................... ........................................................ ........................................................ 39,730 Roseate Tern Staging Counts & Resighting .............. amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Red Knot Stopover Study ........................................... Estimated take of harbor seals was estimated using methods identical to the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 2018–2019 IHA (i.e., estimating five percent of gray seal takes). Total PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Total takes 100 2,000 2,250 500 200 250 estimated takes of gray seals and harbor seals are shown in Table 2. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18262 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices TABLE 2—TOTAL ESTIMATED TAKE OF MARINE MAMMALS, RELATIVE TO POPULATION SIZE Species Estimated take Gray seal ..................................................................................................................................... 39,730 Stock abundance a 27,131 b (451,131) Harbor seal .................................................................................................................................. 1,987 75,834 Percent (comparison of instances of take to stock abundance) 146 (8.81) 2.62 a Abundance b Overall in U.S. waters (Hayes et al., 2018). Western North Atlantic stock abundance (Hayes et al., 2018). amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Based on the stock abundance estimate presented in the 2017 SARS, the take number of gray seals exceeds the number of gray seals in U.S. waters (Table 2). However, actual take may be slightly less if animals decide to haul out at a different location for the day or if animals are foraging at the time of the survey activities. The number of individual seals taken is also assumed to be less than the take estimate since these species show high philopatry (Waring et al., 2016; Wood et al., 2011). We expect the take numbers to represent the number of exposures (i.e., instances of take), but assume that the same seals may be behaviorally harassed over multiple days, and the likely number of individual seals that may be harassed would be less. In addition, this project occurs in a small portion of the overall range of the Northwest Atlantic population of gray seals. While there is evidence of haulout site philopatry, resights of tagged and branded animals and satellite tracks of tagged animals show movement of individuals between the United States and Canada (Puryear et al., 2016). The percentage of time that individuals are resident in U.S. waters is unknown (NMFS 2017). Genetic evidence provides a high degree of certainty that the Western North Atlantic stock of gray seals is a single stock (Boskovic et al., 1996; Wood et al., 2011). Thus, although the U.S. stock estimate is only 27,131, the overall stock abundance of animals in United States and Canadian waters is 451,131. The gray seal take estimate for this project represents less than nine percent of the overall Western North Atlantic stock abundance (Table 2) if every separate instance of take were assumed to accrue to a different individual, and because this is not the case, the percentage is likely significantly lower. Description of Proposed Mitigation, Monitoring and Reporting Measures The proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures proposed here are identical to those included in the Federal Register notice announcing the final 2018–2019 IHA (83 FR 19236; May VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 2, 2018) and apply to all activities described in previous Federal Register notices (i.e., 83 FR 9483; March 6, 2018) and the two new activities introduced in this document. The discussion of the least practicable adverse impact included in the Federal Register notice of final IHA (83 FR 19236; May 2, 2018) remains accurate. The following measures are proposed for inclusion in this IHA: Time and Frequency—The USFWS would conduct all proposed activities throughout the course of the year between April 1 and November 30, outside of the seasons of highest seal abundance and pupping at the Complex. Closure of beaches used by seals may occur year-round at Nantucket NWR. Vessel Approach and Timing Techniques—The USFWS would ensure that its vessel approaches to beaches with pinniped haulouts would be conducted so as to not disturb marine mammals as most practicable. To the extent possible, the vessel would approach the beaches in a slow and controlled approach, as far away as possibly from haulouts to prevent or minimize flushing. Staff would also avoid or proceed cautiously when operating boats in the direct path of swimming seals that may be present in the area. Avoidance of Acoustic Impacts from Cannon Nets—Cannon nets have a measured source level (SL) of 128 decibels (dB) at one meter (m) (estimated based on a measurement of 98.4 dB at 30 m; L. Niles, pers. comm., December 2016); however, the sound pressure level (SPL) is expected to be less than the thresholds for airborne pinniped disturbance (e.g., 90 dB for harbor seals, and 100 dB for all other pinnipeds) at 80 yards from the source. The USFWS proposes to stay at least 100 m from all pinnipeds if cannon nets are to be used for research purposes. Avoidance of Visual and Acoustic Contact with People—The USFWS would instruct its members and research staff to avoid making unnecessary noise and not allow themselves to be seen by pinnipeds PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 whenever practicable. USFWS staff would stay at least 50 yards from hauled out pinnipeds, unless it is absolutely necessary to approach seals closer, or potentially flush a seal, in order to continue conducting endangered species conservation work. When disturbance is unavoidable, staff will work quickly and efficiently to minimize the length of disturbance. Researchers and staff will do so by proceeding in a slow and controlled manner, which allows for the seals to slowly flush into the water. Staff will also maintain a quiet working atmosphere, avoiding loud noises, and using hushed voices in the presence of hauled out pinnipeds. Pathways of approach to the desired study or nesting site will be chosen to minimize seal disturbance if an activity event may result in the disturbance of seals. USFWS staff will scan the surrounding waters near the haulouts, and if predators (i.e., sharks) are seen, seals will not be flushed by USFWS staff. Marine Mammal Monitoring—The USFWS will monitor seals as project activities are conducted. Proposed monitoring requirements in relation to the USFWS’s proposed activities would include species counts, numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance behaviors during the research activities, including location, date, and time of the event. In addition, the USFWS would record observations regarding the number and species of any marine mammals either observed in the water or hauled out. Behavior of seals will be recorded on a three point scale: 1= alert reaction, not considered harassment; 2= moving at least two body lengths, or change in direction greater than 90 degrees; 3= flushing (Table 3). USFWS staff would also record and report all observations of sick, injured, or entangled marine mammals on Monomoy NWR to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) marine mammal rescue team, and will report to NOAA if injured seals are found at Nantucket NWR and Nomans NWR. Tagged or marked marine mammals will also be recorded E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices and reported to the appropriate research organization or federal agency, as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammal. Photographs will be taken when possible. This information will be incorporated into a report for NMFS at the end of the season. The USFWS will also coordinate with any university, 18263 state, or federal researchers to attain additional data or observations that may be useful for monitoring marine mammal usage at the activity sites. TABLE 3—DISTURBANCE SCALE OF PINNIPED RESPONSES TO IN-AIR SOURCES TO DETERMINE TAKE Level Type of response Definition 1 .................... Alert .................. 2 * .................. Movement ........ 3 * .................. Flush ................ Seal head orientation or brief movement in response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped position, changing from a lying to a sitting position, or brief movement of less than twice the animal’s body length. Movements in response to the source of disturbance, ranging from short withdrawals at least twice the animal’s body length to longer retreats over the beach, or if already moving a change of direction of greater than 90 degrees. All retreats (flushes) to the water. * Only Levels 2 and 3 are considered take, whereas Level 1 is not. amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES If at any time injury, serious injury, or mortality of the species for which take is authorized should occur, or if take of any kind of other marine mammal occurs, and such action may be a result of the USFWS’s activities, the USFWS would suspend activities and contact NMFS immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure that another injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the applicant remains in compliance with the MMPA. Reporting—The USFWS would submit a draft report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources no later than 90 days after the conclusion of research and monitoring activities in the 2018 season. The report will include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the monitoring requirements set forth in the proposed IHA. The USFWS will submit a final report to NMFS within 30 days after receiving comments from NMFS on the draft report. If the USFWS receives no comments from NMFS on the draft report, NMFS will consider the draft report to be the final report. The reporting requirements proposed to be included in this IHA are identical to those described in the previous IHA (83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018). Preliminary Determinations The USFWS proposes to conduct research and monitoring activities that are nearly identical to those conducted previously. Take of marine mammals from two new activities has been proposed for inclusion in this IHA but the potential impacts to marine mammals from these activities are identical to those previously analyzed for the issuance of the 2018 IHA. Therefore, the potential effects from Level B harassment of marine mammals previously analyzed remain applicable, as do NMFS prior determinations. When issuing the 2018 IHA, NMFS found the USFWS’s activities, in their VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 entirety, would have a negligible impact to species or stocks’ rates of recruitment and survival and the amount of taking would be small relative to the population size of such species or stock. The proposed 2019–2020 IHA would authorize more takes of seals by Level B harassment than the previously issued IHAs (82 FR 12342, March 2, 2017; 83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018) but the amount of taking would still be small relative to the population size of the affected species and stocks (i.e., less than nine percent). The proposed IHA includes identical required mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures as the 2018 IHA. In conclusion, there is no new information suggesting that our analysis or findings should change. Based on the information contained here and in the referenced documents, NMFS has preliminarily determined the following: (1) The required mitigation measures will effect the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat; (2) the proposed authorized takes will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks; (3) the proposed authorized takes represent small numbers of marine mammals relative to the affected stock abundances; and (4) the USFWS’s activities will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on taking for subsistence purposes as no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals are implicated by this action, and (5) appropriate monitoring and reporting requirements are included. Endangered Species Act (ESA) No incidental take of ESA-listed species is proposed for authorization or expected to result from this activity. Therefore, NMFS has determined that formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this action. PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to the USFWS for conducting research and monitoring activities at the Complex for a period of one year, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. A draft of the proposed IHA can be found at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ incidental-take-authorizations-undermarine-mammal-protection-act. Request for Public Comments We request comment on our analyses (included in both this document and the referenced documents supporting the 2018 IHA), the proposed authorization, and any other aspect of this notice of Proposed IHA for the proposed research and monitoring project. We also request comment on the potential for renewal of this proposed IHA as described in the paragraph below. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on the request for MMPA authorization. On a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a second one-year IHA with expedited notice and public comment when (1) another year of identical or nearly identical activities as described in the Specified Activities section is planned or (2) the activities would not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a second IHA would allow for completion of the activities beyond that described in the Dates and Duration section, provided all of the following conditions are met: • A request for renewal is received no later than 60 days prior to expiration of the current IHA; • The request for renewal must include the following: (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted beyond the initial dates E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18264 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices either are identical to the previously analyzed activities or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, take estimates, or mitigation and monitoring requirements; and (2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized; • Upon review of the request for renewal, the status of the affected species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS determines that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, the mitigation and monitoring measures remain the same and appropriate, and the original findings remain valid. Dated: April 25, 2019. Catherine Marzin, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–08744 Filed 4–29–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hydrographic Services Review Panel Meeting National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce. ACTION: Notice of open public meeting. AGENCY: The Hydrographic Services Review Panel (HSRP) will hold a meeting that will be open to the public and public comments are requested in advance and/or during the meeting. Information about the HSRP meeting, agenda, presentations, webinar registration, and other background documents will be posted online at: https://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/ hsrp/hsrp.htm and https://www.nautical charts.noaa.gov/hsrp/meetings.htm Date and Location: The meeting is planned for two and a half days during August 27–29, 2019, in New Orleans, LA. The agenda, speakers and times are subject to change. The agenda and location will be posted online at the end of June 2019. For updates, please check online at: https://www.nauticalcharts. noaa.gov/hsrp/hsrp.htm. To receive notice of the venue and meeting announcements by email, and to inform the participant list, please email your name, organization and email address amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 to: Virginia.Dentler@noaa.gov and Lynne.Mersfelder@noaa.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lynne Mersfelder-Lewis, HSRP program manager, National Ocean Service, Office of Coast Survey, NOAA (N/CS), 1315 East-West Highway, SSMC3 #6413, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910; email: Lynne.Mersfelder@noaa.gov and Virginia.Dentler@noaa.gov. While the meeting is open to the public, to receive meeting updates and inform the participant list, please email your name, organization and email address to: Virginia.Dentler@noaa.gov and Lynne.Mersfelder@noaa.gov. Seating will be available on a first-come, firstserved basis. Public comment is encouraged on the topics of the HSRP meeting and there are public comment periods scheduled each day noted in the agenda. Each individual or group making verbal or written comments will be limited to one comment per day and a total time of five (5) minutes, will be noted, recorded, and this will become part of the meeting record. For those not onsite, comments can be submitted in writing via the webinar chat function during the meeting or with a letter in writing via email prior to the meeting. Public comments are encouraged and individuals or groups who would like to submit advance written statements should email their comments to Lynne.Mersfelder@noaa.gov, Virginia.Dentler@noaa.gov and hydrographic.services@noaa.gov. The HSRP will provide webinar capability. Pre-registration is required to access the webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar. com/register/7384771285594719747. The Hydrographic Services Review Panel (HSRP) is a Federal Advisory Committee established to advise the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, the NOAA Administrator, on matters related to the responsibilities and authorities set forth in section 303 of the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998, as amended, and such other appropriate matters that the Under Secretary refers to the Panel for review and advice. The charter and other information are located online at:https:// www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsrp/ CharterBylawsHSIAStatute.htm Past recommendations and issue papers are at: https:// www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsrp/ recommendations.htm Past HSRP public meeting summary reports, agendas, presentations, transcripts, and other information is available online at: https:// SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsrp/ meetings.htm Matters to be Considered: The panel is convening on issues relevant to NOAA’s navigation services, focusing on national issues such as stakeholder use of navigation services data, sea level rise and inundation, and legislative priorities. Navigation services include the data, products, and services provided by the NOAA programs and activities that undertake geodetic observations, gravity modeling, shoreline mapping, bathymetric mapping, hydrographic surveying, nautical charting, tide and water level observations, current observations, and marine modeling. This suite of NOAA products and services support safe and efficient navigation, resilient coasts and communities, and the nationwide positioning information infrastructure to support America’s commerce. The Panel will hear from state and federal agencies, non-federal organizations and associations, local, regional and national stakeholders and partners about their missions and use of NOAA’s navigation services, the value these services bring, and what improvements could be made. Other administrative matters may be considered. The agenda and speakers are subject to change. Special Accommodations: This meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Please direct requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids to Lynne.Mersfelder@noaa.gov by August 12, 2019. Dated: April 2, 2019. Shepard M. Smith, Director, Office of Coast Survey, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [FR Doc. 2019–08661 Filed 4–29–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–JE–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XG953 Fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico; Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR); Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of SEDAR 62 in-person workshop for Gulf of Mexico gray triggerfish. AGENCY: The SEDAR 62 assessment of the Gulf of Mexico gray triggerfish will SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 83 (Tuesday, April 30, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 18259-18264]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-08744]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XG949


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to National Wildlife Refuge Complex 
Research, Monitoring, and Maintenance Activities in Massachusetts

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

ACTION: Notice; proposed issuance of an Incidental Harassment 
Authorization; request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS has received a request from the Eastern Massachusetts 
(MA) National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (USFWS), for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to 
conducting biological research, monitoring, and maintenance at the 
Eastern MA NWR Complex (Complex). The USFWS's activities are similar to 
activities previously analyzed and for which take was authorized by 
NMFS. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is 
requesting comments on its proposal to issue an incidental harassment 
authorization (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals during the 
specified activities. NMFS is also requesting comments on a possible 
one-year renewal that could be issued under certain circumstances and 
if all requirements are met, as described in Request for Public 
Comments at the end of this notice. 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 May 30, 
2019.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 
1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments 
should be sent to [email protected].
    Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any 
other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the 
end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including 
all

[[Page 18260]]

attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Attachments to 
electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or 
Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential 
business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Amy Fowler, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the original 
application and supporting documents (including NMFS Federal Register 
notices of the original proposed and final authorizations, and the 
previous IHA), as well as a list of the references cited in this 
document, may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the 
contact listed above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    The MMPA prohibits the ``take'' of marine mammals, with certain 
exceptions. 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 incidental take authorization may be provided to the public 
for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses 
(where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods 
of taking and other ``means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact'' on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying 
particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar 
significance, and on the availability of such species or stocks for 
taking for certain subsistence uses (referred to in shorthand as 
``mitigation''); and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, 
monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth.

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.
    This action is consistent with categories of activities identified 
in CE B4 of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216-6A, 
which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for 
significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for 
which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would 
preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has 
preliminarily determined that the issuance of the proposed IHA 
qualifies to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review.
    We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice 
prior to concluding our NEPA process or making a final decision on the 
IHA request.

History of Request

    On March 16, 2016, NMFS received an application from the USFWS for 
the taking of two species of marine mammals incidental to research, 
monitoring, and maintenance activities within the Complex. The USFWS's 
request was for take of gray seals (Halichoerus grypus atlantica) and 
harbor seals (Phoca vitulina concolor) by Level B harassment. A notice 
of proposed IHA and request for comments was published in the Federal 
Register on January 12, 2017 (82 FR 3738). We subsequently published 
the final notice of our issuance of the IHA on March 2, 2017 (82 FR 
12342) making the IHA valid from April 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018.
    On December 5, 2017, NMFS received a request from the USFWS for an 
IHA for takes of marine mammals incidental to the same research and 
monitoring activities as the initial IHA. A notice of proposed IHA and 
request for comments was published in the Federal Register on March 6, 
2018 (83 FR 9483). We subsequently published the final notice of our 
issuance of the IHA on May 2, 2018 (83 FR 19236), making the IHA valid 
from April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019. That IHA was identical to 
the initial IHA with the same number of takes authorized and the same 
mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements.
    On January 31, 2019, NMFS received a request from the USFWS for 
another IHA to take marine mammals incidental to ongoing annual 
research and monitoring, and two new activities: New England cottontail 
introduction and seal haulout protection. The application was 
determined to be adequate and complete on March 20, 2019. Inclusion of 
the new activities in the application slightly increases the number of 
takes requested and some voluntary mitigation measures described by the 
USFWS in their 2018 monitoring report are incorporated in the proposed 
mitigation requirements for this authorization. The monitoring and 
reporting requirements are identical to the previous IHA (described in 
detail in the Federal Register notice of issuance of the previous IHA 
(83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018)).

Description of the Proposed Activity and Anticipated Impacts

    The Complex is comprised of eight refuges, including its three 
coastal refuges: Monomoy NWR, Nantucket NWR, and Nomans Land Island 
(Nomans) NWR in eastern MA. The USFWS conducts ongoing biological tasks 
for refuge purposes at the Complex. The previous IHAs covered shorebird 
and seabird nest monitoring and research, roseate tern staging counts 
and resighting, red knot stopover study, northeastern beach tiger 
beetle census, and coastal shoreline change survey at Monomoy, 
Nantucket, and Nomans NWRs. The USFWS proposes to conduct these same 
activities under the proposed 2019 IHA. The previous IHAs authorized 
Level B take of gray seals and harbor seals. The USFWS requests 
authorization to harass these same species in this proposed IHA.
    To support public review and comment on the IHA that NMFS is 
proposing to issue here, we refer to the documents related to the 
previously issued IHAs and discuss any new or changed information here. 
The previous documents include the Federal Register notices of the 
previous proposed IHAs (82 FR 3738, January 12, 2017; 83 FR 9483, March 
6, 2018), Federal Register notices of issuance of the previous IHAs (82 
FR 12342, March 2, 2017; 83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018), and all associated 
references and documents. We also refer the reader to the USFWS's 
previous and current applications and monitoring reports which can be 
found at https://

[[Page 18261]]

www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-
take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities.

Detailed Description of the Action

    Differences between the previous IHAs and the proposed IHA are 
limited to the inclusion of two new activities that may result in Level 
B harassment of seals. Detailed descriptions of the ongoing shorebird 
and seabird nest monitoring and research, roseate tern staging counts 
and resighting, red knot stopover study, northeastern beach tiger 
beetle census, and coastal shoreline change survey at Monomoy, 
Nantucket, and Nomans NWRs can be found in the documents listed above. 
Detailed descriptions of these new activities are provided here.
    New England Cottontail Reintroduction--Beginning in 2019, the USFWS 
expects to spend an average of 20 days on Nomans NWR each year to 
initiate a New England cottontail reintroduction project. Most of the 
cottontail work will take place in the island interior (not the 
shorelines), and will not cause disturbance of seals. However, there 
will be more trips to and from the island, which could result in 
slightly more disturbance to seals on the shoreline as the boat 
approaches the island. The 20 days of activity on the island are 
expected to occur over approximately 12 trips during the spring, 
summer, and fall.
    Protection of Seal Haulout Areas--Complex staff maintain a year-
round closure for seals on the north tip of the Nantucket NWR. Staff 
use metal and wooden signs, rope or twine, and informational signs to 
keep vehicles and pedestrians out of these areas. The perimeter of the 
closed areas sometimes needs to be moved (as seals move) or replaced 
(as signs are vandalized or lost in coastal storms). Protection of seal 
haulout areas occurs year-round. Previous authorizations limited 
research and monitoring activities to April 1 and November 30 of each 
year, to avoid the gray seal pupping season. The timing of research and 
monitoring activities proposed by the USFWS would remain identical, but 
protection of seal haulout areas would be authorized to occur at any 
time during the year, as necessary.

Description of Marine Mammals

    A description of the marine mammals in the area of the activities 
is found in these previous documents, which remains applicable to the 
proposed 2019-2020 IHA as well. In addition, NMFS has reviewed recent 
draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual 
Mortality Events, and recent scientific literature, to evaluate the 
current status of the affected species.
    Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal 
mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire, and 
Massachusetts. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event 
(UME). Additionally, seals showing clinical signs of disease have 
stranded as far south as Virginia, although not in elevated numbers. 
Therefore, the UME investigation now encompasses all seal strandings 
from Maine to Virginia. Full or partial necropsy examinations have been 
conducted on some of the seals and samples have been collected for 
testing. Based on tests conducted so far, the main pathogen found in 
the seals is phocine distemper virus. As of April 17, 2019, the total 
number of seals included in the UME was 2,159. More information on this 
UME is available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/marine-life-distress/2018-2019-pinniped-unusual-mortality-event-along.

Potential Effects on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

    A description of the potential effects of the specified activities 
on marine mammals and their habitat may be found in the documents 
supporting the previous IHA, which remains applicable to the issuance 
of the proposed 2019-2020 IHA. Although there is currently an ongoing 
UME involving gray and harbor seals, the increased mortality appears to 
be primarily due to infection with phocine distemper virus. As such, 
NMFS has preliminarily determined that no new information affects our 
original analysis of impacts under the 2018-2019 IHA.

Estimated Take

    A detailed description of the methods and inputs used to estimate 
authorized take is found in these previous documents. All estimated 
take is expected to be in the form of Level B harassment. The methods 
of estimating take for the proposed 2019-2020 IHA are identical to 
those used in the 2018-2019 IHA (i.e., by multiplying the maximum 
number of seals estimated to be present at each location by the number 
of events at each location that may result in disturbance). Take from 
the two newly described activities was estimated in the same manner. 
The total estimated gray seal takes are presented in Table 1.

  Table 1--Estimated Number of Gray Seal Takes (by Level B Harassment) Per Activity at Monomoy, Nantucket, and
                                                   Nomans NWRs
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                Activity                        Takes per event           Events per activity       Total takes
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shorebird and Seabird Monitoring &        1000 (Monomoy)............  34 (Monomoy)..............          34,430
 Research.                                50 (Nantucket)............  8 (Nantucket).............
                                          10 (Nomans)...............  3 (Nomans)................
Roseate Tern Staging Counts & Resighting  10 (Monomoy)..............  6 (Monomoy)...............             100
                                          10 (Nantucket)............  4 (Nantucket).............
Red Knot Stopover Study.................  250 (Monomoy).............  5 (Monomoy)...............           2,000
                                          150 (Cape Cod)............  5 (Cape Cod)..............
Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle Census..  750 (Monomoy).............  3 (Monomoy)...............           2,250
Coastal Shoreline Change Survey.........  500 (Monomoy).............  1 (Monomoy)...............             500
New England Cottontail Introduction.....  10 (Nomans)...............  20 (Nomans)...............             200
Seal Haul Out Protection................  25 (Nantucket)............  10 (Nantucket)............             250
                                         -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total takes.........................  ..........................  ..........................          39,730
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Estimated take of harbor seals was estimated using methods 
identical to the 2018-2019 IHA (i.e., estimating five percent of gray 
seal takes). Total estimated takes of gray seals and harbor seals are 
shown in Table 2.

[[Page 18262]]



                  Table 2--Total Estimated Take of Marine Mammals, Relative to Population Size
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                      Percent
                                                                                                  (comparison of
                             Species                              Estimated take       Stock        instances of
                                                                                     abundance     take to stock
                                                                                                    abundance)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gray seal.......................................................          39,730      \a\ 27,131             146
                                                                                   \b\ (451,131)          (8.81)
Harbor seal.....................................................           1,987          75,834            2.62
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ Abundance in U.S. waters (Hayes et al., 2018).
\b\ Overall Western North Atlantic stock abundance (Hayes et al., 2018).

    Based on the stock abundance estimate presented in the 2017 SARS, 
the take number of gray seals exceeds the number of gray seals in U.S. 
waters (Table 2). However, actual take may be slightly less if animals 
decide to haul out at a different location for the day or if animals 
are foraging at the time of the survey activities. The number of 
individual seals taken is also assumed to be less than the take 
estimate since these species show high philopatry (Waring et al., 2016; 
Wood et al., 2011). We expect the take numbers to represent the number 
of exposures (i.e., instances of take), but assume that the same seals 
may be behaviorally harassed over multiple days, and the likely number 
of individual seals that may be harassed would be less. In addition, 
this project occurs in a small portion of the overall range of the 
Northwest Atlantic population of gray seals. While there is evidence of 
haulout site philopatry, resights of tagged and branded animals and 
satellite tracks of tagged animals show movement of individuals between 
the United States and Canada (Puryear et al., 2016). The percentage of 
time that individuals are resident in U.S. waters is unknown (NMFS 
2017). Genetic evidence provides a high degree of certainty that the 
Western North Atlantic stock of gray seals is a single stock (Boskovic 
et al., 1996; Wood et al., 2011). Thus, although the U.S. stock 
estimate is only 27,131, the overall stock abundance of animals in 
United States and Canadian waters is 451,131. The gray seal take 
estimate for this project represents less than nine percent of the 
overall Western North Atlantic stock abundance (Table 2) if every 
separate instance of take were assumed to accrue to a different 
individual, and because this is not the case, the percentage is likely 
significantly lower.

Description of Proposed Mitigation, Monitoring and Reporting Measures

    The proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures 
proposed here are identical to those included in the Federal Register 
notice announcing the final 2018-2019 IHA (83 FR 19236; May 2, 2018) 
and apply to all activities described in previous Federal Register 
notices (i.e., 83 FR 9483; March 6, 2018) and the two new activities 
introduced in this document. The discussion of the least practicable 
adverse impact included in the Federal Register notice of final IHA (83 
FR 19236; May 2, 2018) remains accurate. The following measures are 
proposed for inclusion in this IHA:
    Time and Frequency--The USFWS would conduct all proposed activities 
throughout the course of the year between April 1 and November 30, 
outside of the seasons of highest seal abundance and pupping at the 
Complex. Closure of beaches used by seals may occur year-round at 
Nantucket NWR.
    Vessel Approach and Timing Techniques--The USFWS would ensure that 
its vessel approaches to beaches with pinniped haulouts would be 
conducted so as to not disturb marine mammals as most practicable. To 
the extent possible, the vessel would approach the beaches in a slow 
and controlled approach, as far away as possibly from haulouts to 
prevent or minimize flushing. Staff would also avoid or proceed 
cautiously when operating boats in the direct path of swimming seals 
that may be present in the area.
    Avoidance of Acoustic Impacts from Cannon Nets--Cannon nets have a 
measured source level (SL) of 128 decibels (dB) at one meter (m) 
(estimated based on a measurement of 98.4 dB at 30 m; L. Niles, pers. 
comm., December 2016); however, the sound pressure level (SPL) is 
expected to be less than the thresholds for airborne pinniped 
disturbance (e.g., 90 dB for harbor seals, and 100 dB for all other 
pinnipeds) at 80 yards from the source. The USFWS proposes to stay at 
least 100 m from all pinnipeds if cannon nets are to be used for 
research purposes.
    Avoidance of Visual and Acoustic Contact with People--The USFWS 
would instruct its members and research staff to avoid making 
unnecessary noise and not allow themselves to be seen by pinnipeds 
whenever practicable. USFWS staff would stay at least 50 yards from 
hauled out pinnipeds, unless it is absolutely necessary to approach 
seals closer, or potentially flush a seal, in order to continue 
conducting endangered species conservation work. When disturbance is 
unavoidable, staff will work quickly and efficiently to minimize the 
length of disturbance. Researchers and staff will do so by proceeding 
in a slow and controlled manner, which allows for the seals to slowly 
flush into the water. Staff will also maintain a quiet working 
atmosphere, avoiding loud noises, and using hushed voices in the 
presence of hauled out pinnipeds. Pathways of approach to the desired 
study or nesting site will be chosen to minimize seal disturbance if an 
activity event may result in the disturbance of seals. USFWS staff will 
scan the surrounding waters near the haulouts, and if predators (i.e., 
sharks) are seen, seals will not be flushed by USFWS staff.
    Marine Mammal Monitoring--The USFWS will monitor seals as project 
activities are conducted. Proposed monitoring requirements in relation 
to the USFWS's proposed activities would include species counts, 
numbers of observed disturbances, and descriptions of the disturbance 
behaviors during the research activities, including location, date, and 
time of the event. In addition, the USFWS would record observations 
regarding the number and species of any marine mammals either observed 
in the water or hauled out. Behavior of seals will be recorded on a 
three point scale: 1= alert reaction, not considered harassment; 2= 
moving at least two body lengths, or change in direction greater than 
90 degrees; 3= flushing (Table 3). USFWS staff would also record and 
report all observations of sick, injured, or entangled marine mammals 
on Monomoy NWR to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) 
marine mammal rescue team, and will report to NOAA if injured seals are 
found at Nantucket NWR and Nomans NWR. Tagged or marked marine mammals 
will also be recorded

[[Page 18263]]

and reported to the appropriate research organization or federal 
agency, as well as any rare or unusual species of marine mammal. 
Photographs will be taken when possible. This information will be 
incorporated into a report for NMFS at the end of the season. The USFWS 
will also coordinate with any university, state, or federal researchers 
to attain additional data or observations that may be useful for 
monitoring marine mammal usage at the activity sites.

              Table 3--Disturbance Scale of Pinniped Responses to In-Air Sources To Determine Take
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Level                   Type of  response                            Definition
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1............................  Alert......................  Seal head orientation or brief movement in response
                                                             to disturbance, which may include turning head
                                                             towards the disturbance, craning head and neck
                                                             while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped
                                                             position, changing from a lying to a sitting
                                                             position, or brief movement of less than twice the
                                                             animal's body length.
2 *..........................  Movement...................  Movements in response to the source of disturbance,
                                                             ranging from short withdrawals at least twice the
                                                             animal's body length to longer retreats over the
                                                             beach, or if already moving a change of direction
                                                             of greater than 90 degrees.
3 *..........................  Flush......................  All retreats (flushes) to the water.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Only Levels 2 and 3 are considered take, whereas Level 1 is not.

    If at any time injury, serious injury, or mortality of the species 
for which take is authorized should occur, or if take of any kind of 
other marine mammal occurs, and such action may be a result of the 
USFWS's activities, the USFWS would suspend activities and contact NMFS 
immediately to determine how best to proceed to ensure that another 
injury or death does not occur and to ensure that the applicant remains 
in compliance with the MMPA.
    Reporting--The USFWS would submit a draft report to NMFS Office of 
Protected Resources no later than 90 days after the conclusion of 
research and monitoring activities in the 2018 season. The report will 
include a summary of the information gathered pursuant to the 
monitoring requirements set forth in the proposed IHA. The USFWS will 
submit a final report to NMFS within 30 days after receiving comments 
from NMFS on the draft report. If the USFWS receives no comments from 
NMFS on the draft report, NMFS will consider the draft report to be the 
final report. The reporting requirements proposed to be included in 
this IHA are identical to those described in the previous IHA (83 FR 
19236, May 2, 2018).

Preliminary Determinations

    The USFWS proposes to conduct research and monitoring activities 
that are nearly identical to those conducted previously. Take of marine 
mammals from two new activities has been proposed for inclusion in this 
IHA but the potential impacts to marine mammals from these activities 
are identical to those previously analyzed for the issuance of the 2018 
IHA. Therefore, the potential effects from Level B harassment of marine 
mammals previously analyzed remain applicable, as do NMFS prior 
determinations.
    When issuing the 2018 IHA, NMFS found the USFWS's activities, in 
their entirety, would have a negligible impact to species or stocks' 
rates of recruitment and survival and the amount of taking would be 
small relative to the population size of such species or stock. The 
proposed 2019-2020 IHA would authorize more takes of seals by Level B 
harassment than the previously issued IHAs (82 FR 12342, March 2, 2017; 
83 FR 19236, May 2, 2018) but the amount of taking would still be small 
relative to the population size of the affected species and stocks 
(i.e., less than nine percent). The proposed IHA includes identical 
required mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures as the 2018 
IHA. In conclusion, there is no new information suggesting that our 
analysis or findings should change.
    Based on the information contained here and in the referenced 
documents, NMFS has preliminarily determined the following: (1) The 
required mitigation measures will effect the least practicable impact 
on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat; (2) the proposed 
authorized takes will have a negligible impact on the affected marine 
mammal species or stocks; (3) the proposed authorized takes represent 
small numbers of marine mammals relative to the affected stock 
abundances; and (4) the USFWS's activities will not have an unmitigable 
adverse impact on taking for subsistence purposes as no relevant 
subsistence uses of marine mammals are implicated by this action, and 
(5) appropriate monitoring and reporting requirements are included.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

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

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to the USFWS for conducting research and monitoring 
activities at the Complex for a period of one year, provided the 
previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements 
are incorporated. A draft of the proposed IHA can be found at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act.

Request for Public Comments

    We request comment on our analyses (included in both this document 
and the referenced documents supporting the 2018 IHA), the proposed 
authorization, and any other aspect of this notice of Proposed IHA for 
the proposed research and monitoring project. We also request comment 
on the potential for renewal of this proposed IHA as described in the 
paragraph below. Please include with your comments any supporting data 
or literature citations to help inform our final decision on the 
request for MMPA authorization.
    On a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a second one-year IHA with 
expedited notice and public comment when (1) another year of identical 
or nearly identical activities as described in the Specified Activities 
section is planned or (2) the activities would not be completed by the 
time the IHA expires and a second IHA would allow for completion of the 
activities beyond that described in the Dates and Duration section, 
provided all of the following conditions are met:
     A request for renewal is received no later than 60 days 
prior to expiration of the current IHA;
     The request for renewal must include the following:
    (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted beyond the 
initial dates

[[Page 18264]]

either are identical to the previously analyzed activities or include 
changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not 
affect the previous analyses, take estimates, or mitigation and 
monitoring requirements; and
    (2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the 
required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the 
monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not 
previously analyzed or authorized;
     Upon review of the request for renewal, the status of the 
affected species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS 
determines that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, 
the mitigation and monitoring measures remain the same and appropriate, 
and the original findings remain valid.

    Dated: April 25, 2019.
Catherine Marzin,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-08744 Filed 4-29-19; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P